First stop: Rome. We landed fairly early in the morning and hit the ground running, pausing only briefly at our hotel to stow our bags and freshen up. Then it was off to Vatican City for a stroll through the museum and a tour of the archaeological excavations under the Basilica. (Our guide “spoke English” in the sense that we could understand maybe half of what she said, and she could answer “Yes, OK” to any questions, regardless of whether or not that answer actually made sense.)
For lunch we enjoyed the first of many (many, MANY) excellent pasta dishes, freshly made, with finely grated parmesan and savory-sweet artichokes sprinkled throughout.
We knew jet lag would be our enemy, so we purposely planned to retire early and relax at the hotel. What we couldn’t have anticipated was that I wouldn’t have slept a wink on the plane. Me! She Who Cannot Stay Awake in Moving Vehicles. She Who Often “Rests Her Eyes” During Takeoff and Then Does Not Open Them Again Until Landing. I am a champion sleeper, and yet for no good reason that I can discern, I was completely thwarted from slumber during our entire flight over the Atlantic.
So, at about 4 p.m. on that first day in Rome, I was crashing. Hard. I wanted nothing more than to collapse on the bed and go unconscious till morning. But Andy insisted that I push myself, just until 6 p.m. Otherwise I might not adjust to the new time zone properly, which would throw me off for the entire trip.
Reluctantly, I listened to his wisdom. I forced myself to shower, eat, remain upright. To pass the time, I checked Twitter and read articles that my friends had shared. I Instagrammed.
By 6:17 p.m., I had brushed my teeth, put on my pajamas, and was ready, at long last, to sleep. But out of habit, I checked my email one last time — after all, people in the States were finally up and about — and I received one of the simplest but most exciting messages of my life.
It was from a literary agent I had queried. She had finished reading my manuscript and enjoyed it. She wondered if I might have time to talk.
Suddenly I was wide awake.
Fortunately, our schedule for the following day had some flexibility, so I set up a time to speak with the agent and then proceeded to freak. the hell. out. Now Andy switched sides, insisting that I try to sleep, lest I become even more of a zombie. In spite of being out of my mind with (cautious) optimism, I did (finally) zonk out, almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The next day I woke with a smile on my face and a pegasus flying circles around my heart. That buzz kept me company as we explored the Colosseum and wandered through the ancient crumbling Forums. I may have been reading about the past, but I was dreaming about my future.
Lunch was beef carpaccio and more hand-cut pasta, this time with impossibly thin slices of black truffle on top. Bellies full, we went to the Pantheon and to Trevi Fountain. Together, we turned our backs to the statue of Neptune and threw coins over our shoulders into the water. One, two three, splash! That was the sound of wishes being made.
Back at the hotel, Andy stepped out to give me privacy for my call. For The Call. The one where an agent told me that she loved my book, that she understood my book, that she wanted to represent my book. That she wanted to represent me.
We talked for over an hour, and I couldn’t stop smiling. When we got off the phone, my whole body was vibrating with excitement. Euphoria. Disbelief and validation simultaneously.
I had an offer.
Although this agent was wonderful, I did not accept right away. I wanted to honor the time and interest of the other agents who were reading my work — and if I’m being honest, I was curious to see who else, if anyone, might offer, and how they would compare. But more on that later. For now, it’s enough to say that I was on cloud nine, and I stayed there for the rest of the trip.
Day 3 was an excursion to the Amalfi Coast and the ruins of Pompeii. We spent hours enjoying the view as a driver wound us along the breathtaking mountain roads. Sea and sky, cliffs and lemon fields. The panoramas imparted a peace I can’t explain. I fell in love with Positano.
In Pompeii, our guide explained how remarkably advanced this ancient civilization had been — with roads, a court system, bakeries and bars, even indoor plumbing — as well as how such a grand city could go missing for so long. Twenty feet of ash, thousands of lives lost, and still years to go before the whole thing was unearthed. Huddling under umbrellas to avoid the rain, we marveled at what remained of their world.
Our last day in Rome was the most free-form. Decisions made on the fly. A quick trip through the wrong museum, followed by a quick trip through the right one. Gnocchi and maialina just off the Piazza Navona, and a long, warm climb up to Gianicolo Park for spectacular views of the city.
As we walked and ate and admired the art, every now and then it would hit me: She loves my book. She wants to work with me. When I get back home, the next phase of my journey will begin.
But first, we still had Florence and Venice to go.