It would be easy for me to write an entire entry on how it felt to take a running jump off the side of a mountain and become one with the sky as the wind caught beneath you.
But oddly, as invigorating as that experience may have been, what I enjoyed just as much this past weekend in Switzerland, were my social interactions. Even when thinking of soaring through the air, my hilarious Aussie instructor, Bernie comes to mind. Apparently the two most important things to remember when hang gliding are to run fast, and look good. Bernie was also so kind as to remind me, moments before our take off, that I was taking my leap of faith on Friday the 13th. Great.
While in Switzerland, I felt more in my comfort zone than I have while being in Italy. Yes, I know as little Swiss-German as I do Italian, but at least my blonde hair didn't scream, "I'm clearly not from here," among the Swiss. So, instead of shying away from talking to locals and feeling as through I stuck out like a sore thumb, I was far more apt to put myself out there.
While waiting on our bus to arrive, one of my roommates, Lindsay, and I went on a walk and stumbled upon a trail leading into the mountains. Beyond having photo opps to die for, the trail also offered some wonderful company. We talked to a few people who crossed our path, but one in particular really stuck out to me. She told us of the spiritual journey that brought her to Switzerland as well as her perspective on American culture and politics. I learned quite a bit in the fifteen minutes we stood listening to her. It was beautiful to meet a woman so captivated by her spiritual inquiries that she let them lead her to entirely new places. Beyond that, I was reminded of how blind Americans can be to our own prejudices. America is, no doubt, a wonderful country, but we sometimes see the rest of the world through a tainted lens. She admitted admiring the courage of American people as a whole, but felt a bit disturbed by what she saw as our more ugly political underbelly. It took only fifteen minutes with her to gain a new point of reference.
It's crazy how much you can learn from even the smallest of conversations. Each person's story offers a new perspective, a better understanding of things you thought you understood. When with people of other cultures, it is fascinating to glimpse not only their culture, but get an outside look into your own.
I've always valued the conversations I have with people in passing and people from cultures different than mine, but in Florence these have been a little harder to come by. I like to blend into a culture, become one with its citizens. However, it seems my inability to blend in while in Florence has left me too intimidated to embrace the people around me. I think it's high time to move past that. I may never exude a Florentine aura, but I shouldn't let that keep me from embracing the Florentine people around me.
So, here's hoping that in time I will be better able to learn about this incredible city from the people who know it best. After all, the smallest of conversations can easily teach me as much as an invigorating flight through the sky.