The Lessons of 2016 (Including Adventures in Rome, Paris, London, Etcetera)

Right now, I’m sitting at an Americana-themed restaurant, Joe’s, sipping on a flat white, just down the road from my new flat in Kentish Town. Kentish Town, London, that is, in Zone 2. I live here now.

In case you’re a little bit lost considering that my last entry was about February 2016, a lot has happened since then. Back when I had just started running my open mic, when I was working my ass off on finishing the second draft of my novel, and taking an Italian class at JCU, and teaching business communications and terrified of teaching something so totally new to me. And I had a new group of expat friends that was quickly shaping up—Glenn, Brian, Kacy, Stephanie, Emma, Nasser, Mohammad, Gabby—which meant that I was spending almost every night with them, drinking and talking and playing music and deepening our friendships so much that we became our own little expat family.

Obviously, I can’t go through the play-by-play of each and every thing that happened to me from then until now, if I want to catch us up—that would take forever. But what I can do is provide you with an important story, something that illustrates, in a way, everything I’ve learned since then—the lessons of 2016.

*

It begins with my arrival in London at the end of March 2016, at the beginning of Spring Break at John Cabot. A rainy, windy day, as I lit a cigarette outside of St Pancras Station, connecting to the wifi to figure out where to go from here. My last time in London, a year ago, I’d been boarding a train back to Paris, settling into my seat with a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and the realization—which would make me cry—that things hadn’t gone in London at all the way I’d wanted them to. That whatever I had imagined, romanticized, was not going to happen between me and Jim, no matter how many times I went to London to see him. It was only a year ago, at the age of 26 (almost 27), and yet now, at 27 (almost 28), I was a totally different person. I had learned to be happy again in Italy, fully taking in each day and loving it, even if sometimes I got overwhelmed with work or the Italian bureaucratic system.

And this time, I wasn’t here to see Jim. I was here to see my cousin, Maria Ines, and her husband Pedro. They’d moved to London in the new year, wanting to start their careers afresh. Maria Ines is an economist, Pedro’s in coding and software, but because of the state of the economy in Uruguay, they were only able to scrape by despite their educations, and it was time for a change. A big one. They moved to London with their savings and just a few suitcases of things, and started applying for jobs. They didn’t know how things would go for them. It was a leap of faith. And right now things were hard for them—they were both working in the restaurant industry, taking orders and washing dishes and trying to understand the blurred English accent (how it sounds to those accustomed to American English) alongside other immigrants with degrees just like theirs. They didn’t know if they’d reach their goals. But they were going to try.

So I got off at the Wood Green underground stop, took in the surroundings around me. Zone 3 of London, late at night, it was quiet and not much was going on as I rolled my suitcase behind me. I carefully followed the map I’d screenshot on my phone, and then I was there, ringing the bell, and then there was my cousin Ines at the door, looking so English already in her white jumper/sweater.

“Are you hungry?” she asked in Spanish.

Of course I was hungry. I always eat when I travel. As does she. We also happen to smoke the same brand of cigarettes and get emotional the same way and love Shakira to death. That’s the beautiful thing about family. There are little things you have in common, that no one else understands, not really, on a level that goes so deep it seems to go past even what we know about each other already and into the territory of what we will eventually discover as we go on through life.

They invited me into their home, and the next day, a Saturday, Pedro went out to work while Ines and I took a bus into downtown London and went for a walk. It was a rainy day, but it didn’t matter. We walked all around downtown, talking about London and its vibrancy, how international it is and how many driven people come here. She talked about the challenge of finding work, of how her working papers were still being processed (Pedro’s an Italian citizen, so she has a right to live here but still needs a permit to work), how it was so anxiety-inducing to feel like she was always waiting for life to begin. I talked about Rome, about music, about how things were going so well for me and how I was almost finished with my novel—I’d promised myself it’d be finished before Spring Break, yet here I was, five chapters away from the end, and I had midterms to grade, too. And I talked about Jim, too, of course. Because, yes, you guessed it: we were meeting up. That night. A year since the last time we’d spent time together.

And three months since we’d last messaged. I’d asked him on Christmas if he wanted to do something in the new year, he’d said yes, and that was all—no messages, no communications, until on March 4, after booking tickets to London and Paris, I’d swallowed my pride and messaged him:

‘Visiting my cousin who just moved to London at the end of the month. Let me know if you’d like to to catch up! Can you believe it’s been a year? [airplane emoji] [British flag emoji]’

He said yes, and now here I was, walking down a busy commercial street in SoHo with my cousin as it rained on us, telling her that I had no idea what to expect from the encounter. A year for me is a long time. I’d changed so much. Now, I was about to finish my novel, I was writing new songs (both serious and comedic), I was happy, driven, taking Italian lessons, hanging out with friends almost every night, teaching at a university where I felt like I belonged, running my very own open mic, even. The image, only a year old, of an American girl in a little kitchen in an apartment in the 16eme quartier of Paris, feeling lonely, only twenty pages into her novel (and scared that it wouldn’t amount to anything), just learning to play the guitar again (and without any idea that she was capable of writing songs), constantly logging onto her phone to try to understand why there were two blue tick marks next to her message, and yet this guy in London hadn’t replied to her yet—it was foreign to me now, more foreign than any country I’ve visited.

So I had no idea how the encounter would go. I had changed. Maybe he had changed too. He’d offered to go on a ride in the country with me and I’d said no, afraid that I wouldn’t feel the same way anymore, or that I’d feel to much, and that I’d be out in the country with no escape plan. I was nervous.

“Don’t be nervous,” my cousin said to me as I re-applied my lipstick in front of the mirror in one of the fanciest bathrooms I’ve every been to in my life, in the bar where I was meeting Jim, The Blind Pig. “You look great. You look—do you know the saying?”

“What saying?”

“Getting ready for battle,” she said in Spanish*. “That’s what we say, when the girls are getting ready to go out. To look really good for a guy on a date. You’re getting ready for battle.”

A battle. That was a good way to think about it. I gave the mirror my most smoldering look, as I fixed the final touches of my makeup, and we headed upstairs to have a drink. Because we had an hour before Jim would arrive, and everyone knows that having a drink is the best way to steel oneself for what’s to come.

*

My cousin left a few minutes just before seven, and there I was, sitting in the dark, sipping my drink, looking at pictures of me and my friends in Rome (ah, the pleasure of having no 3G) while traveling. Some minutes, passed and then I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Hey,” Jim said.

I got up, we kissed each other hello on our cheeks like old friends, then sat down again. Sure, I was nervous. I could tell he was nervous, too.

We caught up. I told him all about my new life in Rome. And my upcoming travels, too, how I was headed to Paris after this to see old friends, then to Madrid in May for an academic conference giving a paper on Patti Smith’s “Just Kids.” He told me about work, how it was really stressing him out and how he wasn’t enjoying it as much as he used to. How he was thinking about traveling again, getting away. Buying a motorcycle, now that he’d just finished a training course, then taking it to the Americas and traveling through North and South America, seeing everything.

“That’s funny,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Well, a year ago, all you could talk about was how much you wanted to get serious about work,” I said. “How excited you were about all the different projects you’d be doing.”

“Wow? Really?”

But it wasn’t just that that was different. He was different. But it wasn’t necessarily because he’d changed, I realized. As we left the first pub and went to another one, Mexican-themed, and awkwardly sat down next to each other as if we’d never even had sex before, it dawned on me: all these other times I’d seen him, thought of him, I’d been seeing him through the eyes of someone who adored him. Why had I idolized him so much, back then? It was because I was only two and a half months into my new life in Paris when we’d first met, and he was so happy and had a job he liked and a whole life in his own in London that made him seem like one of those adults who just has it figured out. It was all such an intoxicating combination to me, back then. But now as we talked, it was like I was seeing him clearly for the first time.

He was just a normal guy. He wasn’t a miracle. He wasn’t the solution to all of my problems. I’d worked through so many of them at this point; I didn’t need help from someone. I’d become stronger, and learned how to be happy all on my own (but with the help of friends and writing and music, of course, and the passing of time, and the strength that comes from starting over once in Paris and then again in Rome). So I didn’t have all these huge expectations around him now, and I could see him for who he really was. For the first time, I actually listened to what he said to me. I wasn’t going to superimpose my own feelings onto his words. I was going to listen instead, and learn that he felt lost sometimes too, that there was still a lot of life he was figuring out for himself.

By the time we arrived at the next pub, a wine bar, and split a bottle, we were finally drunk enough to be able to open up a little bit; we’d gotten past all the nervousness, and catching up, and could finally talk about more philosophical things. What the right approach to life is, what the right approach to love is. We disagreed about so much, which would have bothered me a lot in the past. But it didn’t matter to me now. What mattered was that we agreed that we disagreed, and when he asked me if I thought we had a lot in common I said, surprising myself:

“No, not really. But that’s okay.”

By the time we got the check—the pub was closing—Jim had already asked me if I’d like to come over to his place, and I’d said sure, and then we were on the sidewalk, waiting for the Uber, when we finally kissed. Pulling apart, we smiled at each other, as if agreeing on something new. Something unsaid, undefined. I didn’t need to translate it this time.

*

I had to leave early the next morning; Jim was driving back home for Easter; after he took me the tube I sent him the usual text letting him know I’d had a good time and he reciprocated. I felt like I wanted to see him again, so I let him know I was still around a few more days if he wanted, and he said he’d see if he could free up schedule: maybe Tuesday, if he wasn’t too busy. Tuesday, the night before I left for Paris. I kept it in my mind as something I might do, but researched a few open mics that night, just in case he wasn’t free. Something told me that he’d be busy at the last minute and that he wouldn’t be able to see me, and having seen things as such a mature person the night before, I made an effort to see them that way again and not take it personally.

I had other things to focus on, anyway. It was Spring Break; I had time, finally, undistracted, to spend hours again on my novel. Which was almost finished. So I spent most of my time the next few days writing, researching which open mics I wanted to go to, and spending time getting to know London with Ines Pedro, taking a day trip into the city and exploring it all three of us together. Getting to know their roommates, too, Sotirios, a Greek I really got along with, and  a young guy Bulgarian guy, Nick**, who clearly wanted to sleep with me even though I didn’t want to sleep with him (so who I also got along with but it was kind of in more of an awkward way). One night, me, Ines, and Pedro all went to an Open Mic at a bar near Covent Garden (unfortunately, it’s no longer running, as is common for open mics in London), and I was so blown away. I couldn’t believe how good it was. How had I never performed in London before?

Every single artist who went on was incredible. JP Kadazi, especially, was fabulous—check out his music here.

I was so nervous when I already went up. I was slightly drunk. Pedro got out his phone and started to film me, and he and Ines were cheering at the end of every song. I played “One Direction (To Two Erections)” and “Poolside Romance (All That I Want).” I almost played “Baby,” but made the accident of asking the open mic MC if it would be weird to sing a song that mentions rape (mind you, role-play rape)—so instead I finished up with an a cappella rendition of “Summertime,” showing off my jazz skills. And it was so amazing after, to look up, and see everyone clapping, and know that they admired me music not only for my voice but for my song-writing and comedy skills.

English people understood my humor, even more than Americans had in New York over the summer, and by the end of the open mic I was talking to the MC and all his friends who were musicians too, and my cousin came up to me and said:

“Hey, Pedro and I are going home. But if you want to stay up with them then here’s the key. You can just take the night bus home.”

“Yeah, okay,” I said. “They just invited me to go clubbing and I really want to go.”

We said goodbye, and then I stayed at the pub a while, drinking and talking with everyone, and then we went to a club just a block away, and drank and danced all night. Every single person was so friendly, and cheerful, it wouldn’t be until later that I’d find out that the only reason anyone my age rocks out to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” (besides me and a few friends I can think of) is because they’re high on coke. I wasn’t high on coke. But I don’t need to dance, ever.

There was a cute guy I’d been dancing with a bit, a bartender from the open mic pub, and I was into him, but I didn’t feel like forcing anything, so when we got in line to get our jackets as the club was closing and he said, “I wanted to know, if you’re interested, if you’d like to go home with me?”

We hadn’t even kissed yet. I was fully impressed with his politeness.

“Yeah,” I said. “Sure. But I just started my period. You should know that.”***

“That’s okay.”

So we walked to the night bus, traveled on it for an hour minutes, talking the whole time, getting to know each other. He was just finishing up at university, was Russian, but had moved to London when he was a kid, so he considered himself a Londoner. But because of a law that had been passed, he’d have to return to Russia by the end of the month, live there permanently. This was one of his last few London nights like this that he’d have.

The sex was amazing (lucky me, great sex two times in a row within a week), and I stayed the night, and when we woke up in the morning we had sex again and talked a bit, but then I had to rush off to meet up with my cousins. He wanted to know if we could meet up again before I left.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I leave on Wednesday, I might not have time.”

*

But it turned out that I did have time. Tuesday night came around, I was at my cousins’ place dying my hair magenta because it had been impossible to find that color in Rome, when I found out that Jim couldn’t see me that night. He was too busy with work, it turned out, and typing it out now I understand the situation, but at that moment, it really did sting. I tried to act as if it wasn’t a big deal at all as I dried my hair, then told my cousin I was going to an open mic, one I’d heard was really good out just north of Camden (in a beautiful little neighborhood I’d later learn is called Kentish Town).

“I might not come back home tonight,” I said to her. “I might be seeing someone. But maybe I can come back and we can get breakfast before I leave?”

“Sí!” she exclaimed. “That’s perfect! Have fun!”

So I went to the open mic. Felt a bit lonely there, all alone, and even when I went on stage I found myself wishing that someone I knew was there to watch me. The Russian guy, Boris****, couldn’t make it, but I had a standing invitation to come over to his place. So after the open mic I put Taylor Swift on repeat, picked up an old newspaper, and forced the time to pass as I took the underground to the end of the line. When he came to pick me up, he was carrying an umbrella for both of us, as it had started raining.

“You look different,” he said, referring to my bright pink hair, glowing anew.

We’d agreed on the classic date: Netflix and chill, perfect for a rainy night. We had sex immediately, and it was good as before—though he wasn’t on coke this time. Then he asked what I was mood to watch.

“You know,” I said. “There’s this new episode of Girls I’ve been meaning to watch, but I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to watch it. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” he said.

It was, and it still is, the best episode I’ve ever watched of this show: “The Panic In Central Park.” I won’t go into the details too much, because I don’t want to spoil this show and this perfect episode for anyone, but my takeaway was this: by the end of the episode, one of the main characters realizes just how lost she’s been. How much of her life has been chaotic and messy, and pulling her in different directions. Sometimes she goes north, sometimes she goes south, sometimes she doesn’t even know where she’s going—but there’s something driving her and she can’t quite place what it is. But an encounter with an ex, one who meant a lot to her, makes her suddenly realize: I’ve been lost, and my heartbreak is why, and it’s time to stop being lost. I don’t know how, but it has to happen. I need to pick which way I want to go and follow it. Everything depends on this.

I felt the message go through me like lighting. It was exactly what had happened to me. Heartbreak was the reason I had ended up in Paris, and then I was always traveling, chasing different places, different passions, different people. I had told myself with conviction, especially now that I was working in a job that was a dream to me (even if it meant teaching business communications) and finishing my novel and living in beautiful Rome, that I had finally figured everything out.

But here I was, in the arms of an almost-stranger in his twin bed, his breath on my neck and his arms around me, and I felt more alone than I had in a long time. I didn’t know him well enough to tell him what I was feeling, so we watched more TV, had sex again, but I couldn’t shake the feeling, not even by the time morning came and I had to sneak into the bathroom to avoid running into the landlady who lived in the apartment too.

I would be in Paris before I knew it. Coming down with a severe head-cold, probably from the sudden shift from Roman weather to English, or maybe the late nights out, falling asleep in the hostel room to wake up a couple hours before I had plans to meet up with an old friend, Bridget, for a drink. I wanted to shower, make myself look nice for my night catching up with her, since she’d be going out of town the next day, but instead I looked up the episode again, watched it again, this time on my own terms, the sound of rain above me as I relived it alone. It was something I had to do.

I almost got in touch with my ex, that evening, my love for him that will never really go away  (even though it’s more of an ephemeral, none-physical love at this point) turning into concern about him, wondering if he had been devastated by the end of us too. And how he had been devastated. But I knew it would be for the worse, to get in touch with him—what good it would do for either of us? So I closed my laptop, pulled on some tights, double-layered my dresses for the cold Paris rain, and went out the door.

Later, when my friend and I were drunk enough, she’d look at me, lower her voice, narrow her eyes, tilt her head and say:

“You know what, Elisa? You’re actually very lost. People see your life as so glamorous, so they don’t recognize it, but it’s there behind the glamor, how lost you are.”

And you know what? She was right.

*

But she was also wrong.

It took me a few days to process what I had realized about myself, what had so emotionally hit me to my core and shaken me, but a few days working on my novel, and of drinking several drinks and coffees with René (his comment on it all being: “What? We’re all lost!”), I learned to embrace it. It was a truth about me. But it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was something I’d had to go through, and now that I knew it, I’d have to figure out what direction I wanted to go in. I ended up leaving Paris with my novel almost finished, banging out the last few pages a couple days later in Rome until 1 in the morning, celebrating the end of it with a run for gelato down near Campo dei Fiori, standing at Ponte Sisto, looking down at the water, feeling, more than anything, a flood of relief but of also great happiness: I had finally done something I’d always dreamed of, finishing a novel, and finishing this novel in particular, one that meant a great deal to me. Because, in the simplest terms, my novel is about losing someone, about the grief of that, and of learning, through music and writing, how to start anew.

I was happy. My life in Rome was perfect, I knew, by most standards. It was glamorous, yes, and full of music and light and friends, and I deserved to find such happiness, after having spent so much time lost in sadness and apart from myself. I could have it a little longer, and I did. I spent the whole spring and summer reveling in Rome, and traveling to London once a month to perform at open mics, and going to the US and seeing Adam and Katie and my family, too. I met men in many places, one who made me believe in love again (but who turned out to be married), one who was the best sex I ever had (but turned out to be a racist and misogynist), one who I was convinced was my future husband (but turned out to be a Trump supporter). I had many adventures: I went to Amsterdam with Helena after her inevitable break-up with George; I became friends with another writer who lives in Italy, Jordan, who eventually moved to Rome and became one of my closest friends; one of my best friends from back home, Katie, came to live with me in the fall for a few months, and we had many adventures, including a trip to Barcelona with René and Kacy.

As the fall semester came to a close, after my novel had been rejected by a few agents and ignored by most, and I became burnt out from my busiest semester ever, I could feel a change coming on. It had begun, arguably, over the summer, when I had talked to my cousin about the possibility, or maybe the moment Brexit happened and I didn’t know if I’d have a chance to do it in my life, or maybe during a visit in September to London, when I stayed with my friend Stephanie at her place and had a magical time at open mics and out in a city that I felt matched a drive and energy that I knew I had in me but that Rome didn’t. But it didn’t come to fruition until mid-November, when I finally said out loud to my parents over Skype:

“I’m thinking of moving to London. Once I finish grading a huge batch of student papers, I think I’m going to start looking for work.”

Saying it out loud was scary. It was even scarier, on a visit to London before Katie finally left Europe for good (how fast our time together had gone by!), to tell her that the real reason I was doing it was for music. I’ve always been a singer. It has always been such a huge part of my life. But it took writing a novel about music to remember how much I had been missing it. Writing is such a private experience, it’s so easy to work at it on your own and never be challenged by the world. Singing is totally different. But if I didn’t do it now, then when? One of Stephanie’s flatmates was suddenly moving out during one of my visits at the beginning of December, I overheard him talking to the landlord, and I thought: “This is my chance.”

So I’m living in London now, at the beginning of 2017. I’m looking for work, after having turned down a couple courses at the America University of Rome; I’m performing at open mics and making a website for my music, and I’m flying to New York next week to pitch my novel to agents; I’m living with Stephanie up in North London, in Kentish Town, and our new friend Kara is there too, and all together we are exploring the city in search of a new beginning.

I don’t know where I’m headed from here—but I’m not lost anymore.

*This is a loose translation, so that it captures how fabulous it sounds in Spanish.

**Name change not because we slept together but because he clearly was into me and I don’t want to publicly be a jerk about it.

***I always get my period after having sex with Jim. I don’t know why.

****Name changed, of course.

Open Vox, Open Voice

It had been a secret dream of mine, since arriving in Rome, to start a literature open mic. However much I loved music, however much joy it brought to me, there was still a part of me that ached for the sharing of literature, poetry, words. I’d gotten drunk in October before asking Sal about it, if I could run a different kind of open mic along with his organization, but with all my travel plans and adopting to Rome, it wasn’t until my second semester at JCU that I could finally start. And here I was, at the Druid’s Den, arriving just after my Italian class, fixing my lipstick in the bathroom before my first time hosting.

I stepped out of the bathroom, to the tables in the front of the tiny bar, and sat with Helena, who was visiting from Naples. She’d come up to Rome for two reasons—to support me, of course, and also because Zoolander 2 was coming out that weekend, the only time it would be available in theaters in English (#expatproblems, am I right?). I was super-nervous, even with her there catching me up on her life, complaining to me about how her boyfriend George was acting like at traditional Italian male and telling her she shouldn’t be traveling alone. I was just so nervous, no matter who much free wine I drank because I was host, no matter how much we caught up. When Sal arrived with the mic and guitar (for the possibility of music, if it arose), and helped me set up, I knew it was almost time to begin. Eventually my friends began to arrive, late as is the custom in Italy, and when the time finally came, I pulled out the special notebook I’d bought at a little artisanal stationary store in Trastevere, especially for my very own open mic, my own in Rome, florid and ribboned.

That first time, it all rushed by so quick, and I was in such a state of nerves that I can barely remember any of the details. Friends from all my circles—expats, musicians, even someone from JCU who brought along her friends—and that is what I remember most, the support of my friends. When the next night, Friday night, Helena and Amy and Alicia and my new roommate Sariah and I all went out for aperitivo, that same magic of friendship was in the air. We drank and ate, and talked about boys and art and Egypt and the challenges of being a teacher in Italy, and then when we went to the movies Helena and I fell in love with the Zoolander franchise all over again, saying a line from the film to each other after on repeat: ‘I miss not knowing things with you.’ There’s something special about the kind of friend you can be totally stupid and joyful with. I’d missed her, and our silly traditions—e.g., getting drunk out of our minds at The Yellow. So when the movie ended and we ran into Emma in the rain, who had missed the movie entirely, we kissed Alicia and Amy goodbye, and then the rest of us climbed into a cab and rode it to The Yellow. We’d dance, we’d drink, we’d laugh together.

I was so happy to be in my Roman life. It felt like it was mine. Entirely mine.

There may be many proclamations, out there in this blog, and surely there will be more, of me saying: my life was finally mine. But I felt now like I had finally steered myself in the right direction, with my new time Rome. It was like I’d finally learned how to live life right as an expat. I’d made and learned from so many mistakes in Paris, and then I’d had to readjust again to a new country and job in Rome, which (as I know now) takes 2-3 months. Now I was back, and something inside me was changing. For a long time, I’d been a dreamer, waiting for things to happen to me. Jumping on a plane to Paris was part of that dreamer part of me, thinking that if i went somewhere new things would just happen to me. And things had happened to me, but now, little by little, living each day a little more daring, I’d finally learned an important life lesson about how life can be even more rich and beautiful.  Don’t wait. Just do what you want, as much as you can, all the time. Don’t be scared. Don’t just wait for life to happen to you; make it happen.

So I would host this open mic. I would take an Italian class at JCU. I would finish writing my novel. I would go to Open Mics every night. I would teach the course I was totally scared of (business communications). Something had opened up inside of me and I wasn’t scared anymore. I felt so free.

*

With an emotional shift like that, doing everything I wanted (even if it meant having super-stressful jam-packed Thursdays), I felt like I was capable of anything. Including dating. And not that whole hooking-up-with-strangers-while-traveling-because-I-have-a-fear-of-commitment thing. And not that whole hoping-Jim-will-message-me-over-What’s-App-and-change-my-life-finally thing. (Because however much I resist the practical advice of my friends, both Bridget and Maria had told me not to believe his agreement with me over Christmas that we should meet again.) I finally had a life of my own now, with everything I’d ever wanted, a busy, rich life, and I felt strong and secure. It had taken a while to get there, and now I knew it was rich enough that it would be the kind of thing I could share with another person.

