Europe Journals - Part III

Europe Journals
Tim Donlan

Part III


Today drained like a sticky, smelly, late summer day. All the
rough edges of the world causing abrasions. Annoyances.

The day started with miraculous coincidence. We ran into Josh’s
friend from Princeton on the way to the beach. We weren’t even
expecting to see him in Nice, and there he was, trudging along
the street with a heavy backpack. Franco the Tanko. He had
disappointing news – he had been playing for a division IV
soccer, but had been kicked off the team for late paperwork. Fed
up with Italy, he rented a car and drove the windy cliff side
roads to Nice, Fance. And here he was, slapping fives with

Franco went and got some food and drink to assuage a brutal
hangover, and Josh and I continued down to the beach. It was
nothing to write home about, just as my guidebook revealed. The
actual beach was made of smooth stones, with interesting grains
and patterns. The waves crashed and sucked back through the piled
stones, make an odd wheezing noise. Getting into the water was
difficult, as the crashing waves flung hard rocks into my feet
and ankles.

Once Franco came back, we figured out it would be cool if he
could drive us to Monaco in his rented car, and then drive us
down to Cinque Terra the next day. After a relaxed stroll through
the cafes and busy streets, we made it to the parking deck where
Franco had his car.

Passenger side window busted in. Little crumbles of glass all
over the seat and floor. Franco stands with his jaw agape before
initiating a flurry of curses. Bad luck to cancel out the morning

Those nights in Nice, we end up drinking cheap wine with a
middle-aged lawyer from Tennessee, talking about travel, European
economics and politics, America, and everything in between.
Kaplan and I stay up late into the night bantering over
philosophical futility. And then Josh almost convinces me I
should drop my girlfriend.

Saving Inside Jokes for Posterity:Desperate tiny, annoying French lady on train:
“Shteeeven….Shteeven Please!”Josh says: “Your middle name is Lou, as in The Great Greg
Lougayness. TGGLG”

Cinque Terra
9/17/04We trained into Cinque Terra today, watching the exquisite
postcard images of the coast scroll by. These are motifs of red
stone and houses crumbing into the gleaming sea. We arrive at
Monterosso, a very small and quaint town – perfect for our
vacation within a vacation.

Me and Josh have started to get in a routine. We roll out of
bed in late morning and get something to eat, usually
massive slices of focaccia, then stroll over to the beach. We
might go for a dip or hike around the coastline, till we reach
the cliff walls.

For dinner we’ll head down to a nice restaurant and get pasta
or lasagna and Mineral Water. On the walk back, we’ll get gelato
cones, then pick up a few liters of cheap red wine.

We get shitty under the stars, pissing into the rocks,
chain-smoking Camels. After 11, the town all but shuts down. All
that’s open is a single bar filled with Americans studying abroad
and rowdy Italians. Seeing so many Americans reminds me of that
movie The Beach. Traveling halfway around the world to a
beautiful secluded place to go to a bar and chill with other

I did feel a little sick here. Maybe it was some bad food in
Nice. It’s important to remember not to romanticize the past.
These places of beauty were constructed from the blood, sweat and
tears of those in the middle ages. I can imagine the toil it took
to built these outposts and towers on the cliffs, or till the
hard rocky earth into vineyard terraces.

Fearful doubt and feelings of mortality were very strong
yesterday. Being in a place so beautiful, yet unsure of myself,
queasy, worsens the doubt. It makes the entire trip tangential,
diversionary, a calm before the storm of my life. And I can see
my envious reflection in Kaplan’s silver platter.

I wonder if his optimism is real or manufactured? More and more
I’m realizing it doesn’t matter. There are benefits to instilling
“Conservative” precepts: cause and effect, capitalism,
harsh realities; rather than blind open-mindedness, equality and

I’ve been genuinely thinking of living a pious, monastic
lifestyle, not to assuage any wrath of God, but for the above
reasons – to lessen the swing factor of psychology that vices
instigate. Because I am desensitized, relativistic, godless –
there are hints of darkness in my soul. It’s something I struggle
with, and perhaps if I wasn’t as blessed or lucky, it could
consume me.

What’s better – to indulge vices and impulse, or resist
self-imposed temptations meaningfully?

9/18/04Monterosso fits every idea I had of rural Italy, beautiful and in
a way still untouched. I see small boys pulling along a chain in
a bustling street. Stray dogs trotting together in the dust.
Produce stands heaped high with red tomatoes and peppers, green
apples and pears, orange nectarines, purple plums. A friend of
the hostel owner shows me the barrels of wine fermenting in his
basement, tries to sell me a bottle for 10 euros. It’s too rich
for my blood, but he still shakes my hand, calls me

I see sharp cliffs topped by steep walled castles. A WWII
pillbox left as an antique remnant – still pockmarked with shell

At night, we burrow under the cliffs, blocking out reminders
of electricity and civilization, watching the ancient
constellations, and dust immolating itself in the atmosphere,
shooting into our consciousness. Listening to the lapping of the
black water at our feet.

There’s a cool dark wind at my back, and I leave Josh and some
girl behind, searching out to find fear. Just like the suburb in
the north of Paris, alone in the night. I climb up the maze of
stairs into the tree-covered apex of Monterosso.

These are cobblestone pathways and narrow stairs, looking out
over the warm city, but ever so dark. I’ve heard there is an old
cemetery up here.

I strafe around a blind corner like Wes Craven’s camera, fear
slowly inching into my blood. There’s a stark silhouette of small
angel crouched at the top of some stairs, grinning like a
gremlin. Above, a Christmas light garnered cross – a waypoint to
the heavens in this Mediterranean paradise.

The wind blows and I am alone. Many dangers could be revealed,
from drunken thugs with shivs to ancient demons from Dante’s dark
imagination. I breathe deep and suck in the breeze, almost
smiling. Then I turn back, walk down and find Josh.

Eventually Kaplan and me storm the cemetery on adrenaline,

reaching the misty top just to say we could.

9/19/04Went cliff jumping into the cool Mediterranean today, scrambling
up over brown coral, barnacles and slimy green seaweed dancing in
the currents. Up the sharp dusty rocks, tearing our feet to
shreds. Then a scream and a grin, hanging in the air with a
cloudless backdrop, and we plunge in again, two jewels singing
out for single gleeful moments.

We do flips and 720s off the coast of Italy, and I realize
this is the end of summer.

And these lyrics drift into my ears as though they were
written just for me:

Up on a hill, as the day dissolves
With my pencil turning moments into line
High above in the violet sky
A silent silver plane – it draws a golden chainOne by one, all the stars appear
As the great winds of the planet spiral in
Spinning away, like the night sky
In the million insect storm, the constellations form
On a hill, under a raven sky
I have no idea exactly what I’ve drawn
Some kind of change, some kind of spinning away
With every single line moving further out in time

And here
And there
Spinning Away…

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