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People, not places, define experiences

Dolores Diaz | Wednesday, April 14, 2004

An angry and sex crazed Italian man looked me straight in the eye last week and said to me, “I hope in your whole life that you never find happiness.” He repeated it again, I guess in case the first time it didn’t sink in.Apparently, it was my fault that he wasn’t getting any from my friend that night. I had checked up on her when the pushy guy disappeared behind her as she made her way from the room, but that is beside the point. I surprised myself. I didn’t say something equally as wretched to this man but instead did something else – I cried. In fact, I sobbed just the second my feet had carried me a few steps away.Now, maybe I was just drunk. Let’s face it, that seems like something many of us would normally just laugh at. Hell, I laugh when I tell the story now; it’s funny. Even though I wasn’t wearing anything of the sort, I always imagine myself in these pink pumps doing an exaggerated girl run through the streets of Venice with a bottle of booze in my hand.Someone once said, “Ask a man if he is happy and he ceases to be so.” I asked myself that night. It wasn’t the first time – I would be more than ashamed if a truly revelatory moment of self-evaluation came from something so stupid, but it was at a time that I didn’t particularly feel like thinking about anything of the sort. I just wanted to be left alone with my frivolous good time in Italy without being confronted with soap opera style insults from random men. Apparently, that was too much to ask. In any case, I decided to chronicle the week I spent in Italy to find when I was most happy – provided the voodoo curse that had just been placed on me didn’t come to pass.Venice was the first on the journey. I was happiest in Venice, before that night turned bad, when my girl friends and I had bought the worst tasting bottle of lemon liquor and proceeded to down it uninterrupted in the shadiest of hostels. We joked and laughed and the night was full of possibility. We were the happiest people in all of Venice.In Florence, it was a laugh attack walking down the street at night, cigarette in hand.In Rome it was probably the Vatican Mass; it gave me a chance to soak it all in. It was also hanging out on the Spanish steps with young Romans at night.And in Capri, it was napping side by side with my friends on the deck of the ferry with the warm sun streaming down on us.It may seem odd that in each city my happiest memories didn’t necessarily involve a particular monument or iconic image. Ironically the first three did involve some sort of potentially addictive substance – particularly the booze and cigarettes. However that is just a coincidence … I hope. Note to self: consume more of these.Nevertheless, when people go on travels, it seems too easy to go through the motions of the “Let’s Go” guide and miss out on the joy of their companions. In the end, it wasn’t the gondolas of Venice or the art of Florence, the Sistine Chapel, or looking out over Rome from St. Peters that did it. I saw all those things and I appreciated them all. To say that the classic works of art were not as awesome and amazing as traditionally held would be absurd.However pure joy and simple happiness was what many of the iconic experiences of Italy simply aimed to capture. In the end, it was when my senses were fully engaged, experiencing and appreciating the human spirit in the people that I was with that made my trip.Luckily, the Italian had no connections with the occult; I had a great time in Italy. Even though I had a bad night that second day in Venice, I ensured the happiness of the rest of the trip by looking out for the friends that I value most. Too often excessive worry about rhetoric and appropriateness comes into play when one wishes to check on a friend they are legitimately concerned about.It is always better to run the risk of running down the streets of Venice in pink heels sobbing than to risk a friend. Despite the way you may feel at that specific moment, at least the next day you’ll have something to laugh about and a story to tell. More importantly, you’ll have the people you care about most next to you to enjoy it with.

Dolores Diaz is a junior English major and journalism and theology minor. She enjoys thinking. Contact her at ddiaz@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.