I’d basically forgotten how to date normally, but like anything you’ve done before, after a little practice it goes okay. And my first date with Marco, my forty-ish history professor colleague, had gone well, over aperitivo, and now a week later I had a date with a guy closer to my age, 25 years old, whom I’d met at The Yellow the night before and made out with on the dance floor.

That night, when I’d added him on Facebook, he talked about me the way I wished most men did. He told me I was beautiful, and sexy—what most guys say—but then he said, with a knowing look in his eyes when I told him what I did for a living: “Oh, so you’re smart and sexy.” When we went out on our date Saturday, me and this super-hot Italian guy who looked like he could be Gael García Bernal’s young cousin (a little less chiseled Hollywood Star cheekbones; a little more boyband member dopey eyes), and he took me to the cheapest bar in Monti for aperitivo, it didn’t really matter to me that he had to pay with those lunch vouchers they gave him at an internship where he didn’t make enough money*. Not only was he sexy, he was sweet, and interested in what I had to say, and his English was good enough that we could have actual conversations.

I wasn’t finding myself entirely enchanted with those conversations, though, but it was a first date, after all. Maybe there was more to him and I hadn’t discovered it yet. And I knew that we had good chemistry at least; I’d learned that the night before. When we left the aperitivo place, and he said he only had half an hour before he had to catch the last train back home—he lived in the suburbs with his parents, like so many Italians in their twenties, even thirties, do—I said to him:

“Well, look, you can stay the night if you want. That way we can at least have a little more time together. We don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to.”

My friends later reported to me that I sounded exactly like a man. But I don’t care. I’m not ashamed of my honesty, even if it comes off awkwardly some of the time. Even it scares off men.

So we left Monti, walking by the Roman Forum all lit up at night, through the busy traffic of Piazza Venezia, eating some gelato while standing at Ponte Sisto and looking out at the river. We kissed, and it was just the same as it had been the night before, with so much chemistry that it makes you question all those times you made out with guys who were hot or funny but who just didn’t really give you that electric feeling. I couldn’t wait to sleep with him. We kept walking up Gianicolo Hill, stopping at a bar I’d always dreamed of going to on the way, during which I had the unfortunate feeling that has happened to all of us that he was really enchanted by the things I said and thought and that I just felt like he was sitting there being slightly uninteresting. But it didn’t really matter; I was taking him home and when we got there we wouldn’t need words at all (except, of course, my having to tell him I had HPV** and hoping it wasn’t a problem for him; it wasn’t; and in a week or so I’d get my results to find out if I still had it anyway, from the charming gynecologist who implied that I was too old to get an IUD***).

And then we had sex. And it was terrible. And I remembered how much of a game of chance love and dating is. This guy was super into dry-humping, which had been hot on the dance floor but not so hot in the bedroom. And which my vagina would physically remember for the next week. I played nice the next day (ironically, it was Valentines Day), when we had coffee and cornetto while waiting for his bus to show up to take him back to Termini where he’d catch his train, when I texted him a few hours later saying I’d had a nice time knowing that I’d slowly let him out of my life so that he’d just think I was a promiscuous American girl who wasn’t looking for anything more than one night of fun.

To be fair, sometimes I am that girl.

But right now, I was suddenly looking for something else, for something to add to a life that was perfect in every other way.

But life went on, as it does, and on Monday I awkwardly ran into Marco in the faculty room, who hadn’t texted me back yet since our date a week ago, and I really wanted to fuck him despite the presence of another professor there. So when I met up that night with my friend Mackenzie a few minutes later for aperitivo, she helped me come up with a clever way to text him (which I would never in a thousand years do such a good job myself writing):

‘Hey, it was nice to run into you tonight! I hope everything’s going well in dissertation land. How about a much deserved break sometime? Dinner?’

Asking about dinner seemed a little extreme to me, personally, a bit pushy, but Mackenzie reasoned that if he didn’t want to get dinner then there wasn’t a reason to meet up with him again anyway. I come from the land of fuckboys, where those kinds of rules make no sense at all, so I handed my judgment over to her. When Marco texted back an hour later, confirming that, yes, he’d like to get dinner, maybe next week? Yes, I replied. I was hella busy too, so it didn’t matter that I’d have to wait. I’d have to spend that whole week socializing every night, going to open mics and expat events and reconnecting with everyone. I was trying to be more social, not to lose the friends I’d made before traveling for a month to three different continents over winter break, and I also had to make sure I became a part of people’s lives so that they’d come to my open mic. I needed to remind people that it was happening, and I knew that the best way to do that was to remind them in person.

And I was lucky enough that all the classes I was teaching in the late afternoon, which meant that in the mornings I could still wake up after staying up all night, make coffee, and work on my novel. I’d put on Spotify and write, write, write. I was over halfway finished now, and I was starting to see the end of it. By Spring Break—which fell in the end of March—I’d be finished with this draft. A total rewrite of the last draft. Something that worked structurally, where the characters were fully-developed and the story it was supposed to be was entirely clear in my mind. And there’s an important part of the book that didn’t exist in the last draft, that I was terrified to work in, but suddenly here it was, and it was working.

It was so close to being finished that I started taking it to a new Open Mic, Suddenly Every Wednesday, that colleagues had told me about when I told them I was starting my own. And there was something so magical about it, sharing pieces of this book I’d been working on so long. The room silent as everyone listened, and as I listened too, hearing my words and feeling like they were part of something I loved and that was real and that would soon be finished and ready for the world.

*

Before I knew it, a whole week had gone by, and it was my second time hosting my Open Vox literary open mic, and it was my second time hosting my Open Vox open mic. This time, I was less nervous, and I can actually remember moments from that night—for example, that my friend Mackenzie was there, despite her busy lifestyle. That the bartender told me I was looking good. That not a lot of people had signed up that night, but that friends of mine went up anyway, using their phones to find poems and stories they loved. Sal had warned me that this might happen, that it was part of the give-and-take of hosting events like this. That some nights no one might even show up. That the venue might not work out. The idea was that, no matter how hard it was, you kept going. That was the only way to keep an event of that kind alive.

So I made an effort to swallow my pride—and my fear—and when the end of the night came early, we went over to Fiddler’s Elbow, those of who were left, to watch the end of the other open mic that fell on Thursdays, music one that Sal hosted.

When we arrived, though, it was already over. Everyone was still there, though, and as I handed the guitar and mic from Open Vox over to Sal, he said to me:

“Elisa! I want you to meet a new member of the Open Mic family!”

A new guy suddenly appeared in front of me and Mackenzie, tall and gregarious with an enormous smile on his face, started talking to us immediately, fast and energized and focused.

“Hold on a minute,” Mackenzie said. “Where are you from? I can’t place your accent.”

“Oh,” he said. “I’m American. From Nebraska. But I’ve lived in England, and Costa Rica, and Spain, so at this point I have an accent that can’t be recognized.”

He was drunk, and started practicing out his different accents, which then led to him speaking in an English accent, which led him, quite logically, to start singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which led me, quite logically, to follow along. We were already singing, and barely knew each other, and when he mentioned he was going to The Yellow to party, one of my favorite sleazy places in the world, I only felt more like it was fate that we met. When we added each other on Facebook, we started talking right away.

My whole life was becoming full of new friends, many of them artists and musicians, now that I was fully exploring that part of my life even more than before. That weekend, I went out to a park near San Lorenzo and met up with an international group of artists and musicians—all brought there by Sal, of course, for a peace-promoting initiative called #TogetherWePlayBetter. (For example, I posed with some pictures with a musician from Iran.) My friend Mohammad, from Kuwait, was there, as was Paul, the Irish musician I’d spent so many nights talking to over cigarettes and wine/beer about how to live life right.

A musician I’d seen perform a few times who I had a huge crush on showed up too: Niccolò. I had a crush on him for three reasons: (1) he had a cool concept album he was working on about Alice in Wonderland (which you can check out here), (2) he was good-looking in that particular way I like, and (3) he tore off his shirt and yelled and screamed sometimes when he was onstage, which is a sure way to woo me. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to seem cool around him, because a few weeks earlier after talking to him at an Open Mic I drunk-texted him asking if he wanted me to be his Queen of Hearts (original, I know). The next day, I apologized, embarrassed because I liked him also as a person and I know how it feels to be objectified like that by someone you know only through Open Mic and Facebook (I can’t count how many times guys I meet at Open Mic immediately hit on me over Facebook messenger that very night). But he hadn’t replied to my apology. And now he was here and I was seeing him for the first time since the incident.

He kept making jokes about it, saying that everyone should pose around me and I could be the Queen of Hearts. I didn’t know if he was flirting with me, or fucking with me, and when it was only me and him talking about and he didn’t mention it at all, I felt even more confused. But as we started talking about our interests, about music and literature, it turned out we had a lot in common. When he found out I’d been an English teacher, he asked if we could start meeting to do a language exchange. I said yes, not knowing if there was romantic interest or not.

I’d find out later that there wasn’t any, on his part, but what I’d also find out was that we were meant to be good friends, and that he was the perfect person to have a language exchange (and friendship!) with because of our shared interests. We both see literature and music as existing in the same kind of realm; we both love art and philosophy; one time during one of our exchanges when he mentioned that he’d been listening to Patti Smith all day, it turned out that I’d been reading her memoir all day. He has opened up my world, made me feel more understood. The both of us are twenty-eight years old and feel like we are on the precipice of artistically doing exactly what we want to do with our lives. One day, while we sat together practicing English, he said to me, “When I see you with your flower crown, doing what you want, you are saying, “Fuck them.” You are doing exactly what you want. That is what I want to do.”****

*

And I continued to socialize that weekend, going out with my friend Ricardo from work for a couple of drinks and bonding about how crazy it is to work in the context of academia, especially when you’re young. (I have no idea how I forgot to include this in my last post, but I am quite sure it is worth mentioning that a few weeks earlier we’d started hanging out more, which included a ride on the back of his motorcycle on our way to have aperitivo at a cat cafe.) And then, after seeing Roberto, I went straight to the Public House, where we all loved to go for Wednesday’s Open Mic, to celebrate our friend Oliver’s birthday. So many of us were there, musicians old and new. I’d invited Glenn, and a new musician we’d all met a few days earlier at Open Mic, Brian, was there too, an English English teacher who had lived all around the world, switching countries and continents every few years, writing songs in his head to sing along with his guitar or ukulele. An English girl, Steph, was there too, who had come off as cold to me (and who I, unfairly, was slightly jealous of because of how beautiful she was)—and little did I know that she and I would become the best of friends in the next few months! We were forming a new friend group, us four, without even knowing it, that would come to include so many more expats and musicians we’d meet that spring. Ever wonder who those people are in all those drunk elevator selfies? It’s us.

Sunday, brunch with the ladies, like we did every few weekends, trying out new places; on Wednesday, another date with Marco, dinner at one of the finest pizzerias in Trastevere. We drank and ate together and he walked me home at the end of the night, since we were neighbors, and as we stood outside my door I asked him if he wanted to kiss me goodnight.

“Not now,” he said. “Maybe next time?”

I felt confused by it, and also kind of annoyed. I liked to be the one who decided when I wanted to kiss a man, and, besides, how could I decide I was attracted to him if we didn’t kiss? There’ve been so many studies that show that that’s an easy way to find out, if someone’s right for you (e.g., https://www.wired.com/2009/02/kissingscience/ ). When he texted me a few minutes later to tell me he’d had a nice time, it confused me even more.

I took out this confusion by making out with a friend of mine the next night when I was drunk (after all that free wine at my Open Mic, of course), and by being utterly confused in general by romance, and by what I thought I wanted. I was finally so ready to put myself out there and be vulnerable again, and yet nothing seemed to be working out. For a romantic like me—despite it all, I’m still a romantic, guys—this felt so disappointing. I couldn’t help feeling like I was doing something wrong, or worse: that the kind of love I had had once, that intense, beautiful, all-consuming love, would be something I would never find again.

It had been such an exciting, intense month, and now suddenly I was starting to feel emotionally lost and confused. But luckily, in just a few nights, I was going to hop on a plane, go somewhere new, which always gave me a bit of clarity.

I hadn’t traveled all month, in large part because traveling for a month had exhausted me and I needed to get back to a regular schedule, but the last weekend of February, I decided on a whim to go to Bucharest, Romania, because of a Ryanair sale that made the round-trip only 30 euros, which was what I sometimes I spent one night just drinking. It turned out that that very same early Saturday morning, Sal was heading to Paris, so I said to him: Why don’t we just go together to the airport? We were already going out Friday night for a gig where some friends were playing, so we could just stay up all night, listening to music, hanging out with friends at the amazing bar San Belushi, a place that somehow ends up always closing at 4 am and friends and strangers up playing guitar and singing together, smoking inside and playing foosball, speaking in a combination of Italian and English.

So of course, by the time we climbed into the cab to the airport, I was super-drunk (Sal wasn’t, because he wasn’t a drinker). And for some reason I was blabbing on and on about the emotional state I was in, talking about love and how it was something I was looking for, but how I didn’t know how I would find it, and as we sat together before boarding our planes, eating cornetti together, Sal started telling me how it wasn’t the sort of thing I could just ‘make’ happen. How even wishing for it wouldn’t work.

“It’ll just happen when you’re ready for it,” he said. “You have to find yourself first.”

I was kind of put off by his words then, as we parted ways. I had already found myself. I had already run off to Paris to follow my heart, I had followed it too to Rome, and I was having so many adventures and making so many friends and learning so much. I was doing what I wanted with my life. But little did I know that, just some months later, I’d have internalized what he’d said to me, and I’d understand it, and I’d be freed of that very last frontier of fear: the fear of being alone, something that holds so many of us back from becoming that person we are meant to be.

*No one makes enough money in Italy, especially the farther south you go.

**For the record, I found out a week later that my cancer-causing HPV was gone! WOO! I now had a new strain of HPV that was totally harmless. Because, as is said perfectly on ‘Girls,’ ‘all adventurous women do [have HPV].’

***WTF, right? Sexism comes in all varieties, including female gynecologists who act like they accept your choice to not want to get pregnant at 28 (and, also, who seem to have forgotten the detail that IUDs can be removed at any time).

****I’m happy to report that, as of the date this is posted, Niccolò will be moving to New York in November to pursue his music dreams there. I am so excited for him!

The Grand Tour (Part V): Egypt, Rome, Naples

We went to a couple other temples after The Valley of the Kings, but every time we visited one, the great heat of Egypt pressing on us harder and harder, I could only think of what I had seen in The Valley of the Kings. The different tombs we’d visited, each one with hieroglyphs, messages, codes, of its own. Going into King Tut’s tomb, which was basically empty—most of the contents of his tomb are in the Museum of Egyptian History in Cairo—but his mummy was still there, in a glass box, the strange shape of his small body lying there, the cloth wrapped around him hardened just like everything there. It was so such a strange experience, such an unexpected one—I’d had no idea what The Valley of the Kings would be like—that it kept emerging in my mind throughout the day. All of us were exhausted at the end of the day, falling asleep in the tour guide’s car by the time it drove back into the center of Luxor to our hotel. Amy and I went upstairs to the roof to take a nap—we’d already checked out—and then we had a quick dinner before boarding the night train to Cairo.

I was paranoid about it, of course, as we locked the door and brushed our teeth in the shared sink. I had no idea what to expect, as a Westerner receiving news all the time about how unsafe Egypt is, riding on a train at night asleep. What if someone broke in? But Amy told me I was being paranoid, which it turned out I was. The only sketchy thing that happened to us so far, anyway, was just guys cat-calling at us on the streets of Luxor, which happens in every city, all over the world.

And she was right. I finally fell asleep to the rocking of the car, and suddenly there was a knocking at our door, breakfast delivery twenty minutes before we had to get off the train. When it finally stopped, it wasn’t at the central Cairo station, and we could hear some other tourists nearby, asking in English—trying to ask, anyway, the men who worked on the train—if this was our stop. But the men who worked on the train merely yelled at us to get off, for all of us to get off, which made it clear that no way was this train going to the central station. So Amy and I climbed off, slightly confused and blinking in the bright, hot sun that greeted us, and wandered around up and down stairs, from platform to platform, until managing to find our way to the metro. Then we had to try to understand how to navigate it, how to make our way to the right line that would take us several stops to the one closest to our hostel downtown.

Finally, after figuring out how to buy tickets and going through the right turnstiles, we climbed onto what turned out to be a women-only car. Women of all ages were there, some with veils over their heads and some without, some of them fully covered. Carrying plastic bags from their errands for the day, children’s small hands holding onto theirs. I didn’t mind as much, then, the fact that we were on a women-only car—after all, it made me feel safer in a place I’d heard it was easier to get sexually harassed, especially if you didn’t look Egyptian, which neither of us definitively do not—but as we got off the train and noticed how the women stood on one side of the escalators and the men on another, it started to feel kind of uncomfortable. It would get worse later, though, at night, when there were plenty of males in groups out together, but women alone like us were a rarity.

But despite this aspect of Egyptian culture, I still found myself falling in love with Cairo. You could see a lot of Westerners, especially Americans, disliking it—it was disorganized, there was poverty everywhere, there was trash all over the streets—but it also had a beautiful energy still living there, even if it was doing so much worse now after the Arab Spring. There were big boulevards full of stores, full of cafes, and at night they would fill up with families out at night exploring all there was too see. It was on one of these boulevards that we managed to finally find our hostel. Arriving over an hour later than expected, because the train had been late and I had wanted to have an orange juice and a cigarette in a cafe nearby that allowed smoking inside, something that seems to never lose its 1920s speakeasy charm no matter how often I do it.

“You are late,” they told us.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m sorry…”

Amy took over, told them the situation. Said that despite being late, we wanted to take a shower. Did we have time to do that? When we had first started traveling together, her ability to just say what she wanted and get what she wanted rubbed me the wrong way, but as we spent more time together I realized that I was the one who was doing things wrong, being polite too much of the time. She’s one of those people who knows when to say what she wants when she wants it. An admirable quality.

So we had our showers, and some coffee, and I had another cigarette, though I was enjoying them less and less, the Egyptian-brand cigarettes I’d bought in the hopes of finding a way to assimilate myself. But they were too cheap, and I felt sick each time I smoked one. By the end of the trip, I’d be down to one a day.

“Okay,” Amy said to the guy at the front desk when we were ready. “You can call the guide now.”

In real Egyptian style—a culture that very much values efficiency of service, like in the States—he arrived in his car three minutes later, to take us to the pyramids of Giza.

*

“You were late,” he said with his cigarette-darkened voice once we were on the highway. He said it in such a way that it was as if he wanted to remind us of just how much it was our fault. “So we will only go to the pyramids of Giza, not the other sites. Everywhere closes at 5.”

“Is there any way we can fit them into tomorrow’s itinerary,” Amy said more than asked.

But it wasn’t possible. Not if we wanted to spend the optimal amount of time in the museum where all the relics were kept. Not if we wanted to see the rest of Cairo.

So we agreed that we’d focus on Giza that day, on going to visit the famous pyramids and the Sphinx. Writing about it now, I can’t believe that we went all the way out there, to the edge of Cairo, and then through the gates, and then we were there, walking on the sand and on the roads made for tourists, looking out at the three pyramids, much older than any of the ruins we’d seen in Luxor, from the oldest of the Egyptian kingdoms.

We stopped at the Sphinx first, which is actually much smaller than it looks in pictures. In pictures, photographers take them at such an angle that the Sphinx looks like it’s almost the same size of the giant pyramids behind it, but in real life, it’s much smaller—something like the size of a Mini Cooper. What was more impressive than its size, really, was the fact that it had lasted so long, just like the pyramids behind it. We were in another world now, walking toward the pyramids in the hot sun. We were just on the edge of Cairo—behind us you could see its edges, teeming with poverty, full of tourists and sellers trying to sell their tourist wares, if not begging outright—but as we went on towards the pyramids, the desert stretching out past them, I got that same feeling I had in Luxor. That we were entering a space preserved in time. Our guide explained how, after the first two pyramids were built—one for the pharaoh, the largest, and one for his wife—his son then built a third one, later on, to compete and show that he was greater. The only one open for visits was the third one, the sons, and Amy and I climbed into the darkness. There were no hieroglyphs here, only darkness. We explored the old, dank rooms, then went outside into the hot sun again. I wasn’t as moved here as I had been in Luxor, where everything was newer and therefore better-preserved. But as we made our way back into the center of Cairo, I found myself enchanted with something else: the city itself, in its modern form. Crowded, crazy, chaotic. I couldn’t wait to explore it later.

So after a nap very much needed after the fitful sleep on the overnight train, we went out into Cairo at night, full of lights and life, and went out to eat the typical, cheap, Egyptian food we’d read so much about, koshary. The restaurant was full of locals when we got there, a place that my parents would hate because of its cheap, tacky interior, but which I loved for that very reason: cheap metal chairs and tables, reflecting the fluorescent buzz of the light fixtures above us, the loud clamor of the fast service so typical of Cairo, the giant metal hot sauce dispensers that looked like they were never cleaned, simply refilled over and over. The Egyptian version of an American diner. And when our bowls came, brimming to the edges, and I drank Coke for the first time in forever—I’m more of a wine (not really available in Egypt) and sparkling water (not really available in Egypt) kind of girl—we ate and ate. It’s not a surprise, with the bounty of sugary drinks and carbs available everywhere in Egypt, that a huge percentage of the population suffers from diabetes. But as a tourist, it’s amazing. Not the healthiest everyday lifestyle, but ideal for vacay.

After dinner, we walked the side streets, which you’d imagine would feel unsafe, but they didn’t. Instead, away from the ritzy shops of the well-lit main avenue, we walked by places full of men who didn’t harass us, who were there with friends late at night smoking and eating street food and drinking sugar-saturated tea. The only time we felt unsafe—and only slightly—was when we walked by a big building where it looked like a demonstration was about to start, with groups of people and police standing around, so we skirted around as quickly as possible, making a mental note to avoid it on the way back to the hostel. We stopped by a fruit stand—even the fruit stands are open at night in Cairo—and flirted with the seller as we chose some of the cheapest and juiciest fruits I’ve ever had in my life. Then we made our way back to one of the little side streets we’d explored, one we’d totally fallen in love with, full of cafes and hookah bars. There were certainly no women here, either—women could only be found on the larger, lit-up streets, with their husbands and children, or with their parents and siblings—but they were happy to seat us.

It had a real mystery to it, this hookah place, with beautiful paintings all over the walls that had been done by a careful hand, with the calm din of people relaxing and socializing together. Men sitting smoking and chatting, playing cards. Stray cats walking in and out, looking up at us with begging eyes, steam rising from the mint teas they served us and vapor drifting in the air. When I got up to take a look at the other paintings—they were on every wall of the establishment—a man came up to me and told me he was the one who had painted them all, and gave me a tour. It was a friendliness that I came to love, the Egyptian cultural desire to be helpful, even if at first it had rubbed me the wrong way, seemed like a foreign version of mansplaining. But once I realized that it wasn’t sexist, that it was just an important cultural value, to be helpful to everyone, not just women, it was easier to relax and accept it.

It was still disappointing, of course, that there were only urinals at the cafe, but it was more a result of systemic sexism, I think, than the sexism of the owners and clients of the establishment. They were all happy to see us there, to talk to us, ask us about travel. It was a magical night, how I dreamed Cairo would be, which led to me being so excited and happy that on the way home I bought a very tacky pair of silver rhinestone heels.

Worth it, of course.

*

Our last day in Egypt, we went to the Egyptian Museum first thing, which gave us a historical background to the temples and tombs we’d seen so far. We walked around with our guide, covering the different historical periods of Ancient Egyptian history in order, and then he left us on our own, to explore what we wanted. He dropped us off at the most wondrous of wonders: the many rooms dedicated to the contents of King Tut’s tomb. We walked first by the elaborate coffins, each one smaller than the next and decorated with jewels and gold and hieroglyphs, but then we went into the next room, where I was most amazed: there they were, the last of the boxes, shaped like King Tut’s body (though much larger, of course), faces and bodies painted on, intricate details in gold and in stones, the famed King Tut you find displayed on the covers of history books. On an object, a whole world existed, had been painted and carved on. The visit to the Egyptian Museum, along with my visit to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, was for me what made Egypt so amazing and a place I always recommend people to go.

