(Photo Blog-photos by Jade Bookends, LCC and Zach Ruslan are copyrighted and acknowledged throughout)
9-22 September 2018
In a short, while seemingly long, two week time period, I ventured out on vacation. I proved to myself that I was ready to begin life as a solo traveler…and one who has many stories from the places and people over the course of two weeks.
And writing! So much writing! I was writing story notes and ideas, and poems on my phone when I wasn’t near my Surface, big notebook or smaller notebook. So much writing.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I began my trip exploring the places that sparked literary stories from writers like Ernest Hemingway; he spent time in Madrid. Only after I was done in Spain, leaving the airport, and looking at the hills in the background from my seat window, did I now fully understand Hills Like White Elephants. I previously mentioned I’ve never been a Hemingway fan, yet it was in Madrid that began my literary tour. It was in Madrid where I stood at the top of a staircase, Escalerilla De Piedra, clearly marked by a balcony, leading down to Sobrino de Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world. It was at the top of these stairs where Napoleon stood. History lines the streets, stairs, buildings, and architecture. Hemingway ate at Botín. He did not eat at a small restaurant just a few doors down and above the doorway hangs a sign-their claim to fame. Walking past Botín, further down the sidewalk, then taking a right to walk down a narrow street, my tour guide spoke of authors who walked in the same spot.
Madrid, Spain. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC
I spent 5 hours in Madrid’s city centre, ate tapas with a cervaces (beer), enjoyed a chocolate (hot) and churro at Chocolatería San Ginés, and took the Metro back to the airport to continue my trip to Paris. My day of speaking Spanish would have to wait until I reached Barcelona later in the trip.
In Paris, there was Victor Hugo, and I could hear the music score of Les Misérables in the backdrop of my mind, taking me back to the root of my exposure to the story and music; signing a solo part of “On My Own,” scored for Eponine; going to NYC to see the show on Broadway. The Paris Opera House, inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, in its sparkling evening glow light. I remember walking along the Pont des Arts bridge in 2014, and, somewhere, there are photos of the bridge railings lined with locks of love; those locks were removed a year later (2015) because they were too heavy and the weight threatened the structure. I was on the same bridge during this trip and the view of the Seine is now what accents the city of romance.
Notre Dame and Paris Opera House. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC
Standing in front of Notre Dame, surrounded by a lot of people sitting, standing in line to enter the cathedral, and taking selfies, our personal guide asked our group how we heard about Notre Dame: the animated Disney movie was the most popular reason. For me, I have a more personal connection with the cathedral from my visit four years ago. I’ve never read the books, and this Disney buff vaguely remembers the movie. And it was Victor Hugo who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In my writing, Notre Dame is the setting for my short story, Lost in the City of Lights. When I wrote the story in October/November 2016, I did not have any clue that my life was beginning to unravel. I wrote the story for a class; when I read it at a much later date, there was an “Oh my!” moment, followed by “I had absolutely no idea I was predicting a future life not that far off.” The story is filled with hope, discovery, searching, and love of many levels. Writers love to talk about their stories, but this one seemed to be the pinnacle of one of the best stories I’ve ever written. Paris did that to me when I first visited in 2014. Notre Dame was my first sightseeing stop and it obviously made an impression.
On the Seine River, during a dinner cruise, a dear friend asked me to be his model for his new camera that worked well in low light; I readily agreed, and this was before I was sporting a beautiful Mediterranean tan. As the boat glided by, I said, “Notre Dame! It’s the setting for my short story.” And he took a few more pictures. My friends were really great during the cruise and one scolded me for taking selfies when he and his wife could easily take my picture, and he instructed I give them my phone. It really warmed my heart, and brought even bigger smiles to my face, being surrounded by such good friends. “You’re always smiling,” one friend said, as he lightly pinched my dimple. I think my energy and spirit was infectious. How could I not smile…I was in Paris!!!! I was going back to Italy and Spain was a new country for me.
Notre Dame from the Seine. Photo Copyright @Zach Ruslan
I got lost in Paris. Physically got lost. Google maps did not help between the hours of 11pm and 1am. This blondie’s compass is already broken, and I remember standing some place, looking at my location on the map that put me smack-dab in the middle of the Seine, and I began to panic: I was lost, I was alone, and I was a female, lost and alone in a foreign place. The moment I felt these feelings rush into tears, I stopped walking, cursed my phone and Google maps, and gave myself a pep talk. I had been in worse situations, and with someone standing right next to me. After drawing in a deep breath, I told myself to regroup, back track, and find my way. “You can do this. You got this.” It was just me-I had no choice…and taxis sleep at night,
When I was telling this story to my friend, K, recently, she said, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find your way.” Paris was my getting lost, and I certainly stumbled in Madrid, but it was a bit easier to navigate because of a more structured street system; I understood the public transportation system (wish I had used it from Disneyland into the city-would have been a huge money saver!), and my knowledge of Spanish. (I can actually read French, German, Spanish, and Italian very well…German is my strongest speaking language, followed by: Spanish, Italian, French, and a few phrases in Mandarin.) My stumbles in Europe weren’t of the knee-scraping kind, but more of moments I braced myself to prevent a fall; my knees never really touched the ground this time.
While wandering, and getting lost, I read The Real Midnight in Paris by Paul Brody. The Lost Generation, as I mentioned, is my forte literature period. I’m beginning to think 18th and 19th century French literature might be my next hobby for studies.
