Puccini on Trains & the Italian who wanted to kiss me

photo It has been a fun summer of sharing a few of my travel stories with you. To be honest, I didn't think I had enough to fill the whole summer when I started. After spending some time brainstorming I have discovered a years worth of stories at least.

Sometimes you just don't know what the world has taught you until you decide to share it. And these next few weeks I'm gonna share with you the lessons I learned from my time in Italy.

So, Ciao baby. To Italia we go.

My initial landing in Italy was pretty rough. It involved fashion week, train strikes and a bathroom full of Russian women. I know, right?

But that isn't what this story is about.

I was twenty years old. In Italy for 10 days with a friend, a backpack, a wee bit of cash and a train pass. The week up to that point had been a mix of breathtaking and totally exhausting at the same time.

A country-wide train strike started the day we landed. From that point on there had been stress and total confusion. This particular day I was exhausted. I was wishing we had gone to England instead.

Finally our train rolls up to take us from Florence to Rome. I get on with my backpack and bad attitude. I was dirty, tired and hungry. My friend Connie and I were almost alone in the train car and I was hoping for some sleep. It was late afternoon.

A little ways into the trip we made our first stop. The train car emptied of all passengers and I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally I can be by myself away from those annoying people.  And then they got on. All of them.

A whole brigade of Italian soldiers. Young ones. Handsome ones. Leaving basic training camp & headed to Rome where they would receive their orders.  Gents flooded our train car with their crisp uniforms, military packs and brooding good looks.

The seats ran out and the young men start lounging on the piled up luggage in the back of the car & aisles. They were loud and rambunctious. The train starts going and the soldiers still hadn't quite noticed the two American girls hiding in the seats.

Oh, but then they see us. Swarming they gathered around and spoke to us in a language we couldn't understand, but it sure sounded nice. A few of them spoke broken English & were eventually brought into the middle of the huddle to translate.

Connie and I were able to communicate the basics of where we were from & what we studied.

What is my name? Elizabeth

Where am I from? Texas.

What do I study at university? politics

How old am I? Twenty

Can you kiss me? No, probably not. ( he was very handsome so 3 cheers for my self-control)

I wish that American boys could learn from the Italians how to talk to women. Not so much the kissing part, but the other stuff. Making girls feel beautiful and celebrated without it being slimy or degrading. It really is quite an art they have.

Once the conversation died down & they realized that there would be no kissing, these gents started making their way back to their seats.

We were riding through Tuscany at sunset. Vineyards passing by with their charming simplicity. It is about this time that I look to my right. The soldier reclining in the isle on his pack pulls out a bottle of wine. And starts singing. Puccini.

Yes, Puccini. It was beautiful. By the second verse all the soldiers were singing. Passing around the wine and singing to the sunset, to life and all things beautiful.

It was magic.

I sat there mesmerized by what was going on around me. These men were celebrating life for the simple fact that they were alive. No movie cameras were rolling. YouTube hadn't been invented yet, so they weren't trying to go viral. It was just them & life.

I had been grumpy and annoyed going into this train ride.

I didn't see romantic vineyards out my window at first. Just dusty fields that wouldn't wash off my limited wardrobe I had with me.

I viewed the people around me as pesky distractions to what  I would rather be doing with my time.

By about round two of some old Italian song ( that they miraculously all knew) I was convicted by their passion for life. These men were singing, smiling and enjoying the merriment of the day.

A day that wasn't valuable for its perfection but rather its simple existance.

Italy taught me something on that sunset train. Life really is beautiful. It isn't perfect or planned. But there are moments of pure magic. And when they happen, we should be aware enough to own them.

It is like the Italians say,

La Vita E Bella.

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