Pilgrimages with my mother

Pilgrimages with my mother

by Janice Nigro

Something interesting always happens when West meets East. I once invited an Indian friend over to teach me how to make a curry. I went shopping with him for the ingredients, and I realized the potential error in my thinking when he picked up a kilo of red pepper powder for purchase. Later in the evening I was not sure what I could actually eat if I ever traveled to India as I felt as if my lips had swelled up like some over ambitious silicone injections and watched my two male friends across the table sweat profusely.

I did not pay for the ingredients even though it had been my idea. We were the guests. We were supposed to relax and simply wait for the food to be served before us. It sort of defeated the purpose of the event-to learn to make a curry-but well I think I am famous for setting things up this way. Someone out there knows about invitations to my place to teach me how to make risotto.

My Indian friends though have a special gift, in addition to igniting my entire gastrointestinal tract, of helping me to philosophically cope with whatever life throws my way. I might start by discussing things that I have no control over in life, and an Indian friend will smile and respond with some allegorical story, which for some reason always has a monkey in it. I never understand the meaning of these stories, but they make me laugh and maybe that is the real purpose of the stories, rather than to reveal any real philosophy on how to choose paths in life.

So when an email arrives from any of my Indian friends, I can’t wait to read the details of any life events. In the most recent email from an Indian colleague in Norway, he revealed that he had decided to leave his post-doc without any specific career plans for the immediate future. Just quit and move on. Who would do that? He wrote that he had thought that only I was the kind of person who could make that sort of move, but then he too had reached a point where he was not sure he was on the right career path.

He decided to step off, take a sabbatical, and he was going to start by taking pilgrimages with his mother back in India.

That’s deep I thought. Pilgrimages conjure up something that would be a soul searching experience. A potentially physically strenuous journey where one looks inward and for higher meaning in life. On the other hand, pilgrimages with his mother…I immediately saw some parallels to my own life.

Although the pilgrimages might not be considered exactly spiritual or soul searching my pilgrimages with my mother are usually to Italy…

Yes, when I tell friends I am traveling with my mother, they say, “So you are going to Italy.” No question mark. But what isn’t spiritual about going to the chocolate store in Firenze year after year, pizza at Pugi, a new gelateria in Roma, a cathedral that took maybe a hundred years to construct, or an idyllic restaurant in the hills and the forest outside of Bologna to taste fresh truffles?

There are distinct advantages to such pilgrimages with your mother-mine loves to laugh, and she likes to eat good food. Mine has friends everywhere. She is patient while I take my photographs. And your mother is always your mother, so you are treated like the special person that you are.

There is actually so little time that you do special things together as a family. Once the oldest reaches that magic number of 18 (sometimes earlier than that), he/she is gone leaving the younger siblings behind. One of my most heartbreaking moments in my travel life was being left behind one summer to take classes in college while my parents and my younger siblings went to Spain and Portugal. If you are lucky, you can have that chance again.

It will be a while before I hear from my friend in India on his insights from his pilgrimages with his mother. I wonder if his will be profound or like mine, simply rediscovering his family after a long time away.

©2016 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

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