SCRAWL: notes from travels

Between June and August 2016, I travelled across Europe, and in doing so, filled a notebook with scribblings, thoughts, fragments of poems and quotes.
Below is a selection.

*

Bangkok airport, plane on tarmac, sky calling with stars like Braille.

*

‘The moment or hour of leave-taking is one of the pleasantest times in human experience, for it has in it a warm sadness without loss…It would be good to live in a perpetual state of leave-taking, never to go nor to stay, but to remain suspended in that golden emotion of love and longing; to be missed without being gone; to be loved without satiety. How beautiful one is and how desirable; for in a few moments one will have ceased to exist.’
– John Steinbeck, ‘The Log from the Sea of Cortez.’

*

I am flying into the unknown.
I am ready to begin.

*

England header

Sehnsucht, sehnen nach. Heart like a peach. Longing, longing. Steinbeck talking about people who want to travel mostly wanting to travel away from themselves. The strange quality as a trip approaches, a sense that the self will fly away without you, like sleep. The confusion of finding the whole self in another place – ‘Wherever you go, there you are.’ The present self on holiday feels fraudulent – the projected self of the future and the nostalgic self of the past seem the more correct inhabitants of the travelled world.

*

I am too full of love.

*

‘Some nights you are the lighthouse / some nights the sea / what this means is that I don’t know / desire other than the need / to be shattered and rebuilt’
– Ocean Vuong, ‘My Father Writes from Prison.’

*

Desire and terror are a hair’s breadth apart.

*

After the Christchurch earthquake, the Marmite factory was damaged. The resulting Marmite shortage was known as ‘Marmageddon.’ Incredible.

*

‘Bandits with airplanes and with moors,
bandits with rings and duchesses,
bandits with black-robed friars blessing
came through the air to kill children,
and through the streets the blood of the children
ran simply, like children’s blood.’
– Pablo Neruda, ‘I Explain a Few Things.’

*

Cat

Every time the recorded announcement lady on this tram proudly states that we’re heading towards ‘Cockfosters’, I start uncontrollably giggling.

*

I am the ocean and you hover above me, reading my currents in the flickering light. Ripples cross your face, fleet as night fish, love slips to fear slips to joy slips to a firm, stern desire almost like anger. I like this one the best.
Tides pull us into the bedhead, our locked eyes roll back, breamwards, the sheets coil and slacken and our breath folds round the rocks of our teeth.
Your fingers in mine, my hair through your lashes, your tongue on my tongue on my lips on my throat.
Together, we crash, the way waves dash on coral, light shattering and wobbling on the water.

*

The Tallest Man on Earth at Royal Albert Hall – wrangling the guitar like a bucking horse, like a wild, living thing. Approaching the mic stand like it was dangerous, like the audience was another creature to tame and seduce.
Playing with his guitarist, eyes locked, deeply connected, erotic, as he stalked the stage, swinging the guitar neck like a gun.
The shudder of the floor as the audience stamped, demanded an encore.

*

‘I’ve been taking chances like they’re vitamins.’
– Woman at the London poetry reading.

*

‘I love you, I do –
You have my word.
You have all my words.’
– Lang Leav.

*

Standing naked on the roof as the rain fell, the sky purple, lights here and there. Arms up, face up.

*

Cass

Billboard on the Tube: ‘Every day you make 35,000 choices.’

*

‘Since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re a broken man. By now, you’re probably two men. You feel like you’re living two lives, right? In one life you haul yourself out of bed each day to fulfil another set of dreary obligations. In the other life you DREAM. Whether you dream about the woods of your childhood or the neighbor in the lycra jogging outfit, the essence of your dream is this: you crave ESCAPE.’ – from the intro to ‘Broken Manual’, Lester B. Morrison, Alec Soth.

*

I woke up next to Cass, having slipped down in the bed, holding her arm protectively, like a Renaissance painting.

*

‘When Kenneth Rynan asked Roman Polanski if he thought the film [‘Macbeth’] contained too much blood, Polanski replied, ‘You didn’t see my house last summer. I know about bleeding.’
– British Library Shakespeare exhibit.

