Sometimes you just have to laugh.
Have you ever had one of those days with one setback after another? You might even bust out laughing just to avoid cutting someone or bursting into tears.
That was yesterday. After finally receiving my new phone in the mail and the data STILL not working, I left Nice with no way to navigate to the mountains of Cinque Terre, Italy except screenshots of maps on my phone.
So when my train inexplicably stopped at the French-Italian border and all passengers got off, I was like “Oh well of COURSE this is happening right now. PERFECT!”
I have no clue where I am except that I’m 300km from my next destination. I don’t know what the train conductor is saying in French except that we all need to get the fuck off the train because no trains were entering Italy.
I overhear a group of British ladies on my train and they graciously offer to let me tag along with them while they figure out what’s going on, since one of them spoke French.
It turns out there was an Italian train strike until 9pm. Apparently train strikes are fairly common in Italy, but it just haaad to happen when I was traveling, with a non-functioning phone. Ugh!
So all four of us squeeze into a cab and cross the border into Italy. Our taxi let us out at a bus station in the sleepy, seaside town of Ventimiglia, Italy, where my British saviors planned to board a bus to San Remo, just a few kilometers away.
“Okay perfect, I’ll just take a bus then too!”
“Oh no, darling. We’ve been to Cinque Terre and that’s much too long. You’d spend an entire day and night on different buses. You’d better stay the night here. Good luck.”
And in a flash, the taxi had taken off, the British ladies were gone, and I stood outside in the rain with my luggage. And as much as I wanted to feel sorry for myself or be overcome with fear, I couldn’t. I was stranded. I had no time for that.
My inner hood chick came out like “Bitch you better stop sulking and start walking! Ain’t nobody here to feel sorry for you. Figure it out. GO.”
I had to find a hotel. Without a functioning phone, my only option was to roll my bag with me around town looking for a bed and breakfast. In larger cities that would be easy, but not here.
It took me about half an hour to stumble across Hotel Posta. When the front desk receptionist told me a room was 70 euros I was like “Oh thank GOD!” It could’ve been so much worse.
No sooner did I settle into my room when the rain suddenly stopped and the sun beamed brightly. Perfect timing, Mother Nature. *side eye*
So I spent the afternoon walking along the gorgeous waterfront, admiring the colorful little boats on the beach and the palm trees swaying in the wind. Then I explored the hills of Old Ventimiglia, where steep, narrow staircases and dark, twisted tunnels WERE the streets.
Houses sat perched on cliffsides, overlooking the sea. It’s a city of inexplicable, effortless beauty. This city is rustic and charming with views that took my breath away.
I could’ve easily gotten lost but my sense of fear had almost diminished at this point. I allowed myself to get lost in the twisted tangle of winding alleys, with faith that I would find my way back.
Every person I saw in Ventimiglia greeted others by name as they passed each other in the street. There were no tourists here. So needless to say, I stood out with my Chucks, Run DMC shirt, and neon orange nail polish. But this is Italia, after all, so the glares I caught were always friendly ones.
After finding my way back near my hotel, I stopped at Brasserie Oceane for a limoncello. I was alone, but not for long.
“They would like to buy you a drink if you go and sit with them. It’s ok?” My bartender pointed to the next table.
I glanced over and saw Giada, Angela, Massimiliano, Natalina and their golden Labrador retriever puppy, Roy.
I nervously walked over and sat down to a table of smiling faces. The one who spoke English quickly became my translator. They ordered me an Aperol spritz and began asking about who I was, why I was here and where I was going next.
At first I had my guard up. I wondered what they wanted and why they were being so nice.
But then I was like “Shut up bitch, they’re buying you drinks!”
So I stayed. Three bars, one sushi dinner and several Aperol spritz later, we found ourselves comparing notes on the state of excessive taxation of the working class in our respective countries.
A conversation facilitated by my Spanish, broken Italian and the iTranslate app. I remember stopping mid conversation to revel in the serendipity of it all…
If there hadn’t been a train strike or I’d chosen to travel on a different day, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with these people right now. I would’ve passed this city on the train and gone straight through to Cinque Terre, which was my plan. But this experience was given to me by the universe, not my own doing.
In a situation where I had every right to freak out, I didn’t. I was strangely calm. I embraced being stranded in a new city with an open mind and dare I say, enthusiasm?
As someone with a headstrong Type A personality, who makes checklists for everything, who until now had approached life as a project manager instead of an artist…this was a huge step forward for me.
I let go. I relinquished control to something greater than myself, even though I’m not quite sure what that something is. I had to have faith in myself instead of my plans.
In retrospect, my newfound disdain for monotony has a lot to do with being raised in a strict, old-school Mexican Catholic household. Girls (and women) are seen as frail creatures to be protected, first by their parents and then by their boyfriends and husbands.
We make decisions for them, tell them what’s best, what’s too dangerous, too late, or not good enough. We tell them who to date, how to behave, how to dress, and to avoid risk at all costs.
Women raised in this environment often equate love with control because we are accustomed to having those who love us tell us what is in our best interest.
For me, this mindset continued into my marriage. He was my first boyfriend and he took on the role of Controller. But this role was familiar to me. And even though I was educated with an established career, I let him retain control because I associated control with love.
As I had been accustomed, I silenced my own judgment and intuition. When my intuition tried to surface, I shoved it deeper into a soundproof box in my mind and locked it away. Until one day, something in me was awakened and I no longer wanted to silence it.
Since walking away from that relationship more than two years ago, I’ve challenged myself to use a set of emotional muscles I never used before.
I think that’s why I’ve thrown myself into situations where I am forced to rely only on myself – by traveling alone and “winging” my travel plans instead of planning everything in advance. By removing myself from familiar people and places. By leaving my marriage, my hometown, my job and my family.
I felt the need to go to great lengths to prove to myself that only I know what I need best. That I can do anything, go anywhere, be anyone. That I can dismantle my life and start over.
I called a train strike on the path of my life and forced it into a new and unknown direction. And it saved my life…not in the physical sense, but spiritually. I no longer need to silence my spirit in order to sketch my path to fit another person’s blueprint.
Doing so is worse than dying, because you have to wake up every morning and live someone else’s idea of the life you should be leading.
When the train strike ended and I boarded that train to Cinque Terre the next morning, I stared out the window and couldn’t stop smiling. Because I know that I am who I needed all along.