Europe Explained (part five)

Florence, Italy

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***

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It’s been a process to explain my time in Europe. Catch up by reading part onepart two, part three, and part four

***

It was fall 2013 when I first watched Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather movies. Besides the obvious entertainment value, there were a few key sequences from each movie that had my mind fantasizing about one day embarking on a visit to the glamorous country of Italy.

The first was when Michael Corleone sought safety by fleeing America for the Italian countryside. While there he fell in love with a gorgeous Italian woman, spending his days fraternizing with locals and filling his belly with red wine.

In the next movie, Robert De Niro’s character eventually goes back to the homeland to assassinate the man who killed his family. There again, lush valleys of arborous countryside set the tone for my imagination.

Six years later and I finally get to go. G Eazy and Gashi said this was going to be my year. What exactly they meant I do not know, but when I exit the plane in Florence and walk to the metro, I have an idea of the message their lyrics were trying to portray.

“How was your flight?” the female Airbnb host asks me when I meet her outside the building.

She’s attractive and her Italian accent only adds to the intrigue. As we speak, her eyes jump with excitement. Perhaps she has fallen into a web of lust.

But for the first time in a long time, I’m okay with this tension never being acknowledged. That’s the nice thing about getting older and not being so attached to hormones that used to be overactive.

I write about these struggles a lot, as if years ago I was injected with a temporary bacteria that took a stranglehold on my impulses. But in the past, that’s how I used to feel. It’s crazy how much a dose of maturity will benefit the male psyche.

It’s been four months and already I feel I can turn this streak of celibacy into a yearlong ordeal. This isn’t me pretending I’ll never have an immoral thought again. It’s simply refreshing to go through life and not feel in a hurry, that everything will come in due time.

It has made dating much more difficult, as women have become frustrated with my apathy toward sex. The tables have been reversed, and now being in the awkward position of telling women, “you know, I’m just not ready” is an experience I never thought I’d have. This need for emotional security before anything physical happens is ironic, considering in the past I incessantly complained when someone would offer me this as an excuse for why the brakes should be pumped on any potential bodily entanglements. I’m just in a good spot now, the desire to imbibe no longer nudging me in the side with each passing second. In retrospect, it would’ve been nice to have always felt this way.

Last year in Beijing I was dating a woman. She was perfect in almost every way. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to embrace her love. I made an honest effort to reciprocate, enduring daily talks with myself in the mirror, trying to get thoughts of infidelity and dissatisfaction out of my head. But they wouldn’t go away.

I thought about sharing my feelings with her, but figured that was a recipe for disaster. Many people say they want honesty, but what they really want is neatly packaged and doctored versions of the truth that won’t measurably alter their present reality.

I remember a point when we were in her car, and every part of me wanted to end the relationship, to get out of a constraining headspace I no longer wanted to occupy.

But getting those words out was painfully difficult, to the point my stomach ached and I needed to open the passenger-side door before I would throw up all over her dashboard.

I didn’t sever ties that day, instead later that night playing Wiz Khalifa’s “Hopeless Romantic” on repeat, finding satisfaction in the fact that I was not one of those people getting emotionally attached in their twenties.

After a trip to Tokyo, coupled with a few more glaring mistakes, my relationship with this woman finally ended. At first, I was relieved, feeling I had done her a favor by allowing her the opportunity to go meet someone else. But it’s never as simple as that. People don’t just move on at the snap of a finger.

I thought I did, but it was only in a physical sense. A few months later, when I met a charming and seductive woman, I assumed everything was working out in my favor. I rationalized prior events as all part of higher plan to lead me to happiness.

After a few dates with this new woman, the power seemed to be all mine. We had delayed intimacy because I thought it was the right thing to do. The more she yearned for my body, the more in control I felt. And then one night, I decided to acquiesce to impulse.

Afterwards, I couldn’t have been happier. The room was the perfect temperature, soft music played from speakers a few feet away, and I couldn’t stop smiling. At that moment, I thought I had solved the formula for how to properly enter into a relationship.

Then ten minutes passed, and things began to change. This woman who moments earlier I envisioned as my new girlfriend soon turned standoffish. It’s usually easy to tell when someone is not interested in my presence, and she was giving all the signs: limited eye contact, short sentences, and a general indifference to what was going on.