Even if it was in this same beautiful room that a security guard kept trying to make small talk to me (who the fuck makes small talk when you’re gazing upon and reflection on one of the world’s greatest relics!?), and who, after failing to make small talk with me, walked by close to me so he could brush his hand against my ass.

Because after that room—and I stayed as long as I wanted to, even if he was staring at me the whole time, because I knew this experience was one that I couldn’t take for granted in any way—we went into the mummy rooms, which, however creepy they may have been, were also a wonder. Bodies and bodies of dead people who were once important, still preserved. We walked around, through all the historical periods, not leaving before coming across some paintings that were something between cave art and the hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt: the very beginnings of pre-civilization, when humanity was just starting to be the kind of thing we think it is now. I felt totally transported, the same way I had in the Valley of the Kings.

After exploring the museum for some hours, Amy and I got back into the car and got a tour of some religious sites in Cairo: the mosque, much like the mosque I’d visited in Istanbul some years earlier, and the Coptic (Catholic) neighborhood, an unexpected minority in a mostly-Muslim country. When we got back to the hotel, exhausted after the whole whirlwind that had been Egypt, we took a long nap. And then we woke up and, for the first time, did something I’d been scared to do the whole time: we wore dresses.

We’d bonded about it, how we had both been scared the other one would act the most dangerously/adventurously, but how, surprisingly, we’d both ended up being very responsible travelers. No cleavage, no dresses (up until then), no flirting with strangers. But now, at the very same moment—and with the momentous occasion of Amy’s birthday—we were desperate for a little bit of that Western lifestyle. So we changed into our dresses (I had to borrow one of Amy’s because I hadn’t even brought any), ordered an Uber (Amy had checked; it was totally safe according to online ratings), and went out to one of the rare places we could actually drink legally while seated at a meal (we had to research quite a few articles before finding it). We ordered a bottle of wine, fancy dishes from the menu, huge desserts. It was the perfect end to our trip, going out for a nice dinner and then watching a couple Girls episodes before going to bed, panicking the next morning hoping that we’d make it in time to go through passport control and the several security checks in the airport. So after Amy had some issues with her visa—they needed more proof of the fact that she worked in Italy—we finally boarded our plane back to Rome on our separate trains. It had been snowing just an hour before our arrival, the one time it snowed in Rome in the winter, and we’d missed it, busy on our Egyptian adventure.

I started my work at John Cabot the next day, exhausted but excited, meeting with colleagues, teaching my business communications class, which I was so nervous about because I’d never taught it before. My heart beat fast the first day, and I knew I was sweating, as I lectured, but nobody noticed and I got through it. I was nervous, too, the first day I showed up at I was working on my novel now too, and catching up on Pilates. Thursday, we had all our faculty meetings, and after drinks at the all-faculty aperitivo some friends and I—Ricardo*, my friend from faculty support, and Nari, another young professor I’d hung out with at the very beginning of the semester—went out for a drink at another bar. I ended up staying out drinking all night, and the next day it would have probably been wise to relax. But instead, I boarded a train to Naples with Amy—Amy who I’d gone to Egypt with—and Alicia. We were going to visit Helena down there. We barely caught the train, clutching our to-go espressos and cornetti in our hands as we waited for the seats to empty on the over-filled local train.

But we eventually arrived, and then Helena and her boyfriend George came in the car to pick us up, and they had already prepared their home for us. We ate the finest of Neapolitan food—mozzarella and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil—and drank water and wine. Then we drove out to the center of Naples, to the waterfront, to see the water and the islands in the distance as the sun set. When it finally got dark, we went for a walk along the bay, and through the neighborhoods near the port, before we sat down at a little aperitivo place to have some drinks. As usual, Naples had the magic it always has for me, with that crazy energy that reminds you of New York but that old-fashioned beauty that reminds you you’re in Italy. We walked and walked and then we drove to one of the most famous pizzerias, drinking and eating and laughing together. By the end of the night we all fell into bed exhausted and happy.

The rest of the weekend was just as fun, with an adventure on Saturday to the highest cliffs of Naples, to one of the nicest neighborhoods, where we walked up and down the streets, saw the sights, and went to one of the finest gelaterias I’ve been to my in my life. We all spent hours walking and drinking and talking, and Amy and Alicia and I had missed Helena so much since she’d moved away that it was the perfect weekend. I stayed an extra day to spend more time with Helena, wrote on the train back to Rome, and then went back home before heading out again to meet with Sal to talk about a new project I was taking on: a literature and poetry open mic run through his Open Mic Rome organization. We met at a little Irish pub in Monti, and discussed: What would the best venue be? How many nights a week should we do it? Who should our target audience be? I was nervous, and I didn’t know it would be successful, but I knew that the most important thing was to try. It was the beginning of a new semester, a new year, and something about my time in Rome felt different now. Something about my life felt different now. I didn’t know what it was. Not yet. But I had the feeling of what it was.

*

What it was, of course, I can see clearly now: 2016 was the beginning of a new beginning for me. That year would be a time when I would learn to let go of so many things in my life that have made me insecure, a time when I would learn to be brave in new ways, a time when I would come to understand why I had come to Europe after all and what that meant for my life as a whole. It would be messy, it would be crazy, but over time it would all start to make sense.

So I woke up every morning that second week of the semester, showered, sat down at the kitchen table to write. (It was too cold to write at my local café, Bar Angelo.) I made my walk down to John Cabot and tutored students at the Writing Center and taught my Business Communications class. Tuesdays and Thursdays I had Italian class with a fellow professor who would eventually become a friend. Wednesday, on my walk back home after work at the Writing Center, I ran into Marco, the colleague I’d flirted with a bit at the faculty meeting right before winter break.

I’d been meaning to email him, and here he was.

“So you traveled a lot?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I just got back from Egypt. It was amazing.”

“Didn’t something just happen there? Some sort of terrorist attack?”

“That’s what people keep telling me. I think it must have happened today. People keep acting shocked that I was there, but it felt safe enough.”

“Weren’t you in Paris, too, before the attacks in November?”

“Yeah.”
“Wow. You have good luck. Or maybe you have bad luck. Maybe you leave it in the places you visit.”

This was what I’d liked about him, the first time we’d really flirted when I was just bored and annoyed with my love life and searching for someone to flirt with (probably not the best mood to be in at a professional event, but hey, that’s just the way I am). And now he was doing it again. So when he parted ways, and he told me to stay in touch, I decided I’d email him again a few days later to see when he was free.

But in the meantime, my friend I’d been having a semi-romance on and off with most definitely called it off by the end of the week, which meant that by the time I got insanely drunk on Friday at a friend’s gig, I ended up going to scholars with some friends and having sex with a guy I had no way of communicating with unless his friend was translating. (He really only spoke the Neapolitan dialect, which meant he didn’t understand my version of Italian, which meant that the only word he understood when we were in my bedroom was ‘wait,’ because he so badly wanted to finish things just as they were starting.) It also meant that the next day I felt buoyed by the sex in the beginning, but that by the end of the day, I was sad and heading over to my friend Patrizia’s house. Luckily the dinner she was hosting turned into a sleepover, which meant I didn’t have to go home and sleep alone. My life felt like a total mess, which is a terrible feeling when you’ve just returned home from one of the best trips ever.

And when you have to Skype with your parents and pretend you’re sick so they can’t tell your sad.

And when you do get sick from all the stress and sadness and from the fact that you’re finally no longer traveling and have already taught two weeks of classes.

I felt awful, emotionally, but I knew that what was most key was to keep going. So I socialized as much as I could, going to a new open mic in Trastevere a colleague told me about and going to a cat café with Ricardo (riding his motorcycle on the way there!). It meant practicing guitar and going to open mics and going out with friends, because that’s the best way to remind yourself of what you’re grateful for when you’re going through an emotionally trying time. And by the next weekend, I was feeling better. After going over to a friend’s house to drink wine and have lunch and practice songs to perform at open mic, I had a great date with Marco, and then I took a fast cab to Sal’s house to talk on his Open Mic Soundcloud channel about my new open mic I was starting and my novel. I was drunk—on the aperol spritzes from my date, on new romantic hope, and on new artistic hope, too.

The rest of the spring would take on a similar nature as that week: lots of ups, lots of downs. Because I was taking lots of risks, emotionally and otherwise, some weeks felt like the best of my life and some felt like the worst. So even though I was busy all the time, I was thrilled when my very own literature and poetry open mic started. On Thursday, February 11th, I was the host of the very first Open Vox Open Mic, at 8 p.m. at The Druid’s Den.

And I’d just gotten a job offer that morning to teach creative writing at the American University of Rome that very morning. My whole life felt like a dream.

And Helena was waiting for me at The Druid’s Den when I got there. She’d made it up there for our very first night.

And me, her, Alicia, and Amy would be spending all weekend together, going out to get drinks and seeing Zoolander (during its limited English-language play in Rome). Life was going to be fun and crazy, that was for sure. I didn’t know yet just how much it would be, now in 2016. Which is why it’ll be quite the challenge to catch up on this blog. But with my life as fun and crazy as it is, I know I’ll find a way. So watch out. Get ready for a whole new set of adventures on here.

*Name changed because he is my colleague!

The Grand Tour (Part IV): Boston, NYC, Rome, Egypt

We stayed up long enough to finish our glasses of whiskey, and then, knowing it was inevitable, leaned in toward each other to kiss. It’s always awkward, kissing a stranger, and it’s even more awkward when it’s a stranger from Tinder: there’s a certain intimacy, familiarity, you have to make up for, until it finally feels natural to be together. But after passing that threshold, it was easy, and we were up a few hours, and I didn’t care that I had to wake up at 8 am the next day to make the haircut appointment I’d scheduled for me, Katie, Nora, and Rebecca. It was worth losing sleep over. We woke up an hour before the alarm went off that morning, too, knowing that we had to have sex one last time before I never saw him again.

I got dressed, called the salon while I did so. Nora and Rebecca were too hungover to make it to the appointment, and Katie had asked if we could reschedule. So I called, and they said 3 p.m. would be fine. It was when Katie and I were going to have our mid-day writing session, but I said it was fine.

I got undressed, we had sex one last time, and then we were getting dressed together this time.

“I guess I should actually wake up,” he said.

“Besides,” I said, “There’s nothing like that post-coital cigarette.”

As we drank our coffees and smoked outside of a little coffeeshop near his place, we had one last conversation, this time about Tinder. He’d just gotten over a relationship about half a year earlier, and had tried online dating but it hadn’t really worked. So he’d turned to Tinder. He seemed like the kind of guy who might date a woman if they really hit it off. I’d met all his pre-recs, he’d informed me—smart, pretty smile, well-endowed—but there was no way for me to find out if there was another way in which he liked me, since I was leaving Boston the next day.

“Oh, for me I have a totally different reason for using Tinder,” I said. “I have a high sex drive, but I’m just not really looking into dating right now. Like, if it happens, fine. But I don’t like the idea of forcing things. Plus, I think a lot of the time people look for love for the wrong reasons. And I’m certainly one of those people.”

“How so?”

“I fall so easily into making the person an object of romantic adoration, and not really seeing them as a real person.”

I thought of Dane from over the summer, how enchanted I’d been by him being an almost-replica of a character in my novel. Of Jim, who I hadn’t messaged since Christmas, but whom I’d spent such long nights thinking about, trying to read much more into his messages than he had ever intended. It was a mistake I’d made before. But I was getting better at it, at least when I wasn’t drunk.

“I’m getting better at it,” I said. “But, anyway, Tinder’s useful, especially when traveling. And I love using it in the US and the UK. I can actually flirt properly.”
We finished our coffees, and then he gave me directions to the metro that would take me directly to Katie’s, but as I slipped my headphones in I knew immediately that I would walk that way. It was chilly, but surprisingly warm for Boston in the middle of the winter, and I had a new artist to listen to: Grimes. She had a new album out, and it was so much better than the music she’d played to open for Lana Del Rey a summer ago. She was still dark and strange, the lyrics pure poetry, but it was more pop, more catchy now, which was the perfect thing to listen to after having sex. I walked the two hours north to Katie’s place, lost in my music and my cigarettes, walking by unmistakably American establishments, diners and cafes lit by neon lights, large roads lined with cards and slush from the last time it had snowed. When I finally arrived, Katie was hungover, lying in bed, and I crawled in with her.

“Did you have fun?” she asked.

“Totally. Sex was great, conversation was great,” I replied. “And I actually received oral sex for the first time in a thousand years. He didn’t care that I had HPV.”

We relaxed a little while, before heading downstairs hungover to make some breakfast and watch TV. I hadn’t relaxed like this in a long time, and it was exactly what I needed. Another nap, and then we headed out into the Boston cold to get our hair done. I was going for something crazy, a Mrs. Robinson look inspired by The Graduate. Katie’s hair was done super-fast, and she went back home to meet everyone. When my new cheapest-haircut-in-this-side-of-Boston was finished, it looked terrible. (Some of my friend disagree. But I think it looked terrible.) Super-short, layered but not entirely evenly, and instead of chunky classy highlights, it was almost all blonde, and in a bleached sort of way, but not all blonde. I looked ten years older than I had before the haircut. Sophisticated, but trashy, but not in a Lana Del Rey or Kesha kind of way. Just in a terrible way.

But as Adam Driver says in season 3 of Girls: “I don’t care about hair. It grows. It shrinks. You can’t get attached.”

Which is exactly what I did. I applied mascara, I applied my red-hot lipstick, and ended up looking like a rockstar who had fallen on hard times in her thirties and became a prostitute. Everyone acted like they liked it when I arrived, which is exactly what friends are for, and then we settled in to relax, watching Pink Panther movies, eating Thai food, drinking beer. At the end of the night, after Rebecca and Nora were gone, Katie and I crawled into bed together, to sleep only five hours before I had to wake up again, shower, finish packing, and Uber my way to the train station.

Even in her sleepiness, Katie walked me to the door. We stepped out into the cold together, and as I rode in the cab, almost asleep with exhaustion, I thought of how much I’d miss her until the next time I saw her. And how lucky I was to have had this short stop in the US, even if it was only for a week in the middle of a long voyage.

*

Seventeen or so hours later, after a train ride to New York, a walk through Manhattan (including a quick thirty minutes walking around with David, my Open Mic friend), a train ride to JFK, and a flight to Rome, I was back home again for a few hours, enough time to relax in bed, shower, and make my way to Open Mic. I was exhausted, but it didn’t matter, as I hit the stage and sang for the first time in weeks, reconnecting with musicians, getting so drunk that, by the end of the night at 3 a.m. I was peeing in an alleyway while my friends kept watch (and pretended not to watch). Got home, drunk-texted a guy I slept with whom I cannot name in this blog*, and the next day I had to wake up super-early, this time to pack for Egypt, packing only long-sleeved shirts and jeans, a dramatic change from my usual dress-wearing. But I was nervous, going somewhere that has such a bad reputation in regards to women and in how it’s depicted in Western media, and even though I was meeting up with a friend there, I had no idea what the risks were.

I was so tired that, retelling now, I don’t even remember boarding the plane from Rome to Cairo, but I do remember getting off at Cairo, stepping out into the heat of Egypt outside to smoke while man after man cat-called me. It was dark, I was tired, it was one of my last Gauloises, and as I stood there and men asked if I wanted a taxi ride—I didn’t, my connecting flight to Luxor was in a few hours—I gazed around me, the men off to one side smoking, the women and children standing apart. It wasn’t de juro, to wear a headscarf or for sexes to exist separately, but it was de facto, and I could feel how different I was, how I didn’t fit in there.

I studied comparative literature, I know all about that whole ‘othering’ thing that can happen between people of different cultures, especially Westerners visiting non-Western countries, can happen. So I’m sure there are ways in which my narrative is biased, so I will do what I can, to just report things exactly as they happened.

E.G., when I went through security in Cairo, after going through customs, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, a scarf around my neck to avoid having any cleavage, and the security guard gave me a leering smile and said:

“You have any guns?”

“No,” I said.

He and his other security guard friend laughed at his bad joke, then took a moment to take me in, look me up and down, before they said it was okay for me to go ahead and pass through and get my bags on the other side.

The airport was totally empty, everything was expensive, and I’d have to wait quite a while.  I was exhausted. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, that I was still awake and that the flight was delayed yet again. When we finally started boarding, and everyone had gotten through the second round of security—I was the only woman traveling alone, watching Girls on my computer in my seat as I waited and making an even greater effort to skip the nudity scenes the way I do when I travel—they suddenly announced that we had to switch gates. Walk all the way to the other end of the airport, all of us, and then finally board the flight to Luxor. I was so tired. I couldn’t believe I was still awake. I didn’t know if my jet lag was from the US or Uruguay. I didn’t know how many hours I’d slept in the past three days. Probably a total of 12, the majority of which had been on trains and planes.

When the plane finally landed, when I finally walked as fast as I could through baggage claim, and to arrivals, where the driver from my hostel was supposed to pick me up, he wasn’t there. There was no sign with my name on it. And everyone was getting their bags and the crowd of people from the plane was thinning, and the only people outside were taxi drivers who were sure to scam me and men loitering in front of their cars.

I went to the other terminal, a short walk but one that felt quite long at this hour of the night in an unknown country that has been totally misrepresented by the media, thinking that perhaps my driver was there by accident. But he wasn’t there. I pulled out a cigarette. Smoked it quickly, tried to think. I didn’t speak Arabic. There were only men there—all the families had left by then—but I knew I had to do something. And I did speak English. Most people speak some English, at least. So I looked around, there were about five men here, and I walked toward the least-threatening-looking one and said:

“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you speak English?”

He did.

“Do you think, uhm, well, do you known if I could use your phone? To call my hostel? I’m really sorry, I know this is a total inconvenience, but I can’t make international calls on my phone and…”

“What is the number?”

“Oh,” I pulled out my phone, devoid of reception but all my pictures I’d taken of all the information I’d need in Egypt saved in the camera roll. “Uh, it’s this one. But I don’t mind calling.”

“I will call for you.”

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. So much.”

He called over a friend of his, a friend who had a phone, or at least a phone with credit on it, and talked to him for a second. I didn’t understand a word of course. Then they used the phone, called my hostel.

“The hostel says,” he said after hanging up, “that the driver is already here.”

“But he isn’t.”

“The hostel says he is.”

So we called again. It turned out that they had never read my What’s App in which I’d sent them my name, and it had been my friend Amy’s name that they had been holding up. But her Chinese name, which I’ve only started to be familiar with, so I hadn’t recognized it among all the signs floating in front of me upon arrival, when I’d been searching for mine with such desperation.

“Wow,” I said. “Thank you. Thank you.”

As I followed my driver, the two men who had helped me followed too, asking for money. I was insulted suddenly, that they’d helped me but only hoping to make money out of it. Looking back on it now, of course, knowing how hard the economic situation there is, I’m not so surprised or insulted. It wasn’t as if it was the only reason they’d done it. But once they had helped me, it made sense to pressure me, the kind of woman who walks around Rome giving countless euro coins to homeless people who ask her for change.

The driver was friendly, pointed out a few things as we drove: the train track as we crossed over it, which was used for sugar cane trains; the new archeology sites where they were uncovering countless the sphinx statues that lined the way to an ancient temple; the ancient temple, when we finally reached it, just a few blocks from our hostel. When he finally dropped me off, I thanked him—I’d paid in advance, when making the hostel reservation—and as I entered the hostel I felt so much calmer. Finally, I’d arrived. Finally, I’d be able to sleep. It was 2 AM Egypt time, and I had no idea what time it was in my body, but it didn’t matter. When the guy at reception told me to wait just a few minutes, he had to help some people with their rooms, and he said to me ‘DON’T GO OUTSIDE,’ I felt only an inkling of fear, knowing that you couldn’t go out at night in Luxor anymore unaccompanied by a local. Because exhaustion was what I felt more than anything.

When he was finally ready to check me in, and I paid the absurdly cheap price of less than ten euros a night, I made my way up four my room. I knocked. Knocked again. Then again. Finally, Amy came to the door, totally drowsy with sleep, welcomed me in.

“What time is it?” she croaked.

“Like 2 AM.”

“We have to wake up in 2 hours,” she said. “We’re going on a hot air balloon ride tomorrow.”

“What?”

“I guess we can try canceling it…I paid for both of us but I can see…”

It was a super-cheap air balloon ride, the kind of thing I could never afford anywhere else. But in Egypt everything was cheap because tourists were so scared to come here.

“I guess we can try,” I said, knowing I’d regret it later if I didn’t go. But I was so tired. So tired. But just as suddenly, hunger overtook me. I’d forgotten to eat as much as I should have with all the stress of travel. Amy offered me an orange, crawled back into bed. I went up a floor to the rooftop, at the orange and the Italian version of a Cliffbar, smoked a cigarette, read a few pages of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which I’d been reading on and off since November after reading it as a recommended book to read when you’re in your 20s in a Buzzfeed article. I could barely focus on the words, I was so tired. But when I finally crawled back into bed, the anxiety of knowing that I’d have to wake up in just a couple hours meant that it was fitful sleep, barely sleeping at all.

But we woke up early the next day, stumbled outside into the darkness, got into a van that stopped from one hotel and then another picking up tourists. Even though I was exhausted and it was dark, I was in an extraordinary, almost manic mood, chattering away with poor Amy, but it was contagious and soon she was chattering away too. When we all got on the boats that would take us across the Nile to the other side—the Nile! the Nile! with the moonlight glimmering on its waves! it was too much and I couldn’t believe I was here in Egypt!—I chatted with our neighbors, telling them just how expressly jealous I was of the croissants that their hotel had provided them with. Amy and I enjoyed our coffees, as much as one can enjoy instant coffee after having lived in Italy, just soaking in the feeling of knowing that we were here, in Egypt, that we were somewhere we’d never thought we’d be. We’d been too scared to go alone, but we were scared too that it would be even more dangerous to go in the future if things only got worse, and when we revealed this to each other one night drunk over Thai food, we decided to do it. That there was no one who could stop us. And now we were getting off the boat, and walking toward another bus that would ferry us over to where the hot air balloons were. We stood in the dark, in the moments before the sun rose, and watched the giant fires as they lit them before we climbed in to ride up into the sky.

*

To be honest, though, other than the exciting fact that I’d never been on a balloon ride before, I wasn’t that enchanted by it. It was cool to see Luxor from high above, to have the guy guiding the hot air balloon point out the different sights that Amy and I would be seeing later, but everything seemed so small and insignificant that for me, much of the beauty was lost. It wasn’t until later, after the sun had risen and the heat had come and we had eaten a fast breakfast and had hopped out of yet another car, that I saw the first heart-stopping, enchanting, exciting thing: we stepped into the grounds of Karnak Temple.

There were sphinxes, lining up the entrance, more than a dozen of them, and as we walked through the giant tall walls that led us into the first section, there were already pieces of enormous statues around us, and the walls were all tall and the hieroglyphs were still preserved somehow, shining white in the hot sun. I live in Rome, there’s plenty of ancient history there, but Egyptian history is even older, and as Amy and I followed our guide through the ruins, not too many tourists there, despite it being historically one of the most tourist-y places in the world, we were able to lose ourselves. It was like wandering through a stone forest, the columns rising up around us, casting shadows black against the white light of the sun. And on each of these columns, designs and inscriptions so strange that they seemed to come from a different world. The time of Ancient Egypt was so old—and these were not even the oldest of ruins, which waited for us in Cairo—that it really made me understand, in a way that almost never passes from the mental to the physical when we read in the histories, this very long time that humans have been existence. Long enough for there to be a world where beliefs were entirely different from how they are now, for a different existential way of being to exist (not to be repetitive, or anything).

We were exhausted after that, and dehydrated, drinking bottle after bottle of water in the heat that made me grateful it was wintertime in Egypt, but we had to go to another temple: Luxor Temple. This temple was smaller than Karnak, it wasn’t a huge complex that led us closer and closer to the gods each doorway that we passed through, but everything was much-better preserved. The entrance was guarded by two giant statues, the way you imagine it in the movies, as if they’re about to come to life and challenge your desire to enter. But we went through, and here, each wall we passed by, each obilisk, each statue a pharaoh had made of himself to remind all eternity of his existence, had innumerable carvings on it, hieroglyphs so much more deeply etched in than at the last temple, some of the colors still present there, somehow, after so many years that you stop thinking of them as years but as bundles of bundles of years. Time takes on a totally different nature than the way we think of it day to day; it’s no longer time but an actual physical thing that humanity has channeled itself through. The fact that an old mosque had been built into the side of the temple, and was still being used, as well as the fact that there were ancient Roman paintings in hidden away in one of the buildings, paintings that had faded a little so that you could see the hieroglyphs hidden beneath them, were physical demonstrations of the passing of time, of history, of how much things can change and transform the world. Would an ancient Egyptian or Roman even recognize the world if they stepped into it today?