*

The people next to us at the show the day after the Brexit vote, asking, ‘Are you commiserating or celebrating?’ We said the former, tentatively, and they relaxed. ‘I just don’t understand my country’, the woman said. ‘I’m frightened of my people.’

*

VIENNA header

Everywhere here is like the past stacked on top of itself. Parts of London like Harlem, Footscray. Bits of Vienna like Venice, Versailles, Prague. Familiarity folding into meaninglessness – every place is a referent for another one.

*

On the wall of the Hundertwasser courtyard –
‘LIFE IS
MORE
IMPORTANT
THAN ART’

*

Dreamed of a burning service station on a beach, photographing the flames as they rocketed up, silhouetted people in front of them. Red, yellow, blue.

*

‘The horizontal belongs to nature
The vertical belongs to man.’
– Hundertwasser.

*

When I’ve finally accepted that you’re never gonna try /
then I’ll drink until I sleep and then I’ll sleep until I die.

*

Vienna

Envy is a reaction to lacking something.
Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something (usually someone).

*

I like the way that when people don’t speak the same language but are making it work, we become the best of ourselves. Smiling, shaking hands, saying, ‘Grazie, grazie, grazie’ to each other, truly, earnestly, honestly pleased.
And with some mercurial combination of blistered feet, wine, pizza and late night coffee, I think I have arrived.

*

‘The concept of ‘bohème’ as a collective term of artists arose more or less at the same time as the introduction of photography.’
– From the Belvedere Gallery.

*

A sudden memory of being in Germany aged 16, in a Weihnachtsmarkt, drunk on my first taste of Glühwein, the lights flaring, everywhere light and colour, looking up at the sky, feeling that joyous drunk fuzz for the first time. All felt so well with the world.

*

FRANCE header

‘I Am Drinking A Coffee Even Though I Know It Will Make Me Feel Awful!,’ and other tales of urban idiocy, coming to a train near you!

*

‘If I got that job in Perth, I’d be dead.’
– Dad.

*

River in Toulouse – light and shade on the water, like thousands of pencils scribbling lines and then erasing them again.

*

Three supple boys stand, pocketing their hands
like shoplifted oranges,
their sides gold-leafed by the sun

*

‘There’s something else I wanted to tell you. Towards the end, I just so badly wanted a hug, but all of my family and friends were so far away, so I put on five episodes of Contact Mic so I could hear your voice, and it made me feel better.’
– Mikey.

*

BUDAPEST header

Days of leisure are long.

*

They wouldn’t let me into the synagogue because my shorts were too short. I coped with this better than at the basilica in Rome, when they made me cover my shoulders. But how strange. The gods we create, who watch senseless slaughter and horrors beyond imagining every day, but who still become squeamish at the sight of a shoulder, a thigh.

*

‘Thinking of that ‘old day’ of his childhood in Hannibal made him feel, he wrote in a letter of 1887, like ‘some banished Adam revisiting his half-forgotten Paradise and wondering how the arid world could ever have seemed green and fair to him.’’
– From the introduction to ‘Huckleberry Finn.’

*

‘Mottonai’ – Japanese term expressing regret when something that could have been used is wasted.

*

From the collection of Magda Bàcsi –
‘in the collection…at least one porcelain piece from every single sunken ship’s cargo ever recovered by underwater archaeologists.’
– From the Gallery of Applied Arts, Budapest.

*

‘When he got afront of us, he lifts his hat ever so gracious and dainty, like it was the lid of a box that had butterflies asleep in it and he didn’t want to disturb them.’
– Mark Twain, ‘Huckleberry Finn.’

*

BERLIN header

I had a sense-vision of an apartment with indoor ivy-like plants hanging, a warm summer day, the doors and windows open and this sense of profound contentedness – being sure of someone, sturdy and present in the next room. A silver coffee pot, paperback books. This feels possible. This city could be my home, if I am brave enough to make it so.

*

Jahman: ‘Anna, what would you do with 44 million dollars?’
Anna: ‘I’d probably get some giant fake ears.’

