My family’s priority was travelling. We would alternate between cheap camping trips and more expensive overseas or cross continental travel. My mother, the Goat, is from Italy and we would always visit her family when we could. Then we would spend some time nearby, visiting every museum and every ruin we could find.
These travels brought me to understand people and the world around me. I learned more than geography and a bit of history. I learned propaganda through the masterpieces throughout the centuries. I learned to look at the sides of the paintings and not the subject (almost always Jesus and family), because that is where the artists were able to express themselves.
My mother would lecture me on history as we walked around ruins under a hot sun. It was a noble attempt, but I was a very unfocused child and very good at pretending to pay attention, so I didn’t learn too much. I knew if I waited long enough, she would make me a lizard trap, explaining, yet again, how to tie the knot. Then, we would go lizard hunting. A lizard trap can be made from a long piece of grass with a noose-like knot at the end. To catch the lizard, lay the noose in front of it. The lizard is likely playing “you can’t see me if I don’t move.” Gently tap behind the lizard to scare it forward. It will walk through your trap, and pull. Be careful to pull only on the body or the neck. Never the tail. The tail will come off and the poor animal will lose its primary defense. My mother is an expert lizard catcher. I was pretty good too.
One day, she told me that she was done explaining how to make the knot and it was up to me to do it. I, of course, had no clue how to do it, but I couldn’t lose face. I tied what I thought was a good imitation of my mothers careful knot and set about to find a lizard. I found my candidate and lay the trap. The plan worked perfectly. The lizard walked through my trap and I yanked! The trap failed miserably. The poor lizard took flight and probably landed on some poor tourist. After that, I learned to catch them with my hands.
I may not have learned the specifics of history among those ruins, but that does not mean my time was wasted. I would pay attention to the stories of loss and hardship. I knew that that the way these people lived their lives was both similar and foreign to how I lived my own. I saw the sharp contrast between the upper classes, the Church and the poor. We walked through the buildings where the poor went to have their last breath, literally named “Last Breath”. My aunt took me along the path where the un-wedded women must walk, high above the road where no one and everyone could look at them. (ps it’s a great walk, high above the beach in Mondello, Sicily.)
I wandered the streets of Pompeii and marveled at the vulnerability of my own life. In the castles and ruins, I saw how people have evolved and grown taller with better living conditions and nutrition. The doors could barely fit my somewhat short mother. It showed me that our species is always in flux and changing. I saw the talent and beauty being expressed through the artists of stone, paint, and architecture.
Most of the lessons I learned did not give me concrete facts about the history of a place. I was not very interested at that age. I mostly learned how lucky I am and how far we have come. I also worry how far we can fall. Travel taught me about myself and about the world around me. Travel taught me about family.
I saw how my mother and her family, acted just like my mother and me. We would often stay with my aunt and her daughter, Topolina (little mouse), and in her I understood sibling rivalry and sibling love.
I saw how my parents chose to live with less, so we could see and experience more. I appreciated the value in experiences versus material. As a child and a teenager I knew, I wanted to have a family and I wanted see, with them, the world and family that I so loved.