Martin's Travels in Italy

Posted on October 03, 2015 by K Doyle

When I first told friends I would be going to Italy in May with my mom they all said, "Wow, you're going to have an amazing time!" They weren't wrong. But usually they talked about the artistic inspirations, or the wonderful foods, or the beautiful architecture, or the World's Expo in Milan. While all of these contributed to the deeply moving time I had while I was there, I think the more lasting experience for me came about much more subtly. One friend in particular on my return asked if it had been as life altering as they had expected, if I had enjoyed a totally "WOW" experience. In trying to explain it to them, I said it had been more like the deep detonation of explosions underground; a heavy rrruuuummmble and THUD, rather than bright fireworks in the sky. It hit me right at my core.

I'm still trying to find the words to clearly explain exactly what the shift was, but I think this simple picture from our apartment on our first night in Florence (and our first night in Italy) gives some indication. This simple post at the top of the stairs (as well as the well-worn stone stairs themselves) is somewhere between 500 and 700 years old. Everywhere we went I watched my mom walk up to stone walls, doorways, and public statues to lay her hand on their cool antiquity. Always with a bit of awe and reverence to be touching something someone had made and put in place over half a millennia ago. The more time we spent walking around Florence and Venice and Rome, in the mad crush of people, cars, bicycles, scooters and buses, the more I realized how isolated we in the United States have become. Not only from our past, but from each other, from ourselves, and from life. We have locked ourselves away in cubicles of space and time, in antiseptic notions of propriety, and sterile laws that tell us how we SHOULD live. We've forgotten how to ACTUALLY live and how to be responsible for our small plot of land on this glorious, blue planet.

It was a deep reminder to me that the impact of our actions IN EVERYTHING WE DO is our own personal responsibility. At the end of the day we have only ourselves to answer to. Future generations will reach down to touch the echoes of antiquity we have left behind for them. Let's try and make it something vibrant and alive and special. In that vein I would like to invite you to join me in signing the Milan Charter, a document designed to celebrate food justice, conservation of species, and cultural heritage.

Towards the end of our trip we had the great privilege of attending the World's Expo in Milan. For me the World's Fair Columbia Exposition in Chicago has always been the archetype of a World's Fair as the expression of cultural evolution and technological advances for the betterment of humanity. And to be honest my first impressions of the Milan Expo were somewhat underwhelming. I mean Coke and McDonald's and a number of other big ag corporations had been allowed to help sponsor this event whose stated mission of "Feeding the Planet" seemed pretty much wide open to interpretation. But though many of the pavilions did have some sense of agritourism to them, the overwhelming sense I felt, from the unfinished Nepalese pavilion, to the simple elegance of Bharain's white marble walls and citrus gardens, to the UK pavilions honeybee theme, was one of humility and deep respect for our interdependence with nature for everything we do.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the 3 story tall Italian pavilion which overlooked the awe-inspiring Tree-of-Life fountain at the heart of the fair. Amongst many high tech and low tech exhibits designed to immerse and educate participants in both the natural and architectural world, about two-thirds of the way through the pavilion, was a room in which we were asked to sign the Milan Charter. My mother stood and read the pages of the charter scrolling across the digital screen, and this woman who put herself on the front lines of the civil rights movement, and over the last forty years has dedicated her life as a cardiologist to the service of others, stood there and wept soft, silent tears.

It is time for us to begin building a planet for future generations, and the greatest, most technologically advanced resource we have is the earth itself. Our biggest challenge will be getting out of our own way and allowing life to happen. As an artist and an entrepreneur, I feel incredibly blessed that I have the freedom to steer my own craft and to help lead by example, charting a course that I can honestly say represents the best of who I think I can be. It's time for every person to commit to being a steward of their small (or large) strand of this tapestry we call life.

Our final stop on our Italian tour was Venice. It is tempting to use an image of what was once the world's richest and most powerful city, slowly succumbing to the rising waters of the Adriatic, as a metaphor for the impending demise of culture and civilization in the face of extreme climate change. However, I am more inclined to focus on a less obvious, but more hopeful memory; that of a young man from Norway we met with his parents over dinner at St. Marks Square. In spite of, or perhaps because of, a life threatening ailment, this notable 15 year old was able to talk on an extremely heartfelt, but also very intelligent level, about being a minority in his school in Oslo. There, the immigrant Sudanese population is forcing this model, socialist society to look deeply into issues of cultural heritage, and economic and political self-determination. The honest and empathic way in which he spoke about his fellow students gave me great hope for the future.

Mostly it reminded me of how I want to be in the world: humble, amazed, curious, mischievous, alive!!! Thank you to all the wonderful friends, old and new, as well as the interesting strangers and fellow seekers we met along the way. But mostly thank you to my mom for making this trip so vibrant and full of life. I love you and cherish these memories we have built together.