Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dear everyone,

Oh, April.

After December's bad break-up and his subsequent suicide I fell to more pieces than I'm even made up of, and in January I reflexively followed through on a little poem I'd had in my head for a while. I bought tickets for a solo trip to Italy. I knew in my fingertips that I needed room to breath. Remember that part in The Secret Garden where Mary finally gets inside and sees all of the little plants choking in the weeds? Without knowing quite what she's doing she gets down in the dirt and clears some space for them. It was like that. Somewhere in between all of my bones I knew that I needed a line to something else, a carrot on a string, a way to keep myself from being pulled under by the tide of my own self-loathing.

I've spent the last few months flashing a lot of jazz hands at a lot of people, pulling a lot of rabbits out of a lot of hats, and inside my head going very slowly and terrifyingly mad. All this time, April has been the point. I knew that I was expending all of my energy trying to make people not worry about me, and that if I could just make it to long silent train rides and heart-stoppingly beautiful vistas I could reset what had been broken. In private. I needed to be wrung out like a dirty sponge.

I suppose I could have met more people in Italy, but going hours and hours without speaking to anyone was exactly what I wanted it to be. It was like being rinsed out, like the hull of a boat having its barnacles rubbed off by being beached on the sand. I could feel myself becoming transparent, and there wasn't much need to interact with many people. I needed silence and time and distance, and I got them.

As a result, I'm feeling more samantha-colored than I have in ages. Just because my extremities don't feel like natural disasters doesn't mean that they aren't, of course, but I'm a little better prepared to deal with that. I'm not better, but I'm good, and I think that I'm aligned to heal properly. Which is good, because it's spring, and I've got a lot of outdoor drinking to do, a lot of new friends to make. Now that I can breathe a little again.


Monday, April 28, 2008

I've always been a little obsessed with bones. I get distracted by the fact that I'm made of bones that I'll probably never see. They're so entirely personal and also so foreign, and it's seductive in a way that all of the blood and connective tissues aren't.

In Italy there are bones everywhere, in reliquaries and on walls, gilded and stuffed in nooks and frequently unidentified. They're just bones, detached from their flesh and their names and their histories. It seems unfair that people have been looking under that skin for so many years, that there's been so much light where light was not meant to go.

I can't decide if I would want my bones to remain on display after I'm gone, if I would want you to see them when I can't.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The last couple of days, everyone has wanted to know about two things: food and men. So, fine. Food and men it is.

The food, of course, was amazing. I love Italian food and would be perfectly happy to move there and eat until I died. There was a memorable round of bruschetta with giant chunks of crab and olive oil running down my arm. In Siena, I had some wild boar in a Chianti sauce that could end wars. If it were legal to marry the seafood risotto in Venice, I would commit my life to it in a heartbeat. And people, Naples invented pizza. Invented it. Pizza. How bad could a town be if it is where pizza comes from?
Most of the people I met on the road were students on a break from their study abroad experiences, and they were all eating on the cheap, which meant a lot of picnics. And that's a terrific idea for lunches and things--oh, the different kinds of meats and cheese I ate--but I am not sorry to have blown my budget on food. The memory of that seafood risotto will stay with me long after the credit card bill is paid.

And, men. I kissed people all over Italy, certainly, but all of the attention eventually made me uncomfortable. Part of it came from being a redhead, because Italy loves a redhead, but it's also just the culture. I got tired of being shouted at after a while.
But the men that I met were very...forward, I guess. Aggressive. Not in a creepy way, although that was tough for me to realize because here you have to suspect men who are that complimentary of being up to something. They're just very demonstrative, and while I like a good Gesture as much as the next girl, I kept thinking nostalgically of being romanced subtly. Curing my hiccups late at night in a bar with acupressure grew increasingly attractive in the face of eloquently empty declarations or refusing to bring me my check so that I'd have to stick around. I started to feel pushed in Italy, and we all know that the best way to make me turn stubborn is to try and make me do anything. By the end of it, all of the attention started to feel vulgar.
Although, the kissing itself was largely worth it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You know, my trip was pretty magical. For magic, I recommend doing the following:

Rome: Eat gelato in the square outside the Colosseum and think about exactly how many people have been through that space. Then go sit in a church, without reading anything or taking pictures, and figure that religion has kept itself around so long because it creates spaces of peace. Go under the city to see the layers, cities built on cities. Talk politics with a young Italian. Order up some rain and sit under an awning at a sidewalk wine bar, kissing.

