1. Beware of changing the point of view in your writing; readers may question the focus.

2. Watch your tenses; don't mix past and present.

3. Get your facts right; incorrect historical information, even in fiction, can stir doubt.

4. Make sure your passport is at least three months from expiring before traveling to Italy.

Wait, what was that fourth one? This relates to writing and literature, how? Only in the sense that it set back this editor two days, hundreds of dollars, and required six hours of waiting in line at the U.S. Custom House in Philadelphia to finally obtain a new passport, which, this time, does not expire in two months, but ten years. Oh, the summer vacation: the ultimate ticket to fun and relaxation.

I could not even review submissions to the magazine during those stressful two days; my laptop, my clothes, my razor and coloring book were en route to Sicily, along with my family and relatives, while I was busy securing a place to stay, muddling through a city I was not all too familiar with. The horse-drawn carriages along Society Hill were nice. The diner at Reading Terminal Market was warm and homey until lunch was over and I started wondering what to do next.

All the while, photos were arriving on my cell phone: a fine breakfast in a home in Cinisi, the family smiling with the owner of a wine store in Sciacca, a sweating cup of caffe freddo set upon an old and worn bistro table in the shade. It was drizzling in Philadelphia, as I read public park plaques marking the area as burial grounds for those who fought for our country's independence many years ago. My umbrella was in Sovareto at the time.

Flores Island, The Isle of Flowers, is at the western end of the Azores, in the Atlantic Ocean, and this point, by eyeball set upon a map, is halfway between my home and Sicily. It is sixteen kilometers long and its population is under four thousand. I wondered if the island would serve as a suitable way point for me in my sojourn, and whether their government office would admit an American literary magazine editor onto their land without notable concern. Flores Island has its own airport. TripAdvisor lists two hotels, one vacation rental, and two restaurants. Perfect.

There are wonderful sources of information free and at your disposal to consult, explaining all the rules of international travel with a soon-to-be-expiring passport. All you need to know is that while your passport is still valid, you may still be told "You can't go" by an airline gate agent, having already checked your bags, your family standing beside you, fifteen minutes before boarding. When the words first escaped from her lips, we all thought it was a joke.

Behind me, in line at the U.S. Custom House, were two high school senior girls traveling to Spain for their Spanish class. They were scheduled to take a two-week course on local culture and language in a town along the Mediterranean. One of the girls' passports was expiring the same month as mine. She was told "You can't go" at the airport, as I had been, but probably by a different individual as she was flying a different airline. The other girl was her best friend whose passport expiration date was several years away. She did not want to go ahead alone. They were wondering if missing two days of class would affect their grade and whether the school would cover the cost of rebooking.

I have learned that if you appear as though you are in a rush when you return a rental car at an airport, the agent will accommodate your haste in commendable fashion. In my case, he simply pointed to the shuttle bus that was to take me to the terminal; all he asked was that I leave the key in the car. He said everything was fine and would be settled later. This man was a comrade, someone I wanted by my side at the next stressful, desperate situation I encountered. I felt like showing him my passport and airline ticket and asking him if he thought it all looked good this time around, whether I'd be allowed to board a flight to Rome.

The beaches looked lovely in Borgo Bonsignore, so indicated the photos that continued to arrive on my phone, one showing an entire extended family, minus one member, all waving, smiling, having a jolly of a time. I started wondering if this missing person on the beach, the one who, in fact, made all the arrangements for arriving on said beach, might one day set foot there. And so, once safely on my flight, I resolved that upon sitting down at the first restaurant along the holy Mediterranean, having rejoined the family, I would order scrapple. If they don't have that, surely a Philadelphia cheese steak would suffice. Best to start with a meal from a place that would rather detain me than refuse me.

— J Levens


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