07 March 2009
Catania, Sicily, Italy
Grand Hotel Baia Verde
Day two of traveling alone in Italy. Mainly I only notice that I’m alone at mealtime. Today I went to the Hotel’s centro benessere (Wellness Center) for a massage and a facial. I felt alone there too, soaking in the sea salt therapeutic pool and exploring the row of “emotional showers” that take turns changing colors, intensities, temperature, and scent according to a programmed succession. (Think of a cross between night clubbing, Twister, and musical chairs, add water and aromatherapy.) I wanted someone to giggle in amusement with.
Has it been only two days? I’ve been traveling solo since November. At every stop I’ve had some mix of old friends to visit, new friends to dig into, and family to catch up with. I didn’t think of myself as being alone all those weeks. Roughly 100 nights and I rarely dined alone. I would be challenged to list all of the wonderful companions with whom I’ve shared bread in these travels. None of it has served to dispel the solitude.
In Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa describes the Bodhisattva path as being deeply lonely. I feel as if I have achieved the loneliness while completely neglecting the spiritual point.
I’ve been avoiding restaurants in order to dodge that moment when I tell the host tavolo per uno (table for one), and he inevitably says “solo.” (alone.) in a declarative yet questioning way, as if he hopes I’ve spoken wrong.
Paradoxically, a powerful part of me seeks even more solitude. There’s so much writing, reading, contemplation, and མ་སེམས་ (ma sem, non-thought) that I yearn to immerse myself in. I would love to go on a month-long silent retreat right now. Nothing sounds more appealing than slow yoga under a tree somewhere – rain, sunshine, or otherwise – and a plain mat to sleep on.
Yet here I am in Sicily in a four-star hotel. Tomorrow I will move on to Rome, a capital of civilization for thousands of years. I’ve been flung here by circumstance over which I have little control, though I do choose to engage and I did dictate the terms of engagement.
I could have passed this one by. Could have skipped the conference, or simply flown home after the conference ended. Round trip to Sicily for three days of networking and then straight home .. it just sounds too stupid. My whole life, I’ve intended to come here but never found the right time. Thus, here I am. I eat the tasty food, I drink the vino della casa (house wine). I stumble through the national tongue, learn the local mass transit, and wander their streets gradually constructing that visceral mental map of each city – the one I absorb through my feet, bound to my eyes and annotated by my other senses.