Each new place I go becomes my next home. I become tired of ‘touristing’ around and I immediately want to know how I might be able to stay there, how I’d be able to delve beneath the thin-slice surface, how I might be able to navigate my way through the winding streets with ease and familiarity rather than wonder. What would it take to make these places feel like mine? By my second day in Rome I was researching programs at the American University of Rome and miscellaneous jobs…it doesn’t hurt to look right? I was spending all my time writing in Piazzas and dreaming of living in the blue-shuttered apartments above them. When I was in Germany visiting with my friend Jake we discussed this juxtaposition of wanting to travel and wanting to cling to a place – the physical place, not just the relationships you make in them. I determined that although it is often disorienting to feel both – inconsolable wanderlust and also the urge to make roots – I am happy that I feel both of these things, rather than one or the other. I have met the people that only experience one extreme – limited by their refusal to leave the boundaries of their own cities, or manic travelers, in a permanent state of discontent and unhealthy relationships. I do not want to be either of those people, there must be a better balance.
A few days before arriving in Rome I received a message from an old family friend: “We are in Rome now, we would love for you to come and visit us!”I had not seen Ms. Shafi and Alia since I was in high school in The Netherlands. They immediately opened their home and hearts to me, hosting me in their quaint apartment in Trastevere – a winding labyrinth of cobblestone streets in the day, a bustling hub of students at night. Trastevere hugs the Tiber river (Tratevere literally means “across the river”) and in the evenings we walked the river bank with its low lit stalls that sell everything from beer to jewelry.
I did most of the things one should do when in Rome – I walked from Termini train station to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, I watched a little boy race his father to the end of a long stretch where Roman chariots used to race, laughing all the way. Rome is a city of ghosts, a palimpsest of the new built on top of the old. It begs and beckons you to unpeel its layers, to discover it in a new light. It is eternal. In the evenings Ms. Shafi, Alia, and I would eat leisurely meals of pasta and of course gelato which also seemed to last for blissful eternity. We would meander through the streets discussing the world, the challenges we face, our experiences as expats and third culture kids. We discussed the U.S , we discussed India, we discussed Greece, all places that somehow collectively fell into our box labeled “home?”
My final night in Rome Ms. Shafi took us to a small event a coworker of hers was hosting. He (like she) works for the UN Food and Agriculture program. He is Spanish and has a passion for American blues/rock and roll, and a mutual friend just so happened to lend him her apartment rooftop overlooking the Colosseum. We spent the evening tapping our feet in the moonlight, in the shadow of the Colosseum, stars in our eyes.
This, I feel, is what “multicultural” feels like – sitting with friends I’ve met in The Netherlands, drinking wine in Italy at the foot of the Colosseum, listening to a Spanish man sing old American blues, with expats from a myriad of nationalities dancing in the moonlight. The man hosting spun around with a bottle of chianti in his hands, filling up everyones empty glasses, he seemed drunk on both the rhythm and the wine.
“Im sorry I don’t even know your name! Where are you from?” He says as he approaches Ms. Shafi.“Well, my name is Afshaan.” She says. “Im American.”
“Okkkkay” He rocks on his heels a bit, making it seem like he may spill the contents of his glass. “Doesn’t sound like you are American but anyway!” I chuckle at this. Perhaps the Spaniard singing soulful blues is more American? Am I American? The lines are blurred on this rooftop and I am in my element.
I once again begin the ritual, the packing and repacking, perfecting how things might fit together just right. I dose in and out of sleep in a state of mind that seems soft around the edges, wine in my belly, music in my ears, and it dawns on me that I left New York just over a month ago. What began as a direct trip to Greece, has unfolded into a journey spanning countries and cities, revisitng old homes and friends, discovering new homes and new friends.
I run through my next steps…train to the old port city of Bari…boat to Patras….bus to Athens.
C.P Cavafy’s words echo in my head: “Hope the journey is a long one.” I am proud of myself, that I have not let my restlessness for routine hurry me along. Each and every step and connection essential to what has followed, each revealing something new within myself.
My final thoughts as I drift off into dreams is of the afternoon before, when I walked down to Trevi fountain and sat along its perimeter for nearly an hour. I tossed my coin into its depths, hoping that the old myth rings true, that those who toss the coin into the fountain will return to Rome. Just maybe my journey will lead me back here.