*

The day you turned seven, a dark bloom swelled inside you
licked your insides, got a taste of you,
wormed into the beds of your nails and tucked itself in
budded in the nubs of your breasts and set to milking.

It was your great-aunt who saw it first,
her bright hawk’s eyes hunting out your horror
she set to scouring, pulled it out of you in waves
nursed the sick from you and brought you back to the light.

And so they thought you cured, sunflower child
with the sugar-stained heart and the hands raw with caresses.
Their cream-clotted love settled on you like snow.

Come seventeen, you were wide-hipped and hearty,
when you woke in the night with a smile smeared with blood
the asphalt hissed sullen as the car sliced through rainwater
and the dentist rubbed sleep from her rubber-gloved eyes.

When she cracked you wide open and shined the sun in
your tongue tried to hide down the pockets of your throat.
With a firm set of tweezers, she wrenched it out by the roots
it shuddered for minutes on the stainless steel tray

When they burned it in the font of the local town church
it yammered and bucked as the flames licked its flesh
and you, suffused in the light of the swift dying day,
stood empty as Adam, ejected from God

and smiled.

*

Berlin2

Ungeheuer – not quite translatable. Similar to awe. The feeling of watching a Kraken rise from the waves.

*

THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU’VE TOUCHED
– Mikey shook hands with Bernie Sanders
– Sarah touched Stephen Fry’s shoulder
– Priska spat orange juice on Bowie
– Priska also kissed Idris Elba on the cheek
– Priska also shook the Queen’s hand when she was 3

*

‘We need them to get desperate. Like anything in life – the beginnings and ends of relationships – it’s the desperation that makes it beautiful.’
– Hamza, at the Euros final.

*

Dawn’s building bridges from the darkness to the day but sleep is no friend here in the half-haze before morning
when the bums shiver wicked in their sinner-dark sleep and curl their cold heads under angel-wing arms
the alley cats and swaying dregs of the frat parties weave their soft way down the cobblestone streets and wail for a bite to eat and a piece of tail
and somewhere, old men and babies grizzle for their mothers and breathe through their lips, bubbling like the first milk of morning
kettles muster their reserves and toast the preserves that squat in the larders awaiting fresh bread
and the words unsaid from the night before wash over the floors of nightclubs and cinemas and train station passageways
the street cleaners trip over phone numbers with nine digits and fidget when the beer-blather snakes up their thighs
and we, unwise masses, imprison our pillows and smother our mattresses and drift toward day.

*

‘Sociology is the study of white people. Anthropology is the study of white people studying brown people.’
– Priska.

*

Berlin1

4:48 am. Mikey’s heartbeat is making the headphone cable coiled on his neck flutter, as though in wind.

*

There’s a wrinkle in the wind tonight
keeps pulling me sideways, kicking the rug out from under the grass

There’s a snick in my throat tonight
like the scrape of a chair pulled out over linoleum
and the sodium streetlights are singing your name

Got a list in my fingers of the places I’d touch you
once the floods pulled back far enough for the hand to take hold

Got a map of my memories to act as a compass
and a mattock out back for when the weeds get too close

A crack in my clavicles opens up when you chuckle
there’s a well in my belly where the waters run deep.
I sent a bucket down my throat to see what I could find there
I haven’t hit bottom. I dropped it last week.

*

I sent a prayer with a breath down your back when I held you.
It came back ‘return to sender.’ I filed it with all the others.
The air’s getting heavy with all these undeliverable sighs.

*

When you were born, you were roughly the size of a brick, and your parents took turns hurling you through the glass of each other’s smiles.

*

KIEV header

Kiev has a lot of green in it – a huge patch of dark trees brooding between the halves of the city. The tension of nature kept just at bay, on the brink of wildness. The sense that if you turned around for too long, the trees would swallow your house, your car, your family, and you’d be left staring at a mass of secretive, sighing leaves brushed over the face of your life.

*

The almost empty, slightly lonely space without longing. The strangeness of being the whole self, not constantly pulled along by lust and pain and desire.

