Long Story Short: Headed in the same direction

about to board train in Milan IMG_4098

I just returned home from a 24-day trip across the sea. Literally. We sailed across the Atlantic and then I traveled for a bit in Europe.

I am happy to be home. Happy to sleep in my own bed. Happy to sit at the dinner table with my whole family and hear about their lives. Happy to give my feet a rest.

My trip included many of my favorite things — including time with friends in places I’ve never been.

After we docked in Barcelona, my husband headed home. I took a flight to Milan where friends picked me up, and we headed to Campioni d’Italia, a town of 1,500 nestled on Lake Lugano at the foothills of the Alps. It was picturesque and perfect. Campioni is in Italy, even though it’s located about 30 miles inside the Swiss border on Lake Lugano.

Until friends moved there last year, I had no idea that there was a tiny island of Italy, so to speak, inside Switzerland at the foothills of the Alps.

During my visit, I spoke to a fourth-grade class at The American School in Lugano where my friends’ children are students. I led the students, from all over the world, in a poetry writing exercise.

Here’s a sampling of pieces some of the 10-year-old children wrote about their favorite places:

Italy

Italy tastes like pizza.

Italy looks like history museum.

Italy smells like gas.

Italy sounds like a roaring engine.

Italy feels like being in a smoking room.

Spain

Spain tastes like paella.

Spain smells like sea.

Spain looks like a beautiful sea.

Spain sounds like people speaking Spanish.

Spain feels like sweet home.

Louisiana

Louisiana tastes like crawfish.

Louisiana smells like gumbo.

Louisiana looks like swamps and cane fields.

Louisiana sounds like Cajun music.

Louisiana feels like home.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan tastes like my mom’s chicken soup.

Kazakhstan smells like nature.

Kazakhstan looks like a peaceful village.

Kazakhstan sounds like a busy street.

Kazakhstan feels like my homeland.

Lancaster

Lancaster looks like a lake full of fish.

Lancaster feels like a piece of ice dripping.

Lancaster smells like fish.

Lancaster sounds like the tide hitting land.

Lancaster tastes like salty water.

Moscow

Moscow tastes like rotten cotton candy.

Moscow smells like oil factories.

Moscow sounds like people shouting, insulting each other on the streets.

Moscow looks like an abandoned city.

Moscow feels like home.

Sitting there listening to tiny voices sharing the details of their favorite places, in a variety of accents, warmed my heart.

Eventually, my friends drove me to Milan to catch a train toward Nice, France, to visit other friends.

Milan’s train station is big, beautiful and bustling. When I found the correct platform to catch my train, the narrow peninsula to board the train was crowded with all sorts of people. I asked two people for directions as to which car to board. Both helped and also warned me to be very careful because of a large number of pickpockets and groups of people up to no good.

As I boarded the train, one of the groups of people who seemed highly suspicious entered the same car. I followed them down the narrow hallway. When the five of them went into the compartment where I was headed…well, my mama didn’t raise no fool.

I simply decided to go into the compartment beside it. A young couple came in behind me. I realized I was sitting in one of their seats and asked if they spoke English so I could explain. They were, in fact, Americans, and asked where I was from. I said, “Lafayette, Louisiana.”

They both gasped.

“We got married in Broussard. I’m from Lake Charles,” the guy said.

“We lived in Lafayette for a while,” the girl said. “You may know my family.”

She went on to explain that her uncle Nabil Loli owns Cedar Grocery in Lafayette. What are the chances? One of the first stories I ever wrote for this newspaper was about Nabil and his dad, this girl’s grandfather, in a celebration of Father’s Day.

“I’m Harley Hebert,” the young man said.

“And I’m Natalie,” added his wife.

And we were off toward the coast. The potential thugs cleared out of the train, and Harley helped me get my luggage situated in my correct spot.

Every time I experience something along these lines, I think about a lady I met more than 20 years ago on a snowy night in Slovakia. We too were travelers headed in the same direction. When she insisted on giving me a ticket for the bus that I needed to take to my final destination, I protested her generosity. She then said, “The world is small, and we must be kind when we can.”

With those words, she changed my life. In that moment, I realized how much nicer everything was when I worked with people instead of against them. Over and over again, I have learned how right she was.