By the end of the day, the sun still out but far less sweltering, we ended up at a fancy restaurant a block away from the hotel. Amy had already gone there a couple of times—she’d arrived in Egypt before me, and had been able to see some sights outside of Luxor—and she raved about the cheap food (for us, on the euro, and in a tourist-sparse Egypt) and the hookah you could smoke after, with hash in it, that was totally relaxing. We ordered a couple appetizers, juices and teas because there was no alcohol available to us, a couple entrées each, and dove into what is now my favorite cuisine in the world. For a pescatarian like me, it was perfect: a combination of Middle Eastern food (e.g., hummus) and North African food (e.g., vegetables spiced to perfection with a taste you can only dream of). Fish fresh from the Nile, everything fresh from Egypt, a country that for some insane reason doesn’t export the best quality produce I’ve eaten in my whole life. And to end the meal with hookah, and then with sleep, meant that the next day when I woke up I felt like a totally new person. It was my first time getting a proper night’s sleep in ages.

So I was totally awake at breakfast the next day, and on the bus that took us to the Valley of the Kings. There were three new-agey tourists in the bus with me and Amy, talking about energy crystals and finding themselves and connecting with nature in the Egyptian version of Burning Man, but I tried not to think about them too much, since not much good comes out of being judgmental, and focused on the sloping dunes around me as we got out of the car and walked toward the tombs. As we went into the first one, our guide told us about how there were only a few open at a time, because of excavations, and that usually to get into just one tomb it meant waiting in a line that lasted half a day. But now the economy was suffering so much, and it benefited me and Amy, but it was ruining Egypt and its people.

I remembered the children who had run out the day before onto the rocky ground where the hot air balloons were landing, and how they asked us not for money but for food, and Amy and I dug into our bags and pulled out the oranges an old woman she’d met and connected with had given her before my arrival. I remembered how they smiled at us when we gave them the fruit, how they didn’t ask anything more, and how much it had surprised me, expecting, as a typical Westerner, that once they had something they would continue to beg. But instead they were happy, and waved to us as our van drove away. It’s so easy to pity people in a situation entirely different from your own. But pity of that kind is wrong, Othering. It’s best to see their smiles and their waving hands and believe in it, the happiness that they give you, even if their reality is different from yours. Because in the end we are all human, with the same feelings and the same worries and the same joys, the difference existing only in degree.

And as I climbed into the darkness of the first tomb, I could feel it, that larger connection to the whole of humanity. And not only to those different from me now, but to those who had belonged to another time. This was even more intense than anything Amy and I had seen so far. We weren’t visiting a temple now, the kind of building made for the gods and to show off the grandeur of the pharaohs who ruled to their subjects and to visiting kings. We were visiting a tomb now, a place that had to be decorated enough to guarantee the pharaoh entry into the underworld. So as I walked inside, the hieroglyphs floated up around me, on the walls, above me, encircling me in their secret codes, I could feel the magic that they believed in. Not that I believed in it myself, but that I could start to feel the power of belief, of their different understanding of the world, with different gods than the ones we’re familiar with in modern day civilization. A civilization entirely separated from this one, existing almost on another plane. I hadn’t realized just how long human existence extended until I started to think about the ancient history tome I’ve been reading off and on the past few years, the little outline I’d scrawled in the first few blank pages to help me keep track of the ancient cultures—Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek—so insignificant now. I’d written that outline trying to make sense of all of it, to line it up, to create an image for myself that would help me understand the passing of time and of its civilizations.

But it only hit me here, going deeper and deeper underground, the images all around me representing ancient tongues and messages, the reality of how much time had gone by. And they were so much brighter here, the images, painted in golds and reds and indigoes, in this place of death that was so full of life, the giant stone coffins with messages on them too, and images, the tiny gods in all their places, each one a little different from the last, guiding the dead through the different trials he had to face to finally reach his eternal life. I felt guided too, not to eternal life—I don’t believe in those things—but into a deeper understanding of myself, as I saw these beautiful things around me, so beautiful and unbelievable and so well-preserved, and came to understand that this is what makes life worth living. I ended up accepting my own mortality there, where a dead body had been ferried to its final resting place. Death has always been something that has made me sad, because I live life so fully that the idea that there are experiences I will never have has left me heartbroken.

But for the first time I found myself accepting it. If death is the price we have to pay to live life, and if life is this beautiful, if there is such a gift given to us like the one that I was given there in Egypt, then I choose to accept it, the end to this adventure. Not that I hope it comes anytime soon, or anything like that. But I could feel my understanding of myself and of my life changing there, of just how large and beautiful human experience can be if we know where to go and how to look.

*Someone requested I not write about this at all, but apparently this is impossible for me to do, so not mentioning names and circumstances is the best I can do.

The Grand Tour Part III: Uruguay, Miami, DC, Boston

My mother and I stayed an extra night in Uruguay, because as usual the airline oversold tickets and we managed to make a killing that way, with enough credit to pay for two free tickets for our trip to Uruguay for the holidays a year later. It was a gift, to be able to spend more time during the day with my cousin Julieta and Nico and their new son Juanchi (and their amazing dog, Príncipe). During the night, we went out for dinner and got really drunk, and had a beautiful conversation in which my mother gave me life advice. It was just like on New Year’s when we watched Girls together and she said to me, “You’re like all of them.” It was just like when she looked at me with sadness and told me, “You were wounded in the past. I think maybe it affected you a lot. Maybe it’s still affecting you.” And now that night, as I told her all my doubts about my future, about how love is a total mystery to me, I really appreciated her full-on honesty.

“Honestly, I made a decision, to marry young. To have a family.” she said. “That’s all I know. There are many different ways of living life and that is the one I chose and it is what I have. I will tell you, tradition exists for a reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.”

So I guess life’s a mystery to everyone, even people who have lived so much of it.

It was this feeling of closeness, however, that was also the reason we missed our connecting flight that departed from Miami for DC. We were busy happily eating fancy breakfast food and drinking fancy coffee in the airline lounge while I downloaded Girls season 4 for us to watch on the flight when we suddenly realized: our plane was boarding. Right now. We ran down the stairs, but they had already closed the doors. When we saw the line of people in the same situation, on the waitlist for flights departing for DC, some of them having been stuck in Miami for days, our hearts sank.

“Let’s call your father,” my Mom said. “He’s good at solving these kinds of problems.”

She was right. With his special airlines card, he managed to get her a flight in a couple of hours. As for me—I’d have a flight departing the next morning. Which was a good thing, since a few days later I’d be boarding a train to Boston, spending a few days there, and then boarding a train to New York to fly out a few hours later back to Rome, where I’d sleep for one night in my own bed before heading off to Egypt. So getting stuck in Miami too long would have meant missing out on dinners with friends, drunken nights with friends, Tinder nights with strangers, before I headed across the Atlantic for other adventures.

“I’ll pay for your hotel,” my Mom said. “Just stay the night. Don’t go to bed too late. Your flight’s in the morning.”

We both knew that I wouldn’t be going to bed when she told me to, but I still appreciated her being a mother who cared. I wanted to be the kind of person who cared about things like rest when I got to the hotel room alone, exhausted as I sat my things down on the bed and threw off my shoes as I fell into it. I could have gone to bed right then and there after the long flight from Montevideo, and woken up perfectly rested for my flight the next day that left first thing in the morning, but I knew I had only once choice: to go out. So instead of sleeping, not even napping, I plugged in my phone to charge while I showered. Then I put on my pinkest dress, draped my hearts scarf my Mom had bought for me in Uruguay around my shoulders, slipped back into my Havaianas, and made my way downstairs to the cab station.

“South Beach,” I said.

I rolled down the window. It was even warmer here than it had been in Uruguay. And as we got off the highway and got closer to the beach, the pink twilight shining just a shade quieter than the pink and neon lights, I thought: ‘America, how I’ve missed you.’

“Is here okay?” the cab driver asked, leaving me a block away from Ocean Drive.

“Absolutely,” I said.

I was starving suddenly, and also craving cigarettes, and now, back in the States, I had no idea where to buy anything anymore. It was like reverse culture shock. And I was in a hurry. I didn’t want to miss the sunset. So after accidentally buying the wrong cigarettes (American Spirit menthols), then correcting my mistake and buying the right ones (American Spirit Yellow), then buying some junk food that only the USA can make the way it does and getting a burnt espresso at a hippy-esque cafe, I walked toward the beach. Took off my flip-flops when I got to the sand, sat down and ate and smoked. Then I walked a while by the water’s edge, wishing I’d brought my bathing suit. I walked and walked, then made my way to the main strip, pretending I was in a Lana Del Rey music video, listening to her in my headphones as I walked by girls in bikinis taking selfies by the sea.

All the lights in Miami begin to gleam…

As twilight settled into dark, I turned around and walked back toward the heart of where the tourists were, asked constantly by waiters, in English and in Spanish, if I wanted to sit down. I was waiting for a place where I could get a drink and smoke, and when I finally found one, I sat down, got on my phone. There was a Facebook message from a friend of mine from college, Jesse.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘You’re in Miami?”

Of course! I had totally forgotten! He was going to grad school in Florida, studying music (specifically, playing viola, from back when he’d been a double degree student at the college and conservatory at Oberlin).

‘Yes!’ I wrote. ‘Are you?’

He said yes, and then said that we had to meet up. Not only was he in town, but his now-fiancée—they’d just gotten engaged less than a year ago—was also visiting from all the way in New York where she was enrolled at law school. We’d known each other forever, since Freshman year of college, and always took the chance to see each other when we…well, whenever we had the chance.

They wouldn’t be free until later, though, so I asked the waitress to charge my phone behind the bar while I sipped on my drink. I found myself wishing I’d brought a book, but I’d been so exhausted when jetting out to Miami from the hotel room that I hadn’t really been thinking straight. That’s when I saw her, a girl sitting alone too, with a giant fishbowl-sized drink just like mine, scrolling through her phone.

I went over to her table.

“Hey,” I said. “I know this is kind of strange, but, I saw you sitting alone, and if you’re not waiting for anyone, know you’re totally free to join me at my table.”

*

Her name was Maria*, and as we spoke, we seemed to connect. We talked a lot about travel, about being independent women, and as we got drunker we talked about feminism, how important it is in our world.

“What are you doing later?” she asked as we sipped the last sips of our enormous drinks.

“I’m going out with some friends, some friends from college, but not until later,” I said, pulling out my half-charged phone. “Why?”

“Do you wanna get high?”

“Sure,” I said, sipping faster through my straw. “Why not?”

We paid our bills, which were almost as large as our drinks, and headed out in the direction of a pharmacy. I felt thrilled. I had no idea what the legal status of marijuana was in Florida—I haven’t kept up with the changing legislation in the US at all—but I knew that doing drugs illegally was generally scarier in the US than in Europe because in Europe police aren’t nearly as aggressive as in the States. We stopped by a pharmacy, got some weird cigar-rolling paper. As she paid, the guy behind the counter said, with a glimmer in his eyes: “Enjoy.”

We made our way to the park just behind the dunes, the park between the main strip and the beach. Tourists were out, walking around, but not as many as when the sun had been out. Just a few here and there. I followed her, following her the way I always follow adventure, until we were under a public gazebo-ish structure where a guy was waiting for us.

“Hey,” she said. “You selling pot?”

“Yeah,” he said.

She bought what she needed, which wasn’t much, and started to roll the joint. The guy stayed with us instead of walking away, and as another friend male of his approached, I started to get nervous. It wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined, getting high with drug dealers right there by my side.

Maria was friendly to them, though, and I thought I should be too, and it was quick, my reversal of opinion. The second drug dealer who had come up to us was really grateful when I lent him my lighter so he could smoke a cigarette; the first drug dealer, as I talked to him, turned out to be a really interesting guy. He’d come to Miami originally to go to culinary school, and we talked a while about the different kinds of cuisine he could cook, the kinds of foods he loved. Maria, on the other hand, was flirting with both guys, hoping to get some extra pot. She was successful, but when she asked me if I wanted any, I refused.

I’d already smoked the first bit of it, but I didn’t like it, using these guys who were actually incredibly nice to get free pot just because I was a woman. I didn’t want the pot she’d gotten for free, even if the pot she’d originally bought had been shared with me. I didn’t like her as much, seeing her like this.

It’s something that happens to me a lot, actually, as a friendly person. I’m very friendly with people, but often, the people who reciprocate that friendliness often are friendly only in the way they act, and sometimes, a certain selfishness is revealed in their character after some time has passed. Many of the people who reciprocate my kindness only do it because they’re looking for a way to take advantage of others, with the charm and graces that they’ve been given by life. Of course there are exceptions, but this girl wasn’t one of them.

So when Jesse and Sara called me to tell me they were right around the corner, I was relieved to take leave of her. I hugged them hello, informed them of my state of inebriation, congratulated them on their engagement, asked thousands of questions about Jesse’s life in Miami and Sara’s in New York. We ended up at an Italian place about 15 minutes away by car. When we pulled up, I just started laughing.

“What?” Jesse asked.

“The irony,” I giggled.

“What?” he asked again.

“You know,” Sara explained. “She lives in Italy.”

“Oh!” He clasped his hand to his mouth. “I totally forgot!”

“It’s okay!” I exclaimed. “I’m sure it will be totally amazing!!”

And it was, though of course being high certainly helped the situation. I was drunk and high already, and I spoke to the waiters in Italian, completely certain of my ability to speak it. As I drank glass after glass of wine to sustain my state—Jesse and Sara didn’t drink as much as I did—we all caught up and relived old memories. We only saw each other about once a year, by luck, somewhere in New York City usually, and now the same kind of magic that had happened with my cousins in Uruguay was happening to us. We were all adults now. We were starting to choose how we lived our life, instead of allowing ourselves to be carried by it like we did in our early-twenties.

Which was why I felt totally okay with the unwise decision to go over to their place and stay out a little longer, snacking on something sweet and sitting outside with sweatshirts draped over our knees like we were still in college in Ohio where there was always a guaranteed chill in the air. Which is why, even as I yawned into my water, I forced myself to keep going as long as I could. When Jesse finally called a cab for me, it was just past midnight, but with the lack of sleep on the red-eye and the jet lag too, I feel straight into bed when I got back to the hotel. Then five hours later it was time to force myself out of bed, shower, pretend I wasn’t hungover, and go through airport security again and wait anxiously at my gate, paranoid that somehow I’d miss my flight. But I didn’t, and a few hours later I was back in DC, and then back in Bethesda, where I quickly did some laundry and then placed sticky-notes on the things from my youth I wanted to keep.

Because when I came back to the States again, the house would be sold, the only things left the things I wanted and the memories. So I combed through my bookshelves, making sure I didn’t lose any of the books that were special to me and that I meant to read—though most of them were already with me, in Rome, the ones I loved the most—and I went through the things in my room one last time. Most of them I’d donated already, a year and a half ago when I’d moved to Paris, left all of my old life behind, but now that my life was one even more free of objects than it used to be, there was even more I could let go of now. The only things I kept, in the end, outside of the books I’d selected, were objects of memories, of four kinds: family keepsakes, friend keepsakes, old notes from college and grad school I didn’t want to get rid of, and my old writing.

I hung up my dresses in the laundry room before heading out that night, going to my friend Jonathan’s house to have dinner with him and Adam. I was exhausted, but at this point exhaustion felt like such a normal thing that I could barely feel it anymore, and we talked and caught up, this time talking about what the holidays had been like. I talked about how my mother and I had really connected this time around, while together, and when I got back home and she and I watched Girls some more, I felt even closer to her when I saw that she’d fallen asleep on the couch, trying so hard to stay awake with me. She would always try hard to stay awake with me, to be with me, and there have been times in my life when I’ve taken this for granted.

*

The next day I packed up again, made my way to Adam’s house, so that when he got off after work we could hang out again. We never run out of things to talk about, to enjoy, so we stayed up late again, and then at 4 a.m. my alarm went off—I had a 5:30 a.m. train to catch that would take me up to Boston, where I’d be staying with Katie. I fell asleep on the train for a couple hours, then woke up to get a coffee and work on my writing. With all the adventures in Miami and DC, and all the travel too, it was good to get back to my writing. It started with anxiety, like it always does after a break of a few days, but then I was fully in it, and pushed myself hard to get a lot written. I knew that when I got to Boston, things would be insane again, so I had to get some work done now. By the time the train arrived, I totally looked like an exhausted, jet-lagged wreck, and I couldn’t wait to get into a cab and to take an absurdly short nap in Katie’s bed.

I walked up over to where the cabs were, which, incidentally, was where some street canvassers were standing too.

“Excuse me,” one of them said. “Do you have a minute?”

“Oh, uh,” I began. He was kind of good-looking. Lanky-looking like I like them, 24-28ish, dark hair and some stubble, a lazy casual way of carrying himself. “Sure.”

He started pitching to me about an organization about donating money to children in poor countries. I’ve been a street canvasser before—almost ten years ago, when I was a college student desperate to make some money—so sometimes I’ll give a one-time donation, since that one-time donation can actually make the difference between getting fired or not. But as he spoke, and talked about his own personal experience as a sponsor, practicing what he preached, I became interested. I made enough money to sponsor a child in need.

“Sure, okay,” I said. “But can I use a credit card? I don’t actually get my salary into my American bank account.”

We talked a bit then about my life, about its crazy recent comings and goings, about how I was a writer, and by the end of it I was sponsoring a female child in India (that way you prevent the almost-certain likelihood of her getting raped) and had given him my phone number and my name in case he wanted to look up any of my writing online. We quickly took a selfie—that’s a thing canvassers do now, apparently, at the end of each successful membership gain—I quickly shook the other canvasser’s hand, and then I climbed into a cab and gave Katie’s address. Half an hour later, I was at her door, standing in front of one of those old Americana houses with tall turrets and doors that always seem to stick. My phone was out of batteries, so after smoking a cigarette I rang the doorbell, and one of her roommates, a guy I’d never met, answered.

“Hi,” I said. “Umm…I’m here to see Katie? I’m staying with her?”

“Yeah, sure, come on in,” he said. “She’s upstairs.”

I left my enormous bag in the living room, carried my heavy purse with all its things up the old wooden stairs that curved along the wall, each step creaking beneath me. There she was, my beautiful friend Katie, and Blake—who I’d stayed with in New York—was there too, having decided that it made sense for all of us to meet up while I was in town. We’d spent so many times in New York together, back when the both of them used to work at The Strand and I was finishing up my MFA at Columbia. So we wanted to be together again, the three of us talking about creepy strange occurrences like the Salish Sea human foot discoveries, and about art too, like the Sargent exhibit we were so looking forward to going to at the Museum of Fine Arts.

I hugged both of them, then said:

“I’m exhausted. Katie. Please. Can I sleep in your bed? What’s the plan? Do I have time for a nap?”

The whole evening was totally booked already, with plans I’d made with a bunch of our friends to go see ‘Sisters’ and get dinner after, so it turned out that the only way we’d be able to make it to the Sargent exhibit with enough time to see it was if we left in an hour.

“Okay,” I said. “I guess I can sleep for half an hour, then take a shower. Is that okay? You don’t mind? I know just got here but…”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Do you mind coming in and waking me up?”

It was something I always loved, to be woken up by someone else instead of by an alarm. It was the same reason why I knew that that night I’d end up sleeping in bed with Katie, the two of us together under the covers in the cold. I loved waking up next to her.

“Sure,” she said, leaving and closing the door.

I plugged my computer in, started charging my phone, turned out the lights, and fell asleep, totally surrendering myself to the kind of sleep you only experience after the intense exhaustion of jet lag and travel and non-stop action that is my life.

*

A shower and a cup of coffee and a cigarette and an Uber ride later, we were at the Museum of Fine Arts. The very first thing to greet us was Crawford’s statue of Orpheus and Cerebrus, and I had to stop for a second to look at it, take it in—as someone writing a novel heavily working with the underworld, and about the power of music, it’s obligatory to do so. I made a promise to myself that I’d stop by one last time before we left. Before going to the Sargent exhibit we went to one that suited Blake’s historian inclinations, ‘Traveling the Silk Road,’ about the artistic and cultural exchanges between the China, the Middle East, and Europe. Then we paused by a few of Katie’s favorites, then we went to the Sargent exhibit, stopping by every one of his portraits that seemed to capture the inner life of each person in them, spending some extra time looking at our favorite, ‘The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.’ So many artists do not know how to paint children, their inner life that can be such a mystery to the adult mind, but Sargent manages it somehow, and in this portrait in particular, of four girls at different ages, he shows the way that a girl changes as she grows up and becomes more aware of some things and less aware of others.

We took selfies, of course, with the sexiest guys he painted. It’s only appropriate.

Time flew by, and before I knew it we were back at the entrance, and I was taking one last look at Orpheus and Cerebrus before we got another Uber ride to a movie theater near where our friend Nora lived. Nora went to Oberlin with me and Katie, too, and with the both of them living in Boston, I’d decided to make the trip up**. Our friend Rebecca, also from college, had decided to come up to Boston from DC too, and now we were all getting together to have a crazy weekend together***. I was rarely ever in the States, so seeing them produced a special magic, and as we sat down in the dark, sipped on beer and watched a film that was truly terrible, I found myself both happy and missing them at the same time. It was the kind of experience I never wanted to end, and it would, in only just a few days. So when Nora invited us out to a place nearby to get dinner, I was going to keep drinking, even if the cocktail prices were insane. And when she invited us over to her place to play Apples to Apples, we went over and kept drinking, listening to very bad pop music (‘Cake By the Ocean,’ anyone?), and Tindering, too, of course. And when Katie and Blake and I climbed into yet another Uber, we were determined to keep the night going, and ended up at a total dive bar. My kind of place.

“I have very bad taste in beer,” I explained to the bar tender. “Do you have something cheap that tastes very plain?”

They did, and we kept drinking and talking, checking out guys playing pool and darts from the corners of our eyes. We got some thai food at a takeout place that was open way later than any food establishments are ever open in Rome, then went back to Katie’s to watch cult comedy shows, falling asleep much later than we should have. When we woke up the next morning, hungover, we had something else to check off our agenda: going out for brunch with another college friend, Harris, who was traveling through the country now that his start-up had finally gotten off the ground, and who happened to be passing through Boston the very time I was. So it was Blake, Harris, Katie, Rebecca and I—Nora had work, so she couldn’t make it—eating eggs and toast and drinking OJ and coffee. A real American meal. One I’d missed, especially since they had hot sauce to go with it.

We laughed the whole time, catching up, telling each other about our different adventures: my life in Europe, Katie’s MFA in writing she was completing (and all the amazing literature courses she was going to take, including a women in history literature course), Blake’s work at a historical society in New York, Rebecca’s master’s in social work, and Harris’s adventures traveling the country going to contra dance conferences. And after lunch we made our way to the harbor, walking around next to the water and fooling around outside the aquarium making faces at the seals despite how cold it was. We ended the afternoon in a coffee shop, where we all worked a little bit, some of us writing, some of us checking emails. Then it was time for Harris to leave for the bus station and for Blake to leave for her train, and then it was time for me and Katie and Rebecca to kill some time before heading out to meet Nora for drinks. So where would we go?

The Boston Public Library, of course.

Katie had a book she needed for the research she was preparing for her intensive novella-writing course in the spring, and I wanted to walk around those glowing halls, find a desk to sit at, and work on my novel. Once again I’d missed another day of writing, and all I wanted to do was write. But when we got there, it was about to close. I rushed to the closest reading room I could find, wrote for about ten minutes, but the ten minutes of writing shined out that night, the same way the lights around me did, as the books on all sides of me motivated me, all those books that have been written on so many subjects and in so many styles. In the meantime, Katie had managed to find the book she needed, so when we met out front, the cold Boston winter around us, we knew what it was time for: a stop at H&M, which we’d passed on the way to the library, and then, of course, drinking and dinner.