I can’t seem to read enough into The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), and have read a few more of his works. I’ve read a few books about Zelda, including an autobiography, and I must say while those two were free-spirited in their own unique ways, they were also toxic to each other. From reading about their lives from both sides, there is no one side to choose (Scott vs Zelda) in their marriage. Both parties were to blame. It’s one of those slippery-slope conversations, because I do defend Zelda at times. Scott certainly could have provided more support, but this leads into the testing waters of the Fitzgerald’s’ marriage-that slippery-slope.
That was such a different generation and the whole reason expatriates ended up in Europe: they were (to put it bluntly) pissed off at the previous generation. And the US entered WWI late. I studied literature through war at SNHU, and it covered just about everything from WWI all the way through to the Civil Rights and Women’s Movement, and not stopping there. We began to study literature around the Afghanistan war.
“I’m going through my own war; how can I possibly survive this?” was a question I asked several times throughout the 10 weeks of class, often in tears because I couldn’t be the A student I strived to be; it was hard to take literature and apply it through the lens of life (in this case, war). I struggled. I struggled with my own personal war the last six months of grad school, and I struggled with the class because it didn’t focus on any one generation. It didn’t focus on a specific type of literature and seemed like it was an all over the place progression; kind of like my life during that time. It was the worst literature class.
After using Europe as my literary excursion, a few things make sense now.
Literature changed because of the Lost Generation. The freedoms that the U.S. didn’t allow were part of a different tapestry in Europe. Writers could be exactly who they chose to be; who they wanted, and needed, to be.
Perhaps that’s my correlation to Europe: France and, now, Spain. There appeared to be more of an US presence in Europe than in our home country during various stages of wars and everything in between.
Europe certainly gave me more of a chance to experience the food, culture; delve deeper into literature terrains, and a good way to lose myself (Thanks, K. That was the perfect explanation.). It also reminded me that: I still love Paris. There’s something about the City of Lights that acts likes a spatula, folding me into layers to mold something dynamic.
I didn’t discuss my trip around the Mediterranean Sea and the stops in ports. I will touch on it briefly. Alexander Dumas was prominent in Malta, where you could take a boat ride to Comino to see St. Mary’s Tower, a setting in The Count of Monte Cristo film).
In Naples (Napoli), our cab driver got us past the long queue into the restaurant where Julie Roberts ate during Eat, Pray, Love. While I still haven’t had my EPL moment, or I did in some other fashion, the pizza and beer was so good, my friend and I split the pizza. In our cab, we zipped around side streets. Once back on the boat, I grabbed a glass of wine and my Surface to write with Mt. Vesuvius in the backdrop.
In Genoa (Genova), I ate gelato after our excursion allowed free time. Nothing beats gelato, cannolis, wine, and the food overall in Italy…and France…and the Sisk beer in Malta is the best.
In Sicily (Sicilia), Mt. Etna was smoking and I amply used beach time to get some rest, before walking into the Sea to feel the cool water quench my body. I still have Milan, Venice, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Verona on my next to visit Italy list. I’ve been to Rome, Florence, Lido, Pisa, and the Vatican City.
In Barcelona, it was more about Gaudi’s architecture that is extremely prominent around the city. Our city tour excursion, mostly on the bus, took us past Casa Batlló and we had time to walk around La Sagrada Familia, forever under construction. I had paella and sangria for lunch when were given free time to explore the city.
Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain. Below La Sagrada Familiar. Gaudi Architecture. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC
I got to see the rare tiger dolphins from my cabin balcony one morning and loved the way the Mediterranean sun bronzed my skin, without much effort; I only had 2-3 hours on the beach, didn’t really sit on the pool deck of the ship, and spent most of my time walking around. I am truly of a Mediterranean (and European) descent; I am the only one in my family with an olive complexion and green eyes.
The Mediterranean Sea. Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC
But, Italy…ah, Italy. I fell in love with Italy in 2010, and that love is even greater after this trip. I threatened to pack my suitcase and get off the boat to stay. It could have become my own Under the Tuscan Sun. I’ve had numerous people tell me I need an Italian man. I don’t need any man, but when/if the time comes, it will have to be someone who appreciates me, won’t hold me back from any dreams I continue to pursue, nor oppress me or suppress me. If that man is Italian, then bonus! And this is getting off topic quickly. I’ll keep dreaming of spending significant time in Italy.
I’m always happier when I’m away from “home.” These two vacations (Paris and the Mediterranean cruise around France, Italy, Malta and Spain) was exactly the type of vacation I needed to get completely away. I was exactly the person I know I am with a few surprises and did the one thing I’ve become really good at: doing anything that makes me happy…and it shows. In Paris, the City of Lights, the city known fro romance, I was able to learn what it means to truly love yourself. I needed that kind of love back and found it within. It took quite a while, and it started with being kind to myself, as JDF told me from the very beginning. I worked my way through kindness to find love. It’s been a long journey.
Underneath, I know I still have some work to do. Underneath, I know my anxiety and depression hasn’t disappeared, but to continue down the path I’m going between working out, writing, talking to my therapist, asking friends for help when I need it, I know these mental health issues are only temporary in the grand scheme. And that’s okay.
More than anything, my vacations inspired me to keep writing, to begin new stories, to make my current stories and poems even better, and to remember the writing path I dream of traveling. Tying in the literary components of the trip also made me realize it’s everywhere. With some effortless research, we can go anywhere in the world and will find literature and history seeping up from the stones, dirt, and even water to remind us of an imagination that can transform the writer and reader to some of the most fantastic places in this world and in other worlds.
Writing with Genova, Italia in the background from the cruise ship. *Sheer bliss* Copyright 2018 Jade Bookends, LLC
A special thanks goes to my good friend, Zach Ruslan, for the fabulous photos he provided…and it was tempting to use them all, but didn’t.