JohnnySnelgrove's Travel Journals

JohnnySnelgrove

 
What was your most challenging travel experience?

High speed chase in China. My van driver must have had a bad history with the police. I was almost arrested. Luckily, we had an interpreter, and the police weren't opposed to bribery.

  • 27 years old
  • From Washington, United States
  • Currently in Washington, United States

Firenze, Italy 2012

Living the life of an Italian journalist.

Pizza, Pasta, and Guns

United States Washington, United States  |  Dec 21, 2012
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 What a load of cheese. 

  Sometimes it takes a fourteen hour flight and a few areal photographs of Greenland to reenforce the realization that home, defined as the place of upbringing, resides on the opposite side of the globe. Regardless of the many cultural, linguistic, and historical similarities, home remains painfully distant from the place I’ve grown accustomed to over the past three months. Italy began to affect me in more ways than I could perceive while remaining in the country. Even though my stay was relatively short (three months), the effort I put into assimilating into the Italian culture made the difference between there and here much starker.

  Upon arriving home, I jokingly kissed my friends and family on the cheeks in typical Italian fashion. Many were very much taken aback, which I found comical but simultaneously revealing. I hadn’t expected the Italian greeting to be incongruous to such a great extent; I’d become used to it more so than I could have possibly realized while still in Italy.

I’m not sure how I did it, but I managed to stay awake for the rest of the day after arriving at the Seattle airport around noon. In total, I stayed awake for almost 48 hours. For dinner, my family and I went out to an Italian restaurant because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The tagliatelle I ordered probably had more cheese on one noodle than what I’d eaten in the past week combined. I’m not saying it tasted bad, but wow. What a load of cheese. In addition, my little brother’s calzone looked as if it had just gorged itself on meat, cheese, and tomato sauce. About five or six normal Italian-sized calzoni could have fit inside this single, hulking, mega-calzone abomination. Long story short, suddenly everything back home seemed bigger… a lot bigger.

I always try to disperse stereotypes when traveling, but sometimes it’s difficult. A somber realization I had while abroad was that most of the world believes everyone in America owns a gun. With about 88 guns to every 100 Americans, this is largely true. The day after I arrived home, a horrendous and tragic school shooting took place, with the gunman taking the lives of 20 elementary school children and 7 adults. The realization that my own country was more dangerous than Sicily—the Mafia heartland which I’d been traveling through for the past three weeks—may have been the most significant and difficult thing to accept. 67% of American gun owners rationalize in the name of self-defense. That is, 67% of Americans are willing to put a bullet in their neighbor out of fear. Palermo may have a high crime rate, but that number is largely a product confined to the doings of the Mafioso. Everyone else in Sicily is more likely to take you out for an espresso than to shoot you in the gut. The death toll of 27 lives pales slightly when set against other current world tragedies, such as the ongoing Syrian conflict. The obscure impetus behind the Connecticut school shooting, however, makes for a more terrifying scenario. Syria is in the middle of a conflict; people have motives and beliefs, and guns to enforce those motives and beliefs. The reasons driving the violence are overt. The unknown rivals death in menace. Not understanding the where or why of American violence has made us wretched.

America felt paranoid and untrusting. Reports of the shooting was everywhere—even in global news. I believe distrust sets America apart from the world. Family, friends, and society are the cornerstones of the Italians' lives. In America, we’re individualized, compartmentalized, and alone. It’s every man for himself. If someone wants something you have that they don’t, and they take it, you have the right (and the weapon) to kill them. As if material things were worth a life.

It’s been a bittersweet return. I'd rather not end with such a lugubrious tone, but that was ultimately what I faced when I returned home. Even though I live on the other side of the country, the tragety was something that shook the nation. On a lighter note, reuniting with my family has been pleasant. We've been holed up next to the fire, avoiding the wind, rain, and snow of the Pacific Northwest winter. I taught my little brother how to make pizza one night, and we both tried and failed at tossing the pizza dough. We eventually opted to make calzoni instead. What will I miss most about Italy? Well, let's just say I never realized how watery drip coffee was before now. Arrivederci amici, it's been fun.

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