We met up at a little Malaysian place, me and Katie and Nora and Rebecca, and the drinking started there. Then we took the train to a hip trendy area with lots of music and clubs, and ended up at a dance club with lots of Spanish music. I pulled out my phone as we stripped off our jackets and started ordering drinks: I had a choice to make. I had to choose which man was going to meet up with me that night. The canvasser guy had been playing it cool, which is always a stupid thing to do with me, so my next choice was Tinder. There was a douche-bag-looking guy with a perfect face who spelled ‘fourth’ ‘forth’; there was a guy who was slightly less cute but also had dark hair and was tall and had a good sense of humor with emoji usage. I went for the latter, eventually, and luckily he had some things to do before meeting up with us, which meant we had some time for just us ladies to dance and drink (and drink and drink and drink) before he arrived.

Finally he texted to say he’d arrived, and I looked around in the half-lit darkness, watching all the bodies dancing around me. I couldn’t see him at all until suddenly he was there in front of me. Totally different than his picture from Tinder, but cute enough, especially if I kept drinking. Besides, all that really matters at the end of the day is chemistry. I can’t think of how many men with model looks I’ve rejected just because I didn’t feel anything. So we started dancing, me and him and Katie, and when he and I went outside to smoke and he started talking, it was a relief to find out that he was both really intelligent and laid back. When he left for the bathroom, Katie told me she was surprised she liked him. Men I want to fuck don’t usually do that great with my friends.

And yet here we were, at the end of the night, and he was a gentleman about it, waiting for me to ask.

“So,” I said. “Do you want to take me home?”

He pulled out his phone, ordered an Uber, and soon we were at his place, drinking whiskey on his bed and waiting.

*Name changed because I can’t remember it.

**Perhaps you remember Nora from my blog post from last summer about our friend Michael getting married.

***Perhaps you remember Rebecca from my blog posts about her visiting me in Paris and then, in the summer, hanging out with her and Adam quite a bit.

The Grand Tour (Part II): New York, DC, Uruguay

So as some of you may have guessed, considering that my last post was on April 1st (yes, I know I’m super-behind), it’s time to come clean and say it: the marriage proposal at the end of the post never happened. Jim never even What’s Apped me at all. Instead, let’s return to that scene, to a New York City unnaturally warm in the middle of December, with me standing at Columbus Circle in the middle of Manhattan just as it was about to rain. And instead of getting a What’s App from Jim, I called a friend of mine, Steve, a friend I’d made over the summer in my Bronx open mic days.

“Hey,” he said. “I just finished making dinner for my Mom, so I can head out after.”

I called up Blake to invite her—a large reason for staying with her in the first place, of course, was to see her—but she was busy already. That’s when the rain started to pour, and I made my way to a Duane Read to buy some underwear, a razor, and an umbrella. All things I desperately needed considering how haphazardly I’d packed before leaving Rome. Then I made my way uptown, more and more men staring at me as the train got deeper into the Bronx (because of shifting beauty standards, not because of shifting creepiness). I got off at the stop I’d gotten off at all summer, memories of drunken nights and silly mistakes rushing back to me, and then I was there, at Tilila, ordering a beer that would go well with Dominican food.

While I waited for Steve, I reviewed a weird email exchange that’s been going on in my life for a while but which I haven’t written yet about here. Basically, because of a witty tweet I posted, a songwriter for famous country artists has been strangely wooing me that past few months over Twitter and email. After exchanging emails back and forth, after he listened to my Tinder song and sent me pictures of himself standing in front of a castle in France where he stayed when he was visiting the country, he sent me another Tweet again. This time asking if I was really in New York. After I replied yes, he said we should meet up, that he was there too, and sent me his number. I was trying to think of what to say in what would be a very strange conversation when Steve showed up.

“Elisa!” he exclaimed, hugging me. “It’s been such a long time!”

We started to catch up, him filling me in on his life in New York (living with his parents after taking a break from college, applying for jobs), while I tried as concisely as possible (is it possible?) to talk about my life in Rome.

Then a friend of his showed up, a Greek-American guy named Markos*, and then they started discussing two things with me: (1) what karaoke songs to sing, and (2) what I should say to the guy in the music business.

“I feel like you probably shouldn’t go alone,” Steven said, caring like he was as usual about the well-being of those around him. “How well do you know this guy?”

Markos agreed, saying he would never let his sister do something like that, but I didn’t care.

“I feel like it should be just me and him,” I said. “I can handle myself. We’ll meet in a public place.”

I stepped outside to call.

“Hey, AC**?” I said. “It’s Elisa, you know, from…”

“Whoa, no way,” he almost yelled into the phone. “It’s so great you called. I can’t believe you don’t have an accent. I thought you were like, totally South American or something.” I’d clarified the situation with him in the past, but he still didn’t seem to get it, which meant he was shocked whenever he listened to my songs and didn’t find an accent there. He continued: “What’re you up to tonight?”

“Umm…I’m at karaoke with some friends.”

“No way! I love karaoke! Where’s it at?”

“In The Bronx. Near 238th Street?”

“Oh. Hmm…Well, here’s the thing. I’m in Manhattan. Midtown. It’s a little far for me. But tell you what. What about you let me know if you can come down later? We can get a drink at my hotel. I’d love to see you drunk.”

“Sure. Okay.”

We said our goodbyes, I hung up, and I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him later by the time I sat back down with my drink and the guys. I had so many memories (and lack thereof) of getting black-out drunk at Tilila over the summer, and that was all I wanted, to sing and drink and dance. We spent all night catching up, me and Steve, and Markos and I got to know each other.

At a certain point, after Markos and I had started singing a couple duets together, including “A Whole New World,” Steve turned to me.

“He really likes you,” he said.

“I know,” I replied. “It’s because I told him he was wrong about something.”

We’d been arguing all night, me and Steve, with Markos, who, it turned out, was a Trump supporter. But despite this great flaw, brought on only by bias because he worked in New York construction, I liked talking to him. And arguing with him, because he seemed to appreciate the fact that I wasn’t afraid to voice what I thought.

So when we were outside smoking, and it started to rain, and he mentioned The Notebook, I said:

“Do you want to kiss me in the rain? Like in the movie?”

“Yeah,” he said, eyes wide, and after a couple minutes we parted and onlookers were cheering.

“I wish I was one of you!” one of them yelled.

We smiled at each other, kissed again, the whole while the rain falling on us. Then we went back inside, resumed drinking and singing with Steve. When the night ended he said:

“I’d really like to take you out somewhere nice sometime. I’d love to buy you dinner.”

“I’m not free for dinner,” I explained. “Tomorrow’s my last night in town, and I already have plans. But I can come home with you.”

*

It’s always a relief when a one-night stand isn’t a total disappointment, even better when the sex is actually amazing, even better when the guy doesn’t treat you like a prostitute after. It was like that with Markos. We spent time in bed together after waking up, fucking and sharing music videos on his phone, then went out on the deck for a smoke. I wore my dress with his sweatshirt over it as he called me “bella,” and we talked some more, all the while watching the brilliant sun reflect on the buildings of Riverside, The Bronx. When I showered, he made sure the water was the perfect temperature before handing me a towel and shampoo and conditioner. When we finally went out to eat something, after waiting to make sure his parents had left, he let me choose where to go.

“A diner, of course,” I said. “I haven’t had a milkshake in a thousand years!”

He seemed to keep wanting to spend time with me, on a day when all I’d planned to do was to go shopping and walk through the beautiful streets of New York and maybe go to a museum before meeting up with friends in the evening, so after a while, I thought: Why not? We spent the rest of the day together. When my friend Tom showed up later in the night and we all started talking, Tom gave me that familiar look my friends always give me: “You chose THIS guy?”

But it didn’t matter. After walking down crowded Fifth Avenue together all three of us, dazzled by the Christmas lights and decorations in the storefronts, it was great to have someone hold out his hand to mine and tell me he was happy that he’d met me. We didn’t have to be soulmates. This would do. When we all showed up at dinner, with my friends Nancy and Andrew, and then my cousin Bethania came by too, and they all met him, it felt totally natural. When he and I made our way back up to The Bronx in a cab and met up with Steve, and David, the guy who’d introduced me to open mics in the first place and truly changed my life, was there too, and a couple of my old friends I’d made that summer—Valerie and Shaun, the comedians—it felt right, too.

Of course, there was the whole slightly-awkward we me having slept with Dane over the summer, then sending an angry text, then writing a vengeful blogpost. (I admit it; I hope I don’t do it again, since it was the kind of thing I only understand now in hindsight months later. But no one’s perfect. Not me, not Taylor Swift.) And Dane was there, of course. Right as I walked into the bar I ran into him.

“Hey!” he exclaimed, opening his arms wide for a hug. “Back from the Crusades, huh?”

The comment didn’t really make much sense, but the things a person says don’t really have to make much sense when that person is as good-looking as Dane is.

“That’s right,” I said. “For a night, anyway. Thought I’d come by and play some music. I have no idea when I’ll be back in New York.”

“Well, welcome back, at least for a little while.”

I found myself wishing, as I went over to my table, that I’d handle things differently. Not necessarily romantically with Dane—it wasn’t like I was dying to get back with him, even if his beauty still shined like a beacon—but like I hadn’t really been fair to him in the summer. To anyone. I’d still been in a weird place back then and I didn’t have the self-possession back then that I had now. A self-possession that made living so much easier and treating people well so much easier, too.

But then I allowed myself to have a good time. Played some new songs, sounding way better than even just a few months earlier, before my musical life in Rome had begun. I caught up with David, Valerie, Shaun. With some of Steve’s friends, too. Went home drunk and late to Markos’ place again, slept through the alarm, had to totally rebook my train back to D.C. I was exhausted, hungover, jet-lagged, when I got off the train and barely managed to walk into Union Station. But it didn’t matter, because my friend Jonathan was waiting there for me, and as we made our way on the metro, we’d soon be standing in front of the door of one of the greatest people in my life: Adam.

*

Adam’s one of those people who’s been there for me through it all. When my life fell apart in 2013, he came up to New York and sat next to me while I lay down on my couch totally lost, barely able to get up. While I talked to him, he charted my moods and feelings so I could actually make sense of them. I was lost in the world and I was lost in myself back then. In 2014, when I doubted whether or not I really wanted to go to Paris, whether it was the right decision, he said to me: “Elisa. You have to go.” In 2015, he was still my go-to guy for advice regarding issues of a smaller scale; e.g., whether it made sense (OF COURSE IT DID) for him to take off work so we could go to a One Direction concert in New York together, for instance. He’d been with me in all my hardest moments, by my side, always offering advice with both a wisdom great for his age as well as emotional depth. I don’t know when this blog post became a love letter to Adam, but suddenly it has.

Perhaps because, in this blog, so far behind the dates of reality, it’s almost Christmas.

Perhaps because, without Adam, it would’t have been possible to know how to reply to the music industry guy, and with catty comments to boot. (E.G., “Elisa, he was definitely high while writing this reply.”) Perhaps because, like my family I was about to spend so much time with—a couple weeks in Uruguay—he was someone in my life that would always be there. I loved him. He loved me. It was simple.

So it was the perfect way to end the year with him, after dinner with Jonathan, to smoke pot and watch “Friends” until we fell asleep talking about how the best way to handle an ex-lover’s attentions was for me to sleep with him only after I’d finished writing my novel (since he always made me feel insecure after sex, and we didn’t want that to stall its completion).

And it was the perfect way to end my short D.C. visit with Adam and his roommate Morgan and my mother the next day in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, eating dinner first, then heading over to Madam’s Organ for an open mic. I was my usual eager self I am anytime I go to an open mic for the first time. We all got drinks, the M.C. flirted with my mother, my friend Rebecca showed up (you’ve met her already, from about a year ago when she visited me in Paris), and then the music finally started. All of the artists were good, really good, each one professional and with his own serious sound. (The only other woman there was performing with her boyfriend.) When I got up on the stage, I felt nervous. Not only because I wanted to sound good. But because I was playing some comedic songs about sex, and everyone seemed so serious, and my Mom was there. Besides, in Italy, no one understood what these songs meant. Here, they did.

“This is a special night for me,” I said, taking the guitar in my arms and speaking into the mic. “My Mom’s here.”

I started, loving watching Adam’s and Morgan’s and Rebecca’s expressions as they listened to me actually perform at a public place. They’d only heard my recordings or heard me in person. I avoided looking at my mother—I was much too nervous about that—and I couldn’t tell if anyone else at the bar was listening. I was distracted every time someone went outside to smoke—I’d had my last cigarette before returning to Europe back in New York, with Markos of course—but when I finished, and sat down, my friends and Mom all with wide eyes as I went over to them, I knew I’d done what mattered. I’d made them happy.

“Elisa,” Adam said. “No one talked while you sang. Everyone loved it.”

“And they were a bit shocked,” Rebecca said.

“It was amazing,” my Mom said. “Elisa, if you want, we can pay for a manager if you want one.”

It was a beautiful feeling, to have shared my music with everyone and to have made them so happy. It was just right. We spent a while drinking and talking and listening to music, but then the night started to slow down.

My Mom left first, joking that now that everyone knew she was my Mom she had no chance of taking anyone home with her (yes, I am aware that she is totally and hilariously amazing). Then Rebecca, who had to wake up early the next day. Then Adam, Morgan, and I all headed over to their place, Adam and I talking until we fell asleep as usual, and then the next day I left early to go to my parents’ place and finish up what was left of packing for an entirely different climate. Before we knew it my Mom and I were in the taxi on the way to the airport, where we’d catch the 13-hour-or-so trajectory through Miami to Montevideo. We were going down to Uruguay, one of the places I’ll always consider a home, even if I’m not from there, because of the people who are always there waiting for me to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s together. Because of the love I share with them, with my family there.

*

Hours later, totally jet-lagged—I wasn’t even sure what direction my jet-lag was going in anymore—my Mom and I arrived at the Carrasco airport just outside of Montevideo. My Dad came to pick us up, us three packed in the small car with all of our carry-ons, and instead of going to Montevideo like we usually do, we drove the long three hours to Punta Del Este***. We stopped for a long lunch by the seaside, and by evening, we were at my aunt and uncle’s summer house, where I got to meet—for the first time—my second-niece, my first second-niece ever! Amalia! The daughter of my cousin Rafael, a super down-to-earth, guitar-playing mathematician, and his just-as-fabulous wife Natalia, a cultured, fun-loving photographer who loves to travel just as much as I do. You can bet that their kid(s) will be as cool as they are.

The whole trip was like that, one of those pleasant journeys where you’re seeing your family all the time, and celebrating beautiful new things that you’ve experienced apart and can now experience together. And, of course, one of those journeys where you end up in the car driving back to Montevideo the next day and having insane fights with your parents, because that’s what happens when you’re in close quarters with your family again, especially when everyone’s stressed out about whether your brother’s flight arrived in time and whether your brother is even on the plane. And how when he does get off the plane he’ll only have an hour to sleep before we all have to get ready for Amalia’s confirmation, and you and your Mom are still jet-lagged, and your Dad is yelling because that’s what he does when he’s stressed-out, even though you know, deep down, that you subconsciously slow down whenever he does that. But then you all somehow still make it, twenty minutes late but the confirmation hasn’t started yet, and you walk into the church, and kiss everyone hello, and sit with your family, and it doesn’t matter that you were fighting for an hour straight. You’re all together now. And even if you don’t believe in God, you believe in all the things that everyone is wishing for this new child, the good things to be bestowed on her in this complicated experience we all share.

So when we all drove back that night to Punta Del Este, even more exhausted than the day before, it was with a feeling of being together in a special moment, in a special place, me and my brother and my parents and  I. The whole week was like that day of the confirmation, a mix of spending time together peacefully and spending time together at war. Our days were spent on the beach. Our nights on our rooftop patio overlooking the sea. We were visited by cousins—Ines and Pedro—and family friends too, a combination of Uruguayans my parents had befriended in the U.S. as part of their expat community and other ones they’d known since their schooldays in their home country. When it was just the four of us, my brother and my father and my mother and I, sometimes we’d have crazy, intense arguments in that tiny apartment, because we’re all emotional people whose emotions get heightened around the ones we love. After one especially terrible fight, though—one where my mother’s angry comments really hurt me—I somehow woke up the next morning with a sense of peace, suddenly understanding everyone in my family.

It wasn’t like last year, when it became clear to me what problems my parents had and what problems I’d inherited from them, either psychologically or genetically. This time around, spending time with them, I understood them for the first time fully as people, people whose flaws and imperfections are the very same things that make them wonderful, unique people in my life and in the world. I came to understand, too, that sometimes around my family I’m too sensitive, too insecure, when all I should really be doing is understanding that their best intentions are to show me the endless love they have for me. My brother seemed happier than he had been a year ago, too, and when I mentioned this to my mother, she said to me, “Well, Elisa, he’s gone through hard things.” I didn’t know what those things were. In the past, I would have wanted to know. But now I understood that there was no need to know the specifics, but only the general. And not just only about my family, but about everyone around me. At a certain point, we all go through hard things. Some of us write about it, like I do. Some of us don’t choose to share, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, the hard things we’ve gone through.

I felt such peace, then. I knew that every fight we had, even nasty things we said to each other, they didn’t matter. What matters is that we all love each other, and that, at the end of the day, we will be there for each other. Which is why my brother and I always go back there, even now that we’re in our mid- to late-twenties.

After a few days of adapting to jet lag and a lack of cigarettes, after all the stress and craziness of travel and end-of-semester lesson planning and grading I’d gone through in the past few weeks, after all these realizations about my family and finding that I could finally be calm again around them, after spending enough time at the beach, I started, at the beginning of the day, to write again. I hadn’t worked on my novel in a few weeks, but it had always been in the back of my mind, telling me: Write me. When I sat down in front of my laptop, downing cup after cup of the coffee I’d made with the moka I’d bought for my parents in Italy, I could feel that anxiety that comes after not having written in a long time. I was terrified. I Gchatted with my friends for a bit. But then they started to come to me, the words. I found myself immersed in the world I’d created. And because I had time, and my family was down at the beach relaxing and I had all my thoughts to myself, I started to build up a goal of writing three pages a day. During stressful times in Rome, I usually wrote about 1.5 pages a day. But it was time to catch up, and get fully immersed, and each day it got easier. And on days when there wasn’t time to write—when too much was scheduled in our itineraries—I forced myself not to stress about it. It would get written. And it would be good.

*

Christmas Eve, like we do every year, we made our way to my aunt and uncle’s place in Punta Del Este. We all sat at the table together, me and my brother, my aunt and uncle, my parents, my cousins—Pamela, Julieta (who was pregnant, and very close to her due date!), Rafael—Julieta’s partner Nico, Rafael’s wife, and we drank and ate and talked. Rafael and Natalia’s little daughter was with us too, watching all of us with her big eyes before bedtime, being passed around from person to person to hold and to kiss and to hug. I’m not in a place yet in my life where I’m thinking of having children—even if my Italian gynecologist refused to talk about me getting an IUD because she thinks I’m at the age where I should start thinking of having children—but being with family, and being with a new member of the family, is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world. You can see the future held there, the possibility of existence in a person and in the world. You can see the people who will love her and who will help her become who she wants to become, and how she too will change those people. My aunt and uncle are grandparents now. My cousin Rafael is a father.

When we went out at midnight to see the fireworks, a chill in the air like there always is in Punta Del Este, even if it’s summer, we held each other tight and looked up at the sky. There was a real magic that night, of being together. Perhaps because now all the people who had been children were grown-ups now, and we were standing women among women and men among men.

We looked up at the sky, too, when visiting my mother’s cousin’s place a few days later in the hills near seaside Piriapolis, the lights of the city far away enough that we could look up and see the stars almost bursting with light, as we drank wine and ate fresh ñoqui (the Spanish spelling of gnocchi, of course, in a country so full of Italian immigrants) and listened to music. My mother’s cousin’s daughters were the same ones I’d met up with over the summer, the ones who write music and sing like I do, and I spent some time catching up with Martina, who was in the middle of recording a new album. (You can check out her music here!) She agreed to send me some of her music and I agreed to keep her updated on my adventures, especially romantic ones, since on Christmas I broke my silence and What’s Apped Jim to tell him that I’d love to meet up with him again in the new year, as long as we went somewhere exotic and exciting like Morocco or Spain. (And he said yes!)

But my news was nothing compared to the news that was coming. The next day, on the morning of the 29th, my cousin Julieta’s baby was born, and a few days later, in the new year, my mother and brother and I were able to make it back to Montevideo to meet him right before we left on our flight back to the States (my Dad had to go to the airport to get the check-in process started). We went over to Julieta and Nico’s place, and my brother Nico (there’s two Nicos; it’s a very common name) and my Mom and I took turns holding the baby and playing with the dog, Principe. Many pictures were taken and posted on our What’s App family group message. It was a beautiful sunny day, and after the visit that had to end early because we might miss our flight otherwise, we walked out onto the street, to the car packed with all our things, and basked in that warm sunlight for just a few extra seconds. We were taking it all in, the love and the light. And then we were off to the airport, coming back after two weeks that had sped by so quickly that it felt like we were leaving too soon. As if, in fact, we’d just arrived.

*Name changed for the usual reason.

**Name changed for privacy reasons, since this guy is semi-famous.

***You last met her in the summer, when she had just started her architecture internship in New York—now, it was her last few weeks at her internship.

****Some of these dates might be slightly spotty. I keep an impeccable calendar, but while in Uruguay, I mostly followed my parents’ itinerary that they’d set up, which means that I don’t have an exact calendar for everything we did. That said, I’ve teamed up with the expert—my mother—to be as accurate as possible.

The Grand Tour (Part I): Naples, Rome, New York

Seeing Helena again, the Neapolitan light shining on her hair, felt like such a gift that it seemed like much more than five days since the last time we’d seen each other. I was exhausted out of my mind from our Christmas-themed Open Mic the night before, and from wandering around between the train station and one of the best coffee places I’ve been to in Italy—Mexico—after coming down on the fast train from Rome, but seeing her was all I needed to get my energy back up again.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Sometimes, the train just…comes forty minutes late.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “You’re here now, and that’s what matters. And I’m already so in love with Naples!”

But we had lost a big chunk of daylight. The sun of Naples, so much brighter than that of Rome, was close to setting. Despite the fact that it was only 4 PM, the day was already waning—it was mid-December, the shortest day of the year was almost upon us—so we made a quick plan. Get a quick coffee at Mexico, since it was nearby (the one near the station is the best one in Naples); stop by a nearby bakery that served the best sfoglattele in Naples, since we were so close; walk down through the old little streets of Napoli on the way to the Christmas markets (especially requested by my roommate Kristen), grab a drink on the way; walk through the large piazza with its statue of Dante standing watchful in the middle in the middle; make our way to the bay and have another drink beer looking out at the water.

As we stood in line at the bakery, our second stop, I had to explain to her a series of complications in my sex life that I can’t talk about here (requested by the other person involved). Mostly complaints, of course, considering how it usually is with me. She, on the other hand, talked to me about moving into her new place, and about how it was actually all going a lot more smoothly than she’d expected it to. Renovations to the place were going well; the pull-out couch I was going to sleep on had actually arrived on time. Even after months of dating, she and George were still in their honeymoon phase, enjoying each other’s company after spending so much time long-distance. And anytime she and George argued—and I know what she’s like in an argument—they would always find a way to apologize to each other after.

“I fucked up dinner the other night, and I totally blamed him, I was so angry,” she said. “But he forgave me for saying what I said.”

As we walked up the winding streets of Naples, I updated her about Rome, about Open Mic,  about Amy and Alicia, about Marco from work. About my forthcoming travels in the States, about what it would be like to see my family. What it would be like to see the other greatest city in the world: New York. We talked about literature and films, and politics of course. I never run out of things to talk about with Helena. After stopping by a place for what would be our first aperitivo of the night, an aperitivo with many more offerings than the ones in Rome, because everything is larger and more copious and less expensive in the south, we realized that we weren’t really sure where were going. We retraced our steps, managed to find our way to the piazza where all the Christmas markets were supposed to be.

“Maybe it’s a different piazza?” she said, looking down at her phone. “But I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to be here.”

We tried to figure out where these exalted Christmas markets were, but we never did seem to find them. But we did find a bookstore that was selling English language books outside at absurdly low prices, and we did stand in the middle of the Dante statue piazza where she and George had shared their first kiss. And we walked out toward the water, found a little place to drink some beer and smoke some cigarettes right next to the bay.