“I’ll text you later,” I told her before leaving, altogether realizing that the otherworldly ecstasy I had just felt was exiting as quickly as my my feet shuffling down the stairs.

A few days later, she delivered a shot one could argue I had coming. “I can’t build a foundation with someone when the sex is that bad,” her message read.

My eyes couldn’t believe what I just read. My ego instantly went on the defensive and began deflecting the utter pain and anger that was trying to invade my headspace.

I went home later that night and sought rejuvenation from a Saint, to no avail. “I would focus on how you can improve for the next time,” he said, further propelling me into a state of dejection.

I shut the door to my room and shed a few tears. Despite my grief, I knew this was inevitable. The universe wouldn’t let me just walk away from hurting someone else’s feelings and then jump into newer, utopian frame of mind.

***

Circling around these memories is all I can think about that first night in Italy, even while riding a bike through the outskirts of Florence, physically present but mentally despondent despite the backdrops of vineyards and forestry I had for so long idealized. None of the sights have brought me the peace I came here for.

I boarded a plane to Europe seeking self-resurrection, and part of that meant reflecting on a past filled with missteps. They say you have to fail before you can succeed. But how far does that extend? When is it no longer failure, and instead a pattern of behavior?

The next night I join a German family and we follow an Albanian around the city. My bike doesn’t fit my dangly, paltry frame, but the Albanian is so unfiltered and hilarious I quit internally agonizing on this fact and focus instead on enjoying the experience. The Albanian speaks five languages and has a charm everyone we meet on the way responds well to, save for the German family.

They are unenthused with the evening, decrying the ride’s lack of structure and the Albanian’s unbridled passion for comedic flair. When we all sit down for dinner in the center of the city, the Albanian showcases his affection for me in an odd way.

“What do you do for work?” he asks me.

“I write,” I tell him.

“Like books?”

“Yeah. I wrote a book a few years ago. Now I write other people’s books,” I inform. “It pays better.”

His curiosity picks up. “Wait, you write other people’s books? What do you mean?” he asks.

“Like, their life stories. We sit down and talk throughout the course of about a week. I record our conversations, and then I go back and turn their stories into a book.”

The Albanian takes a sip of his beer while the German family politely express interest in my vocation. “I think what you do is bullshit,” the Albanian says with a grin as he sets his glass back on the table.

I take a hefty chug of my drink and chuckle, captivated by the transparency. “Why do you say that?” I ask.

“There is no way someone can remember their whole life. Memory distorts too much of the past.”

“But they still can remember key moments in their life,” I counter.

“Yeah, but they can’t recall how they felt during those moments. Too much time has passed and now they have too much perspective. There’s no way what they tell you is the full truth.”

“I actually think what Quentin does is very honorable,” the German husband interjects. “My dad had this done before he died.”

The Albanian takes another drink and turns his head to the right, laughing off whatever counterpunches he receives.

“You don’t have to like what I do,” I tell the Albanian. My extended family used to roast the hell out of me when I was a sloppy, crying pre-teen, so hearing criticism is not foreign to my ears. I cordially smile before finishing off my first drink.

“I would never let you write my book,” the Albanian then says, and soon after enters the woman I told you about at the beginning of this series, sparking another whirlwind of events.

When the night is over, I give the Albanian a hug. “You’re a good dude,” I tell him.

“Oh, brother,” he says, looking up into the sky like he’s admiring the Duomo. “Thanks for coming tonight. You’ve really got me thinking about all this writing stuff now.” I chuckle. “Oh, and don’t forget to write me a review on Airbnb,” he punctuates the evening with.

I shake hands with the German family before they go. The teenage son approaches. “I wonder if I just rode bikes with the next J.K. Rowling,” he says, and I laugh so my cheeks don’t turn blazing red. Quickly I ponder if it is socially acceptable to cross gender lines when making that type of comparison.

“I don’t know about all that, bro. We’ll see,” I humbly tell the young man.

I wipe some of the gelato that tastes negligibly different from Dairy Queen off my lips and head for the subway. I chuckle over the J.K. Rowling comment and take in the evening summer heat of Florence. It doesn’t matter how many monuments or statues I see, it’s the people who make these stories go.

***

A quick word from this post’s sponsor: 

Interested in buying or selling a home? RE/MAX agent James Eason can help with all your real estate needs.

Get in touch with him today by clicking on this link!

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