WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Abandon all cares

FLORENCE, Italy (MindaNews/12 July) — Firenze slumbered on as I slunk about its Old Town Center. Hunched in my gray hoodie, I imagined Ezio Auditore tracking my movements up there on the roofs, jumping from roof to roof. I wouldn’t want to give him a hard time. The gray hoodie was for him to know we were on the same team. Come find me, Ezio.

I am among the sleeping homeless at doors of the Innocenti orphanage in Piazza Annunziata. I am looking up at the most beautiful sculpture of Etruscan horse and rider just as the sun comes up on this square. Pigeons follow me around and my steps echo these ancient empty streets.

It was barely six in the morning. I had traveled forty hours just to get six hours behind. The thought reminds me of Nell’s penchant for allowing people second chances, third chances, chance eternum. Well, Nell, this is another way to do it. Thank you for letting me remake my day.

I have long wanted to be certified for the Feuerstein method, so when I found that the Feuerstein Institute had tied up with the 700-year-old University of Florence to offer its 36th annual summer workshop, it was just too hard to resist. Florence! Ninja Turtles City! Donatello, Michaelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael! And now the legacy of Reuven Feuerstein, the man who proved that IQ was not a static number to define what people can do.

Oh, okay. The summer workshop notice caught me at a very weak moment. It was the start of the summer term and I had to work. A memo had gone out stating that probationary faculty were disallowed from being designated as officer in charge. I had to work after all.

April was hot and my hubby was away slaving in Tacloban giving Yolanda survivors a leg up in restarting their livelihood through fishcage grants. I had plans to join him till school started in June. Youngest born had just gone away to college – loving it and not missing her mama, except for those moments when guilt-ridden she’d text her wish for adobo and virtual cuddles. Pretty Lily went away, too. She claimed she wanted to live nearer work. She’d come by for lunch and come home to do laundry, she’d buy movie tickets for some girl time with me, but things had changed. He and ours didn’t need me as much anymore.

So it went that for unforgiving days on end I found myself coming home to the dog. Weekends out there among Catapang’s bakwits were good for the heart, but itchy feet nagged at my soul. And so I pressed that inviting link that said “Register now!” Might as well use those lazy dollars I’ve earned translating pharmaceutical research forms. It never fails to amaze me how those checks that come in the mail get converted into spending money that I don’t spend. Translating or reviewing for language appropriateness is just something I do at night when I can’t write as yet.

Last summer, I couldn’t write. For the first time in my life, I found myself stumped by the most stubborn writer’s block ever. It was terribly frustrating, until I realized it was because my writing was never about just me. It had required hubby unobtrusively sliding steaming mugs of coffee and sweet donuts within arm’s reach, lighting a cigarette and leaving it on a clean ashtray, and rustling up rashers of bacon on toast come midnight to entice me to break from the seduction of the printed words forming on my computer screen.

I can’t lie down and die just because my brood doesn’t need me as much. I taught them to take care of themselves, to go after what they felt important. Some of the hardest lessons to teach ourselves are those lessons we give others. I’d better take care of myself. I am, after all, important to me. In fact, I am all that there will ever be of me.

So here I am catching an extension of summer in Italy, despite the grief the Italian Embassy gave me. It was touch and go for a while, until I had almost turned philosophical about ever seeing Ninja Turtles land. There always was something else they wanted me to send in, and every time I did, they’d send me a notice that said I can expect a reply on my visa application another seven days later. In sympathy, Rodge printed out Don’t You Quit from the internet and posted it where I could see it.

Meanwhile, I had been reminded of the law that required a six-month passport validity before Philippine nationals are allowed out of the country. I couldn’t apply for renewal or extension until the Italian Embassy sent back my passport. Still, it was confusing how to apply for passport extension. Some said it was a Bureau of Immigration thing. They’d give you a waiver. Some said it was a Department of Foreign Affairs thing. I actually tried to go see DFA-Mindanao to ask about it, but I never got past the guard at SM City in Ecoland.

So I went to DFA Main instead in Aseana, near Mall of Asia. Jaybee – kind soul – got me a beeline to the courtesy lane and in less than two hours, I had the extension stamped on my visa. And no officious guard to bully law-abiding taxpayers here.

On the day I was to fly out, Manila was still feeling the wicked whims of the westerlies. The flight out to Kuala Lumpur was an hour delayed, but I didn’t worry as much since I gave me six hours till the transfer flight to Istanbul. I whiled away the time people watching. The Cebpac flight had landed at KLIA2, requiring a 2RM train to KLIA where I could take my Turkish Air flight.

On the train platform, a young lady from Bacolod begged for a train pass. Her fiancé was waiting in KLIA and she didn’t have any money on her. Ordinarily, I’d probably stop to hear her sob story, but just then I had tuned out on someone other’s hopes and dreams. I gave her a pass and wished her luck.

At the smoking lounge in KLIA, a Turk backpacker sat beside me, talking about her seven months all across Asia. She was now on her way home to lead a more sedate, ordinary life, and feeling sorry about the prospect.

Eleven hours to Istanbul was spent sleeping. I broke out Blankie Gray and hunkered down, wedged between an Algerian college student and a yuppy from Helsinki. We said goodbye at the Ataturk airport, somewhere familiar to me now since I’d used this last year when I read a paper at the International Peace Research Association conference.

Blankie Gray docilely returned inside my backpack as I toured the Duty Free shops, stopping to look in on Salvatore Ferragamo and Hermes, but eventually ending up in Cashmere and Silk. I marveled at the number of Turkish Air flights leaving for somewhere every five minutes. All those places I’d want to visit someday. Just now, I was off to Tuscany, where proud stallions graze and sunflower fields fan out among the lazy windmills dotting the gently rolling landscape. The rustic landscape looks deceptively slow, as buses whizz by the highway, overtaken by bubbles of Italian cars that surprisingly can actually whizz by faster. I was put on this bus by a zesty grandmother, who blew me off with a noisy flying kiss and a wish for a happy time in her country.

This is the Tuscany region: Abandon all cares, ye who enter here.

I have Fr. Rene Ocampo’s lucky Susan B. Anthony coin to help me do that. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches at the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University. She is head of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services. You may send comments to [email protected]. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says)