*

‘I love that Eric Fromm thing about Shabbat being the ability to suspend time. The reason we aren’t allowed to move a book from one place to another on Shabbat, or turn on a light, or buy something – it’s not because it’s “work” and work isn’t allowed on the Sabbath. It’s because these things would show the passage of time. And Shabbat is the one day when we can stop time.’
– Natalie Portman emailing Jonathan Safran Foer, New York Times feature.

*

Going up a giant escalator at midnight, Mikey growling, crouched on the stairs, throwing his hair out, pretending to be a lion. He stood, counted down from three, tore his shirt open.

*

‘It’s amazing how such a small creature can change your life. All it does is scream and sleep and drink, but it makes such a big change.’
– Max, AirBnB host, Kiev, on his 8 day old son, Taras.

*

Yesterday, filled with the leaden-armed, light-hearted flutter that comes after a swim, we walked into a park and came across a mass dance lesson in front of a fountain. We joined in, laughing as we missed the steps. The class ended and the music continued, and we sat on the fountain’s edge and watched couples weave figure eights with their hips, perved on a girl with an amazing midriff, followed the peripatetic trail of a man in a purple shirt asking all the pretty girls to dance. Mikey stood up – ‘Shall we make fools of ourselves?’ We danced badly, laughing. Leaving, we passed an old man jiving like a hero, eyes bright, face lit up. I asked him to teach me, and he gave me a dance lesson, handed me back to Mikey, saying, ‘Your wife is a very good dancer.’

*

Kiev1

Mikey and I writing drunk poems using the same words at the start of each line. No stopping, no edits:

Me
Pear skin breaking under milk and sugar smile
tuberose tenderness infusing the air
gasoline lover, take a match to my heart
chatter nonsense and invocations in the aerogard air
linoleum slippage, your weight in my bed
desperate days, these mid-week eternities
tubular tendons snake the length of my legs
matador eyes, raise the red and I’m running

Mikey
Pear to spare, but why so morose
tuberose lilies adorn the scene
gasoline clean, vasoline unseen wipe the
chatter form your brow, clean like
linoleum…waxed, relaxed, sheen
desperate, & desperately aware of
tubular masquerades, bulls, clowns,
matadors fill the empty stage

*

The singer in the cover band in the Kiev bar, her accent betraying her while singing Elvis – ‘Blue, blue, blue suede shoos!’

*

‘I dreamed you were a cosmonaut of the space between our chairs
And I was a cartographer of the tangles in your hair.’
– Andrew Bird, ‘Armchairs.’

*

Kiev2

‘The enemy called Ukranian soldiers “cyborgs”, admitting their strength, courage and endurance. We proudly call them “cyborgs” too. Ukranian nation is proud of its defenders, prays for them and believes in their victory…Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!’
– Museum of the Great Patriot War, Kiev.

*

Gloves made from human skin – the most horrifying thing is how beautifully they’re made. The delicacy of the stitching. The perverseness of such care being put to so horrifying an object.
They are clearly made for a woman. They would fit me perfectly.

*

How easily we cease to be humans.

*

All these photos of piles of bodies – there are always women standing by, witnessing. Pillars of salt in headscarves and patched jackets.

*

In the centre of the hall, ‘a bone grinder, for crushing bodies. It was used by the Nazis in the Janowska concentration camp, Lviv, to process the bones of executed prisoners into fertiliser.’

Items of horror, of great emotional weight, become spatially dense. They exert a pull, an attraction, a gravitational force in a room. Crushing space, demanding attention.

*

Kiev3

More drunk poetry in bars:

Me
Suppose the sun spat back the eons of water it has sucked from this parched earth
dead skin, desiccated, given back its succour, swollen again in the spring air
lacerate the veins of the sky, let blood fall like rain, let the rivers run red
love hard enough to pierce the stars and they will spew life like
fury, screaming across the sky, staining the sunsets forever. Hot-wire your
Mitsubishi, hack your iPhone, puncture your Sodastream. Be nothing, be an
acorn, curled tight as stone, holding a giant in its guts. Fear nothing. The
globe is just a shape to hold your love until it supernovas out, til it eats us all.

