Tag Archives: Travel

A Relationship in Presents, Part Two: Italy, the country of lovers

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This series explores style in addition to memory and basic aesthetics. I encourage you, for your own fun, to compare this piece with the previous part and to define for yourself the differences and how they affect the writing and the reading, and to continue the experiment for the upcoming parts.

Remember to contribute to this week’s Themed Thursday. I’m really excited to see what other posts crop up! 🙂

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Sarah and I walked through Europe hand in hand. Originally I had traveled with my sister, but she and I had been estranged for years, and isolating ourselves from our parents in Europe didn’t seem to help whether we got along or not. Beth and I split ways at first when she went to Amsterdam; I went to London to pick Sarah up. We met back up in Paris and tried to make things work, but we weren’t friends, weren’t friendly, and when we were preparing to leave Avignon, Beth split, leaving Sarah and I alone.

We had been friends all through college, one of those friendships where people ask, “So when are you two getting married?” They ask all the time, always with the same rising hysterical note where you can tell they know they’re being assholes but they ask it anyway, like it’s a joke, like either of us might find it funny. But really they’re just assholes, and no, we’re never getting married, thanks. We’re not even dating.

Most of my junior year, her freshman, she dated my friend Steve who had crashed on my couch, and I went pretty steady with this girl Christina. Nobody questioned why Sarah and Steve were together except when they saw how hard she’d hit him and how well Steve put up with it. Everyone questioned why Christina and I were together, ranging on topics from how much we fought to how much time we spent together. Sarah and Steve didn’t last the year; Christina and I did but eventually broke up December of my senior year.

Sarah, like a few others, asked, not in so many words, whether we could get together now that Christina and I had split. But I had loved her like a tree with ivy, like flesh holds onto a scab, and the sap or the blood still dripped fresh from the wound when they asked me, and I protected my open sore.

Unlike the others who asked whether we could finally get together, Sarah heard an invitation to Europe with me after I graduated. Can we date? she would ask, and I’d say no. Can we go to Europe together? I’d follow up with, and she’d ask me Can we date? Five months passed with a few other conversations to supplement this recurring one.

The three-day graduation party came and went. On the second night, I slept on a couch with Sarah because the other girl chasing me had fallen asleep already. It reminded me of the night two years before when I had thrown an end-of-year bash and fallen asleep on the floor with Holly rather than take my chances with Sydney. In resentment, Sydney had gone into the bathroom, claiming to snort coke. This one, however, simply went outside and drove home at four in the morning.

I packed up most of my stuff in the apartment and went back to Dallas for the month of May, spending time with my parents before I left for Europe. I spoke with Justin during the day about how he needed me to go back to Waco and get the rest of my shit out of the apartment and with Sarah nightly about how I’d like for her to come to Europe with me. Her refusal had changed from whether we could date or not to whether her parents would let her come or not, so I began to press a little harder those last few weeks, with no luck.

The last day before I left I spent packing my oversized duffle bag and backpack: clothes, toiletries, iPod, books, Woolite so I could wash my clothes on the go. I spoke with Sarah one last time. She had gone home to Houston for the summer, spending time with her old high school friends and, regretfully, with her parents. I listened to her complain for a while and asked her if she wouldn’t rather come to Europe with me rather than waste away her summer there. She answered that she would, agreeing finally and at the last minute to come. I laughed at her. I didn’t believe she would come.

We got off the phone soon thereafter. I flew into Paris with my sister, and on the second day received a note from my father that Sarah had called and said she would land in London after a week. Beth made her plans to go to Amsterdam, and I rode the train to Calais, took a ferry to Dover, and rode the train the rest of the way to save myself a little cash. I left my hostel that morning, met Sarah at the airport all smiles and surprised cheer, and took her to the bed and breakfast I had reserved for us.

I showed her London as best I could in the two days we had before we met up again with my sister in Paris; Sarah and I rode the train all the way, business class. Together, the three of us saw Chartres and then Tours and the surrounding cities; we rode the train to Avignon, and Sarah and I went to Marsellies while my sister wrote us a goodbye note; we went to Dijon where we had sex for the first time and then down to Florence. I bought Virgil’s opera in latin, the book itself bound together before America declared independence. I couldn’t afford the Boccaccio that I also wanted and left a little sad. Sarah turned me around on the street and bought that gilded Decameron, and the store sent them to my parents’ house in the same box.

We took a day trip from Florence to Milan, and at the Galleries Lafayette, she offered to buy another Mont Blanc pen since I liked my first one so much, an offer I felt guilty about almost accepting. Then we traveled to Rome and then Ravenna, where I bought her a brand new dress that was just a little too long for her, a beautiful blue arrangement with an ornate flower on the waist. The sex was already beginning to lose its charm, but I didn’t say anything. From there she talked me into spending a day in Venice, a place I refused to go not because I didn’t imagine it as beautiful but because I couldn’t afford it. She bought me a glass statuette of lovers dusted with gold flecks.

