The day some nuns broke my heart

In the year 2000, I spent two months working on an archaeological dig in Cyprus.

I spent the Millennium (the real one) on a Cypriot hilltop with good friends and bad wine, watching the fireworks 30 km away in Nicosia.

I travelled throughout Spain and loved it. Barcelona to Andalucia, just magic.

I took an impromptu trip to London, then Paris. The weather was terrible but it didn’t matter.

I went to Italy and travelled south from Genoa on rattling old trains. I daytripped to Ravenna, just to see the Roman/Byzantine mosaics.

Then I arrived in Florence.

I’d been taking photos the whole way on my silver Minolta SLR. But this was the old days, and that meant taking photos on film. By the time I made it to Florence, after nearly four months on the road, I had accumulated dozens of rolls of exposed film which I kept in a waterproof bag in my pack.

In Florence I met up with my dad, who offered to subsidise a a diversion to Venice. I hadn’t originally planned on going there, but when there are a couple of hundred thousand lire being passed to me, I tend not to say no. It was going to be a lightning trip and I didn’t want to lug my pack all the way there. I packed two pairs of underwear and two t-shirts. I arranged to leave my main pack in the luggage storage room of the hostel I was staying at. The place was run by nuns. I should have been fine.

Venice was brilliant. Even better was the fact that I lived out of a day pack, a skill which I now embrace. My wardrobe was repetitive and I only had one book, but I didn’t care. I traipsed up and down bridges, got lost, found myself, bought expensive coffee, and wondered why the gondolas were only painted black.

When I got back to Florence, my pack was missing. Not just “I don’t know where it is” missing, but “I don’t know what you’re talking about” missing. Everyone claimed that I had never stored anything with them. It was like my pack had disappeared off the face of the earth… complete with all my exposed film. Shifty bloody nuns.

I went to the police station, but was met with the dumb insolence of the Italian tourist police. Granted, maybe I didn’t smell too good by then. But they were still no bloody help.

I scoured the back streets around the hostel. I scanned the banks of the Po. I cried. I wailed. I felt submerged in panic.

It wasn’t my stuff that I cared about. It’s just stuff, and not very good stuff at that. I was about to go home anyway, so I didn’t need to immediately replace anything. It was the photos. All those memories – gone.

There’s a reason that people rescue their photos from burning houses. You don’t need to see them all the time, it’s just nice to know they’re there. But when you do open up that album, the memories come flooding back. Is there any better way to spend a rainy afternoon than looking through old photos?

Our photos are ourselves – they’re what we found worth recording at the time. It doesn’t really matter whether they’re any good or not. We’re walking collections of memory, and photos are the material proof.

Nearly fifteen years later I’m still upset about those missing photos. I have the memories, but they’re fading over time. What I wouldn’t give to be able to find them again – to help me to remember who I was and what I felt.

3 thoughts on “The day some nuns broke my heart

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