The towers of San Gimignano, visible across a half dozen miles of Tuscan landscape were an intriguing sight. We were in Certaldo for an unhurried daytrip from Florence. I remember experiencing a moment when a voice in my head said “why can’t we go there and have that experience,” and I had to wake myself and bring myself back to where I was, knowing that that would have to be saved for another time (which could be a long way off or never). I was on a three week journey in Italy, with visits to the cities of Florence, Genoa, and Venice among others, and as in all travel, one is limited to where one can spend time on any particular trip. The following day, thinking about that moment I again experienced a slight anxiety, as I imagined other travelers arriving in San Gimignano for the afternoon, having planned the perfect trip, from storybook situation to storybook situation. Dreaming of ideal (or perfect) vacations can prevent us from fully living in the world we inhabit.


Before traveling  I’d read about going to places such as the exclusive restaurant in Florence that one enthusiastic American blogger had written about, where one dined on a rooftop at night overlooking the Arno, stating that it was the place to treat oneself to the best and don’t we all deserve the best while on vacation… More thoughts came into my head from my pre-trip research, where I had read an advertisement about a tour to Venice on which vacationers would arrive at their luxury hotel “for a champagne evening, and be whisked away by private boat the next day to Murano” to buy glass… After reading those blogs and ads, I imagined recreating some of the described events on my own small budget…but what we actually had time for was another thing. What really mattered is that the things we stumbled upon had come to us unexpectedly, and were beyond my imagination. Real life is like that, in contrast to what we create in our heads. In fact my imagination could have gotten in the way of enjoying what was actually happening and consequently made me miss the moment.


That day, as that amorphous anxiety descended upon me briefly, contrasting where I was with what I was missing out on or what others were doing, it suddenly gave me the unsettled feeling of not having it as good as others, or that maybe there was this greener place somewhere else…But then just as suddenly as I had these thoughts, a different thought took hold, and it gave way to a feeling of clarity and acceptance, as I realized that this experience at this moment was just as wonderful as some other imagined “better” moment or situation… that resting here and not running after something else was just as satisfactory as some “perfect” other, as yet to be found, moment.


The habitual questioning of our lives and the need to compete with an imagined better reality is such a common experience… “is this the vacation experience I had dreamed of” …”yes, but is it the best view?” That moment of doubt and envy, of comparing the place or experience (or even person) that we imagine we could possess, that we create within our mind, which is never quite like what really happens to us, robs us of our present happiness. Just walking in a city street and noticing architectural details or in the woods and seeing the simple yet magnificent beauty of the  fragile yellow leaves, or a hilltop panorama of a sky full of linear moving clouds, or even time spent with a loved one is an experience as impressive as any, if we are able to see it. In fact every moment contains that potential.


I remember thinking that this comparison of our expectations to our reality happens to each one of us, even to those perfect travelers, who found the perfect place, on the perfect afternoon, in an Italian hill town. That they were very likely having the same experience as I was, of wondering what some other experience just out of reach could have been like. Luckily my unsettled feelings dissolved, as I realized that there is no perfect place, or situation, and that this is true for everyone, even those on the exclusive tours or in expensive surroundings. Real life is full of bumps and bruises, good and bad times, full of imperfect, normal moments, and it is in those imperfect normal moments that we can really feel alive to our life, knowing that it is part of the tactile fabric of all things.


I think that we can also go to this place of expectations regarding our emotional lives. I find myself wishing that I had a more open heart at times. Yet wishing to be emotionally perfect may be the same thing as wishing for other circumstances. Therefore when we find ourselves either berating ourselves for not doing something well, or not responding the way we would have wished, perhaps we should remind ourselves that we may be looking at some far distant illusion, and that the reality of this present moment is good, good enough for now, good enough to be considered progress, so that we can feel at home where we are and in what we are doing, and not expect ourselves to be somewhere else.

(Originally published in Vermont Views Magazine)





I know that place

Of being lost in the waves

Where time and purpose

Luff away.


It is blue/green there

Surrounded by walls of my own making

Fringed with wisps

Of salted ocean lace

Keeping the world at bay.


Whole days I can escape there

As if it were a place

Where I could hide

Where only the warm sun could find me,

Could cradle me, from the world


Where nothing changed

But the beat of my heart.


juliaferrari 2017


(Photo of back streets of Certaldo, Italy)


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