Europe Journals – Part V

Europe Journals
Tim Donlan

Part V

Venice
9/24/04

It was an overcast rainy and dreary day on the train. Left around
11 heading to Venice. Along the way, watched the fields roll by
and blow in the wind. The train encountered some mechanical
difficulties about an hour from Venice, so we sat there with the
car lights blinking and the trees outside blowing furiously.

Eventually I made it into Venice over a narrow bridge that seemed
mere inches above the water. I was absolutely clueless as to
where I was staying, so I bumbled around, lopsided pack on my
back, half full bottle of wine in my hand until I found an
Internet cafe. This was incredibly overpriced (3,50 to look up my
email and print directions). Anyway I’m back outside in the blowing
wind, hiking over canals of gray green water and dark, narrow
maze-like streets. Venice seemed very old and gray today, and the
facades of many historical buildings were tired and crumbling. I
quickly managed to get myself lost, and with the sun dropping
beneath the rooftops, things were beginning to look grim.

I crossed an empty, puddle filled
square, two stark trees struggling to grow out of musty plots of
earth. A few stores formed the outskirts of the plaza, so I
entered a Tabacci and bought a map. Thankfully, the kind
storeowner circled my present location and destination, and was
generally helpful, though he couldn’t speak a word of English.

With a “cio!” and a wave, I was out the store and on
the street, shouldering my burden and navigating the ancient maze
that is Venice.

The hostel, Palazzo Zenobio, was
located on a cold street that was sinking into the murky canal
waters. Instead of a welcoming sign, there was only a red painted
number and a monolithic green wood door. I timidly rang the bell,
said I was here for the hostel, and with a buzz, the heavy gate
yawned open.

The inside was very foreboding, and if I didn’t know better, I
could have sworn I was inside some corridor of the Vatican. The
floor was an intricate stone and marble mosaic pattern. Carved
Columns. Big, framed paintings and candelabras. And when I got
upstairs, a massive ballroom with mirrors, frescoes and an ornate
ceiling.

It turns out this place was once a palace for a Venetian family
from 1600 to 1700, and later, in the 1850s, Armenian monks turned
it into a collegio – a monastery. Now it was used as a hostel and
concert hall.

I have two Australian roommates that are headed to Innsbruck
tomorrow. I think I’ll tag along with them – getting up early,
dropping my bags at the station, and then quickly touring the
city before an 11:30 train to Austria. We’re all planning to stay
at the same hostel, so here’s to less hectic times.

One of the coolest things I saw in Venice was in the Piazza San
Marco. This is an old church with a massive courtyard. Thousands
of pigeons congregated here, sitting on the roofs and pecking
around the cobblestones. Suddenly, a tourist walks through the
center of the dense flock, and the birds rise into the air,
moving together. It is a fascinating sight, to see the patterns
they churn in the air. There is no central leader of the group,
yet the “signal” of the movement propagates through
every distributed organism, emerging into a symphony in the air.

If I could pick a visual metaphor
for the majesty of life, this would be it.


Innsbruck
9/25/04

The Aussie (pronounced Ozzie) roommates, both named Matt, turned
out to be very nice guys. They are both software developers who
run a small consulting company. They’ve been very successful
taking on projects for various industries. Currently they are
leading the pack in publishing software. We talked a while about
software dev in general, and one of the two Matt’s was telling me
that starting my own company was the only way to do what I wanted
and make “fuck you” money. It’s not out of the
question, but I think I need more programming experience first,
at least in industry level stuff.

The hostel is nice, though it’s rainy out. Innsbruck reminds me
of Chamonix, though bigger. The mountains have not yet appeared
from their shrouds of precipitation, though I did see the icy
veins of a glacier through one cloud break.

Within the dark brooding sky, the
sun looks trapped, its white fired chained.


I think traveling has instilled
laziness in me, like I want to melt into a seat in the pub and
inject good beer through my tongue. I am simultaneously tired,
buzzed, horny and bored – though mildly for all.

Looking in the fashionable stores along the Innsbruck streets, I
think I’m becoming attached to European style. Not terrible
Eurotrash stuff, but I think I’ll make some changes when I return
to the states. I especially think some of the girl’s fashion is
interesting and very sexy.

Tall Matt, the Aussie hacker, is on his 7th cigarette in this
pub, and we’re listening to German covers of 80s pop songs and
reading paperback novels. The beer is good – wheaty and sweet. I
think the sun is out so hopefully we’ll get outside and do
something within the hour. Might have to wait for Matt to burn
through his whole pack first.


9/28/04

When I wake, my piss throbs heard through my tubes, looks like
orange juice, and smells up the closet sized bathroom. I stagger
into the blinding sunlight, and suddenly the open sky and the
roaring mountains consume any hint of a hangover.

The last few nights I’ve gotten pissed drunk and talked with
various other English speakers about traveling, world politics,
and accents. It’s funny cause Aussies call Americans
“Seppos”, short for Septic Tank, cause we’re full of
shit. There is definitely a good-natured rivalry running through
the whole place.

