Fantasies

In the last week, I’ve gone from the first place I ever fell in love with to the last place I would have ever thought I’d come.


Back then, when I was 19 and positively desperate to get out of the fucking country, I’m not sure that I was even fully aware that Ukraine had become a country, let alone designs on going there. It seems weird to think about now, but I chose Italy because it seemed exotic, like a place that fewer people go.


Italy. Exotic. 


But at the time, I was only a few years out of a private high school where so many of my friends spent their spring break or summers in France and Spain and so many of my classmates were from Germany that it seemed like Italy was somehow outside of that: like it was I place I had uniquely chosen to go.


In some ways that’s embarrassing to admit, but you have to understand that even though it was something I so very desperately wanted, travel just wasn’t a thing I understood people to do – not normal people anyway – so at the time Italy was as far as my dreams could stretch. It was already teetering into impossibility, and the painstaking process of turning that trip from a fantasy in my mind into my plane landing in Milan very nearly did not happen.


And going back to Rome felt like delivering on a promise to the young woman I once was.

It hard for me to find the words to relate to you how fucking desperate I was to stay. I couldn’t that first time, so I came back the next year. And I saw not just Rome, but five or six other cities, too, and in a bunch of different countries. 


I had gathered a bunch of cities together that I had heard kids talking about when we were in Italy the year before, so that, should I ever again encounter someone who spoke of that city I could relate. “I’ve been there,” I imagined myself saying on my next trip, and I would finally be enveloped into this nebulous league of backpackers that I so desperately wanted to be a part of.


But then in Switzerland and Belgium and Spain I met even more people who had been to even more places that I had never been to and had no immediate plans to visit. I met kids who had gone to India and China and New Zealand, and I remember having the distinct feeling that I would never be done. There would always be somewhere else to go, and I had no idea how I’d ever get to all of those places.


And much like that first time, when I put myself on a TWA flight to Milan, it seemed more like a fantasy than a goal.


So there I was, just last week, now 41 years old and returning to the city that so very much cemented my wanderlust, and having just blown €30 on way too much food and Chianti, I could hear the rushing water of Fontana di Trevi even before I rounded the corner. 


And my eyes filled with tears, because in the just-over 20 years since I had last stood in front of it, I’ve already been to more places than I thought I would ever make it to within my lifetime. And fuck.

I was just so fucking proud. 


And I was just so fucking happy that I have, somehow, managed to deliver this stupid dream to some long-gone teenaged version of myself, especially because it was the type of dream that so many people along the way saw fit to shit on rather than encourage me to cultivate.


My last time at Trevi, I stood in the rain with a gaggle of brand-new girlfriends and drank truffle grappa straight from the bottle as the Carabinieri watched on and waved.


And this time I was was armed with something even grander than naive optimism and a wish kissed into a coin that I threw into the water:


Because this time I knew that that wish had come true.



–M 

returns

So I just arrived in Florence yesterday, which is such a particular place in the canon of my life because this was the first place I ever really came. When I flew to Milan, it was only my fourth time on an airplane of any kind, and the first thing I did when I arrived there was get on a train here.

 

It looks the same now, but also totally different. The buses aren’t orange anymore, and they don’t spew out loads of diesel exhaust. The board at the train station is digital now. It isn’t the kind with those flipping, clacky analog cards that cacophonously cascade every few minutes to add new journeys.


But most importantly: I am different. I am not still the sweet, summer child that can only afford to have a picnic on the steps of the Uffizi. I can go inside, now.


And I will. Tomorrow.


And then the day after I’ll go to Rome, and the day after that I’ll fly to Kyiv.


In 2013 I wrote to my best friend Eddy from Panama City: “I’ve been to Florence, but I’ve never been to the Uffizi,” I explained, “I’ve seen but never climbed the Eiffel tower. I chose the Stedelijk over the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Sometimes I regret these things, I think that I wish I had it to do all over again and go to these places, all those ones that you’re supposed to, but then I remember that all that stuff is still there, maybe waiting for me to return.”


And inside of that was my long-held desire to visit, but also the concession that when you travel how I’ve always wanted to travel – namely, some version of forever – that sometimes it’s just not about the things that you’re “supposed” to see. Sometimes you just let your days unfold. Most days, actually.


And see? I mean, i just walked past the Uffizi today. I would have gone in, but it’s closed on Mondays. But I did see the exact steps I sat one out front, the ones that were I had my meager picnic and dreamt of all the Caravaggios inside.


But see? It’s still here. Waiting for me to return.



–M

Postres, Part 2

I made it to Venice early on New Year’s Eve. It was still dark when I arrived, and even though it was tricky (my phone died) I made my way into a crisply-sheeted bed.


And then we had a day, and at that day’s close we celebrated the year’s end with Champagne and too many cigarettes and Cake. And not just any Cake: fucking tiramisu.


I’m here with Lisa; the last time I saw her was at our hotel in Kyoto where we parted ways not knowing what was about to happen. I heard she was coming to Italy in the wee hours after my last birthday, and we pretty immediately made a plan to meet up. Before we hung up the phone, she asked me, “have you had any Cake today?”


I hadn’t.


But early in 2021, when I was still getting my Balkan legs, I found myself in Albania’s colorful capital where I met an Italian who bought me Cake for breakfast. And within 24 hours of my arrival in Italy, with Lisa and I reunited, I heard from him for the first time since March.


“Estas en Italia???” he asked me, having seen my stories touting my Venetian New Year’s celebrations. The very ones that were replete with Cake.


