Abroad in Urbino: A student travel column #2


The Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

Gaige Davila

I’ve been waking up at 6 a.m. every morning without an alarm. I don’t know if it’s out of wanting to use my time, or finally having my sleep schedule regulated. Breakfast is small, and everyone is quiet. I abuse the campus cafe’s coffee machine but eat only one cornetto. I’m almost always here earlier than the other UTSA students. The Italian students and faculty are here, though. I observe their impeccable clothes and table manners, taking mental notes and parroting them the next morning. No one takes out their phones. I take my time with my small breakfast and head out, lighting my cigarette just before exiting the building. Let me die here.

I’ve adjusted very well. I try to go into town once a day, usually without an agenda. Every time I pass shop and restaurant windows, I see life inside then my own reflection. I don’t look the same as I did a month ago: my hair is shorter, my pants pseudo-hemmed, I wear a shoulder bag, scarf, and a peacoat with the collar popped a la Albert Camus. The buildings, people and cars behind me are all noted, as if it were a second-to-second reminder of something going in my favor for once: “you are here,” they say.

We take day trips to neighboring cities every weekend. Walking through Bologna is no different than dragging ass through a shopping mall. I climbed a tower built in the 1100s and saw red for miles. I loved Pesaro and Fano: two seaside cities that looked like Highland Park was dropped on the beach. Gradar is just outside of Urbino, and I particularly enjoyed this town out of the ones we’ve visited. There’s hardly any movement, and there’s always music playing somewhere just out of sight.

I’ve gotten along well with everyone, more so than I thought I would. Mutual fear bonded us, destroying any first impressions I had. Our Italian professors are wonderful and have both made me laugh until I cried from their unabashed observations of Americans and Italians. I only speak when necessary, trying to weigh my words carefully in English as well as Italian. I’d rather listen to the others anyway. The people are part of the experience just as our travels are, maybe even more so.

There hasn’t been a single meal (other than in the campus cafeteria called the “Mensa,” which is decent by Italian standards and incredible by American) I’ve had in this country that’s made me question the quality of food. Front and back-of-the-house staff actually give a f*** here, and it shows in the food. Genuine smiles, no servers increasing the pitch of their voice each time they approach a table, no obnoxious cocktails or dinner specials; no bulls***. Staff are hyperaware, knowing exactly when to pick up dishes and refill decanters, without ever having to ask the table. Every movement is calculated, quick and has a touch of bravado. They are matadors of the dining floor. Post-meal espressos are offered soon after the table is cleared and ashtrays are placed near your dominant hand, where servers noted your preference while you forked at a plate of gnocchi ai quattro formaggi, stopped, stared at your beautiful dinner companion and whispered a silent, reflexive “f***” at how incredible the dish is. Please let me die here.

Urbino is very much a university town, with excellent bars to serve the base. Italians make the best White Russians and Moscow Mules. Go figure. The scene is very sophisticated, and, again, no one has their phone out. No one Snapchatting their drinks or themselves shrieking for whatever reason. Any behavior like that is quickly noticed and extremely frowned upon. You do not want to look American here or, frankly, anywhere. The locals sit in massive groups and mingle with whoever’s beside them. You’d never guess they were all strangers minutes ago. To finally see this genuine appreciation for conversation and presence has made the financial ruin I’ll be returning to worth its weight in gold.

We’ll be in Rome soon, a city I’ve dedicated several holes in the walls of my apartment to. I look forward to seeing the leftovers of antiquity, finding a certain restaurant that serves the best cacio e pepe in Rome and walking along the Tiber River. If all roads lead to Rome, half of them are paved with souvenir shops and s*** restaurants. My time will be in the detours. Rome will be documented in its entirety, along with Florence, Paris, Venice and Dublin because I’ll be spending several days at each; they’ll receive their own entries.

My last day on South Padre, I was on the balcony of Causeway with a childhood friend, talking about the last ten years and how much our hometown hadn’t changed in between dancing to Shaggy’s “Luv Me, Luv Me,” playing through my phone. He stopped talking mid-sentence and pointed out the sound of the waves. We were well away from the beach, with several palm trees and condominiums in between us and the gulf. Neither of us had heard them from such a distance before and wondered how we’d never noticed our entire lives.

Now I’m at an observation deck behind a chapel in Fiorenzuola Di Focara. The small town sits on a cliff that overlooks the coast of the Adriatic sea. Nearly a mile down was the beach being pummelled by waves. It was the first time I’d seen the coast since leaving home. These little notes released a chorus. The outro of the aforementioned song played on loop, and I laughed out loud at how absurd the memory was, and the surreal view that took the echo. I look forward to telling my him that you can hear waves from the sky.