Siena: Climb to the top of anything there is to climb, and don't hold in your physical expression of wonder when the view punches you in the chest. Savor dinner by a window listening to Billie Holiday and have a realization about romance. You'll know that this is the right realization when an old man in a tweedy suit falls to his knees in supplication outside the window. Walk through Il Campo in the rain past a group of men sitting outside a bar who shout "Bella Rosa!" and then start singing.

Take a long, winding bus or train ride through the hill country.

Florence: Hike up the hill to the Piazza Michelangelo across the Arno with some gelato and sneak into as many people's pictures as you can. Have a sandwich by the town hall and watch groups of teenage American boys try and pick up Italian teenagers with a "Ciao bella!"

Venice: Go to the market by the Rialto and buy a cup of fresh fruit. Walk through the market eating your fruit and looking at what you'll be eating for dinner. Put on headphones and get lost. When you decide to get found again, take the slow vaporetto down the Grand Canal, looking for the buildings where the water is lapping at the doorstep, and imagine the slowly rotting wallpaper and drapes, chandeliers reflecting themselves on the floors.

Naples: Acquire a newfound appreciation for the life you've been changing by taking a kamikaze motorcycle ride through the city. Celebrate survival by having gelato. Hell, after that, celebrate with two. Go to Pompeii and listen to the total silence of a place that was buried for so long. Go to Sorrento and sit, looking at a view of something pretty. Move to another view and drink limoncello looking at something pretty. Oh, that view over there is nice. Sit there and have some gelato.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I came home this afternoon and took the best shower and nap of my life, did some laundry, and now I am looking forward to putting on some clean clothes and having some whiskey and grilled cheese with my friends.

I had a beautiful last day in Sorrento, sitting on benches overlooking views and eating gelato and oranges. I'm glad that I decided not to take a bus up Amalfi because, while I imagine it is splendid, I didn't want to spend my last day sitting on a bus. I wanted to spend it drinking limoncello and strolling slowly in the sun, and that's exactly what I did. I'll go back for Amalfi some day.

I couldn't get an earlier flight out of Rome, but decided against going back into town. I didn't want Rome to be my last city in Italy--I wanted to stick with lazy Sorrento and the slow train out of Naples. So I stayed in the airport for hours. It felt like the trip had made me invisible, and it made sense to end it in a nowhere place.

I'm slowly posting the pictures, but I have gotten only as far as Rome.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Napoli is falling apart just like Venice, except differently, too. Venice is decaying grandly, decadently. Venice is like falling into a swimming pool wearing a tuxedo. Napoli is like falling into a pond wearing short shorts and a tube top. Napoli has been rode hard and put away wet.

It makes sense to me that this is where my family is from. I remember little of my grandfather, but what I do remember fits with these people more than anywhere else. I love these people; they sing more than anywhere I've been yet. They grow flowers on balconies and in the cracks of walls.

I took my life in my hands and agreed to go on a motorcycle tour of the city yesterday, which was terrifying. I went to Pompeii today. I am allergic to something that raises angry red bumps on my right hand and I think it may be garlic. Tomorrow I will spend some time in the orange and lemon groves in Sorrento, and then I will make my way home.

My hands feel less like they are made of hurricanes than they have since Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Italy is just stupidly beautiful. I'm in Venice right now, leaving for Naples tomorrow, although Tuscany nearly killed me with how lovely it was. I keep taking pictures of things even though it feels redundant, going, "Oh, another beautiful scene."

I love Venice, but Venice doesn't seem to love me. It keeps being offended by the fact that I am here alone. It's also unseasonably cold and rainy. On the other hand, I had a risotto last night that had every kind of seafood imaginable in it, and some things I couldn't identify. I would have married it if I could.

I think I'm allergic to something out here--something is giving me a rash on my right hand for days.

Napoli tomorrow, Pompeii and Sorrento, and then home next week. It is disturbingly easy to spend all of this time by myself. I don't really miss the company of others, and it worries me a bit.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My trip out to Bomarzo, the monster garden, was supposed to be a test of my power at navigating the Italian rail system before I left Rome for Siena. When I arrived in Assigliano I left the train station and, having learned nothing from the previous two days of getting lost in Rome, figured that Attigliano was a small enough town that I couldn't help but find signs for Bomarzo. (I'm interested to see when I get back how many miles I walked not knowing where I was going in Rome.) I headed in a vague direction and, sure enough, found the end of Attigliano, but that was not where Bomarzo was to be found. Bomarzo was to be found nowhere. I guess when you're a crazy hunchback decorating your family's garden with mannerist monster sculptures, you do it a ways away from the nearest town.

