A Truly Open Mind

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 1. Introductions, Florence by sabeenaLeave a Comment

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Guiseppe Verdi

Hello all! I know this is possibly the most delayed post of them all, I have enrolled in this course only about three weeks late. My name is Sabeena, I’m from New Jersey (not the one you are thinking of probably), and my home campus is NYU New York. I’m a sophomore in the Liberal Studies Core Program, and I’m planning on transitioning to Gallatin to study some mix of business, digital media, and journalism.

I’m currently studying at NYU Florence. I chose Florence because I wanted to burst my bubble. I only recently got and used a passport, traveling to Montreal about a week before I left for Italy. I went on a cruise to the Bahamas when I was fourteen, and the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls at the ripe age of three. (I cried … Still probably would). I grew up in Northern New Jersey, a town mentioned in an episode of How I Met Your Mother for its excessive number of malls, sales tax, and proximity to New York. Growing up around there, then moving to New York last year, was honestly not a change of scenery. That’s why I’m here in Italy, to chase the discomfort that is growing up.

Florence, however, is a city geared to those who don’t live here, full of tourist traps and consumerism like I haven’t seen. (Even coming from Mall Town USA.) Pico Iyer, esteemed travel writer, claims that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new places but in seeing with new eyes.” It’s those pair of eyes I have come chasing. It is here, if not anywhere else, that perspective is possibly the most accessible. When the beauty is blindingly apparent, you are pushed to be altered by it. The new eyes are given to you, handed instead of self-made. When you are forced to find beauty, it almost feels a bit more rewarding. With that said, I don’t mind a simply gorgeous view every once in a while.

In New York, I am constantly balancing my responsibilities. They’re all on this scale, as what I feel are bags of onions, magically shifting their own unique weights across my plane. I am constantly scrambling, tossing each netted orange bag to a different tray, until my feet only tip just enough to be still. But Florence has an ebbing energy. The constant feeling of something running after you, grabbing you by your coattails, just isn’t here. I have learned to slow it down, focus. Florence, as a city, places no emphasis on a hunt. It is the journey and the crawl that is of meaning.

Wanderlust chaser Alain De Botton said: “It seems that unlike the continuous, enduring contentment that we anticipate, our actual happiness with, and in, a place must be a brief and, at least to the conscious mind, apparently haphazard phenomenon: an interval in which we achieve receptivity to the world around us, in which positive thoughts of past and future coagulate and anxieties are allayed.” Botton has quite the argument, the weight we place on moving, the kind of “grass is greener” concept we rely on to get us to the next step is commonly disregarded in times of difficulty. It is that receptacle of openness he speaks of that we are to chase after, the New York grab of the coattails feeling momentum provides.

When I first got to Florence, I had it all piled on. I burst into my apartment for the first time a sweaty and hangry mess after pulling my forty-three-pound luggage up two flights of stairs. I starfished straight onto the bed after my few possessions were strewn across the room in some chaos only I could make sense of. Here I was. Starting over, again. Should I know all that I want by now? I’m nineteen, I’ll be twenty by the time I’m back in New York. Should I feel guilty for following the wind? Where all the bildungsromans end, mine is beginning. Oh yeah, and in Italy.

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