It’s time for a Travel Tuesday Guest Post! Are you excited to hear from someone else? I am.
Today’s post is from the self-proclaimed politico dropout turned traveler, blogger and children’s book author, Elizabeth Farrar. Liz has been somewhat of a nomad for a few years now, constantly taking off on whirlwind international adventures and keeping us all updated on them with tips, humor and lots of photos over at Bella Vita.
Ideally, each Tuesday I’ll publish a story from one of my fellow travelers. Their tales will be about something they’ve learned, or something they’ve taught, while on the road. It might not be a traditional classroom setting, as often these experiences are not when we’re exposed to a new culture, but hopefully they’ll inspire you to book that plane ticket you’ve been dreaming about, sign up to teach English abroad, or simply give you a new blog to enjoy.
If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, contact me here.
LOCKED OUT IN TUSCANY
I hear the lock click. There’s a second, just between the sound and the realization my keys are inside, when everything feels perfect.
I’m going for a run.
I chose this apartment for the location. But now, locked out — 7,500 miles away from home and without money, a phone, or a good Italian dictionary — I’m beginning to rethink this whole ‘romantic, Tuscan countryside’ thing. As if on cue, it begins to rain. A light drizzle at first then steady.
My landlord is scheduled to stop by on Saturday, 3 days from now. As I check the windows and doors for an alternative way in, I imagine myself living off the land until she returns. Maybe building a fort using a few grape vines, my rain jacket, and my own wits to survive. This is Tuscany, I think, how hard could it be? Then I remember, I don’t even like to camp in a tent longer than 48 hours.
No. I’m going to have to ask for help.
From the moment we reach toddler-status, we’re warned of all the world’s dangers. They come to us from watchful, worried parents one word at a time: No. Hot. Ouch. Stranger.
When we’re young, these warnings keep us alive and safe. As we grow older, and begin to watch the nightly news, the dangers we were warned about seem to get larger and more menacing. Occasionally, we may reach a point when we begin to wonder if we can really trust anyone anymore.
I’m no different. Ironically, I’m constantly putting myself in situations where the only option is trusting people. I am a nomad. Well, technically, I’m a writer who travels. A lot. So being locked out of an apartment in Tuscany is not the first time I’ve had to ask a stranger for help. Still, as I tentatively approach the nearest neighbor’s door, that doesn’t make it any easier; all of those years of ‘Stranger Danger‘ are lodged in the back of my mind.
I knock. I don’t have a choice.
As I hear the thud of heavy footsteps approach the door, my mind is racing and my heart feels ready to make a break for it. The door opens and a slightly balding man peers out at me curiously.
“Ciao! I’m living next door.” I speak slowly and point in the direction of my apartment. “I locked myself out.”
The man looks at me like I’ve just sprouted a second head. Then, without a word, he turns to close the door.
“No. Wait!” I say. “I…” He holds up one finger as if to say, “Just hold on a minute, lady.” A few seconds later, a woman appears over his shoulder with a baby on her hip and curious expression on her face.
I decide to try again.
“Hi. I’m staying next door. I locked myself out, and I don’t have a phone.” I use the international sign for telephone — thumb to my ear, pinkie finger to my mouth — to emphasize the last point. “Could you help me?”
She’s wrinkling her forehead in concentration, but I can tell she understands the gist of what I’m saying because she nods her head. She says something to her husband in Italian, and he disappears into a back room.
“Please,” she says, gesturing inside to her kitchen table. She also tells me her name is Michela.
Her husband, who I learn is called Stefano, reappears with two cell phones and hands one to her. They take turns dialing my landlord’s number. I know it’s hers because I can hear her voicemail click on over and over again.
After about five minutes of this, the couple switches gears. Michela grabs a thin plastic sheet and some olive oil. For a second, I think she’s about to whip up some bruschetta while we hash out this problem. Instead, she wipes down the edge of the plastic edge with the oil and hands it to her husband, who, in turn, hands me an umbrella and motions for me to follow him outside.
We stand huddled under the umbrella, him carefully working the plastic sheet around the lock, me jiggling the door and holding the umbrella. This goes on for nearly 20 minutes until Stefano’s fingers are sore and red from the effort.
“Grazie,” I say, my heart sinking. Grape-vine fort it is. Feeling beaten, we return to the neighbor’s house where Michela meets us at the front door. “Annalisa!” she says, handing me a cell phone triumphantly.
Annalisa is my landlord. I explain the situation to her, and within a few minutes she has helped me locate the hidden spare key. I return to the neighbors with the borrowed cell phone, umbrella and gratitude so thick it practically oozes out of my shoes. But when I try to hand Michela the umbrella, she shakes her head no.
“Keep. You bring later,” she says.
These are the moments when I realize how much traveling has enriched my life. With all of the death and destruction in the world these days, it’s easy to want to lock yourself away someplace safe; away from anything that seems the least bit scary or different. What traveling has taught me, time and time again, is there are an awful lot of good people sharing this planet; the kind of people who would stand out in a rainstorm with a sheet of plastic and some olive oil to help a perfect stranger.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been the beneficiary of a stranger’s kindness in my travels. Every time I’ve boarded a bus in Italy, for instance. Or tried to heave a heavy bag onto a train. In fact, it’s become so common that whenever I’m facing a challenging travel day, I start by asking the universe to “Please send someone kind and patient.”
For the record, I have said that prayer hundreds of times in 20 different countries.
Not once has it ever gone unanswered.
*All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Farrar.