Last night at Populonia, as the sun painted the sky with pink and golden streaks over the sea and the distant Elba Island, my mind drifted back to that first glimpse of the Tuscan sun over roving fields of red flowers after my professor picked up my peers and me from Fiumicino Airport in Rome. I suspected that I was trapped within a honeymoon phase—I questioned whether the rolling hills and expanses of warm colors would grow dull and unappreciated like many of the beautiful landscapes that surround me at home. Now, at the close of the second week, the wind still feels inviting against my skin, and I still notice every blinking light from the tiny town of Paganico just beneath the horizon. This place, although wholly permeating my internal and external experiences, simultaneously feels like a fantasy space. I suppose that this is the product of living so intimately with the people around us—dining, sleeping, laboring, and relaxing together. In fact, after the course of one day, my throat ached to tell my peers everything that was rumbling in my mind with no shame or fear, and my bare feet felt truly unshackled.
My sense of liberation from my toes to my hair (which I cut right before my departure to encourage an experience of freedom) will never part from me, as having or lacking constraints are modes of existence that one will always remember. Just as the newly displayed skeleton, I saw at the opening of the Etruscan museum at Populonia yesterday evening still reclined with iron snaked around his ankles, so to do all the moments in my life where I felt suffocated feel more permanent than my own flesh and blood. In contradistinction, here at Monteverdi, my phone is almost never at my side and I never know what the next second holds. Every change of the sky, every word spoken by my newfound companions, every animal I encounter, and every fragment of pottery or bone that I unearth encompasses an infinity in which I can soak the moment in. I abandoned the fast-paced nature of New York next to the clothes I left unpacked and the text messages I left unanswered, and while time still feels as though it is slipping through my fingers, I do not believe that I have wasted a single second so far. I am growing into the ultimate version of myself—the work ethic I pride myself with continues to direct my course, I am less afraid to make mistakes (rather, I anticipate and welcome them), and my worries and thoughts of envy have evaporated from my skin. In the second week, the manual labor of pickaxing, shoveling, and hauling rocks and buckets remained as fruitful as when I was initially full of adrenalin, and even as my peers, director, and I were trapped without a car at the Roman site called Podere Cannicci this past Friday while lightning shot from the sky, we still worked together with vigor and laughter. These two attributes define the majority of our interactions—they pervade every car ride and every adventure, whether we are debating feverishly in the car and playing question games, dancing and soaking in the liquor and the light of a party or a concert, or sweating side-by-side behind the handle of our tools with our knees and steel-toed boots planted in the dirt.
Despite the partially-subconscious knowledge of how every moment thus far has felt and why it is still difficult to put my experiences into words. They flash through my memory like affecting snapshots, and although it is my job to recount the beauty that I have seen here, my mind is saturated with glimpses of light, color, sound, and simple feeling. These moments of infinite and utterly fleeting time, while magnificent, suppress me with their grandeur. They move me like the dark, towering walls of the Abbey of Sant’Antimo which our team visited a week before. My memories fill the air just as the poignant voices of a choir reverberated against the Romanesque structure poised between man and the profundity of God—haunting, yet indescribably beautiful. Even so, they likewise bask in the hope of the slight sources of light that herald promises of eternity, and at the close of this second week, all that I can dream for is that these unfettered, fleeting moments will become permanent parts of me. Whether that perpetuity will last only in the mind and in these moments’ influences on my American life or whether my body will return to this land is a question that only time may answer.
Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes