Friday, February 1, 2013

From the archives: ragazze che si perdono * girls that get lost

The day after high school graduation, I flew far and away to Rome, Italy, all by my lonesome self. It was a trip that would mark me forever, because when the travel bug bites, it bites hard. Once I had a taste, I was insatiable. For the next ten years, my one desire was to live out of a suitcase, to see the world.
Overlooking Versailles, while on a road trip from Rome to Edinburgh
I know it was hard for my parents to let me go, and I thank them tremendously for swallowing the lectures I wouldn't have listened to anyway. They saw me off from O'Hare, and I remember their hugs and kisses and "Have Fun!"s and "Send us lots of postcards!"and I felt their gulps. I can imagine now what that must fell like, as the mother of a son and a daughter myself. To let a child go into the great unknown that is the world - trying to dismiss as much as one possibly can all the disasters that can possibly befall a young woman traveling on her own - it must not be an easy thing to do, to wave goodbye that last time, from that glass partition that separates the travelers from those staying home. 
Working girl in Rome
At the time of my first extended trip overseas, Italy itself was enthralled by the disappearance of Ylenia Carrisi, the daughter of showbiz parents, who had run away to New Orleans, where she fell in love with a street musician and then disappeared into thin air. Did she commit suicide? Was she killed? Espresso, the Italian version of Newsweek, ran a cover story featuring the pretty, blonde haired, innocent looking Ylenia under the ominous heading: Ragazze che si perdono - Girls Who Get Lost. The gist of the article was: How could Ylenia's parents have let her do just that - get lost? Were they off their rockers? What kind of parents would permit their daughter to go off, on her own, halfway around the world? More than one Italian had asked me "Your parents let you travel - alone?", with eyes questioning their sanity
Today Ylenia's sad tale has been replaced by that of Natalee Holloway, who happened to fatally run into the obvious sociopath, Joran Van der Sloot, and once again, it appears that the backlash has caused many to hem and haw about young women traveling on their own. This gist today is, "Um, not a good idea." Just check out your latest People magazine and you're bound to find an article on the latest young woman attacked, missing, or murdered. 
On the topic, check out this one blog post by Theresa Walsh Giarrusso of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution here.
Thinking of my own travels as a young woman: Did disasters befall me? Yes. But nothing major. Did I make some poor decisions? Yes. Here and there. Did I hop onto a Vespa with a stranger (albeit a gorgeous Italian)?  (Ms. Giarrusso recalls a girl doing so while participating in a study abroad program she too was a part of). Well, I did. And I fell in love with him too. Do I regret it? Not at all. Did I buy a Vespa of my own, to drive around the crazy streets of Italy? Yep. And I had a few accidents too, which I survived with scratches and bruises. Did I get lost? All the time. 
I made a few more questionable choices: I dove into the Red Sea of Egypt, with just a bikini and a flashlight. I hitchhiked. A few times (in the company of friends, though, never alone). I lost my way - in the West Bank. I slept in a room, on the floor, with 30 or so other complete strangers (yet again, with a good friend of mine). I jumped off cliffs, into the Mediterranean. I climbed a mountain in rickety sandals. I had a seance with a witch doctor in Africa. I scuba dived alongside hammerheads. 
But no one ever hurt or harmed me.  99.9 percent of the world is not a sociopath, and you can't hide in a closet trying to avoid that .01%. In fact, most people welcomed me warmly and were eager to share their culture with me, young and old. Even the hammerheads were kind - or at least they were oblivious to me!
Besides that, travel gave me the chance to  to live history and languages, really know other cultures, to really know myself. And there is much joy in sitting at a cafe overlooking Piazza Navona watching the world go by, window shopping with a Bertillon glace en main, around the Ile St. Louis, hiking up Masada and arriving at the break of dawn, to see the sun rise over the Dead Sea and then coming back down to float in it, slathering yourself in mud at the shores. Swimming in an emerald lit grotto; exploring a lonely hill town. To wander. Alone. At your own pace. With your own thoughts. 
No one will ever have to worry about me running off to Eat, Pray or Love, because I already ate a ton of pasta and gelato and pizza in Italy, I already prayed a lot around the Holy Land, and well, I never went to Bali, but I did fall in love with a Brazilian like author Elizabeth Gilbert (and married him, to boot).
I am so thankful for my parents who let me go and even came to visit me. They listened to my adventures and only encouraged me to follow my heart, without ever really saying so, rather through their actions and support. 

The point is that disasters can befall young woman whether they stay home or not. And the world is too wonderful to miss, or worse, to be afraid of. Let's face it: travel is best when one is young and unencumbered - and the safety and security of a tourbus filled with other Americans or Mom and Dad, or a head filled with worries about paying the bills at home, hinders exploration and connection. For this reason, I hope to someday see my daughter off at O'Hare, whereupon, with much effort, I'll too swallow my tears and offer up the best proud smile and happy goodbye I can muster, wishing her only many happy trails. 


  1. I went ona few grand adventures during and after college. I don't know how my parents, in the days before cell phones, emails and skype, could handle it. On the other hand, I worry that my kids will not know what it is to really forge new connections in a far away land, when they're constantly texting, emails and skyping the folks back home.

  2. I agree, Kim. And I'm glad facebook/emails /skype were not INVENTED when I first traveled abroad. Boy, that statement really ages me, lol!