Mikey
Suppose we’d never lived, we would never be…
dead either, never need a nap or a breather
lacerate or placate, we’d not have to choose.
Love, oh we’d miss love, but also we’d miss
fury, greed, jealousy. The spiced vices.
Mitsubishi green, asphalt boredom, terrible
acorn toughness, of fugitive uncrackable dreams.
Globe burns out, but we’d never see,
or be, to know the new eon of darkness.

*

Kiev4

Thinking about the conversation I had with Greaney, about how the best way to die would be to explode.

Woke up yesterday at 7:30 to the sound of a huge boom – like a clap of thunder outside the window. I thought immediately of an explosion – strained to hear screams. A few minutes later, a siren started up – ‘that’s how long it takes for the police to arrive’, I thought. I could hear Mikey in the kitchen, on the phone to work. I drowsed back to sleep.

Later, walking to the Opera, we passed a group of men with cameras. ‘Typical camera clubs’, I thought, ‘all men.’ Then, flowers around a phone pole, a film crew. At a café, I Googled, ‘Kiev news’ to find that a Ukrainian journalist had been killed by a car bomb that morning.

I had heard someone being murdered. Heard the last sound a man heard before he died. Shared someone’s last second.

How strange.

*

Imagine if everything was a hiccup in time, and you were an aberration in the nothing, a mistake of fate, the noise in the perfect silence of nothingness.
Imagine God waking, bleary-eyed, with his fingers in his ears, enraged at the early start.
Imagine if you found a crack through time and could say all the words you’ve stored in your bones for the funeral directors to finally burn out.
Imagine if telescopes were all the wrong way round, and the astronauts rocketed off into the gaps in your teeth.
Imagine if love was a token economy you could buy with the credit from your tears in the dark.
Imagine if solitude was as sticky as wine and your thoughts made you drunken with no fellow to share them.
Imagine if heroes found babes in the woods and took them to laundromats and washed their sins clean.
Imagine if you were the only one here and the stars all fell over to lighten your way.
Imagine if kisses burned like a cigarette – would you become a smoker, would you roll out your own?
Imagine if daybreak was a symphony daily. How long would it take for the notes to turn sour?
Imagine if they gave you everything you’d ever wanted –
a thousand toy cars, and icecreams, and beer cans
and on the top of the heap, all those faces full of longing, all those lips ready pursed, all those hearts set to love.

*

ODESSA header

At the train station in Cherkasy, the incredibly helpful policeman translating for us, finding us a bus, constantly checking in, sharing easy conversation, being a beacon of kindness for the local drunks.
‘Thank you so much for helping us,’ I said.
‘We exist only for this,’ he replied.

*

‘The price of loyalty is boredom.
The price of passion is chaos and jealousy.
We must choose the most attractive form of suffering.’
– from Alain de Botton’s conversation with Richard Fidler.

*

‘A kiss is so thrilling, because you have given me permission to enter your life. The mouth is usually so private.’

‘The thrill of sex is the thrill of conquering distance.’
– from Alain de Botton’s conversation with Richard Fidler.

*

Coming into Odessa by bus at dawn – this is the right way to enter a city. The light all soft and coloured, the streets stirring as the day breaks.

In the underpass to the station, a homeless man wearing poorly strapped on black flippers staggers downstairs, tripping on the planks below. He falls, his feet cut. Another homeless man yells at him as he lies there, dazed, flippers in the air. A blonde woman films the scene on her iPhone, grinning.

*

Odessa2

The word ‘hryvna’ sounds like:
– missing a step while you’re talking
– a fly flying into your mouth mid-conversation
– the noise you make when you go for a forehand winner, but it hits the net

*

‘I could not help experiencing that chill which comes over one at the coming of dawn, which is like, in its way, the turn of the tide. They say that people who are near death die generally at the change to the dawn or at the turn of the tide; anyone who has, when tired, and tied as it were to his post, experienced this change in the atmosphere can well believe it.’
– Bram Stoker, ‘Dracula.’