“Oh,” I said, taking my phone off airplane mode for a second. “He texted me. I don’t understand it. I really don’t. I thought he didn’t want anything to do with me, but now he’s texting me, telling me to have a nice weekend in Naples? With a smiley face?”

But just as easy as it had been to switch my phone off of airplane mode, it was easy to switch it back, and to focus on what was ahead of me: Naples, one last night in Rome, the flight to New York. New York itself. I texted a quick message back, unsure of how it would be received, then switched it back to airplane mode. Helena and I talked about how great Naples was, how culturally rich and energetic and beautiful it was, and how it was such a shame that it was suffering so much economically.

“It really explains it, why all these Italian women want to just go to the American navy base and find a husband there,” she said. “There are no jobs for Italians. And with Italian culture the way it is, with women being economically reliant on their families and then their husbands, then…well, you can’t really blame them.”

It was something we all talked about, me and my expat friends, always making comparisons. Sure, Naples was a magical place. There was a mix of chaos and beauty there that really reminded me, actually, of New York. And I was definitely way more attracted to southern Italians, I’d come to discover, than the ones in the middle of the country. But the mafia was much more powerful here, so there was more corruption and far fewer opportunities. And then there was the other issue Helena and I talked about all the time, and Alicia and Amy too, about the role of women and how it was so traditional here compared to what we were used to back in the States. Sure, it meant that sometimes you got free coffees or the best seat at a restaurant. But it also meant that guys were really pushy when they wanted to ask you out. Even more than in the States.

But as we made our way to the main street, stopped at another place for aperitivo because George was running late at work, I couldn’t help but be charmed by Naples, by all of Italy, despite the problems that it had. When we finally took the train out to their neighborhood and spent the rest of the night in a pizzeria and then a bar near their place with cheap drinks and lively people and music, drink and drinking and smoking too, finishing a bottle of wine when we got back to their place, too, I found myself so grateful that I was living in Italy. And that I was lucky enough to take this trip to Naples, to where Helena could show me her new world.

*

The next day, we woke up late, super hungover, and after hours of getting ready for our day, Helena and I finally made our way to Pompeii. George dropped us off at the station (since their house is in the suburbs of Naples), then we took a train into Naples, then we took a train to Pompeii. By the time we got there, exhausted and still reasonably hungover, we only had an hour to explore the place, because it was off-season at their hours were shorter. But we went in anyway, walked through the ancient city and its remnants preserved by the volcano’s eruption, listening to the audio guide as we got an idea of the shape of the city. I’d gone many years before, when I was a young girl, and going now I appreciated it so much more. My favorite part was the brothel, where you could still see remnants of old paintings they’d made there to inspire lust in clients. We didn’t spend nearly enough time there, so I made a promise to myself that next time I had the chance I’d spend a full day in Pompeii.

“We can catch the train back to Naples, and wait for George,” she said. “I think he’s still at work. Or…we could go down to Sorrento.”

“How far is it?”

“I don’t know. An hour, maybe?”

I was exhausted, we were still hungover even though it was almost evening, but I didn’t want to live a life of regrets. I wanted to live a life full of experiences.

“Let’s go to Sorrento,” I said.

So we took the little rickety 2-euro train down to Sorrento, catching glimpses of the sea every once in a while in the setting sun, and by the time we got there it was dark, and beautiful, and Christmas lights were hanging everywhere in this seaside Italian town, everyone dressed to the nines as they strolled down the streets that all inevitably led to the water. We had coffee, we had lemon pastries, we had more aperitivo, we stopped inside a dress store, where a black and blue dress that shimmered caught my eye, and even though it was a little out of my price range, I knew it had to be mine. We continued on, my shopping bag bouncing against my body as we walked, and then we were there, at a promenade looking out over the water, at the islands and coastline glittering out in front of us. It was going to be hard to say goodbye to Italy. Even if it was just a for a little while.

But the magic didn’t end in Sorrento. How could it, with Italy being Italy? As we rode the rickety train all the way back to Naples, I got a Facebook message from Fede, the Argentine guy I’d met in Rome the week before.

“Hey!” he said. “I’m in Naples a day earlier than I thought I’d be, and my brother’s with me! Are you here?”

“Yes!” I typed back, excited. “We don’t have a lot of time, but we can get a quick beer.”

When we got to the station, we met Fede and his brother at the Feltrinelli, one of the big Italian bookstore chains, and then went out in search for a place to get a drink. His brother, Nico, mentioned that if we just walked ten minutes we’d find the best pizzeria in Naples. They’d make the pizza fast, and we could have some beer even if we weren’t super-hungry.

When we got there, of course, the line was super-long, and being in the hurry we were in, we went across the street to the second-best pizzeria in Naples. The pizzas came fast, as did the beer, and as we talked we all got to know each other better. I knew a little bit about Fede, that he was an actor with a good sense of humor who I totally wanted to sleep with, but I learned more about him, about how he wanted to move to Spain to pursue his acting there. His brother, a little older (so, mine and Helena’s age), was already living in Spain as a tour guide, but switched cities every couple of years—a real world traveler. When dinner was finally over—because of course we couldn’t say no to Neapolitan pizza, even if I’m actually crazy and prefer the Roman variety—Helena pulled me aside and said it was fine if I wanted to keep hanging out with them.

“What?” I said. “Yeah, I want to sleep with him, but you are my priority.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, okay, but why don’t see what’s going on with the trains? If there’s a later train out to our place, I can go back before you, and then you can hang out with them a little longer.”

Of course such a situation would still not end in sex, but I could at least spend some time with my new friends, which is never a bad thing.

“Okay. We’ll see.”

We got to the station, where dogs were running around everywhere, and Fede and Nico made jokes about how they’d never really left Argentina in the first place. But they suddenly stopped making jokes when we realized that there were no trains left. Not even one right now.

“I have to call George,” Helena said.

We didn’t know what to do. For George to drive in to pick us up, it would take about an hour, especially once he hit Neapolitan traffic in the center of the city. A taxi would be too expensive. A guy cleaning up the station said he’d be happy to drop us off close to where we had to be—a classic kind Italian gesture—but we didn’t know how we felt about putting him out. When Helena finally got off the phone, we had our verdict: George would be coming to pick us up. Because it would take him a while to come out, we had time now to hang out a little more.

We ended up walking the winding streets of Naples for twenty minutes, beautiful and lit up, heading to Piazza Bellini. As we walked, me and Fede talked for a while, about the different things we saw ourselves doing in the future.

“I know this might sound crazy,” I said, “but if I can make it work, I’d love to live half the year in Rome and half the year in New York. And travel summers around the world. Teaching English, maybe, or volunteering.”

“New York and Rome? Aren’t they totally different?”

“Yeah,” I said. “New York’s crazy. Rome’s romantic.”

I suddenly realized, that maybe that was why I loved them so much—both cities defined the very way I chose to live my life.

Piazza Bellini was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in my life. And I’d just come back from Sorrento three hours prior. The old buildings painted pink and yellow in the light, young people everywhere, drinking and talking, trees all around them, and the little bars with candles on their tables and wide white patio umbrellas above them. But me and Helena were only able to enjoy for it half an hour or so. When George called saying he’d arrived, we left our unfinished drinks to Fede and Nico, then made our way back to their place. Helena and I stayed up a little longer, finishing up a bottle of wine. All I wanted was to stay in Naples longer, to enjoy it more with her and not to have say goodbye to her. But I had to go home, and the next day when I got on the train back to Rome, my last day in Rome before I headed out to New York, I had the memories of Naples to accompany me on the ride.

*

I packed all day. I packed, I cleaned, I made sure I had everything I needed. Because I’d be spending the next month in New York, Uruguay, Washington DC, and Boston. Then I’d have one night in Rome, and then I’d leave again, for Egypt, to travel there with Amy. As the day continued and the day turned into night, I wondered whether it would be best to skip the Christmas parties I’d been invited to. One was local, a cookie-decorating party at Mackenzie’s place, and the other one was forty-ish minutes away at Alicia’s, and would consist in an absurd amount of drinking. Which, you know, was probably not the best idea for me considering that I had a flight to catch the next day. But I don’t have to tell you what I ended up deciding. You know that I ended up going to both parties, after I finished packing, and that I got home so late I only had time to sleep a couple hours. When I got to the airport, despite it all, I was buzzing with energy, so excited to be back in New York again, even for just a couple of days.

It was a long journey, with a stopover in London, and I forced myself to stay awake as long as possible on the Virgin air flight, knowing that if I went to sleep too long I’d totally mess myself up with jet lag later. I blogged, watched movies, drank the bottles of wine that the air stewardesses practically threw my way. (You’ve got to love the Brits for their unbeatable drinking culture.) I took a short nap at the end of the flight, and then we were there, landing in New York. It was refreshing as it always is, to see and hear English again, with its brash American sound. After a surprisingly short wait at passport control, I went to pick up my enormous luggage at baggage claim, then walked out to where everyone was waiting for their family and friends to arrive. I called my Mom to tell her I’d arrived safely, then took a cab to Queens, where my friend Blake—a New York friend I’d made through Katie—had left the keys for me in her mailbox. She was out at a work event, and wouldn’t be back till late. I walked into her beautiful little apartment, the kind of place I imagine myself living, one day, full of books and artwork on the walls, and started to unpack the stuff I’d separated for the next couple of days. Texted her to let her know I’d arrived.

It seemed rude to me to go to sleep before she arrived, since she was hosting me, but on 3 hours of sleep from Saturday night and 2 more on the plane ride, and considering that it was now almost 5 a.m. Monday in Rome, I finally changed into my PJs and closed my eyes. Just as sleep was starting to spill over me, I heard the door. I got up, switched on the light.

“Ohmigod!” I exclaimed. “It’s so good to see you! And don’t worry, I literally just got into bed. You didn’t wake me up.”

“Oh, I thought you’d go to sleep right when you got here,” she said. “So after the event I went on a really horrible date. And ate a very good burger. And then after my date I started texting an ex, which probably wasn’t the best idea.”

It surprised me, hearing Blake open up like this about all her love troubles. The beauty of her apartment, the success she had at a job she loved, after having slaved away so long at The Strand, the way she always seemed to have something to laugh about, had given me the impression that she was in control of everything in her life. But probably a lot of people would think the same thing about me, traveling all the time and working at a great university in a city I loved, if I didn’t have a blog where I wrote about all the crazy things in my life that I have no control over at all.

“Do you want to get a drink?” I said. “I’m starving anyway. And I don’t want to go to bed. It’s been so long. We should catch up.”

I recalled my mother’s warning, when I’d called her, to make sure I slept. She could tell I was tired. But friendship is more important than all that. You can always sleep later.

So we went out in the cold and walked through the residential streets of Queens until we came across a block with bars.

“Is your kitchen still open?” we asked.

“No, just closed, sorry,” the bartender said. “But there’s a place nearby where you can get Mexican food. You can bring it in here, it’s fine.”

“What do you think?” Blake asked.

“We can drink here first, then see,” I said. “Honestly having a drink and catching up sounds perfect. And please forgive me if I sound crazy. I haven’t slept.”

We talked about all the typical things that twenty-somethings talk about: about work, about men, about books we were reading. I was grateful, suddenly, that my cousin who was living New York hadn’t been able to host me, because this was the first time Blake and I were hanging out one-on-one without Katie, and it was the kind of time spent together that builds a friendship. By the end of the night, we were sitting on her floor together drunk, eating delicious delivered Chinese food. God, how I had missed it all, talking to the strangers at the bar, ordering food at any hour of the night, talking loud. The next morning, when we got brunch at a nearby place and the coffee was nothing like it was in Italy, I didn’t even care. Because I was back in the States, in the greatest city in the States, and I’d missed it so much. That’s the only downside to living an international lifestyle. The more you travel, the more you have people and places to miss. When you’re with them, you’re reminded of the choice you’ve made, to choose adventure over a more settled life.

*

And it felt like such an adventure, as I walked around Queens, got on the train, made my way to Manhattan. When I got off the train, I made my way to Central Park, just like a typical tourist. I was going to meet up with Valerie, the friend I’d made in New York over the summer through the open mic I’d often frequented, but I was early, so I walked into the park, looking up in awe as always at the tall buildings looming over the trees. Then I got on the train, made my way uptown, on the same train I’d taken all summer back up to my little room in The Bronx, memories coming back to me like they always did when the train came out from underground and I could see all the buildings passing by, and the Hudson River too. I got that strange feeling I always got at 125th street, from back when I was in grad school in New York and my life was sad and lonely and so different from how it was now. Sometimes, when I scroll through Facebook and go back in time through my life, I can’t believe how much it’s changed, from year to year and now season to season.

I made my way to the same Starbucks we’d met up at over the summer, stopping into a bodega to buy some cigarettes on the way—American spirits, the only American brand that is slightly palatable—and was late as usual, the way I’m late to everything at least fifteen minutes. But when I saw Valerie and we hugged hello, and I saw the smile on her face, I knew it didn’t matter. We started to catch up right away, talking about teaching and writing and dating, of course. A lot of her stand-up reflected her sarcastic, crazy attitude toward the world and its male inhabitants.

“Have you seen Dane at all?” she asked, referring to the guy I’d been seeing over the summer and totally fucked up things with after sending him a crazy text.

“What? No.”

“I ran into him the other day. Asked him if he missed you.”

“Haha, what? No you didn’t. What did he say?”

“He said yes.”

I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. And I didn’t know if I was rolling them because of him or because of myself, and the romantic entanglements I got myself into.

We spent an hour talking, and then I walked her back to her street before hugging goodbye and agreeing to see each other the next night at Open Mic. Where, of course, Dane would be. I had no idea what his reaction would be like, and I’d been scared of running into him inevitably, but I’m not the kind of person who allows fear to get in the way of anything. Especially encounters with ex-lovers.

Or at least, I thought I wasn’t. When I made it back to Manhattan, got off the train and pulled out my phone to give Blake a call, see if she wanted to get dinner or go out to karaoke with me and some friends, I saw a notification flash on my phone. A What’s App message. From Jim. I always forced myself to wait a couple of hours before reading his messages, because I was always afraid of what they’d say, but when it started to rain around me and I found myself inside of a Duane Reade at the end of a long line of other people buying umbrellas like I was, I found myself opening up What’s App to see what he’d said.

“Are you in New York?” he’d asked.

My thumb lingered over the screen a few seconds as I thought of what to type. In fact, I could not reply at all. I wasn’t ready yet, to tell him what I wanted. That was why I was waiting until the new year. Something in me told me that closer to then I’d know, I’d have my answer, 100%, about whether or not I wanted to see him again. Whether or not I wanted to ever even talk to him again. But now he’d messaged me and I felt totally unsure now, of what to say.

“Yes,” I wrote finally, then tucked the phone back into my pocket fast as I was called up to pay for my umbrella.

When I went outside again, protected by umbrella, I stood against the storefront and pulled out my phone again. He’d replied.

“I’m in New York for work,” he said. “If you don’t have plans already, if you’re not too busy as you always are, it would be great to see you. I know you were waiting until next year, but I’m here. It would be shame not to see each other.”

I walked through the streets of New York, put on Taylor Swift in my headphones, walking by the tall buildings I’d walked by so many times before, all dressed up in their Christmas decorations. My feet were getting slightly wet because of my 15 euro boots I’d bought in Paris, ones I’d hoped would last me until the end of the season, and I told myself I was thinking about it, considering it, but by the time I reached Times Square, the lights all around me so alive, I knew that I’d already made up my mind.

I called up Blake, told her what had happened. Texted my friend who wanted to meet up for karaoke and told him I’d just see him the next night at the open mic at An Beal Bocht Cafe. And then I opened up What’s App.

“Sure,” I wrote back to Jim. “I’m free.”

*

It felt stupid, but I ended up going into the H&M on Fifth Avenue and buying a cheap but beautiful dress, because the one I was wearing wouldn’t do it justice. Do what justice? I wasn’t really sure. I found a Starbucks that would actually let me use their bathroom, changed, wished that my hair looked better and that I didn’t look so exhausted from all my travel while I applied my makeup again. Then I went back out into the rain, made my way to a bar I’d never been to a little farther downtown. When I got there, shook the water off my umbrella, I couldn’t help as I walked into the dimly lit place that none of this was real, but then when I saw him sitting there at the bar, there was no mistaking it. I’d recognize him anywhere. I’d seen him in my mind so many times, imagined a moment like this so many times, and here he was.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hey. It’s really good to see you.”

“Yeah,” I said, my voice almost breaking from nerves. “It’s good to see you, too.”

I didn’t even know if I meant it, though, because I didn’t yet know how to feel.

“What do you want to drink? I was waiting to order. Gin and tonic?”

It was the same drink the both of us had gotten, one after the other, back the first time we’d met in Madrid more than a year ago.

“Sure. That sounds good.”

“Two gin and tonics, please,” he said to the bartender, then turned right back to me. “Listen, Elisa. I lied. I’m not here for work.”

“What?”

“I was afraid that if I said why I was really here, you wouldn’t come. And I had to see you.”

“Two G&Ts,” the bartender said, interrupting our conversation for one second as he placed the drinks between us.

I grabbed mine immediately, sipped from my drink as if my life depended on it.

“I saw what you posted on Facebook, about heading off to New York,” Jim explained. “And I know you said you were going to wait until the new year to tell me whether we should see each other again, and I was going to wait for that to come visit you in Rome, but I thought about all your adventures coming up. New York, DC, Uruguay…I didn’t want to wait. I want to go on all your adventures with you, Elisa.”

I stopped sucking furiously on my straw.

“What?”

“I even think we were at the airport at the same time,” he continued. “I almost messaged you then, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. I was actually afraid we might end up on the same flight. But fortunately I was able to meet you when I was ready.”

“Ready for what?”

He started to dig in the pockets of his coat that was hanging next to him on a hook at the bar, and I told myself he was just pulling out his wallet to pay. But instead he pulled out a small box, opened it up in front of me. It was a ring, and the diamond was gleaming, somehow collecting all the lights of the bar inside of it. I could feel my heart beating fast. I had to close my eyes and open them again. None of it felt real. I didn’t know if this was in my head. I didn’t know what to think.

“Marry me, Elisa,” he said. “You’ll never have to be alone. I love you, and that’s all I really know.”

I looked at Jim. He was looking at me the way I’d always wanted him to, his eyes shining beneath his shaggy hair with a kind of strong desire that was more than just sexual, that defined him wanting me for all that I was. Every part of me. But now that it was finally happening, it didn’t feel right. How could he want me for all that I was when we barely even knew each other? We’d only spent a few sexy weekend together, and the last one had ended with my crying on the train from London to Paris, fully aware of how things would never be the way I wanted them to be. And now they were they I’d wanted them to be—but back then, when I had wanted him, I realized now, for all the wrong reasons. Because I’d still been searching for a love that would complete me, when what I had really needed was to complete myself on my own.

I didn’t know how to say it, how to tell him that. I didn’t want to hurt him. I was still attracted to him, I still enjoyed his company, he was still the kind of person seeing myself with, if I had the time to get to know him and we started to make each other so happy that we started to see a future together.

“Jim,” I said finally, sounding a lot harsher than I meant to. “This is crazy. We don’t know each other at all.”

“I know it is,” he said. “But life is crazy, too. Unpredictable. And however little we know each other, I know I won’t ever meet anyone like you again. Don’t you think we’d make each other happy?”

“I do.” I could feel people staring at us. I said under my breath, “Can you put that away?”

“I…I thought you’d say yes,” he said, looking away from me for a second before closing the box and holding it between his hands. This time, it was his turn to drink furiously from his unsipped drink.

The shock I’d gone through, and then the thinking, finally gave way to emotion. Because emotions will always flood into me, eventually, no matter what’s holding them back. I could feel tears start to form in my eyes, and I wasn’t sure if I was upset for his being rejected or if I was just overwhelmed by what was going on.

I placed my hands on his. It still felt so natural to do that, even in a moment like this.

“There’s still so much I have to know about what I want,” I said. “I need to figure it out, and I need to do it alone. It’s not about you. I do think we’d make each other very happy. I just don’t think this is the time to do it.” I took a breath for what felt like the first time in forever, wiped a stray tear from my cheek before placing my hand back on his. “I’d love to spend some time getting to know each other. If you want. We can take it slow. We can see. But so many of my adventures—I have to do them on my own. I can’t take you with me. I’m sorry. I know you thought I’d say yes. But that’s what I mean. About how we don’t know each other yet. I never thought you’d ask me to date you, let alone marry you. And you always thought I’d say yes.”

He didn’t say anything. I didn’t know how he could. We sat there in silence for a few minutes, avoiding each other’s eyes after what I’d said, our hands still together. It felt like we were in the center of everything, like all of Manhattan and New York City existed only for us to be there together, at this little bar. I found myself wishing that somehow something would work out between us. I didn’t know what. Even if it was just a few dates before we realized that things wouldn’t work out. But I didn’t know if that would be possible now, after I’d said no to him. He’d flown all the way from London to New York, just for me. Just for this.

“Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe this is crazy. I just don’t want to lose it. A chance with you.”

I couldn’t help smiling.

“Jim,” I said, touching his face that was so familiar, even after not having touched him like that in months. “As long as I’m single, you’ll always have a chance with me. And you know I’m very good at staying single. Is that enough…of a yes? For now?”

He nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “If that’s what you’ll give me, I’ll take it.” He glanced toward the door. “It looks like it’s stopped raining. Do you want to explore New York together? Just one small adventure here, before you go off on your own adventures and I return to London?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That sounds perfect.”

The Last Nights of Rome of 2015

It was finally December, which meant that the end of the semester was coming, that the last week of Helena being in Rome was here, and in a few days I’d be in Naples visiting her, in a week I’d be back in the States, and then soon after that I’d be in Uruguay, celebrating the holidays with my family. So as usual, I packed everything possible into that last week in Rome, because I knew—even if I’d been here several months already, and I missed the States and my friends and my family—that the moment I left I’d have that same terrible feeling I have every time I leave Rome, a city that has thoroughly stolen my heart.

So the very first of December, Alicia and Amy and Helena came over, with the idea that we’d drink some wine and they’d draw me while I modeled (nude, of course). But the heating had stopped working in my apartment, due to very annoying logistical problems having to do with the administrator of our building not having paid the heating bills in years (Italy, you have your charms, but you also have your problems!), and everyone arrived late, so instead we went straight to our usual tradition. More wine, and thai food, too. Helena slept over. The next day was debaucherous, too, as Helena and Oliver and I drank or glasses of red wine at Open Mic. I drank a lot, especially, because it was so strange, to have feelings for Sal and to not know what to do about it. So I did what I could to act normal around him, even though it was totally impossible. But it helped that my heart too was reaching out to Helena, who was leaving in just two days. I even dedicated some songs to her, including Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight.”

When Sal found out she was leaving, that this was my way of saying goodbye, he reached out, touched my shoulder, said: “I’m so sorry.” And my heart nearly jumped out of my chest, but it also ached, reminded of just how much emptier my life would be here in Rome once Helena left it.

But at least I’d be going to Naples right before leaving the country for more than a month.

And at least I was living it up as much as I could, and making sure to include Helena.

But on Thursday, she needed a day off. I should have had one too, considering that I was still recovering from the craziness that had been Barcelona, and had been going out all week, but as night came I had that familiar urge: to go to Open Mic. At the last minute I decided to go, and I was lucky enough to be able to land a spot in the lineup (Sal always seems to make sure I get to go). Oliver was there too, and he ended up introducing me to Ellen*, an artist from Friesland who was couch-surfing with Sal. As she and I spoke—and she talked about the show she was having here at a gallery in Rome, and the print work she was—it turned out we had a lot in common. And we were both in love with Rome, too. It was one of those nights I was glad to go out, even if I was tired, even if I had long travels in front of me, because whenever you take a chance, open yourself up, there’s always something new waiting for you, something unexpected.

*

And then Friday came, and it was one of the most beautiful nights of my life. And one of the most bittersweet, too.

It started quite mainstream, with a multitude of faculty meetings at JCU, which culminated with an end of the year aperitivo. As we exited the last faculty meeting, they handed us a gift bag that contained a bottle of prosecco and a box of panettone—a Christmas tradition among all employers here in Italy—and then we all poured out to where they were serving drinks (wine, prosecco, coffee, of course) and food of all kinds. When I’d first arrived at JCU they’d done the same thing at the end of our all-faculty meeting, but this time everyone was in a holiday mood. And my love for Sal, my infatuation, was running through my veins like alcohol, so once I started drinking, I only got more drunk.

