Some post-trip reflections (6/3/02)
It has now been nearly a week since Sheila and I returned home from Italy, and I have been surprised how quickly life has returned to normal for both of us. And perhaps that is as it should be; we all know that all good things must come to an end, and so it was with our trip. Speaking for myself, I suppose either my 1981 trip to Europe (mostly spent in Germany) or this one could lay equal claim to being the most exciting trip I ever took, and to compare the two is, to use the common saying, a bit like comparing apples and oranges. But there was one very notable difference. In 1981 I felt a sort of ineffable sadness at having to return home, but this time the return was accompanied by virtually no sense of letdown at all. The difference, I am sure, is the fact that this time we had two children and a home to go back to. (In '81 I was still single, and between my first and second years of law school; and all I had to return to then were my roommates and my digs in BYU-approved student housing.) My life, in other words, is more focused and centered than it was 21 years ago; and that, of course, is a good thing.
I will be thinking of this trip for the rest of my life -- always, I am sure, with fondness and relish. Millions of Americans have traveled to Italy -- including some who were there under much less favorable circumstances between 1943 and 1945. Excepting them, I am sure most travelers enjoyed their visits, and some even loved them; I, on the other hand, have positively gloried in mine. From time to time, I may have more to say about it to some of you individually, but this is the last mass e-mail I will be sending out for which the trip will constitute the subject-matter. I was unable to take any of you to Italy with me, but with the miracle of the Internet -- something not available to any of us in 1981 -- I have been able to do the next best thing. I have enjoyed sharing the trip with all of you, and the feedback I have been getting suggests that this sentiment has been mutual. I wanted to send these almost-daily posts to all of the people who were important to me, and who had e-mail; but obviously I was not completely successful. Some deserving individuals were left out because I did not have their addresses; in a few cases, the omission was intentional because I honestly did not think my trip to Italy would be of much interest to them. So in order to help me close the gap, please feel free to forward my messages to whomever you think might benefit in some way from having them.
E-mail, unfortunately, is not conducive to polished writing, and I have had to write all of these messages under significant time constraints. In looking over some of them today, I would have used different phraseology in some instances, if I had had the time to make corrections; in a few others, I have noticed some typographical errors that, unfortunately, escaped correction before I clicked the "send" button. (Among these are the two occasions when I gave Beatrice Portinari a wrong surname, and another where I said the papal reign of Boniface VIII ended in 1313; it was actually 1303.) The most serious shortcoming of my e-mails was that I simply did not have the time to say everything I wanted to say. To paraphrase some of the authors of the Book of Mormon, these (virtual) "plates" cannot contain even the hundredth part of all that we did and saw in the space of 13 days. (Sometime, for instance, you should ask me about the discussions Sheila and I had about "Mussolini's last stand" and the town of Montefiascone.) But I did my best, and I am glad my effort was enjoyed and appreciated by others.
Sheila and I had somewhat different, but not incompatible, agendas on this trip. She needed to rest and relax more than anything else; I needed that, too, but I was the one who needed to explore the country and savor it. Her health problems prevented her from sharing some of the experiences with me, which is why so many of my messages have been written mostly in the first person singular. I apologize for that, but having done so, I should add that having my wife along on this trip was a delight, and I may even forgive her eventually for inflicting the Monster upon me. She was really good about letting me do the things I wanted to do, even though in some cases -- such as the visits to Siena and the Vatican -- I ended up doing them alone. I will be more than happy to take her along on a similar journey sometime in the future, provided: (1) that we get this trip paid off first; (2) that her health permits it; and (3) that sometime between now and then, she learns to pack light! But I think the Hansen women are incapable of doing that, perhaps because of a genetic flaw; and in time, I suppose my wanderlust and my affection for Sheila will prevail, even if she decides that she simply must bring that anvil along. (It could be worse; I am grateful that my traveling companion was not her sister Dodie, who I believe really does take an anvil along whenever she travels anywhere.)
I should mention here that the idea of taking this trip, and the suggestion of Italy as the destination, were both mine. Sheila approved, but took no significant part thereafter in planning the trip, leaving that instead to me. So I was the one who spent hours on end surfing Italy-related websites, poring over maps and guidebooks and histories, and selecting where we would visit, booking our flights, and arranging our lodgings. I am not complaining about that, and Sheila tells me I did an excellent job. I mention it here only because I have made my share of bad decisions during my life: some of them were reasonable enough at the time I made them, but led to unfortunate results; others were just plain dumb. If this trip had been a disaster, the blame would almost certainly have fallen on me alone, and I would have accepted that. But instead, this adventure ended up being wildly successful. No vacation is ever perfect, and this one was no exception; but in my estimation, it came pretty darn close. Sheila and I have been through a lot in the 15 years we have been married, and for the last 10 years in particular, life has not been particularly kind to either of us. But I feel that I have in some way redeemed myself, at least to a degree, by doing this. My principal motivation for making this trip was the sense that both of us, and Sheila in particular, badly needed something that we could really cheer about; and on that score, I think we have done rather nicely this time around.
I hope all of you will someday have the opportunity to visit Italy -- or, if travel is not really your thing, that you will at least be able to do as we have and spend part of your earthly sojourn creating pleasant memories for yourselves, and stopping along the way to smell the roses. The time to live is, after all, when we are living.
Soon I will go back to giving all of you the individual attention you deserve from me. Thanks once again to everyone for letting me share the great adventure with you over the past three weeks. And thanks to you in particular, Mimi, for the pleasure of your company and that whirlwind tour of Rome, which we shall always remember with such fondness and affection, and which even the necessary haste and the accompanying downpour could not spoil.
Saluti a tutti voi,