Within a week of arriving in London I’ve settled in to a routine. Walks and coffee every morning, yoga in mid afternoon, a shower, settling in to work. The five weeks we spend in England passes in a flurry of normalcy peppered with travel. London feels something like home, but with more activities, more immediately available free events, more night buses. I love it there.
Of course, instead of using our time in London wisely and taking advantage of its glitz, Jeremy and I take off to Basel, Switzerland, where we spend the better part of a week floating in the Rhine River and eating only what we can buy in the French store outside our apartment. Confined by how expensive the food is in restaurants, we make do with meat and cheese and chickpeas. Basel, on the far northwest tip of Switzerland, borders both Germany and France, and it’s an easy walk between the countries.
It’s hot - Europe’s first heatwave strikes while we’re visiting, making it easy to spend entire days lounging near the river and floating in its current. My favorite part is how polite everyone is, and how they appreciate quiet as much as I do. When golden hour strikes our apartment’s balcony, Jeremy lets me photograph him, photograph us. We huddle together on the concrete floor, or we spread out on the bed, and I listen to him laugh at his podcasts and he watches me read. It’s a fine country.
The following weekend, we send ourselves to Manchester for Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm concert, then we’re in London for one night. A quick flight later and a bus later, and we are on the coast of Spain, my first time in Barcelona. It’s easier than France and easier than Switzerland - at least I can communicate. The days I have in this town are a gift.
Only thee topless men inhabit our illegal Air BnB, one of whom sleeps in the living room, so Jeremy and I pile atop each other in a double bed in a room with only a small window, and we’re glistening and feverish. The humidity caused by consistent storms keeps us damp. We frolic in the rain, literally lost in a hedge maze with laughing Spanish teenagers. One afternoon when it doesn’t drizzle, we lay on the beach and buy cheap (and surely alcohol-free) mojitos and watch such a variety of people cool down in the Mediterranean.
This is a place we can be ourselves, where everyone loves food and wine as much as we do, where eating for hours is normal and smiles are wide. Spain feels like an old friend.
Days are passing like seconds and in the glow of London’s neon lights when we return, I am bliss. Before we know it, it’s time to leave. This time, leaving is a delight - my sister and Schu are coming, and we’re to spend two weeks together: working on Rooted, visiting Italy, singing, sharing our stories, being together.
When we step into Italy off the plane, everything about travel is changed. We nap every day until the sun gets lower, but it’s so hot it shines on me differently, poisoning my skin and burning our feet. Everything we do, we do covered in sweat. We’re all ready to leave Rome’s crowded streets when we go, but not before we circle the ancient sights at night, toss coins into the Trevi, pass bottles of wine between us, and eat pizza under golden streetlamps.
I am not sure I can ever fully tell the story of my time in Italy, with all the beauty and triumph and foolishness it contained. How have I missed? A whole? Two months? Yes! Here I am - lazy, never quite fulfilled with writing, not even totally interested in the effort it requires. Some of it felt like falling into a story that wasn’t quite my own, someone’s life where they spend long summer days walking through the streets of Tuscan villages and making hairpin turns down a mountain in a five-speed sedan, and getting annoyed with friends then talking it out later over dinner and drinks, and singing Hamilton songs in the moonlight.
I feel something like the teenage boy writing on his Tumblr blog and putting ”flash” between each scene, which gives me the shivers. Flash. She’s the only girl I’ve ever met willing to sacrifice her happiness for my own. Flash. We’re in my bed, tumbling through white sheets. Flash. I’m falling. Flash. *Eyeroll emoji. Here’s my audition to be your one-dimensional trope of a traveling character.
What does happen, though, is we keep our promises to each other, and we make it to Tuscany and then to Cinque Terre. We spend more days and nights together than ever before, each of them burned into my memory forever. I don’t even know what to detail. My sister and Schu are two people who Make It Happen, who survey the things about themselves others may find frustrating and study their own boundaries, who have intentions and goals and communication, and who are positive influences in my life.
And so, now, I will always once have been 27 and watching the sunset with my sister on a Cinque Terre cliff. I will always have been on a dark rocky beach listening to Schu talk about her family and her high school while the stars fall in the sky above us. I will always have been laughing at Jeremy with equal parts glee and sympathy as he flips his kayak trying to disembark on the cove. I will always have been bitten by 1,000 mosquitoes while lamenting our sunburns and swimming in the municipal pool and the Tuscan Candalla and the volcanic Bracciano lake and the Mediterranean. We will always be four blind people trusting each other to be our chaperones.
I know these three now. I see their irritation, their hunger, their goofy loving, their quiet mornings alone with coffee and their books. Their indignation and jokes and endless games. When I say I love you to Jeremy, Jessica and Schu, every night before bed, I mean it.
To be honest, at this point, Rome is never ending. The heat will get worse before it gets better. After Jess and Schu leave, when it’s just Jeremy and I in the city, we fall into homesickness, and we have trouble keeping our heads above exhaustion. More and more it seems Rome is the one city we can’t have a comfortable word with, each day and each journey stretching on like the eternity the city is named for.
We take one final trip to Naples, one of the strangest and most unique cities I’ve visited. It’s unsettling, and beautiful, a city so teeming with its own life I will never hope to be included. We push each other and ourselves, losing our minds and hours to the broiling sidewalks and vertical climbs. Our flat is in the Spanish Quarter, with its wayside shrines and front door parties and mopeds filled to their brim with three or four riders, one of them often a child only in their underwear. It’s a blast, and it’s a maze.
We do take one path, a half-mile back alley that looks more like a concrete riverbed made of stairs. I thought I was having trouble already - hot, sore, thirsty, headache - but discomfort truly came when we encountered a dead and practically dehydrated cat, someone’s shoes on the side of the path, more trash and broken things than I could experience in my line of vision at once. Sometimes you just know when you’re not supposed to be somewhere. We’re panting and dripping by the time we burst onto a normal road again.
It’s three in the morning where I sit now, on a mattress through which I can feel every single spring. The lights are off, but when they’re on, the LED lights cast a sickly green glow around the room. We leave them off as much as possible.
I leave Rome the day after tomorrow, heading to London once more. We will take a five-day drive to Edinburgh, where we will spend my last six weeks in Europe before moving to Montreal. I hope to write more often, to never leave this much time between posts, to journal or take notes daily, to keep up the photos. I will start uploading an album now, then sleep until tomorrow.
If you click these images, they will expand to a full size and proper aspect ratio, which I invite you to do.