*

After asking a security guard the way to the nearest bankomat, I said that I spend so much time trying to be articulate that it’s kind of a relief to not speak a foreign language, to just walk up to someone and say ‘MONEY.’
Mikey: ‘Yes! It was the same in Mexico. Just saying ‘HELLO! BEER! BIG! THANKS!’’

*

One of the real benefits of travel is the space to experience mild crises in a context where it doesn’t really matter, so you can practice reacting with grace and calm. In this way, when things go wrong in your real, high stakes life, you have learned how to be elegant in a crisis, to say, ‘Okay. Let’s see what we can do,’ rather than just panicking.

*

Sibenik header

‘Sarah, watch out for the sea hedgehog.’
– Mario, re: sea anemones.

*

There are candles laid out near the festival centre, where a dead body was apparently found yesterday morning – two of the attendees saw it covered with a cloth as they walked in. I asked Mario about it. ‘Ah yes, there was this crazy old lady-‘, he began, and then was cut off by a conversation with the hostel staff.

*

At Prvić yesterday, as Mikey and I picked our way across the rocky stones of the beach around the island, he told me how the longest period of the life of the universe would occur after all the stars burned out, when no new ones would be born, and everything – everything – would be an infinite, cold, black nothingness. I shuddered, lost in the vastness and horror of that thought, black everywhere, floating in oblivion. ‘We’re lucky to experience the warm spring of the universe,’ he said, quoting Arthur C Clarke, and I was wrenched with almost painful abruptness into the hot, bright, Croatian summer, as though I’d just that second come into life. I blinked at the sun, the sea, the sky, and felt such awe and gratitude for the fantastic unlikelihood of my existing in this beautiful, warm, thriving blip surrounded by infinite universal nothingness.

I do not think I will ever create art as meaningful and profound as that 30 seconds of a human being just talking to me, making sounds with his lips and throat that threw me into the void and dragged me back again with breathtaking speed.

*

Dumb pitches: A TV show that’s just Whoopi Goldberg’s hair. It doesn’t move, unless someone puts meat too close, at which point it pounces.

*

Sibebnik 2

I mean, my god, the way your neck slots into your shoulders, like it’s filing for bankruptcy
your jaw could cut cantelopes
your lips could start lawnmowers
your knees could punch holes in the skin of the sky
you are glorious
you are glorious
you are glorious
you are more than I can fit in my wishing well.

*

The Album Leaf – ‘Window.’ The sound of beautiful endings.

*

‘Takk for sist’ – Norwegian for ‘Thank you for the last time we were together,’ said when you see someone again, regardless of whether the last time was two minutes or two decades ago.

*

‘Wanda looks like a sophisticated drinker. Mikey, on the other hand, would drink a puddle in the street.’
– Mario

*

Sibenik 3

Walked past a restaurant in Šibenik where a tiny girl was gathering up her grandfather’s grey hair into a little ponytail on the top of his head as he smiled down at her. The simple beauty of that.

*

Soaring above Zagreb in a little propeller plane, watching the propeller on the right wing spin so fast you can hardly see it; just a suggestion of shadow in the air. The city fading into dusk – blue sky, green fields, orange lights drifting into mist. I was afraid when we boarded, scared that Mikey wasn’t by my side, but as soon as we took off, I liked the weight and movement of this plane, the way it feels like we’re gliding rather than rocketing forward, the way I feel the fulcrum of the earth turn as we nose right. There’s something pleasantly vintage about it. I imagine 50s women with gloves and cinched waists staring breathlessly with open, lipsticked mouths at the air unfolding.

I think of how engineers invented modern guns whose bullets were timed to slip through the propeller blades, and what a remarkable, terrible feat that was.

*

‘I like how much of an archivist you are.’
– Mikey

*

IKARIA header

6:50 am. Nyssos Mykonos ferry, docked at Piraeus.
The sun is oozing its way up over the white-grey buildings, staining the smoggy sky red.
We arrived at the port at 4:30 am, after a bus-plane-plane-bus from Šibenik, and slept on the cobbled stones outside the passenger centre, which reeked of piss, but we were too tired to care.