One Aussie guy named Matt charmed us with his stories of
traveling in Africa, and some primal appeal was instantiated.
Europe is cakewalk and Africa is the real fucking deal. He told
us about almost getting mugged by twenty black guys upon setting
foot out of the airport. He explained how hotels are like
compounds, with 20-foot reinforced concrete walls, barbwire. He
talked about bribing border patrol guards with a pack of
cigarettes, when they were armed with AK47s and demanding $400
tariffs. And he talked about how you could basically live like a
king for dirt money, basically.

It reminds me once again of the Beach – there’s always a better
place to go, ballsier, more exotic and foreign. The threat of
danger is half the appeal. I just finished Heart of Darkness as
well – the Dark Continent has not lost any of its appeal or
danger in over a hundred years.

I did some good hiking yesterday, and was happily impressed by
Austria’s network of trails. These are real Hansel and Gretel
type shit forests. A few miles up, under the press of conifers
and the rickety cable car tower, there are well marked mountain
bike runs, trail signs and fresh springs. It was good to do some
strenuous physical activity considering I’ve been such a bloody
binger the last few weeks.


We ventured out into the city last
night, 12 of us, including the savvy Aussie Matt, a few other
Americans, a friendly French girl, and a Mexican that was
disturbingly similar to Akash. We got a few drinks and acted like
fools, and eventually Matt and I are sitting on a street corner,
drunkenly talking about deep issues. He reveals he’s gay, and I
say I completely understand. We talk about the logical reasoning
behind attraction, aesthetics and physical drives, and I talk a
lot of nonsense about hardwiring and innate ideas. It’s always
the same with gay guys. We can have this great conversation, and
then they play the gay card, as if the whole debate was a prelude
to a flirt. Were they testing the waters with me? Usually I’m
pretty empathetic, and try to see the world through their eyes,
but then they think I agree too much, and I’m a closet
homosexual. How wrong he was.

Perhaps they were just regular guys with strange sexual
proclivities and an emotional, open mind. Culture and herd
instinct did the rest. Matt, at least, wasn’t a big fan of the
entire flaming homosexual scene. But if you want to find other
guys easily, that’s the arbitrary culture and niche you’ll have
to buy into. Same with the bar scene – I hate it but I suppose
I’ll have to live with and accept it.

There’s some “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” type
shit going on with Stephanie. As much as I have these reasons for
disliking her, there are internal forces that make me feel very
fond of her. Beyond a physical lust, there is compassion and
intimate closeness I felt with her. Perhaps these feelings are
only flavors of her chains. It will be extremely difficult to
break away from her, and without stronger reasons, what’s the
point of tearing myself apart?

Off to Fussen now, without much of a plan, just plop down on a
train out of Austria, backpack and notebook beside me. Hopefully
I’ll see some cool castles, but really all I want to do is sleep.

This is my last week here. Munich will continue the binge fest,
and I think Amsterdam is going to be an all out Blitzkrieg.

As I was trudging up the misty mountains yesterday, I reflected:
“This is the calm before the storm.”


Fussen
9/29/04

I’ve finally gotten into some kind of confident routine with
traveling. To get to Fussen I had to switch trains with a
four-minute window, then catch a bus jam packed with middle
school kids. The trip only cost me 15 euros, and I managed to do
it all speaking German. I ended up stopping by the very efficient
tourist office, where they printed up a list of available hotels.
I stayed at this old woman’s home, which she had converted into
rooms for rent. Breakfast was part of the deal, and I was happy
to say I negotiated and conversed with her primarily in German.

The town and countryside is very beautiful and picturesque. I
hiked down to Romantique Road out of Fussen towards the two
nearby Schloss (castles). A quaint paved path ran along the road,
cutting through pastures and cold coniferous forests. All the
cows wear bells, so aside from the gentle breeze, there is always
a lazy ringing wafting through the air, like wind chimes.

A few kilometers distant, I could see the stark white walls of
Neuschwanstein rising out of the forest, a sheer rock face as the
backdrop. The sky was half overcast, roiling, and covering the
mountain peaks with mist.

I could imagine leading a Roman
caravan through these paths, wary of marauding Germanic hordes
ambushing me. Or a cloaked messenger, cantering on horseback up
to King Ludwig’s opus castle, chill air cutting into my lungs.

It is locales such as these that inspire imagination, a sort of
cultural memory, a romantic notion. That you could live a hearty,
peaceful life with cobblestone streets, pastures and mountains,
then sleep forever in a grass covered grave, the sound of
cowbells above a final lullaby.

On the train to Munich the next day, I see a boy on a train and a
girl on a horse, both charging across the Bavarian landscape,
eyes aligned, in love. The boy waves, and perhaps for a moment,
you think they can sprint together forever. Then the train picks
up speed, the horse breathes, and the two young lovers are pulled
inevitably apart.

It’s only imagination, but I could be that boy, in this land, a
hundred years ago. And even if it’s only a fantasy, the emotions
swell just as strong. Then it’s gone, and I smile.


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