weeks seven to fifteen?
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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.

Alycia RockComment
weeks five + six

I’m behind on everything, and I’m notorious for being late when writing is due. (But really, who is this writing for but myself?) I’m still working full time, and now living in a new apartment in London. I’m listening to the English rain and the English speak while I write this painfully short post — hopefully the photos will tell their own story, and there are a lot. I’m going to be brief and say my time in Paris was such a true delight, such a privilege, such an odd and memorable visit. I will carry it with me forever.

My life, like my writing, is jumpy and hard to track during the last weeks in the city of light. The pictures in my camera roll are fingerprints of the day, and they help me document each uniquely. From them, I remember we attempt socialization and share wine with strangers and coworkers, who sing together and tell stories of their engagements. I remember the mouse I saw run the length of a bookshelf in a new hotel where I was working. I remember lamenting that I cannot attend Alex’s fundraiser. I remember walking home from some afternoon stroll on one of my last days, snagging a set of colored disks from a children’s science set left atop a garbage can, and occasionally shooting through them for colored effects and experimentation. I remember using an old Diana camera and an entirely too expensive process to develop six precious photos on film.

Jeremy turns 29 while we relish our last moments of Paris, while we keep telling each other stories of our lives — what we ate as kids and who we admired in high school and why — and while we watch a 0-0 women’s world cup game. I hope to delight him with a dinner at Chateaubriand, whose consommé is subtle and savory and my new favorite flavor, whose chef is one I know Jeremy admires. We drunkenly make memes about ourselves and send them to our closest friends. We can’t give the bartender the postcard we wrote Isaac, detailing the horrible cocktails he served us. Before dinner, we bathe in light and sound at L'Atelier des Lumières. On our last night, we find ourselves in a basement cocktail club whose influence no doubt contributes to our laughter when we get caught in a thunderstorm on our 3 a.m. walk home (the ordeal is less funny the next morning at 7 a.m. when I wake up drunk, my jacket and loafers still soaked, to finish packing and cleaning before I catch my train to London.)

Each day I attempt to dissolve the invisible barriers in my communication with myself. I take mindfulness very seriously. I try to cherish, cultivate, and ripen myself as a person, partner, friend. It may seem easy to the more confident among you, but for me, it’s an accomplishment.

A few notes from my phone too: I dreamed there was a lime scooter in the river and I had to pull it out in the rain. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but with olive trees. A woman gluing herself against my back to sneak through the turnstyle, a gentle “merci beaucoup” before she is gone. The whole of the Sein itself feeling like a cool drink of water when the breeze blows. Being lured into coat check only to be charged €8 before we’re allowed into the bar. More corgis with tails.

I want to take a quick sidetrack here to talk about pain. How do you know how your own face looks when you go through a new or surprising experience? If you do know, how did you find out? Did you act it in a mirror, or do you imagine it? If so, how do you know that’s truly what you look like while the thing is happening? Would an acted version of your face ever be similar enough to the real thing that someone observing you would say it’s the same as when the feeling is genuine and unpredictable? 

So, then, how does my face look when I knock my fingers against a glass window, mistakenly reaching for a napkin through an invisible barrier while I’m crying at my new jaw specialists office? How do I laugh at myself through this and fumble to obtain the paper comfort that I need to dry my face with? Could I replicate this laughter to myself, the emotion tied to embarrassment tied to humility tied to gratitude?

Every minute of every day, and especially excruciating every months or so, my jaw cramps and locks in an impossible contraction that leaves this writer listless and hopeless with pain and the insurmountable challenge of self-advocacy. Yes, okay, relax. Yes, practice anxiety reduction. Yes, wear a mouth guard. Yes, do push-ups and see a chiropractor and tell your dentist. *eyeroll emoji* I spend hours researching dental tourism, veneers, braces, jaw surgery, splints, hot compress, ice, botox, muscle relaxers.

A few times in life, I’ve encountered a person who thins the space between the reality that I subscribe to and other, more mystic realities. I believe Dr. S—— may actually be a mind-reader, an elf, a fae-born changeling, a naturally-talented healer whose office is its own ring of flowers or mushrooms. Never so intentionally has my face and neck been touched, never with such interest have my teeth and bones been examined. She asks me a million gentle questions, her accent thick somewhere between native Romanian, years of French, and a bit of Spanish when the word fits best. At one point, I actually think she might kiss my head and I think I see her eyes glistening with tears for me. She reports way too many things that I never told her or mentioned, or maybe she’s an excellent con. She calls my mouth a map. She listens, she holds Jeremy’s hands with both of hers, and tells him it’s going to be okay. She strokes my forehead and smooths my hair and tells me I don’t deserve this. For the nearly three-hour consultation, she’s entirely focused on my well-being.

When I leave, she tells me she’s given me a gift and I am to think about it. On the way home, it’s raining when I stop at the farmers market and buy two chicken slouvaki in a haze similar to that of a really good workout, a really vivid therapy session, a really tough massage, really hot yoga. I don’t hear from her for weeks, until I’m nearly leaving Paris anyway. Then, she quotes me $2,000 for a split to live between my teeth. I feel lost and hopeless and pretty confused often when it comes to this situation. I don’t have much to say about it other than that. The investment is too great and I reluctantly turn away from a possible solution. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll be more confident in the treatment, and I’ll heal.

All my days at the base of the Eiffel Tower and I still got emotional every time I saw it, by the way.

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Alycia Rock Comment