To be homeless here is to be immune to a world throwing itself desperately into life every morning.
From 5:30 am, as the sun cracks a lid over the city, it is chaos. First, the insects. Then the rumble of car tyres and suitcase wheels. Then the mad cacophony of whistles, footsteps, shouts, engines. By 6 am, the soft delicacy of the night is shattered.
We woke, flies fucking on our arms, urine staining our bags, and blinked in the daylight, but everywhere, on ledges and benches and chairs, the brown-grey bodies slept on, sleeping stones in a river of people swarming out to the sea.

*

Mid-morning delirium, reading the passage in ‘Shalimar the Clown’ about the massacre of Pachigam and weeping, weeping for the truth in a false tale, for all that is cruel and hard in us. Sitting on the side of the ferry, cleansed by wind and sea-spray, returned to calm, to life.

*

at night on the seafront, you snuffed out the moon
put your lips to the sky and sucked it right out
and so the ocean in me followed you instead
you drew the tides, pushed water around me
flooded my eyes and the tops of my thighs
called forth waves to crash from my lips
leaving foam to sigh across your skin

*

Ikaria 2

Sitting in a patch of pine needles on a mountain on Ikaria. Legs covered in scratches and rivulets of blood, hot, sweaty, blissfully happy. Cicadas chirping, churning sound like butter. On my way up, on a sun-blazed hillside, I found myself trapped in knee-high, scratchy shrubs, cutting into me with each step, realised I’d fucked up, and the only way was through. I was totally alone, phone-less, exposed, in pain. I waded up through the mess, bleeding, and stood and looked down at the sea below and just burst out laughing. I climbed over a fence, one foot on a branch of dead tree, the other reaching for a stone below, rusty barbed wire pressing against my inner thigh. The knowledge that a a slip could be disastrous, and the vulnerability of it felt so strangely freeing. I slid over the fence and laughed and laughed.

My restlessness for solitude is growing.

*

we could be catastrophes together
I’ll love you like lightning if you’ll kiss me like coal seams burning forever
this avalanche honesty would choke lesser men.

*

Ikaria, we were told, runs on its own rules. Nobody wears a watch, old people forget to die, and it seems that in the general spirit of disregard for formal restrictions, the island has done away with the horizon. The sea fades softly into a blur of blue-white and just sort of bleeds into the air. The effect is disorienting, as though a painter got halfway through a canvas and abandoned it. The view is unfinished, uncertain. An air of unreality pervades, of pagan possibility.

*

Cam and Amali’s travel check-in game: Seat, Juice, Root.
At any given point during a day of travel, one of these is your most prominent craving.

*

Ikaria 3

absent arms have their own weight, love, and where yours do not lie, space itself starts to sag, sparks in eyes start to
supernova, and gloomy young men are all eaten by mattresses.

lacerate your own longing, love, carve a knife through your need, take a cleaver to the tendons in the backs of your knees
pay homage to yourself, be the smirk in the mirror, wear the cloak of your nakedness and call yourself queen
the dawn will crack without you, the day will die alone, but the bird in your breast needs you living to sing.

*

It’s funny, the things that stick in the mind as joyous mementos of travel. The sight of the Nas beach from the hills of Ikaria will stay, but so too will the image of Cam being absolutely revolted by a ‘choco-pie’ that didn’t know what it wanted to be.

*

‘She wanted shadows, chiaroscuro, nuance. She wanted to see below the surface, the meniscus of the blinding brightness, to push through the hymen of the brightness, into the bloody hidden truth.’
– Salman Rushdie, ‘Shalimar the Clown.’

*

I am utterly yours. Parts of me I don’t even notice having have declared for you –
the beds of my nails, the wrinkles behind my knees, my split ends, every atom of me is yours.

*

Athens header

On the ferry to Pireus, sleeping nestled under a bar, between the stools and the wall, I woke, thought dreamily, ‘There’s water.’ Sat with that for a second, then suddenly came to, leapt up, snatched bags out of the way, grabbed Mikey’s headphones and woke him – watched him go through the same sudden shift to panic at the spreading wet nudging his shoulder.

