Having a Ball in Europe

Write about an event or experience that has deeply affected your development as a person.

On a summer vacation with my family last year, my first experience of independence in Italy was of almost being arrested. My parents had decided that they wanted to go to Europe for our annual summer trip. Since I had studied Latin for three years, I told them that I wanted to go to Rome. They agreed, and we packed our bags for a trip to Italy. The only problem was that once we got to Rome, two of those bags were missing. We found one, but the other was nowhere to be seen. While my parents were talking to an official at the desk, who happened to know English, I was sent off into the separate baggage claim room to see if our missing bag had arrived yet. On the way back to meet my parents, I was stopped by a policeman who had a very large dog and a gun. He asked to see my passport, which my parents were carrying. I tried to explain this fact, but he didn’t seem to understand. He then asked, in English, “Are you a hash dealer?” It was a surprising question, but I calmly responded, “No.” “So you just smoke hash sometimes,” was his response. Beginning to get disturbed, I responded again, “No.” His third question was more of a statement, “So you just smoke cigarettes.” Not being a smoker, I again responded, “No.” He went back to the first question. He tried to get me to go into the room that I’m guessing was some sort of interrogation room, but I managed to get him to come over to my parents. He asked, “Is this your baby,” seeming unaware of the fact that I was sixteen and had just managed to keep cool in front of a man carrying a large gun and whose dog’s size implied that it was part German shepherd and part horse. Thankfully, my parents responded, “Yes,” and showed the guard our passports. Seeming not the least bit apologetic and perhaps a bit disappointed at not arresting a new felon, the officer said, “Bene,” and walked away. So began my trip to the cradle of civilization.So much of that trip passed in a hurry. The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the great fortress of the Vatican all passed by in such a short time. I had really wanted to see the ruins of the civilization that I have learned about in my Latin class, and this trip gave me the chance. Only about fifteen miles from Rome sits Ostia Antica, an ancient city that is much like the Roman Forum except about a hundred times larger and devoid of people. I saw Pompeii, a city I had studied for a full year in a textbook filled with cartoons. Mt. Vesuvius on the horizon behind the city looked just like the pictures in my book. I recognized the things I had studied, and had a chance to see firsthand what had largely been in my imagination.It was the freedom I had that set this trip apart. I have been on many trips outside of the United States with my parents and three to Europe before this one. They had never let me wander off in foreign cities before. I found it exhilarating to roam through the streets of Rome near our apartment at night, and to explore the foreign villages we stayed at in the countryside. In some of the places we visited, my parents gave me the camera and let me stray off for a while, taking pictures they wouldn’t have, such as one of an ancient Roman mosaic in Pompeii of the birth of Venus, or a panorama of Rome. I did spend most of my time with my parents, but the freedom was something new.Our last four days were spent in Paris. The last night was July thirteenth, the night before Bastille Day, and the night when the entire city of Paris turns into one large party, called the Bal. While my parents slept in our hotel on the Ile St. Louis, near the center of the city, I walked a few kilometers to the Tullieries gardens and around the winding streets of the city. I went to the banks of the Seine, where masses of people were dancing and listening to music played over huge speakers. On the way I watched dancers and drummers on a bridge and visited another bridge that had been converted into a food court and a stage for live music. I spent my last hours in Paris among people whose language I didn’t know, awed by the revelry that lasted deep into the night.The next day we left for home. I had loved our trip instead of counting the days until it ended, as I had when I was younger. That was due to my visiting places I had dreamed of seeing, and my newfound freedom. Next year chances are I will live in a city far from my home in Oakland, California, and my family. I know now that I’ll be ready to learn from that place and my new situation, and to have fun on my own. All of these events, from the accusing guard at the Rome airport to my walk through Paris at night, have shown me that I can adapt to new situations on my own, and appreciate them for myself.

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