020. THAT'S WHERE I BELONG / by Cara Hines

Journal entry from 23 November, 2009:

Today I’m feeling a bit more vagabond than inspired. Let me stress that I am not complaining as I realize I’m living the life I’ve asked for, and for this I am infinitely grateful. It’s simply that I’ve hit a wall. As incredible as it is, travel can be tiresome. I had an amazing weekend full of new friends generous with their time, knowledge, and pocketbooks. I was toured around and fed like a queen. In recent weeks, I have absorbed many new experiences, new places, interacted with so many wonderful people, navigated different languages, trains, planes, luggage, new video equipment, and learned an enormous amount of information. The unfortunate part is that I feel exhausted, and my capacity for human interaction—Italian or otherwise—has hit a low point. Let’s just say in the last couple of days I’ve reached my capacity. It’s not for lack of trying, my poor little brain is simply maxed out. I cannot absorb one more Italian word, no matter how hard I try! The resulting misfortune is that today I have no energy for exploration.

After waiting for the hotel room to be ready last night, I didn’t get to bed until after 12:30. That was after a couple of phone calls home due to a slight and rare pang of homesickness. A chat with my “daddy-roo” (yes, we’re corny, I know) helped sooth it, and I fell asleep almost instantaneously upon hanging up. This morning, I simply could not wake up! I obviously needed good solid rest. Luckily for me, Luciano said I could leave as late as I’d like. So, I didn’t get out of bed until almost noon! I can go and go and go for a long time, but I eventually hit a wall and have to take some time for myself to recover. I enjoyed a long hot shower while I had access to it, organized my things, finished charging my various electronic devices, and went on my way. It was a 30-minute walk from the hotel to the center of Aosta. And here I sit in the only place I have the mental capacity for, a caffé. I’m quite content to sit here watching everyone walk by. The kids, the dogs, the elderly couples wrapped in colorful scarves, hats and gloves walking slowly arm in arm, the well-coiffed set, and the working class on their way to and from errands. The bicycles, strollers, people on cell phones, the shoppers (how do people continually buy things? I wonder to myself), and all of them with silky rings and curls of cigarette smoke dancing around their heads. I’m waiting for the shop around the corner to open where I can recharge the SIM cards for my internet key and cell phone. Then I’m hopping the train back to Torino to enjoy dinner with Elena and Rosalba.

How else am I feeling? I feel like being alone in a quiet space. It would be nice to have a peaceful little room to myself, warm, with some good soft music, jazz or classical, hot tea, and a good book or do some writing. It doesn’t have to be my space, it could be temporary, but if I could use it for a day or two to rejuvenate, I’d be so very grateful. This is a passing craving, and very soon I will return to a balanced state of ACCEPTING WHAT IS; that I am traveling quite alone with my new friends now and then for company, that I am cold and a bit road weary, that I cannot communicate easily with the people around me, that there is beauty everywhere I look, that I am tingling with gratitude to have these experiences, that despite my hot shower this morning…er…afternoon, I still smell a bit, That in a few days all my friends and family will be gathering over turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies to spend time together with more food than any human should be allowed to eat in a week; that the smells mixing with the cold mountain air here consist of diesel exhaust, cigarette smoke, prosciutto, burning wood, coffee, and pizza ovens. As it is.

Train from Aosta to Torino Porta Susa:

Besides exhaustion, I also feel full of doubt today. Well, maybe not full, but I have more of the stuff than in recent weeks. It’s as if I’ve forgotten why I’m doing this. Why am I doing this anyway? Of course, it’s for the documentary. But that’s tied directly to my desire to experience as much as I can in life, to challenge myself as I brush up against the world and other people, to be moved by them, and to create something out of that inspiration. I want to be fulfilled, first and foremost. But to simply plod along having coffee after coffee in sidewalk café after sidewalk café is not why I’m on this planet. I love café hopping and sightseeing, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not what fulfills me at a soul level. It’s a reward for, and possibly even a distraction from, following my personal version of “the call of the wild”. For some reason in the past few days, I have forgotten this; it shows. And it hurts. I feel disconnected, drained, and somewhat lost. I can begin to feel how innate this is in me. I’m not here as a run-of-the-mill travel journalist. My journey is inward as much as toward any physical destination, if not more, and for me to lose sight of this is obviously unhealthy! The result is an exhaustion and loss of energy that no amount of sleep seems able to replenish.

I was feeling so lost and exhausted before getting on this train at Aosta station that I started crying. The straw on the camel’s back was a train I’d planned to take that only runs on Sundays. Since it is Monday, I would have to wait for the next train in a little more than an hour and miss dinner with Rosalba and Elena. Not the end of the world, I know. Still, I cried and allowed myself to feel frustrated, lost, sad, a little homesick and alone, knowing it would all pass quickly (anitya…all things are impermanent). When I settled in on the train, a memory bubbled up of how much I enjoyed Paul Simon on train rides during my first stay in Italy. Very early in that trip, I had purchased a black market cassette tape from an African street vendor. This, along with Natalie Merchant and another tape I can’t recall now, was all I had to listen to on my cassette headphones the entire summer, and it immediately took me back to those wonderful days and nights, the gentle rocking and clip-clopping of the trains as I watched the Italian countryside and towns slip past.

I pulled out my iPhone and looked up ol’ Paul. I only have one of his songs it turns out, but it is from the album I had that summer. It’s a song called “That’s Where I Belong”. Perhaps for the first time, I listened very closely to the lyrics. They could not have been more perfect; as if in immediate response to my silly little sad and wandering state:

Somewhere in a burst of glory
A sound becomes a song.
I’m bound to tell a story
That’s where I belong.
When I see you smile,
When I hear you sing,
Lavender and roses,
Every ending a beginning.
The way you turn and catch me with your eye,
That’s where I belong.
When I see you smile,
When I hear you sing,
Lavender and roses,
Every ending a beginning.
That’s the way it is, I don’t know why
But that’s where I belong.
A smiling little island man
Plays a jingling banjo
He’s walkin’ down a dirt road
Carryin’ his radio
To a river where the water meets the sky
That’s where I belong.

I listened to it 3 or 4 times and started crying again. But those tears were for the beauty within and around me. They remind me that my purpose is that burst of glory in me when my sound becomes a song, when I see people smiling in the midst of living their purpose, my search for my own purpose, and that I am born to tell a story about that. About that glory, that sound and the song it becomes…or a dance, or a painting, or a smile, or a life. That’s where I belong.