So when one of my colleagues approached me, a guy I’d only spoken to a couple times in the context of meetings, and he said it was good to see me at a meeting, that it was a shame not more people had come, I said:

“Well, I mean, a lot of people have lives, you know? They don’t have the time to go.”

“Wait…” he said. “Are you saying I don’t have a life?”

“I’m saying that neither of us do.” I sipped my prosecco. “You know. Some people have husbands and wives. Children. Worries in their lives outside of those we do.”

He raised his eyebrows. I’m very sweet usually, and thoughtful, and at work, obviously, I’m very professional. But this was also my first office Christmas party, and I was also pumped (and dressed nicely) for what was coming later in the evening: dinner with Helena and Alicia and Amy, after which we’d go over the The Druid’s Den to watch Sal’s band play. So I was feeling playful. Flirtatious. And I guess he was too, because when I mentioned to Marco** that I was seeing friends in a bit, that I couldn’t stay long, he said:

“Oh, so you have to drink a lot now, then.”

“What?”

“You know. You’re American. Americans like drinking a lot, don’t they?”

“Well, I mean, I’m not going to pre-game. I’m waiting to start drinking with my friends.” I felt the weight of my purse on my arm. “But you’re right. I should get another glass.”

He got another glass too, and at a certain point—I am sorry, dear readers, but I do not recall the reason, if it was to date or merely to send me something—I gave him my email. I wasn’t even sure how I felt about him, but the buzz in my body said something (either I was tipsy, or I was into him, or I was just generally feeling fabulous). And then I had to hightail it out of there, because I didn’t want to run late to meet up with Helena at the Mexican place. So I went home, dropped off some things, decided to keep the bottle of prosecco for later in the night and the panettone for Helena (since I hate panettone and she loves it). Hopped into a cab, got out at a Mexican place called La Cucaracha.

“Sorry I’m late,” I said to Helena when I got there.

I was already feeling kind of bad, because earlier that week, Helena and I had gotten into a little bit of a fight. Nothing big, but the kind that friends get into, and it wasn’t the kind of fight that I wanted to get into right before she was leaving. It had to do with our plans that night, and with the fact that, since I couldn’t seem to wrangle up plans with anyone that night before the concert, I’d made plans with another friend, Mackenzie, to have dinner with. Mackenzie was a new friend, I’d met her at Expats, and after coming to Open Mic with me just once in November, we’d chatted a little bit and realized that we had a lot in common. Mackenzie and I were both driven American women living in Rome, and she’d even gone to JCU a few years ago, back before I was teaching there. We shared a love of wholesome things like cookies and arts and crafts and Glee, but we were also adventurous and wild. So when I got back from Barcelona I asked her if she wanted to hang out. She was free on Friday. Problem was, when Helena and Amy and Alicia finally got back to me about Friday, I’d already made plans with Mackenzie.

Helena had been upset about this, understandably. Not even getting dinner together on her last night in Rome before she moved away?

“I don’t know who this Mackenzie person is,” she’d said, “but I’m pretty upset.”

I’d had to go back, explain the whole situation to Mackenzie, which was awkward since we’d only hung out once and I really wanted to hang out with her again. It was the sort of thing that can make someone think you’re trying to flake on them. And it ended with me making new dinner plans, with Mackenzie as well as the usual ladies (Helena, Amy, Alicia, and me, if you haven’t figured that out just yet), and I wasn’t sure if anyone was 100% happy with the changes I’d made.

So now, I was arriving at the restaurant late—not too late, maybe only 15 minutes—and Helena was waiting there for me.

But she was cheery. Despite the fact that Amy and Alicia had both ended up getting out of work late, and now couldn’t make it to dinner, she was cheery. Mackenzie had ended up canceling because she didn’t feel well, so now it was just me and Helena again. Me and Helena, us two, like always. She even apologized for getting upset. We ordered some sangrias, well aware that they would pale in comparison to those we’d had in Barcelona, and when the food came we became aware, too, that the food there would pale in comparison to Mexican food back in the States, but it was the same magic as always, as we drank and talked and the waiters tried to flirt with us. So when we took a cab out to The Druid’s Den, on our way to listen to The Waistcoats, I was only a little nervous about Sal being there. Because whatever happened in my romantic life, in friendship, I was so blessed. Helena, Amy, Alicia, Oliver***. The guys from Open Mic. And now Mackenzie, too, who I was already planning another night with to grab some drinks near my place.

So we sat down, me and Helena, and Amy and Alicia joined us soon after. Sal was up front and center, and as I watched him play, I pretended all the love songs he sang were about me. Ellen, the couch surfer I’d met the other night, was there too, and whenever he played dance songs, she, me, and Amy, all of us danced, the other patrons at The Druid’s Den accommodating enough to move their chairs in a little so there’d be room for us to dance where people usually walked through to carry their drinks from the bar to their seats. And we drank and talked and smoked as usual.

Even better, Paul and Alfonso were there, whom I had barely had the chance to see those days, since Paul had moved out of Rome to a town just outside of it, and Alfonso had been busy with a lot of non-music-related (AKA real life) stuff. Two of my favorite people in the world, who I always have fun talking to and singing with—they often came to Open Mic, and tonight Alfonso was playing the bass and Paul was playing the mandolin, which is pretty badass—and they were here, too! Even after the gig was over, everyone stayed at the bar, ordering more drinks. At a certain point, we all went to sit outside and I pulled out my bottle of prosecco and the panettone and shared with everyone.

“Come on,” Alfonso said when I asked him to open the bottle for me. “No one wants warm prosecco.”

“I do,” I said.

“We do,” Helena insisted.

“We do!” Amy exclaimed, even more exuberant than her usually exuberant self now that she’d had a few drinks.

“Okay,” he said, and uncorked the bottle.

Amy was sick, but we all shared anyway. It was that kind of night; it was that kind of love.

“And Helena,” I said, “I have a surprise for you!”

I pulled out the panettone.

“It’s for you,” I said, “but we should probably share.”

“I can’t believe you’re giving this to me,” she said, opening the package.

“Well,” I said, tearing off a piece, “I hate panettone, is the thing.” I ate a bite. “It’s not so bad, though, when I’ve been drinking.”

I was waxing poetic a lot that night, too, due to my intake of alcohol combined with the fact that Helena was leaving, combined with the fact that a week later I’d be leaving and traveling for longer than a month. I was having such a beautiful night, it was exactly what I’d wanted the night to be, and as Helena drunkenly lectured me and Amy about how careful we’d have to be when we were in Egypt, I felt myself so buoyed by how perfect my life was. And I was excited for adventure, for travel, for what it held for me—even if that meant I’d have to leave Rome for a while, a place where I was finally living the kind of life I’d always wanted for myself, always dreamed of.

But not everything is rosy in paradise. Just as the bar was closing, Alfonso realized that his bag had been stolen. Which mean that his car keys were there, his ID. The night took a bad turn, and all of us were affected by it. And when Helena and I climbed into a cab half an hour later, and she was angry with me for not talking to Sal about how I felt about him (it didn’t seem entirely right to go around confessing feelings for someone when everyone’s busy thinking about how to solve a problem—and also Helena was half-right, in that I was being far too shy for my own good), our drunken arguing was so bad that she almost didn’t spend the night with me. But I insisted, told her it didn’t matter that we were fighting, told her it would mean a lot to me if she stayed.

“Don’t you want cafe and cornetti in the morning with me?” I asked.

“You’re right,” she said.

And we got out of the cab, and we went up to my place, and we spent some time before falling asleep talking. I was so happy that the night hadn’t ended badly with her, that we’d managed to make up. When we woke up the next day, we had a quick cafe and cornetti, and then I walked her to the bus stop.

“Ciao bella,” I said when the bus finally came. “See you in Naples soon!”

*

That afternoon, Marco, my colleague who I’d flirted with the day before, emailed me.

He said he hoped that I’d had a nice night with my friends, and asked me if I wanted to go to an aperitivo with him the coming week. But I didn’t want to think about that. Not now. Because I’d been talking to Sal over Facebook chat, and I had a new plan. I’d come over to his place, practice ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ with him (for some Christmas-themed songs I was planning on singing at my last Open Mic before I traveled for a thousand year), and, finally alone together, I’d tell him exactly how I felt. It would be perfect.

So when I messaged him about practicing again, and he said that Sunday worked, I was totally thrilled. The next day, Sunday, couldn’t come fast enough, but I found some exciting distractions. I went out for a drink with Mackenzie at Litro, which is right next to the 75 bus stop. It’s nice to have a neighbor you can go out and have drinks with. And when we sat down and spent some time really getting to know each other, it turned out we had even more in common than I’d realized. She’s one of those strong, independent, American women living in Italy—a beautiful breed. She used to study theater back in the States—we have that in common, too, that we love to sing and to bring art into the world—and ended up finishing up her undergrad studies at JCU, where she studied business and met her (now) husband, an Italian. She went back to the States after graduating, started a social media marketing company for start-ups and small businesses called Papavero Marketing (http://www.papaveromarketing.com/). So before she knew it, she was living a life in both Rome and San Francisco, running a business that had suddenly become US- and Europe-based. With clients in London, too, where she completed a master’s in International Marketing. She’s what’s called a digital nomad. Working all the time, traveling all the time.

But she still makes time to go to aperitivi. And to play with her dog. And to travel. And to plan baking parties and to come to Open Mics with me. And tonight, she’d decided to go out with me before the romantic date night she and her husband were going to have at home.

Much more stable, of course, than my love life has ever been. And when she found out I had been talking a colleague about the possibility of a date, her eyes lit up.

“Who?” she said. “I might know him!”

“I…I think his name is Marco?” I said. “He teaches history? I think?”

“No way. I think I know him.”

She offered a physical description. It totally matched.

“That’s him,” I said.

“Oh, man, you totally have to go out with him,” she said. “You have to. I have a friend who knows him pretty well. Can I ask her more about him?”

“Sure,” I said.

We kept talking, the both of us running late for our respective engagements—hers a date night, mine a night out as a tour guide in Monti with a guy I’d met in Barcelona one of those crazy nights with Helena—drinking our wine slowly so that we wouldn’t run out too fast. It was great to meet a fellow creative who had totally fallen in love with Italy like I had. And who I could talk to about just how fabulous her new boots were. So when we said goodbye, and she got on her motorino and I got onto the 44 bus, I was buzzing with social energy.

Felipe, a guy Helena and I had met our last night in Barcelona, had told us he was coming to Rome in a week back when we met him. So I’d told him we could hang out, that he should add me on Facebook, and now we were meeting up. He brought with him a group of Argentinians and Chileans from his hostel, and we spent a couple hours drinking beer and talking, sitting on the steps of the fountain in the piazza. I spent a while talking to a sexist, racist guy who thought he knew everything because he’d read Nietzsche in high school, demonstrating how wrong he was about everything, and actually getting him to somewhat agree with me, which will always be a moment of pride for me. His moment of pride was thinking that I was actually impressed by the little snippets of philosophy that he’d saved onto his phone to show to girls he was trying to impress. It was too bad, because he was cute. What a waste of a pretty face.

When we ran out of beer, we went to one of the bars nearby, and everyone drank more beer, splitting the chips that they brought to the table. When the bar closed, and the rest of the women went to bed (not me, of course), there was only one place left to go: The Yellow. But what with their non-stop travels through Europe, and a long forty-minute walk there (with a traditional out-of-the-way stop where they urinated on The Colosseum), and the fact that we’d been out quite a while already, the guys were pretty tired by the time we got there. Which was okay, because when we sat down, I thought I saw someone I recognized: Emma, her long blonde hair draped over her as she slept at one of the tables, a pushy Italian trying to talk to her.

Another tradition: Italians coming to The Yellow, late at night, when foreign girls are sure to be drunk out of their minds.

I went to check to see if it was really her, and it was. She widened her big eyes, said hello to me, then sunk back into sleep. I told the Italian to get the fuck out of there, that I was her friend. I watched her from where I was sitting a while, and one of the guys said: Why doesn’t she sit with us?

“Buena idea,” I said.

It was a little bit of a struggle, to get someone half-asleep to switch tables, but eventually I managed it, and as some of the guys fell into sleep, I fell into conversation with one of the guys I’d started talking to a little bit at the last bar, Fede (short for Federico, of course). He was an actor, a huge fan of Twin Peaks, which meant that we’d get along great. When it turned out that he was going to Naples that weekend, to connect with Italian family members he’d never met****, I told him that we should totally meet up.

“That’s great,” he said. “My brother will be there too, I think!”

It was beautiful, that all thanks to my trip to Barcelona with Helena I’d met Felipe, who now had introduced me to Fede, who know would introduce me to his brother. That’s one of the beauties of travel, connecting with people you would otherwise never know.

As the night came to a close, Yellow staff kept stopping by the table, asking if Emma was okay.

“I’m taking care of her,” I said. “Don’t worry.”

When a friend of hers came by, a girl she’d been partying with who was clearly worried, I said to her:

“I’m a friend of hers, too. I was thinking I can take her home with me. Otherwise she’ll have to wait until 6 am to catch a train back home to the suburbs. Does that work for you?”

“Sure,” she said in an English accent. “I have work in the morning, and I was going to take her with me anyway, but this is easier.”

I offered to show her evidence of our friendship, on Facebook, of course, but she believed me.

Then Brent, the bartender I always flirt with, stopped by our table. He made a whole show of kissing me on both cheeks with affection, and looking at me as if he knew me really well—probably because I was sitting at a table full of men.

“I’m finally free this weekend,” he said, “and part of next week, if you want to hang out.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m going to Naples this weekend to visit a friend. And then I’m traveling everywhere for a month. DC. Uruguay. New York. Boston. Egypt.”

There was some kind of satisfaction in being too busy for him, when he was always too busy for me, never replying to any of the Facebook messages I sent him, the messages he insisted that I send to let him know when I was free whenever I ran into him at this establishment.

“Oh, fuck you, then,” he said. “Off having travels while I’m here working.”

“I know. Life’s really not fair, is it?”

“Well, speaking of work,” he said, “I have to finish cleaning up. She’ll be okay?”

“Yeah. She’s my friend. I think I’ll just take her home with me. We’ll take a cab.”

And so that was how the night ended, me and Emma stumbling to the taxi as I made an effort to get her to the impatient driver fast without slipping on the cobblestones. As usual, I had an extra set of PJs. As usual, I was drunk (though not as drunk as she was), and as I fell asleep I could feel the room spinning, barely aware of the other person next to me in bed.

*

So I woke up hungover the next day, and the first thing I did, despite my terrible headache, was to get on Facebook chat and message Amy, Alicia, and Mackenzie. We had to figure out when we were going to an ice-skating street market extravaganza.

But I kept having to tell them: I don’t know what my plans are, I’m still waiting to hear back from Sal. So we were still trying to figure out when we were going to this extravaganza even by the time Emma had already showered and left my house.

But around 2pm, I finally heard from Sal. He was too tired from the day before, a day full of recording music, for me to come over.

I was upset. Super-upset. I told the girls I could meet whenever. And then, of course, I did what any woman does when she gets spurned: I emailed my other suitor back.

“Ciao Marco!

Thanks for your email! Girls’ night was fantastic and fun, and we ended up drinking the bottle of prosecco and eating the panettone that JCU gave me on the street.

I’d love to get aperitivo sometime. On Thursday, though, I’m leaving and traveling for a month, and I’m busy almost all week. Are you free tomorrow by any chance? It’s the only time I have available! Otherwise we can wait until the New Year!

Ciao!

Elisa”

Basically, as we all know, I am a total emotional mess.

And as the day wore on, I found myself falling out of love, bit by bit, with Sal. The fact that he wasn’t that into me—if he had been, I realized, he would do anything to see me, right?—seemed to have a nullifying effect on feelings that had been raging inside me for the past few weeks. I thought about this as I walked along the river on my way to the street market; I thought about this as I waited at a cafe reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids while waiting for Amy and Alicia to arrive, since they were running late due to how terrible buses are on Sundays in Rome. When we finally all got there, and hung out in the cold, drinking mulled wine and eating caccio e pepe pasta*****, Sal wasn’t even on my mind anymore. I just missed Helena, and when I got to Open Mic later that night, a result of trying to go to as many Open Mics as possible this week before I left, I told Oliver outside as I smoked with him.

“I’m not sure if I’m really into him anymore,” I said.

It made the rest of the week easier, of course, because as I went from Open Mic to Open Mic, the awkwardness that had formed between me and Sal (though it could have all been in my head, we know how neurotic I can be when it comes to the logistics of love) seemed to dissipate, and I could talk to him like a normal person again. It also made it more pleasant to receive an email reply from Marco, who I still wasn’t 100% sure about—but it didn’t matter, really, since the both of us were too busy this week and agreed to meet in the new year. And how quickly it was coming! I went to the ESL graduation, I finished up grading for my English Comp class. I had a few drinks with a friend of mine I had to catch up with, Drew, because I’d been to busy up until then, bit had to see him before I left. I started to figure out what I had to do before I left the country for a month. I made sure I had all my passports. I made sure I knew when my flights were, and what I’d have to pack for my short trip to Naples before I had to pack for the long haul.

And when Wednesday came and I climbed onto the back of Mackenzie’s motorino, and the both of us went to Open Mic at The Public House. Amy met us there, too. Olesya, a Russian girl who is one of the coolest people I have ever met (who I’d met before when she was couch-surfing at Sal’s), a girl obsessed with Rome just like I am, was there too. Emma was also there, apologizing profusely for her behavior the night before, but I assured her it didn’t matter.

“I love having people over,” I said. “Really. It’s one of my favorite things.”

When the guys arrived, I gave them each a Christmas hat—I was already wearing mine—and then I was onstage, singing Christmas songs. Mackenzie and I did a killer rendition of ‘Dick in a Box.’ Sal went outside fast to practice ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ and when we sang it together, I found myself grateful that I hadn’t fallen in love with him, after all. Because it was so special to share this with him—music, the magic of Open Mic, the Open Mic that we’d be starting in the new year, when we found an appropriate venue—and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that.

It was a beautiful last Open Mic before the new year came. Before I went to Naples. Before I went to the States and Egypt. Before the many adventures that the new year held, the many adventures that are impossible to predict. The only thing that was certain was this: I had lived life fully in 2015, and I was sure to do the same in 2016.

*Name changed by request.

**Name changed because he is my colleague.

***Not to mention all my friends around the world. Paris, New York, Boston, DC, etcetera.

****The majority of Argentinians and Uruguayans are of either Italian or Spanish descent, in case you did not know!

*****Another Italian tradition: things never work. So, of course, the ice skating rink did not work because it was too warm out. We still managed to dance on the ice to the fun pop music they’d put on for the ice skating that would never happen, at least until a woman kicked us off the ice. This is also the same reason that this week two convicts escaped from jail—there were only two guards for 150 prisoners, and the alarm happened to not be working that day.

Elisa Helena Barcelona Roma

Before we knew it, Helena’s time in Rome was ending. I’d known since the moment I’d met her in Rome that, eventually, she’d be moving to Naples to join her boyfriend there. It was her first time being in love, and even though it’s always scary to take a dive into a new life like that, it’s also one of those gifts life gives to us that are rare and special. So even though I was sad she was leaving, I was also happy for her, and the whole situation gave me a bittersweet feeling the last few weeks of Helena’s time in Rome.

So she came with me to Open Mic on Sunday, despite the fact that we were both tired from walking around all day with the ladies around Rome after brunch. We got drinks, watched the featured performers before the open mic (including Oliver!!), caught up with Sal. Oliver and I went outside right before I went on so that I could show him the chords for my song about Paris, and then I was there onstage with him, him playing the guitar and me singing along. It sounded absolutely perfect, even when my phone, which has been slowly falling apart, turned off and wouldn’t turn back on, so I had to sing the lyrics and I hope I remembered them (and Oliver had to play the chords and hope he remembered them). But as I sang, I felt totally exposed. The song was too personal. Usually, I sang funny songs, or songs from my novel—songs that weren’t directly related to me or to my emotions—and opening up like that in front of everyone, especially about something so terrible as what had happened in Paris, was too much.

So I told myself I wouldn’t play it again, ever, except for all alone. And that I wouldn’t share it on social media or anything like that. Because it was something I wrote for myself, at a hard time.

The night came to end, and the rest of the week was a blur of work, during which I spent hours meeting with students to talk about their research papers for classes, one of my responsibilities with the English for Success Program at JCU. I was exhausted by the end of it, so when I showed up at Helena’s on Friday for our poetry night, I was readier to drink than I’d ever been. We poured ourselves some glasses of red, grimaced at the choice I’d made with mine (I’m terrible at picking wines, the same way I am with men), and talked about her upcoming move to Naples. It was sad that she was leaving, and that this was my first time ever coming over to her place. But the more we drank, and the more people who showed up—Amy, Alicia, Alicia’s friend Patrina—the more it turned into one of our drunk beautiful nights. We watched some music videos for a while, analyzing them, and spent so long talking that we missed our dinner reservation right nearby.

“Wait, wait, you guys,” I said as we started talking about finding another sushi place to go to. “We still have to read poetry. We haven’t read poetry yet! And it’s poetry night!”

I’d brought a couple of books with me, and ended up reading a poem by Dorothea Lasky from her collection called Rome. She was a professor of mine back from my MFA days, a lighthearted yet intense woman who wore multi-colored multi-layered outfits, a different pair of glasses to match each time—and her poems are out of this world. One example (‘I Hope I Can Sleep’):

I hope I can sleep and forget your name

I just hope that we drift apart

I hope that you stop writing me, like before

I hope that you discount the things I believe in

I hope that you don’t even consider them

I hope that the rainbows go back and forth

And you don’t stop them for me

And that I am in the midst of the tangled rainbow

And you aren’t even thinking of me

I hope that when the land completely lit by rainbows

Is my new home you forget to ask me for my address

I hope that when the light shines on me

I don’t look like anything or anyone

You think that you know

I hope that when you spot me in a field of honey

You keep on walking, walking past the honey

And drown yourself in a body of water

No I hope that there is a body of water

Which makes sense to you

An ocean of your own making

Alicia, on the other hand, read a hopeful romantic poem (as opposed to the bittersweet one above), a Rumi poem, and as she read about love, about how beautiful it is and how we should not wait until after we have died to truly love, and to take advantage of being alive now, and how despite everything we should love fully. The whole time, memories returned to me, memories of Jim and of that real physical connection we have, something that gives the whole world a new kind of light after we’ve been together. The anger and resentment I’d had toward him started to melt away—I’m sure the wine was helping—and all I could think about was how good it was, whenever we were together. It didn’t matter if we didn’t last, if what we had didn’t go far. Because what mattered was that moment we shared together, when we were together.

So I decided to text him.

But not right away. I’d wait until the New Year had happened, just like I told him he’d have to wait. And because I’d told myself that I’d have to wait. I felt this way now. But what if that changed? So I put it in my calendar, on January 1st, to message him how I felt then and there.

Then we rushed off, drunk, to our next destination. When a bus was about to leave that we had to take, I ran across the road, yelling “Aspetta!” and he waited for us, which, if you know Roman public transportation, was very much an act of mercy. We ended up at a sushi place half an hour later, and then Emma, a friend I’d made while drunk Halloween night at The Yellow, joined us too. She had a rose in her hand and was drunk already. We finished eating fast after she arrived, and then all of us except for Alicia—who headed home—hopped into a cab together to head over to The Yellow. We got out, and made our usual rounds—drinking, smoking, dancing, drinking some more. I flirted with Brent, the bartender I flirted with every time I went to The Yellow, danced all night, hoping to find someone to take home the way I had the week before. But there wasn’t anyone, and Brent was still working, and, besides, after Amy and Helena left Emma was so drunk I’d have to take her home with me. So we took a cab back to my place, I lent her some PJs, and we went to bed.