*

‘The slowly growing pain in my upper arm where her weight lay was the greatest pleasure I have ever known.’
– Graham Greene, ‘The End of the Affair.’

*

Travelling in the company of a man, I have been a person, but alone in Athens, I am a woman. Walking through the streets, men do the habitual flick up-down-up of the eyes, hold my gaze with the flat, dead look of power. I glare back, but feel myself shrinking, shoulders folding in.

This morning, waiting to be able to check into my hostel, I sought refuge in a park, nestled behind a huge cut tree trunk to escape the sun, dozing with a book over my eyes. Men wandered nearby, often coming to investigate my presence, silent pilgrims who never strayed close enough to concern me. I napped for a time, then noticed a man in his 30s, perhaps, sit nearby under the shade of some trees and watch me. I noted the aggressive neon yellow of his shirt. Time passed. Around 45 minutes later, I looked up, stirred from sleep by a ranting passerby, and looked over at Neon Guy to gauge his reaction, only to realise that he was staring at me, masturbating. A little furtively, but with increasing audacity. Determinedly avoiding eye contact, I packed up my backpacks and strode off, as other men followed me with their gazes, and I wondered, ‘Did you see him and say nothing?’

I only looked back once I’d left the park. I wish I could have approached him with silent judgement, or articulate rage, or strode over and barked in his face like a rabid dog, but I didn’t know the language, didn’t know whether the men around me could be counted on to be allies or not.

And so I just left, feeling less afraid than unsettled, annoyed, exhausted, exposed.

*

Athens 1

Athens from above glitters – white, crystal. The city looks like a shattered windscreen.

*

‘How strange too and unfamiliar to think that one had been loved, that one’s presence had once had the power to make a difference between happiness and dullness in another’s day.’
– Graham Greene, ‘The End of the Affair.’

*

Everyone here talks about ‘The Crisis.’ Just two words. Two words whose capitalisation you can hear in the pronunciation, which are always followed by a tiny pause – the pause of words which embody weight, grief. Words like rocks into water – a second to watch the ripples.

A rug shop in Athens –
‘These are so cheap!’
‘It’s because of The Crisis.’
I left, then turned back, came in.
‘It was your destiny to come here.’

*

London header

‘The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.’
– Pascal, ‘Pensées.’

*

I shouldered you like a backpack, like a Christmas tree cut from the forest and dragged you, bleeding sweet sap down my shoulders, into the air.

*

‘no
it won’t
be love at
first sight when
we meet it’ll be love
at first remembering cause
i’ve seen you in my mother’s eyes
when she tells me to marry the type
of man i’d want to raise my son to be like’
– Rupi Kaur, ‘milk and honey.’

*

‘Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places.’

‘At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves – that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we essentially are.’
– Alain de Botton, ‘The Art of Travel.’

*

London 2

De Botton – happiness found in the fleeting moments between the tedium of life. I think this is how I view joy – like puddles to be jumped in – experienced fully, but not constant. I think perhaps I exist mostly in a sort of contented melancholy, but there’s always patches of water to be found somewhere, even when they’re small.

*

‘If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains.’
– Alain de Botton, ‘The Art of Travel.’

*

The compression and expansion of time during travel. The start of this trip feels an eternity ago – I am forgetting where I’ve been, losing cities like marbles off my tongue when people ask my itinerary. The past is literally a foreign country.

And yet. As the sultry morning heat slides into the tiling at Suvarnabhumi, slips through the windows with the hazy dawn light, the old world comes pressing back, like a cat at a glass door. Time closes the yawn of its jaws, and home seems so close, so near.

*

‘However happy we may be with our partner, our love for them necessarily hinders us from pursuing alternatives. Why should this constrain us if we love them? Why should we feel this as a loss unless our love for them has already begun to wane? Because in resolving our need to love, we do not always succeed in resolving our need to long.’
– Alain de Botton, ‘Essays in Love.’

*

Sehnsucht, sehnen nach.

*

London 3

S x

Leave a Reply