Paris took us in for a few days after Italy, and we saw several closed museums. We went back to London and then to Derbyshire to stay with Kiran, an old high school friend of mine. Rita, Kiran’s mom, asked me whether she were the one, and I answered I dunno. How am I supposed to know? No, she’s probably not. And Rita smiled at me, told me that youth was meant for fun and that I’d know with someone, that David had known with her and had been right. Not that she had known David was the one; she fought and resisted his advances until one day she gave in, but David had known that she was his one.

When we went back to Texas, Sarah told our friends we were dating. I said we weren’t. She didn’t talk to me for months, not until I invited her to Devin’s wedding, after which I would become jealous of her physicality and tell her that I couldn’t stand the idea of her being with anyone else. I’d ask her to dedicate herself to me, and she’d ask if that meant we were together, and I’d, resigned, say yes—finally, some would say; inevitably, others.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

St. Patty’s Day train ride

Thanks for the feedback on the last entry, those who posted and those who messaged me. When I ask for feedback, I’m asking for what Brooke offered by telling me what the piece was lacking and where she thought I could move forward; I’m not asking to hear how awesome I am. 🙂 Constructive criticism is win, so give me some.

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You’re on the red line subway in Boston, Charles/MGH stop heading south. Green surrounds you, sparkly from hats or shiny on pins or soft on jersey-knit shirts or fluffy on toy leprechauns. It’s St. Patty’s day. For some reason, Irish pride shoves this Joyce line in your head: Ireland, they say, has the honor of being the only country which never persecuted the Jews. Do you know why? Because she never let them in!

The train lurches ahead going slower than normal, but that’s to be expected today. You’re going to the parade, and they say that even the real Irish come over to Boston for this. To be honest, you really expected the train to be a little more full.

You pull into Park Street unaware. Really, you should’ve known. This is like a Red Sox night; the Green line bears most of the burden. You look up from your thoughts. You’re submerged in a sea of green people.

Crack a joke about Tokyo, little Japanese karate masters with white gloves politely cramming you like sardines into the train. You know a girl teaching English in Japan, glad to be away from home.

Your mind goes back to Ulysses. He was in Dante; he tried to do what man just can’t do, tried to climb the mountain that man, without manna, cannot climb. He failed and fell.

Propose a thought experiment. Your mind goes dark places when you let it. Your girlfriend is embarrassed for you, but this is legitimate: imagine that you’re not going to the parade; imagine that you’re afraid, that you’re in Germany and that everyone around you knows just like you know where this train is going, or maybe not where, to be precise.

Imagine panic. It drains the blood from the white faces around you, shreds the atonal wails, broken only by the staccato of the men with the guns, few in number but enough to slaughter the lot of you, at least the majority of you; then, when the bullet cases are done hitting the ground, who will be left of the resistance?

No, you file into the train. The cabin is rank with stale sweat, but soon it will be urine. Soon children will lose control, then the adults. It will stink not just of body fluids. Someone will die because they won’t be able to breathe. The people around them will try to shuffle away through the crowd, and the people they shuffle past will let them, not knowing what new company they’ll have.

The walls are painted now with blood from fingernails that have ripped themselves against grooves. The doors are locked; the train is moving; the air is still, refuses to circulate, to become clean. All is stagnant.

Already a part of your humanity is lost. Already you’re afraid, clinging to your instincts to save you in this strange place, this strange time, to save you from this deadly peril. Some maintain through religion or stoicism, but that will all go away, too, under the tyranny of the camp. The metal rods and the senseless killings and the food rations and the showers; it will all strip away what you had just moments ago, moments ago when all you had ripping at your then-stable psyche was fractured wails. Now there’s the copper smell of blood, the fingernails stuck in the grooves. Soon it will be worse.

But no, the thought is ridiculous. You’re on your way to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in south Boston where the police will march, but they’re not going to arrest you. They’re not the ones who shuttled you onto this train. It’s not the same bureaucratic instinct that leads them to form lines with their concrete barricades that leads you away from the train and led Jews to the train. Let the experiment go. Celebrate.

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Where I’m thinking about going with this piece:

American feeling towards bankers was German feeling towards Jews, coupled with anti-Semitism left over from Middle Ages. Write up scene involving American rhetoric against bankers during 2009 economic crisis, switch bankers with Jews. Point is to re-humanize the German forces; un-PC, I know.

German Holocaust as related to meat-packing industry

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Fiction, Writing