I mused, way back then, how he was not that type yet was somehow indistinguishable from the Cake that I should believe that I deserve. And though I just recently related, after receiving my new passport, how that period I spent filling it was spent reinventing myself into someone who knew oh-so decidedly what they deserve, I find myself reading and re-reading his messages very aware that I seem to have forgotten why I had resolved to not see him anymore.


“I am absolutely sure that the other cake in this story isn’t even the one I want,” I wrote the day after Valentine’s Day last year, “but it feels so much like it, and all of my love-starved skin is drinking it in like a drug.”


And see, the latter part of that sentence is all I can really remember, as in remember how it felt. And now that he’s opened this line of communication I feel like the former has completely dissipated from my mind, and all that is left is the faux-care that he has for me that I have reinvented into some form love to convince myself of… several things.


Chief among them is that I can show up in Milan and let him fuck me with no consequences, which, logically, I’m pretty sure cannot occur.


November is usually when my inbox feels like a minefield, when, in actions that I annually attribute to Scorpio season, all of my exes seem to come out of the woodwork to say hello. But this year it just feels like it never ended, and my exes from Paris and Tirana and Seattle and Miami and now Bergamo have become an ever-present fixture across the multiple platforms that I maintain.


But this one feels immediate, and, quite frankly, I feel a little out of control.


And I feel like this may turn into something that I let happen to me rather than take an active hand, yet I have no will nor the know-how to prevent it. Like watching a raw egg roll from your counter when your hands are full.


And all I can do is watch it fall.



–M

plans, part 3

So.


About six weeks ago, I planned my whole goddamned life through the middle of January. And almost none of that has come to pass.


Two days in Novi Sad? Cancelled. Another month in Belgrade? Traded for Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia. And now. the crux of the whole plan, the thing around which everything else rotated:


My night at the Grand Ferdinand.


Cancelled.


Barely anything of what I put together back then has come to pass; even this stint in Budapest – the initial stint of which I booked back then – has been extended by a week to accommodate the new lockdown in Slovakia.


Back in November, when it seemed like everything was going as planned, I thought for sure I’d be able to get my booster and, while it took effect, watch the world continue to resemble the nebulous “before-time” that I can barely remember.


But Omicron – or Omarion, as my skin-folk call it – seems to have upended us all anew, and thwarted all of the carefully laid plans that I had so painstakingly made.


Anyway.


I refunded four bus tickets and two flights, and have finally made my final plans for the end of 2021: another few days here in Budapest followed by a long, overland bus journey to Venice via Trieste. From there we’ll head to Florence on the 9th, but after that? I have no idea.


But something that I don’t talk about too frequently is my “country count”: as in the number of countries I’ve been to. I don’t talk about it a ton because, ultimately, it’s not a good rubric for anything. It doesn’t relate how traveled someone is nor how well they execute those travels. But I, like most nomads, keep my own tally, although unlike them I largely keep that number a secret.


But it looks like a kind of momentous tally is pretty close to being ticked for me, and I’ve actually begun to put that thought into what country I’d like that to be.


As recently as a couple days ago it was going to be Austria, a country I casually call my “West Virginia” because I can never quite seem to make it there, though I’ve been to every country it shares a border with.


Except Lichtenstein, now that I think about it. But you know what I mean.


But speaking of Lichtenstein: I will be very near to a country that I have been dying to visit since I was a teenager and flew to Milan for the first time.


But as much as I’d like to tell you this tentative plan, I fear saying it out loud in case all those plans have to change.


And though it doesn’t seem quite prudent to make resolutions, I also may have an idea or two up my sleeve for what I’d like to accomplish in 2022.


But for now, let’s just say “we’ll see,” and all just watch this year finally end.


And then we can hope together that 2022 will see our ability to have foresight return, because this spontaneous life has begun to wear on me in a way that I’m losing the ability to bear.


So.


I guess that’s the plan.



–M

hearts

Mostly what I remember from my last time in Budapest was one specific night; having gotten in another fight with the absolutely wrong man, my new girlfriend and I went out on the town. Though Budapest is famous for its ruin bars, there’s one in particular that’s practically a pilgrimage for tourists: the several floor, eclectically styled palace of DIY, Szimpla Kert.


It’s a very cool place, and I mean that in all of the ways you could. The clientele is cool, and the decor and design are the best kind of cool, in that it looks effortless and lived in. We loved it. And we each grabbed a beer and ascended one of the many staircases.


We found a room on a sort of mezzanine – more like half-room-half-passageway – that was filled with ephemera like one might associate with an old-timey reporter: a typewriter, a few Eames-esque rolling desk chairs, a small lamp with a green, glass shade and a brass pull-cord.


Having seen someone else do it, we promptly each lit a cigarette, only to be told a few minutes later that smoking inside was forbidden. 


But like, were we inside? This room barely had a roof. The whole place reminded me of Tacheles, a place I went to my first time in Berlin; arguably the place that cemented my will to live this kind of life.


Anyway, we bailed. We wandered down the street until we found a far more normal bar, and it soon became our favorite. But that night, not yet knowing how the next few days would unfold, we merely cemented our new friendship over absinthe and promised to meet back up, someday, in the States. 


When she left for Serbia, I assumed that it would end up being one of those promises that never quite materializes, but here we are, all these years later, and I can’t even walk down the street here without thinking about how much I miss her.


When we met she lived in Reno, but a couple years into our online-only friendship she relocated to Chicago. And this is where we were finally reunited four years ago, in the inaugural days of 2018.


And it’s weird because I spent a relatively long time in Budapest, but there’s nothing here I’m really dying to return to. 


Except for the one thing that isn’t even here anymore, the other part of my heart that I just can’t seem to feel at peace without.


[I love and miss you, Callie.]



–M