So I headed back to the train station to ask, figuring that what I would get is the typical Italian waving and pointing. They start out with "Es molto simplico, si? Very simple!" and then keep going at breakneck pace. The only word I ever get is "sinistra," so I'm usually pretty sure that where I'm going is to the left of something or another, if I follow the direction of the pointing. So when I got back to the train station I asked the lady, "Bomarzo?" and she looked at me flatly. "No Bomarzo. No autobus. No taxi."

There isn't a way to argue with that, so I went back to the platform and waited in a strong wind for the train back to Rome. Instead of monsters, I saw San Pietro in Vincoli and an Etruscan temple to Mithras. Wish it had been the monsters, though.

(Just you wait for the next installment, when I get lost in Siena on the bus. So far it's proving hard to get terribly lost in Florence, because it's little, but if anyone can do it it's me.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

You would think that, what with them being giant ancient ruins and all, the Colosseum would be easy to find. That's not true if you're working with my nonexistent infallible sense of direction, and so I ended up looking for them over by the city walls. (Too bad I didn't know yesterday that the cemetery where Keats is is over there.) When I found all of it, located oddly in the middle of the city, I decided against going inside. Traveling alone means not waiting in lines.

More immediately, this afternoon a man offered to give me 100E for a blowjob, and when I declined he stuffed 10E in my pants and ran away. That's probably the better story of the two, but no matter.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Samantha at McLeod by David Choe

A couple of days ago I was talking to a guy I know who returned last week from two solo months in Thailand. We talked for a while about feeling lonely on vacation, and how in our society feeling lonely is just not admitted. But there's a whole population of us solitary people out there who are, I think, more afraid of being lost than of being lonely.
I think it's a good thing to reach all around your edges and figure out just where they are. To be totally alone in an unfamiliar situation only to unexpectedly make friends. I think that if I isolate myself only in the places where I am comfortable, I'll lose a road map inside myself to somewhere important.

In a few hours I'm off to Italy, and I'm nervous to spend these two weeks alone in a place where I don't speak the language. But I'm excited about exactly that.

I'm sure I'll check back in here sooner rather than later--my family is demanding contact in exactly that way that makes me anxious about disappointing them. (This is the reason I called them all when I had my wisdom teeth out the moment I came out of the anaesthesia. They freak me out.) But in the meantime, if you miss me, I made you a muxtape. Don't spend it all in one place.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

My backpack has been mostly packed since Thursday, and I'm honestly incapable of thinking or talking about anything else. I am really, really not a patient girl.

I've been gathering my travel music together, filling up some of the empty space that showed up when I removed the boys I've been involved with from my ipod. I am old fashioned and therefore still listen to everything on cd's at home, so the vast majority of my music collection has not been stuff onto my computer. I got a little carried away this afternoon, gleefully dumping half-remembered songs, and I'm a little concerned about just how much mediocre mid-90's "alternative rock" I'll be listening to in Italy.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I'm taking the same travel journal to Italy that I took to China, and I was paging through it the other day. It starts in complete sentences, in full thoughts, but after a full day of hauling myself back and forth across West Lake, getting lost, and then hauled all over town by an overly-friendly cab driver, everything disintegrated into semi-legible lists.
--Terrible ice cream.
--West Lake fishing frenzy.
--Morning cafe - no iceburge (?). Strawberry milkshake. Dinner: hunk of pork.
--Big ugly bruise.
--Mini towel.

Eventually, the sentences returned, but I forgot how exhausting it is to be in an unfamiliar place. Italy alone in the spring should be a much different experience from China in the summer with a fighting couple, and I'm going to try and write in complete sentences. Or at least legible ones.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

If you've been hanging around these parts for a while--or, you poor child, hung out with me outside of here--the chances are good that you've heard about the famous Steph and Ryan. I adopted them a few years ago in that annoying way I have, where I decide that people are going to be my friend sort of where they want to or not. Fortunately, I'm a total genius, and it worked out really well.

In the last couple of years we've taken day trips and had fauxbecues and barbecues and adventures and beer festivals. We spent a lot of time singing along really badly to Bon Jovi, they got married, we've had Christmases and Thanksgivings. Steph has been my emergency contact, Ryan my pretend brother, and they've met every boy I've dated more than twice. They've been my family.

The point of all of this is that while I'm in Italy, they'll be moving back to Pennsylvania. They'll be having a great big adventure beforehand, hiking the Appalachian Trail for a whole mess of miles, and it's good for them. That's where their family and most of their friends are. But I'm going to miss them. Moving sucks. Of course, we will always have Bon Jovi.