This past Monday I found myself in Vicenza, waiting for a train, scared that I was on the wrong platform. With five days of travel and a lot less sleep than I preferred behind me, I was feeling generally stressed and thinking that the 15 minute delay of my first train may cause me to miss my connection in Padova. As the sign on the platform finally clicked on displaying “PADOVA” and the correct train number, a man likely in his early sixties next to me clipping newspapers began to speak to me (in Italian). I replied with my usual “mi dispiace, il mio italiano e non molto bene” (I’m sorry, my Italian is not very good), when he asked what language I spoke. I replied “Inglese” and in somewhat-proper English he asked me what I was doing in Italy. After explaining that I was a student and studied architecture, we introduced ourselves. I was Alex, the 21 year old student form the United States and he was Loris, a professor of Philosophy in Venice (where I had been with the rest of the students just the day before).
Loris and I talked about my life as a student abroad and he recommended many philosophers that he thought I could use the help of, urging me to write their names in my sketchbook. What we discussed ranged from my spotty education in classical Latin to young women, eventually resting with him looking through my sketchbook. After this we shook hands and smiled at each other, he told me that a young man should be strong, and walked onto his train returning to Venice as it arrived. Meeting Loris was one of the better parts of my day, not because I was in specific need of spiritual advice (although I am always receptive to it), but because I had a meaningful conversation with someone through a slight language barrier in the most unexpected place. What I find to be my favorite thing about traveling on my own is that I can meet new people I never would being in a group. A short encounter with someone like Loris is what I will remember the most about days in and out of trains/buses; two people meet and connect for a brief moment in time, then go their separate ways with an unchanging image of that other person that they can hold on to as long as they choose.
It would be a miracle if I were ever to meet Loris again, but I did one morning at a train station on a bench before we were whisked away in opposite directions. In those few minutes we managed to have a conversation of some significance, or at least make me feel a little better about being awake with nothing in my stomach, and for that I am appreciative.