Sep 13, 2016
By Mia Cohen
Freedom in an Italian Blood Orange
I balanced a blood orange in the crook of my arm as I fumbled noisily with the lock. So much for trying not to wake my friend, Emma. I slipped out the door, and made my way to…well, I wasn’t really sure where I was headed.
Except that I was going up.
An increase in elevation has always invigorated me. Whether scrambling up the hill in my grandmother’s backyard as a child, or trekking the Andes as an adult, there has always been something about climbing. Perhaps it is the nearly impalpable skip of my heartbeat, the shortness of my breath, or the burning of my muscles as I put one foot in front of the other.
Keep in mind, at this point in my life I had only ever really climbed my grandmother’s hill, so I took the winding, paved road that appeared to be going up. Everyone has to start somewhere.
While walking, I passed some blood orange trees, and I smiled as I remembered what happened on the train to Rome just days ago.
* * *
I rifled through my bag to retrieve what I thought was an ordinary orange and buried my too-short-nails into its skin. When I finally got a good grip and peeled it back, the flesh appeared purplish.
“Emma. Something is wrong with my orange. Maybe it’s rotten?”
She examined the orange, tossed it back with a giggle, and said, “It’s a blood orange, Mia.”
I’d only ever seen blood orange yogurt. A real blood orange. I took a bite. “Mmmmmm! So much better than ordinary oranges,” I said, and I wiped a dribble of juice off my chin. I’m a messy eater, okay?
As the train zoomed on, I was silently astounded by my lack of awareness about the world. Blood oranges were a real thing, and they were far superior to the oranges I previously knew and loved.
* * *
My aforementioned friend, Emma, was living in Milan and coordinated most of our trip. She referred to it as “Mia’s Taste of Italy”. Delicious, in my opinion. The trains, and our legs, carried us through Milan, Rome, Florence, Pisa (yes, I took “the picture”), and Cinque Terre. On this day, I found myself in Riomaggiore, a lovely little fishing village. Unbeknownst to me, this “Taste of Italy” would ignite a deeper passion to learn more about the cultures, histories, and lifestyles of the world.
Lost in my thoughts, I continued up the winding road in Riomaggiore, contemplating all I had experienced in just a few days. When my mind found its way back to the present, I stopped to gaze at the sea. And there I stood, for longer than I should have, but not for as long as I would have liked, taking in the brightly colored homes, and the vibrant, local citrus trees. I breathed in the crisp, salty ocean air and shuddered as the breeze came and went.
Maybe the invigorating thing about going up is the view from the top. Going up also makes me hungry; luckily I always pack snacks. Always.
I dug in into my blood orange, this time admiring the beauty of that purple flesh as I extracted a wedge.
Suddenly, I got that tightness in my throat that signals I’m going to cry. So, I cried. I cried because I realized my job controlled every aspect of my life. Sundays were for food prep, Mondays for grading, Tuesdays for lesson planning, Wednesdays for meetings, and no days for living. I cried because what I thought was safe and good was actually holding me back. I cried because my life was a life only halfway lived. Then, I cried as I thanked God for revealing what true freedom and happiness looks like, for showing me the beauty in a blood orange on the bluffs of Riomaggiore.
Maybe the invigorating thing about going up is the way it helps me gain perspective about what I thought I knew. Maybe the air really is different “up there”.
Now that I have tasted a different sort of freedom, I am preparing for it. Preparing my heart so I can receive my next assignment. Organizing my finances so I can leave my current job. Preparing my mind for a shift in priorities and the ability to discern what truly matters. This is quite a leap for a woman who always thought freedom was tied to finances, success, and security.
I have spent my life eating ordinary oranges while the blood oranges were just waiting to be discovered, waiting for me to consider their splendor. This is the year I start eating blood oranges. This is the year I choose true freedom.
I don’t really know where I’m headed, but I know I will be going up.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.
About the Author
Mia Cohen is a full-time English Language Arts teacher in a Nashville, TN middle school with a deep appreciation for writing and literature. She has a passion to see the world and learn about histories, cultures, and lifestyles of the people in it. Just having gotten her feet wet with world travel and travel writing, Mia is ready to jump in and see what's beneath the surface!