|My husband and I in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.|
Have you ever visited a place for the first time and felt as though you were finally at home?
That's what it was like for me when I first set foot in Italy. And—more incredibly—it's felt that way every time I've been fortunate enough to travel there. I'd expected the magic to wear off after a visit or two, due to familiarity or the added perspective of age, but it's remained constant through the years...like my love of Renaissance art, Murano glass beads, or freshly made chocolate-orange gelato. (For the record, Festival del Gelato in Florence is my favorite gelateria in the world!)
Then again, maybe I'm biased because I'd daydreamed about taking a trip to the famous cities of Venice, Florence, and Rome ever since I was a little kid. Or possibly because our close family friends were native Sicilians. Or because my dad had spent a memorable summer working in that country before he met my mom, and I grew up hearing stories of Italy's beauty. Or maybe it's just because I really love ravioli, passionately sung music, Mediterranean shorelines, and pure southern European sunshine.
|"Marilyn Brant's A SUMMER IN EUROPE|
is a wonderful tale that captivates readers
as Gwen, transformed by her surroundings,
undergoes a change of heart about life...
and love." ~Doubleday Book Club
I poured my love and first impressions of Italy into a novel called A Summer in Europe (Kensington, 2011). The main character, Gwen, takes her first trip abroad with her eccentric aunt Bea and the elderly lady's outspoken Sudoku & Mahjongg playing friends. The adventure opens Gwen's eyes to the wonderful transformative power of travel and getting to see the world through a new lens at long last. It's a happy story of a woman who's on an inward journey as much as an outward one—though, of course, she doesn't know that at first.
What's always intriguing to me about travel is that, even when we know a trip has the power to change us, I don't think it's possible for us to truly recognize that change happening until we're at least halfway through it. Or maybe even home again...
I remember being sixteen and an AFS exchange student in Brisbane, Australia. I couldn't believe I'd been lucky enough to be chosen for this dream placement. (The residents often called it a "sun-burned" country, but I just called it "gorgeous," especially with sites like the Sydney Opera House, the Gold Coast, the Great Barrier Reef, and real live koalas that I could hold...) I'd read the student-exchange materials with tremendous interest. All of those handouts and brochures that the organizers had sent us—not just about the host country, but also about the time we'd be spending with our host families and our host schools. We were cautioned that we would need to change and adapt to our new environment. That there would be a lot of information to process. That it would be a roller coaster of emotions.
And it was.
Somewhere in the middle of my summer (their winter) stay, I wrote in my trip journal that I was supposed to have changed from all of this, right? Hey, I'd entered into this journey being open to change. I'd expected it. So, why hadn't it happened yet? I felt almost exactly the same as when I'd left home. To my own eye, I was still this mostly geeky, sort of awkward high-school girl who was good as school stuff and not entirely comfortable with much else. It was only in retrospect—some months after I gotten back—that I could see in hindsight that there had been changes all along. Some were subtle shifts in perception. Others were massive worldview transformations that, ultimately, ended up altering the course of my career path and my life.
|"Gelato" Photo by Aaron Logan, courtesy|
of Wikimedia/Creative Commons
I think a strong setting—whether it's in 3D right before our eyes or simply described on the page with heart and an acute attention to detail—has the power to affect as much change upon us and/or our protagonists as any other real-life person or fictional character could. It's the very air we're breathing. The sounds we're hearing. The landmarks in our periphery. And the taste (oh, the delightful taste!) of our most unforgettable dessert.
What's a setting that's left a life-long impression upon you? A place that made you feel at home?
Marilyn Brant is a USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary women's fiction, romantic comedy, and mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. If you want to see pictures from her European travel adventures, she has a page on her website HERE. And, in her latest novel, The Road to You, her characters take a road trip down Historic Route 66, and she has photos HERE from that journey as well :) .