I made my way from Florence to Pisa where I’d connected with friends-of-a-friend-of-a-friend (seriously), who had generously agreed to host me in their big, old house right in the city center. When I arrived, I was greeted by Lia, a tiny, beautiful Italian woman, probably a few years older than me. She showed me around the home, telling me how 15 people lived there together in a type of community. The building, she noted, used to be a convent; the vast sprawl of their floor was comprised of two large kitchens, two small bathrooms, a huge living area, and numerous bedrooms (maybe around 10?), all with high vaulted ceilings adorned with peeling gold and pastel frescos, making them look like they would better belong in a cathedral. It was gorgeous, warm, and homey.
Over the next few days, I met most of the people who shared this community, a spectacular mix of graduate students, PhD candidates, rainbow hippies, activists, journalists and artists coexisting peacefully, sharing the cooking and cleaning and doing their best to eat supper as a group every evening. They ranged in age from early twenties to at least late thirties (I’m estimating). I don’t speak Italian, so my participation mostly involved smilingly helping with food prep and sitting in entertained silence as this huge, young family laughed and conversed together in their native language every evening.
I stayed in the converted convent for a week. This was somewhat unintentional (I’d planned to make trips to Cinque Terre and Siena, which never panned out) but mostly, I found my new Pisa community a good place to chill out for a little while. I’d been traveling nonstop and desperately needed to prepare for the Asia leg of my journey, which was rapidly approaching; I had fallen far behind on work-related emails regarding my January Swaziland project; and I needed a chance to regroup and figure out if I was still on the right track with my new life of adventure and exploration. In the end, it turned out I was…
In Pisa, I made the very difficult decision to reject a job offer for a health program management position in a remote region of Uganda. Among other reasons, I decided that if I gave my backpacking trip an end, an answer, a definite deadline, I would lose some of the magic that I can feel building with every new experience I have. In short, I would stop searching. I spent a few days brooding in cynical reflection, experiencing a raw and painful internal chaos with the weight of this choice, but eventually felt strong in my resolve to journey on. There will be other jobs. Right now, I’m exploring – not just the world, but my own goals, priorities, and desires for what I want my mid-twenties to look like. And I think I’ll best find those answers by going against every grain in my (previously?) obsessively driven self, for once, and just…being. Passively. In the world. For a little longer.
Pisa is a tiny, tiny city. I spent hours walking its winding streets, learning the area like the back of my hand in a matter of days. I sat and read on the banks of the Arno; I laughed out loud the first time I saw the silly tower leaning so absurdly; I awkwardly attended the biweekly convent party where I barely had one full English conversation but watched fifty Italian hippies dance and sing to the sounds of their own music; I taught 5 of my hosts how to play spoons. I slept a lot. I ate a lot. I caught up on work and on myself.
Here are some photos!