Travel Log 4: “Studying Abroad…It’s More Than Just a Walk in the Park” By Taylor Chelo. Perugia, Italy

I am proud to say that I have come a long way both mentally and emotionally since my last travel log. My phase of homesickness has subsided, I have established many more friendships as my communitas, and I have found stable ground in the Liminality phase of my Rite of Passage thanks to my participation in the Orientation Exercises organized by Richard Slimbach. One of the most valuable ones was the walk I took throughout Perugia’s city center. As I mentioned in Travel Log #3, one of my goals this semester is to strengthen my sense of direction. Slimbach was certainly right when he said in Chapter 7 that “the effort you exert walking drives a place into memory. When you’ve walked it, it’s yours” (Slimbach 182). After tuning all five of my senses into my walk, I was able to confirm the once unfamiliar city of Perugia as my home away from home. For my written reflection of my walk, I decided to take my reader on a stroll with me through my Monday morning routine, starting at my apartment:

“My favorite feature of our apartment is the view from the dining seat that faces out the window of our living room. Every morning, I set five minutes aside to eat my breakfast and take in the magnificent panorama of Porta Santa Susanna that lies below our hunter green windowsill. The aged, rust-colored, terracotta rooftop of an apartment below juts out from the building and points outward, directing one’s sight to the distant clusters of neighborhoods. The bright morning sun kisses the tops of the red-orange buildings beyond, the misty blue-gray skyline of the Apennine mountain range hugging the close-knit borough, providing a stunningly surreal backdrop for this Italian masterpiece. One glance at my phone’s clock breaks my gaze and brings me back to my Monday morning reality.

I embark on my steep hike up Via Dei Priori from my apartment to the Umbra Institute, the three bites from this morning’s strawberry Activia yogurt cup burning away with every step upward. My pace slows from a walk of purpose to a leisurely stroll as the overwhelmingly warm aroma of a freshly baked cornetto (croissant) greets my nostrils. No longer in pursuit of my Italian 101 class, I allow my sense of smell to navigate my path toward the haven of pastries from where this heavenly aroma derives. The smell of soft Italian bread fresh out of the brick oven is suddenly complemented by the sweet scent of rich ricotta cream, the delicacy preciously embraced by a homemade cannoli shell. The stronger the aroma, the louder my stomach grumbles, the more saliva I could taste on my tongue, and the faster I trudge up the hill until I reach my final destination: not the Umbra Institute, but Bar Accademia. Needless to say, I arrived a few minutes late for my Italian class.

There is no better way to kill time in between classes like a stroll from Umbra down Corso Vannucci. I currently stand, leather bag strap in hand, in Piazza IV Novembre, or, in the words of Italian writer Maria Rita Zappelli, in the upper chamber of “the beating heart of the city.” Corso Vannucci and the collection of its charming side streets are Perugia’s buzzing arteries. The heel of my riding boots taps in time with the city’s heartbeat as each step meets the perfectly uneven cobblestone lining the Piazza’s main veins. The surround sound of the Piazza is so still without the therapeutic splashes from the spout of Fontana Maggiore — the landmark of all social gatherings, the most mainstream picture posted on everyone’s Instagram accounts, and the steadfast, stone symbol of the free city of Perugia.

My eyes are drawn to what are now the neutral-colored, concrete faҫades of local shops and eateries. On daily strolls like these, I always allow my imagination to take a twenty-four pack of Crayola colored pencils to bring the hues of these thirteenth-century buildings back to life. Although these once vibrant walls have faded, their history never will.

As I stroll further down Corso Vannucci, the artery begins to fill with locals who are dressed like they are ready to walk the Vogue runway: quaint wool hats, thick plaid scarves, Italian silk blouses, long mink coats, fitted leggings and slacks, high-heeled leather boots, and designer-label totes. If one’s self-esteem lowers by 10%, it is normal, especially at the sight of their puppies dressed in top-of-the-line wardrobes from one of the local boutiques. Nothing less than bellisima (beautiful) here on Corso Vannucci — the street one strolls to see and to be seen. I am strictly here for the former.

I reach the end of my stroll and the end of Corso Vannucci as the perpendicular, stone edge along Giardini Carducci appears. My fingertips graze the top of the white stone guardrail that has been warmed by the sun. It is elegantly decorated every five feet with what look like overly-sized flower vases. The refreshingly cool breeze wisps my chestnut hair backward, allowing the mid-morning sun to shine fully on my face. I could feel my baby-blue eyes adjusting to the bright rays of the sun so I could continue gazing at such splendor, just as I did this morning, marking the start of mia giornata a Perugia (my day in Perugia).”

Every stroll that I have taken through the heart of Perugia has been so refreshing and full of excitement, especially as I note even more of its hidden gems. My travelogue, Straddling The Borders: The Year I Grew Up In Italy, by Martha T. Cummings has also helped me to facilitate my incorporation into this city. Just as we record our transitions through the three stages of our Rite of Passage experiences in these travel logs, Cummings documents her entire journey from boarding her departing flight to arriving home in the United States. I related to Cummings’s travels on a very personal level, not only because she studied in Perugia like I am, but also because she, too, experienced homesickness and discomfort as a liminoid. For example, Cummings writes about how she was torn at the airport between going home or pushing forward, just as how I once felt:

“I was convinced that I was headed for death, one way or another, but I was too stubborn to turn back and rethink the logic of quitting my teaching job and heading to a country where I would be voiceless and friendless and clueless for most of the year” (Cummings 9).

Cummings was, indeed, “headed for death”: a “self-death” that one typically undergoes as the individual loses their old status and regains a new one by learning life lessons via the Liminality phase. Thanks to the help she received from unlikely friends like Beatrice, an Italian native, in the taxi to the University of Foreigners, Cummings was able to regain composure and enjoy the remainder of her journey with her communitas, just like I did. Reading Cummings’s novel not only felt like I was “taking a walk” beside her throughout Perugia, but it also made me realize that I was not alone in facing challenges so early on in my Rite of Passage. It was comforting to know that the experience truly gets better, as long as you are willing to embrace the unknown and optimistically enjoy the journey, day by day.

The picture I have chosen is a portrait of me standing on top of the Siena Cathedral. This picture not only captures one of my first times traveling confidently outside of Perugia, but it also captures my true happiness knowing that I have made it this far. To think that 12507608_10208319753019902_2527987994352163196_nI was counting down the days until my return home two weeks ago baffles me. Now that I have made the most incredible friendships at the Umbra Institute and reminded myself of my goals and purpose of being here, I cannot fathom leaving such a beautiful country that has welcomed me with open arms. For this, I am beyond grateful, and I look forward to my next adventure.

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