I’m sitting in the lobby of our hotel in Parma feeling very much like it’s 1983. Before leaving the U.S., my wife and I cancelled our mobile phone plans, because they’re too expensive to use in Europe anyways, and we didn’t want to pay for phones we aren’t going to use. So we can’t communicate with each other when we split up for periods of time, and we’re relying on the sketchiest of Internet connections in our hotel. Last night, I tried to tweet an article but gave up after watching the chrome icon spin fruitlessly dozens of times.
We’re pretty much unconnected and 98% of our worldly belongings are in storage. We’ve had TV’s in all our hotel rooms but no channels or programs we’ve wanted to watch. I have no idea who’s been voted out on Survivor the last two weeks and I’m O.K. with that.
A few weeks ago, I went to listen to an interview with the travel writer Pico Iyer at the National Geographic Society in Washington. Pico is the ultimate off-the-grid writer. His “office” is his stepdaughter’s humble desk, adorned with photos of teen pop idols. He sleeps on the couch of his two room apartment in Kyoto and rarely ventures past a four block radius. He has no television, internet, bicycle or car. He has space on his shelf for just six books and reads no newspapers or magazines. He’s been living in Japan for twenty five years, but doesn’t speak the language and is content to live in the country on a tourist visa, which requires him to leave every 89 days.
This is the monastic lifestyle Iyer sought when he quit his job at Time magazine 25 years ago and moved into a Kyoto monastery. But after just one week of cold showers and pre-dawn wake up calls, he fled the monastery but not the country. He met his wife and published his first book, The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto.
At the National Geographic Society, Iyer revealed that he’s now living the monastic lifestyle he wasn’t ready for 25 years ago. I have no interest in being disconnected over the long haul, but there are moments when I treasure the fact that I have no phone, Internet, T.V., newspapers or other distractions.
My sons and I were sitting outside having pizza tonight at Dal Teo, and with no distractions, I was able to savor the view of commuters cycling across the Ponte di Mezzo bridge. What a joy it is to watch a pretty woman riding by, with one hand on the bike and another juggling a cell phone call with someone that’s putting a smile on their face. But even better is having a conversation with my boys, Leo, 4, and James, 2, and just taking a moment to admire how handsome they are and how fast they are growing up.
My sons like to do cheers when they get their drinks at a restaurant. And as my sons toasted each other tonight, looking smart in matching blue Italia sweatjackets as Parma’s commuters rolled right by us, all I could think of was how deeply fortunate am I to have these sons that I love so much. I try not to take them for granted at home, but being on the road, when they don’t have all their toys and neither do I, somehow helps us freeze moments in time.
After dinner, we repaired to a place called the K2 Gelateria and had some of the best gelato we’ve ever had, while my wife, Jen, remained in our hotel to participate in a conference call. The gelato was sensational and it made the boys so giddily happy that they were actually hugging each other and sort of dancing/jumping around the place. James’s face was the color of mud from the ciocolatto. The three of us have rarely been happier.
We might be back in 1983, but we’re still having a damn good time.