Here’s what’s new: ten days ago I left Berlin suddenly, brokenhearted. I feel lost and sad. I don’t know where I want to be. I didn’t want to travel in these circumstances but travelling was the only positive thing I could think to do.
Two days ago I was on a ferry. Two elderly women sat at my table. Are you going on holiday? they asked me. I’m just sort of drifting, I said.
Sometimes it all seems so goddamn huge I feel like I can’t move. For days all I could do was cry. I had all the usual symptoms: I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I’m not the only person this shit ever happened to. It’s kind of boring. Painful and boring.
I’m at a crossroads and I get to go anywhere I want now, I guess, except I didn’t want it this way so it’s hard to get excited about it. But I’m coming round to it.
Last Thursday I visited a writer I hadn’t seen in fourteen years, a respected journalist. I’m taking you for a picnic, she said. I made a unilateral decision that you’re a vegetarian. We sat by a river and talked about travel and writing. She asked me what had happened in Berlin and I tried to explain the end of it and I realised that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. You don’t need that, do you? she asked. And suddenly I thought that maybe I didn’t.
It didn’t make everything instantly better but something shifted that afternoon. When I woke up the following morning, I didn’t hate everything.
The elderly women on the ferry were sisters and widows. They bickered together. She’s bossy, said the younger one. I am not, said the older one. You’re assertive, I offered. Thank you, she said with a smile.
When they asked where I lived I didn’t know how to answer. But I told them the places I was considering. I sounded free and independent and interesting. If I talk like that often enough, I can believe it myself as well.
FUN GAME: Identify the writers!
The day before I left, Edinburgh was all about the haar, something I’m unlikely to get much of in Berlin. I took crappy pictures to try and convey how difficult it was to see ahead of me.
The day I left, it was grey and rainy. I caught the cheapo number 35 bus to the airport. I pondered the fact that I didn’t know when I would be back in town, and concluded: oh. I watched as someone walked into a field with a shopping bag, wearing a cardboard box on his head. I thought: oh.
The Brussels flight was mostly populated by businessmen. The one opposite me in the departure lounge looked me up and down, didn’t seem to approve of what he saw. Another one tried to barge ahead of me in the queue. I sat in my window seat hoping the one next to me would stay unoccupied, but eventually a middle-aged Belgian banker sat down in it. Hello, he said, nice to travel with you.
Likewise, I replied.
Thank you, he said.
I thought it was a pretty nice opening remark. We spent most of the flight talking about travel and languages. He was good company, and I meant to wish him all the best when we disembarked, but instead I kept moving while he located his luggage, unsure if I should hang around.
I keep feeling tempted to write ‘Brustles’, but I should banish such awful ideas from my head. Belgium is my first new country this year, and my first French-speaking destination since Quebec in the mid-nineties. Today I wandered the streets with My Mysterious Friend Germán, took in the Moomin exhibition at the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, went for mint tea. Tonight I cooked mushroom, lemon & leek risotto for three Czechs and a Spaniard. Minus the leek. Also minus some of the other stuff that usually goes into it. I had my ladle, though. I can’t believe, observed My Mysterious Friend Germán, that not only have you packed less than 15 kilos of stuff to cover your needs for the next several months, but you’ve included cooking utensils. Yes. If I can bring it it means I don’t have to buy it when I get there.
Here is all I’ve got:
From top to bottom and left to right:
- Cheap second-hand jacket, with lining completely falling apart
- Cardigan donated by friend
- Rucksack given to me by kind boss when I left on my first solo trip aged eighteen; it’s been everywhere with me since, and shows no signs of falling apart. Still bears Jetstar luggage tag from last year’s Australia trip (a redundancy gift to myself)
- Shoulderbag with handy compartments for discperson and camera
- Canvas bag containing laptop, which actually fits into shoulderbag, but I needed to create some more space to accommodate the extra complimentary sandwich I scrounged on the flight.
Next stop: Amsterdam.