*

Helena was away in Naples for the weekend, buying furniture for her new place, and I spent the time that wasn’t left nursing a hangover catching up on my life—writing, practicing for Open Mic, getting myself ready for our trip to Barcelona—and then when she was back, we went out on Monday to get a drink at an aperitivo place we’d always been meaning to go to, Doppio Zero. We’d been meaning to go forever, and now, suddenly, our time in Rome together was ending, so we had to go. For the same reason, she came along with me again on Wednesday when I made my way out to Open Mic. We got there early, even before Sal did, and when we sat down with our glasses of wine and a basket of chips I said to her:

“It’s official. I’m crazy about Sal.”

It was the season—Christmas season, to be exact, that very beginning of December—to fall in love, and something inside of me had suddenly been transfixed into yearning for love, unexpectedly, the way it sometimes happens. I knew a time would come when my heart would eventually choose someone from Open Mic, because I just have a problem where I want to fall in love and/or sleep with almost everyone, mostly because I am surrounded by beautiful people and I have a lot of love to give. I’d always admired Sal, respected him as a person, and now that, combined with the objective fact that he’s attractive and interesting, combined with my sudden openness to love, had led me there.

And I’ve said it before, that Madame Bovary is one of the characters I relate to most. Every time cold weather comes, I imagine in my mind going to the opera in a carriage, a fur coat around me and heels on my feet*, arm in arm with a man by my side. It’s dangerous, this heightened sense of romanticism I always carry inside of me.

Helena, on the other hand, being practical, used her slow, sardonic tone of voice for when she was being sensible with me:

“I’m glad you finally made up your mind,” she said.

Sal arrived a few minutes later, and when he did, I could feel my heart beating fast.

“You’d better do something tonight,” Helena said.

But how? How would I do it? How would I even broach the subject, with a man I saw at least three times a week and was, in theory, going to start a literature open mic with in the spring? The key to solving this problem, of course, was to drink more. And more. And more. And sing my songs and pretend that there was no turmoil going on inside of me. Like that I was simultaneously carrying inside of me feelings for him and also for Jim, all the while singing and laughing and dancing and talking to Oliver and Helena, becoming part of the din of the bar.

I ended up leaving my anxiety there in Rome, and boarding my flight to Barcelona the next day, still slightly hungover and exhausted, carrying all these feelings with me but managing to float on them instead of being weighed down by them, because I was far away and I was free. I walked the streets of this beautiful city, listening to the familiar birds and walking blocks that I remembered from the time I’d been there last, losing myself in the gothic quarter and finding myself on La Rambla. As the afternoon wore on, I found myself wishing that I wasn’t alone. And I don’t mean romantically. I mean, in terms of friendship. I missed my friends, I missed someone to go out and have an adventure and explore life with. I’d traveled so many times on my own, it had given me such freedom, it had given me such clarity and space to be exactly who I was, but now I didn’t need that anymore, not the way I used to. Now, when traveling—I’d want to do it with a friend. I knew Helena would be there the next day, and I told my heart to be patient, but when you carry feelings the way that I do, it can be hard, sometimes.

But when I got back to the hostel, had a brief chat with a new person I was sharing the room with who had thought I was in college and couldn’t believe I was a professor (that always makes one feel good, right?). Then I took a nap, then I got on Skype to talk to my parents and all of their friends, who were at home celebrating Thanksgiving expat style—all your Uruguayan and Argentine and other-Spanish-speaking-countries-of-origin friends gathering around the table, instead of family—and I felt a little less alone. And when I went downstairs and ran into my bunkmate Arjun, he introduced me to the people he’d met, and I drank with them and played foosball with them (I’m terrible, but hey, I scored some surprising goals), and I felt less alone. And then my friend Raul**, who’d been my tour guide way back when during my October visit of Barcelona, who’d ended up inviting me to a Dia de los Muertos party and gotten me almost laid by his friend, finally messaged me back on What’s App and said he could come by and we could grab a drink. I was trying to get all my hostel friends to get ready, but by the time he arrived, they weren’t yet—so we went out just him and me.

*

Not sure if you remember, that October so long ago was oh so long ago (a link here to the blogpost), but I ranted quite a bit about how attractive this guy was. How I was really bummed when, at his Halloween-themed improv show, he introduced me so sweetly to his girlfriend. A year ago in Barcelona, his life was perfect—work as a tour guide was going well, and he was acting in a lot of shows and part of a great improv group, and he was living with a girlfriend he loved. A year ago in Barcelona, I was rediscovering how to be happy after years of sadness. Well, things had changed significantly in a year. Now, my life was exactly as I wanted it to be—any emotional drama was really only a slight bit of turbulence in an otherwise smooth voyage—while Raul’s had really gone into the deep end. Work wasn’t going well, and he and his girlfriend had just split up, and because they had just split up and he’d decided to let her stay in the apartment, he was staying with a friend while looking for a new place, which was hard because he was so overwhelmed by everything else.

It wasn’t like he told this all to me in one quick breath—he really wanted to show me a good time, despite the hard things that were going on in his life—but it came out in snippets, while walked to the bar, over drinks, when we went for a walk to another bar and he pulled out a joint for us to split. He was sad, but I also knew that he was interested in having some fun—“I really want to make sure you have a good time,” he’d say, whenever he got too gloomy; he also said, when he watched as I took off my coat in the first bar, “That color looks really great on you,” which we all know really means, “Your boobs look great in that low-cut dress.” So when we’d had a couple drinks and split the joint and were back inside dancing, after having run into my hostel friends on the street and invited them inside too, it felt totally meant to be when we kissed. And when we made out on the street, that felt totally right, too. And then he was kissing me against an old door in the Gothic quarter, and I could hear the familiar sound of a belt as it’s unbuckled, and I stopped and said in Spanish:

“Wait. Do you have a condom?”

“No.”

So I made it clear we weren’t going to have sex, not without protection. I’d thought about it for a second, bringing some with me before I left the hostel just in case, but I was on my period. When we’d start making out and things started to get crazy, I’d warned Raul as much, and he said: “That won’t keep me from fucking you.” But the lack of a condom would, certainly with my rules. So I got down fast on my knees to give him a blowjob, but he just shook his head.

“It’s okay,” he said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

I combed my hair a little with my hands, made myself a little more presentable for the streets that were actually populated, slightly confused that he didn’t want a blowjob, but well aware of the knowledge gained in my years of promiscuity as well that not all men, in fact, always want blowjobs.

“Listen,” he said, “I should really get going.”

He couldn’t take me to his place because—well—he didn’t even have a place of his own, having ended up suddenly sleeping on a friend’s couch.

“That’s cool,” I said. “I’ll see if my friend wants to hang out tomorrow.”

I meant to head back to the hostel, but on the way, I ended up running into my hostel friends, having just finished up their dancing at the bar. So we walked the streets of Barcelona looking for a discoteca, talking to strangers and getting directions from whomever would guide us, until we finally found a place to dance underground for hours. Everyone there was younger than me, either college-aged or just out of college, but we got along just fine, even if I felt absurdly old whenever one of them showed surprise that I knew a song they also knew. When we left, all stumbling back along La Rambla back to our respective hostels—we’d ended up gaining some friends along the way—one of them, a blonde probably-around-22-year-old, said he wanted to talk to me.

“I almost kissed you in the bar, when we were talking,” he said. Even though he’d been the first to find out that I’d just finished making out with my friend. “But then you got up to go dance.”

He asked if I wanted to hang out the next day, but I told him I had a friend coming, that I didn’t know how available I’d be. As we all know, chicks before dicks***. But that we could hang out now if he wanted to. So we ended up walking to a plaza, making out there for a while, exchanging contact information that would, in the end, never be used. Maybe he met another pretty girl. But whatever. I did not know that as I walked in a swaying fashion to my hostel, and found myself in bed.

And that was my Thanksgiving of 2015, as I fell into sleep at 4 am—but what I had to be grateful for had actually nothing to do with the men I made out with that night. It had to do with living my life the way I’d always wanted to, with the fact that Helena would be there the next day, with the fact that I was going to Open Mic all the time now, and living life fully, and things were totally fabulous.

*

The next day, when Helena arrived around 4 pm, I was an utter wreck of exhaustion. But as we all know, that never stops me. And besides, the next day was the only day we could sleep in after partying, and Barcelona is the capital of partying, so we had to party. So we got ready, all dolled up, and then we went out, to go for a walk around the city. I wasn’t as enchanted with Barcelona as I used to be—Rome was now in the center of my heart, and I did not know anyone would ever want to live anywhere other than there—but being there with Helena made it wonderful. We’d gotten some bar recommendations from a bartender, so we stopped at a place in the Gothic quarter first, smoking and snacking on tapas. Then we went to one of the most amazing places I have ever been in my life, Bormouth, a place that makes its own incredibly-tasting vermouth (usually I have mixed feelings about the stuff, but it goes great with food and tastes great so fresh) and makes incredibly-tasting tapas, too. It was so amazing that I drunk emailed my father, an admirer of vermouth and of Spain, to tell him about how good it was.

After Barmouth and unsuccessful What’s Apping with Raul, we made our way through the streets of Barcelona, drank countless numbers of red wine, talked about our friends and our families and about our romances, but also about hard-hitting stuff like world politics (mostly ISIS and the US involvement with conflicts abroad). And that something I really enjoy about Helena’s company. There’s always something to talk about, she’s always got an interesting point of view, but she also knows how to have fun and let go the same way I do. I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone like me who has such an equal measure of ethical seriousness and the ability to totally let go. So we kept drinking, knowing that it was our chance to really have fun in Barcelona, and one of our last chances before she moved to Naples to have a crazy girls’ night out, and then I was making out with a French guy, who then bored me when I started talking to a bunch of English guys waiting in line with us at a club (who I didn’t want to sleep with, but I adored talking to, and one of whom claimed to be related to a One Direction member), and then we were all dancing and I saw a cute stranger and pushed him. When he turned around to see who had done it, I gave him a look, he came over, we danced, and started making out.

“You wanna go outside?” he asked eventually.

“Sure,” I said.

Once we were outside, he started to roll a joint, offered me some before I even had the chance to ask for it. It turned out he was a drug dealer, so he asked:

“Do you want to buy some speed?”

“What?” I don’t know I felt so shocked—affronted, even****—but I did. “No!”

He was here for business, not for love, so we headed back inside. But as I did, they wouldn’t let back in.

“You need the stamp.”

“Uhm, I was here.”

“If you’d been here, they would’ve stamped you.”

“Well. They didn’t. So someone’s doing something wrong.”

“Elisaaaa!” Helena jumped out from out of nowhere. “Where did you go??? Wait, are they not letting you in??”

“No. They say I need a stamp.”

“Oh, like this one?”

“Yes.”

“Well let’s just go together and explain it to them.”

We tried, but of course they still would not listen, and Helena yelled so much she got kicked out, too. Eventually, after more insults, we managed to show them our receipts and they finally were let back inside, but at that point we were both way too drunk and fighting with almost everyone. So we made our way to La Rambla, where we were sure to hail a cab, getting into a fight when we pulled onto the street where the hostel was about who should pay. Even though it was only 6 euros.

*

But fights between us, especially when we’re drunk, mean nothing. We have that kind of friendship and we have that kind of love. So on Saturday we slept in, woke up calm and happy, found a place nearby to get lunch on the way to La Pedrera, one of the famous Gaudí buildings. We swore we wouldn’t drink at lunch but somehow it happened, and as we stood at the top of the building that did not feel at all like a building but like a piece of sky we were floating on, we were already tired. But despite our mutual exhaustion we took in the beauty of the city that we could see from here lain out in front of us, and we took a lot of stupid silly pictures, too. It was pleasure, and absolute pleasure, I remember thinking, to be there. Despite all the exhaustion. It’s hard for me to fully relax, feel happy, around anyone, feel like life is pure enjoyment. I hadn’t felt this way around anyone in a long time. Not since Jim, and with Jim, there was the magic of sex to create this same calm, almost high, happy feeling. With Helena, it was pure and unadulterated, except for the perfect Barcelona sun shining on us after a particularly rainy week in Rome.
Our exhaustion led us to another bar, where we ordered sangria and more tapas, and then we made our way to Casa Batlló. Helena could see how tired I was, and also how cold I was getting  now that the sun had set, and she knew I’d just been there the May before, so she said: “We don’t have to go, if you don’t want to.” But I knew that she would love it, the strange architecture, and insisted that we go. So after that we were definitely dead, and took a two hour nap at the hostel. Which mean that by the time we were dressed and ready to leave it was 9 p.m. and we hadn’t even started drinking yet, which meant we’d have a late dinner.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “The paella places are all only half an hour away, so we can get a drink somewhere and then go.”

But I was wrong. After getting a drink, and then walking, and then walking some more, and finally getting to where the paella places all were, we stopped from one place to another asking if they were open, and they would say: Sorry, we’re closed.

“You might trying going into the streets,” they said. We were on the seaside boardwalk area. “There must be something in the Gothic quarter.”

We’d stop every third person, get directions to somewhere where there was supposedly food, and every time we got to a bar, they’d say: Sorry, we just closed the kitchen. So when we found a place that looked nice, and slightly expensive, and people were still there, I said to Helena: “Look, I’m sorry, I know I promised paella, but it might be best if we can ask just to get some quick wine and tapas.”

“Okay,” she said.

But then when we sat down, and opened the menu, it turned out they had everything. And when I quickly asked if they were open long enough to make us paella, they happily said yes. So all of a sudden, the whole night had turned around, and we were drinking, and eating, and then we were out on the streets again, shivering in surprise at the cold, and going into the first bar that someone invited us into (in Barcelona, they have people advertising bars on the street), and then we were drinking, and making new friends, and then we were so exhausted that we left early*****—early being 3 a.m.

When we woke up the next day, and it was our last day left, I had a reminder of my emotional life back in a Rome.

“OMG,” I said, “Sal liked something I posted on Facebook.”

“You are crazy,” Helena said. “You are in love with everyone.”

“I know. It’s very confusing.”

But it wasn’t that big of a deal, really—I knew I could handle my feelings, I knew that now, after years of having crazy insane feelings that seem to be way too much for most people—and as we made our way around Barcelona one last time, walking to the beach, getting some sangria and drinking it by the beach, walking back to the hostel to get our things, getting more sangria, taking the metro the wrong way and almost missing our flights so badly that we ended up having to take a taxi to the airport, I was happy for all these feelings I have. For how full they make my life, even if it is absurdly overwhelming at times. I went to bed exhausted, so exhausted, knowing that Monday I wouldn’t go. There was no way in hell I’d go out. Barcelona had totally burnt me out.

But as the hour came, I found myself texting Helena:

“Want to go to Open Mic?”

*Like I’d ever wear a fur coat in real life.

**He’s been in this blog before, under a name that has now been changed, for, you know, the usual reasons.

***Besides, he told me he liked me more than ‘other girls’ because I was more ‘interesting and intelligent’ than ‘other girls,’ and when men say that I am more inclined to dislike them (but I am still happy to make out with them).

****Maybe because, more than drugs, I wanted his dick.

*****The goodbyes also included an accidental (albeit pleasant) makeout session with a very sexy woman.

A Hot and Fast (Well, Not So Fast) Summary of 2015

January:

Best Moment: There were so many, since I visited several countries (and continents!) during this month. But my very best was getting drunk with Maria at a restaurant where we got free dinner and then holding her hair while she vomited. Because that is how you bond with friends.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Celebrating New Year’s with my family in Uruguay; riding on the back of an Italian guy’s vespa and falling in love even more with Rome; going on a bike tour of Rome and falling in love even more with Rome; swimming in the Adriatic Sea in the middle of winter; my first Paris Lit Up open mic; singing with some random musicians in Ljubljana; holding hands with my lover while walking around London; exploring Paris with my college friend Rebecca Sim; discovering The Yellow Hostel in Rome.

Friends Made: Bridget McGeehan, David Robert Brimat!

Best Artistic Moment: Worked my ass off on the first few chapters of the novel I started at the end of December. I also bought a guitar at a street fair in Ljubljana.

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: Dante’s Inferno, which I was using as inspiration for the underworld element of my novel.

Song of the Month: “Blank Space,” Taylor Swift, which guided me when I was lost in a foreign country and had no idea which way to go.

Favorite Place Visited: Rome, Italy, which I then very quickly fell in love with and decided: “I must live here in the next academic year.” I almost cried on the train to Venice.

Worst Moment (because we learn from these): I had the worst date ever in Venice, where all a guy did was insult me in order to get to sleep with me. Was not successful, of course.

February:

Best Moment: Rocking out to Alvays with Bridget and Maria and Bridget’s friends at Le Badaboum, making both my friendships and my taste in music stronger.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: My second Paris Lit Up; getting interviews scheduled in March for university teaching positions in Rome; exploring Paris with my college friend Tom Lewandowski; socializing a helluva lot with Bridget and Maria (like, generally).

Friends Made: René Ghosh, Vera Carothers!

Best Artistic Moment: I was pretty depressed this month (especially near the end), which always has an effect on my writing, but after having some problems with my writing and giving up on my novel, and dabbling in some stories, and then feeling semi-okay but not really about them, I recommitted to my writing by getting engaged with my writing on Facebook on Valentine’s Day.

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: A tie between Girls Season 4 and Birdman.

Song of the Month: “Archie, Marry Me,” Alvays, which Bridget introduced me to, and which we listened to a helluva lot after the Alvays concert.

Favorite Place Visited: Berlin, Germany, for all the reasons that people love it so much—it’s bohemian yet grunge yet there’s no pressure to be cool. And it’s cheap. I was really depressed at the time I visited (especially near the end), but I could tell how cool it was even with that veneer of emotion tainting reality.

Worst Moment: A tie: Making out with a married guy outside of a bar in Paris (and hating myself afterward and walking around in the rain to punish myself); finding out I had HPV (and hating myself afterward, even though there should really be no shame in that); general depression.

March:

Best Moment: Getting high with Bridget in a coffee shop in Amsterdam, then going to a local bar with her and drinking a beer.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Continuing to go to Paris Lit Up; The Poetry Brothel’s show in Paris with Maria.

Friends Made: Barrie Morningstar!

Best Artistic Moment: The moment that Bridget and I boarded the train to Amsterdam, we pulled out our notebooks and computers and wrote. I started totally over on my novel, a version which ended up being the very beginning of the first draft of the second draft that I am almost finished with now and which will be totally fabulous when it’s completed.

I also started playing guitar, and learned “22” for Maria’s twenty-third birthday.

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, all about becoming stronger after a hard time.

Song of the Month: “Dreams,” by Fleetwood Mac, which had a similar hopeless feel to how I felt most of March.

Favorite Place Visited: A tie between Rome, Italy (since I was depressed at the time but love it so much) and Amsterdam, The Netherlands (where I finally became happy again and gained a lot of clarity about my life, thanks in part to substances but to the most part to the beautiful art there and the beauty of the city).

Worst Moment: Finding out that a childhood friend of mine had died, and processing that emotion with childhood friends of mine. Runner-ups: finding out that the love I had so romanticized in London really wasn’t going to work out how I wanted to; feeling shitty after a close friend of mine asked me for a blowjob.

April:

Best Moment: Going to Rome for an interview at John Cabot University, knowing afterward that I totally got the position, and then getting an email saying that I totally got the position.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Going to Paris Lit Up every week (and the Monday open mic in Paris as well); enjoying Paris with friends now that my time there was coming to an end.

Friends Made: I didn’t make any new friends in April, and that’s totally okay. The friends I had were all I needed.

Best Artistic Moment: I wrote about 20,000 words of my novel in April—my most productive month ever since my MFA days! I also started learning new songs on the guitar and started writing my own music—a song for the novel, “Doors of Hades”—which has totally changed my life.

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank.

Song of the Month: “Summertime Sadness,” Lana Del Rey, not because I was sad at all, but because it was something I listened to a lot to get in the mood for writing my novel.

Favorite Place Visited: Rome, Italy, but is that really a surprise?

Worst Moment: There were really no worse moments, it really was a lovely month, but my flight to Porto was canceled because of a strike, so I guess we can count that.

May:

Best Moment: Witnessing my old friend Michael Calb getting married, because one of the most beautiful things we can ever experience is the love of those we love.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: So many! Traveling through Europe with my college friend Katie; having a goodbye drinks and dinner with Katie, Bridget, and Maria; singing for my supper (and room) at The Yellow Hostel in Rome; meeting up with my college friend Tevi in Barcelona; catching up with my college friend Nora at Michael’s wedding; discovering frappés in Greece; walking around New York, the greatest city in the world, for the first time in a very long time; sleeping over at Katie’s house in Brooklyn; meeting up with my cousin Maria Ines and her husband in New York, who I only see a few times a year!

Friends Made: Same as in April. No new friends (travelers excepted, of course), but that’s okay!

Best Artistic Moment: I really, really slacked off in May because of all of my travels, but I did work on my novel a bit and on my blog.

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: Mamma Mia the film, of course. Half-watched with Katie and it thoroughly glorified our time together. And reminded me of why I live my life the way I do.

Song of the Month: “Hurricance,” by Halsey, because of the lyrics: “I’m a wanderess, I’m a one-night-stand, don’t belong to no city, don’t belong to no man.” I discovered it after downloading Spotify on my phone and walking around Williamsburg in the insane end-of-May heat.

Favorite Place Visited: Athens, Greece, because even though Katie and I basically died of heat exhaustion, it was thrilling to be somewhere so historical and interesting and where the culture felt so alive. Well, and New York, because I love New York so freaking much.

Worst Moment: Realizing that I didn’t connect with an old friend as much as I used to, and experiencing some heartbreak over that. Also, accidentally taking the train to Milan instead of Naples with Katie and having to pay like 300 euros each because of that.

June:

Best Moment: Having hookah back at my favorite place in DC, Soussi, with my friends Harris, Alyssa, Adam, and Andrew.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Meeting with my ex-writing teacher and talking about writing and music; going to the Lana Del Rey concert with Adam; gay pride weekend with Adam and Andrew; going to the opera with Katie my brief night in New York (and the whole night with her, really, after which I left for Oslo); my parents’ crazy summer party, which many of my friends attended (Katie, Alyssa, Sara, Jesse, Jon, Adam); René’s beautiful goodbye speech at Open Mic in Paris; Open Mic in Paris and seeing my old friends there, too.

Friends Made: I’m not sure if I made new friends, but coming back to Open Mic made me feel a lot closer to the friends I’d made there—not just René, but also Alison and Emily, Fla’vie, etc.

Best Artistic Moment: I worked a lot on my novel, and I also wrote “Dark Eyes,” a song for my novel.

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: Friends, which I watched a helluva lot with Mr. Adam Margulies.

Song of the Month: “Begin Again,” by Taylor Swift, which is all about starting again, which was how my life felt at every turn.

Favorite Place Visited: New York, NY.

Worst Moment: Being rejected by a guy I had bad sex with (you’d think I wouldn’t be offended, considering the sex was bad, but I was).

July:

Best Moment: Spending a fast weekend with Nora, Rebecca, and Adam in DC. This included partying, brunch, and watching Trainwreck.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Katie’s Fourth of July party; watching Tomatobeard, and insane and totally avant-garde and relevant show, with Adam and Andrew; biking with Adam home high while singing along to One Direction songs he played on his phone; the An Beal Bocht Open Mic; The Tilila Open Mic; discovering the wonder that is The Bronx; befriending people at aforementioned open mics; having public sex in The Bronx; walking around Manhattan near Columbia; working on my novel at The Hungarian Pastry Shop on the UWS before heading to Columbia to teach writing to teenage girls; finishing my novel; spending time with Katie in Brooklyn watching The Vampire Diaries and one Saturday night even throwing an Music & Literary Salon with her; listening to jazz at a fabulous bar with Sanford.

Friends Made: Jen Lotze and Brian Stauber, friends of Adam’s I made at the cast party for Tomatobeard. Steve and Valerie, people I met at the Open Mic at An Beal Bocht Cafe.

Best Artistic Moment: Finished the first draft of my novel, OMG! I also wrote another song for my novel, a duet called “Signs,” and started writing some really hilarious songs for my album Men I Want to Sleep With, including “Poolside Romance (All That I Want)” and “One Direction (To Two Erections).”

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank (I’d stopped reading it, and I finally was finishing reading it now).

Song of the Month: “Little Black Dress” by One Direction, which represented my whole fabulous lifestyle in New York at the time.

Favorite Place Visited: New York, NY.

Worst Moment: Sending a really insane text to a guy which made him not want to sleep with me again (are we sensing a pattern here?).

August:

Best Moment: Rocking out like crazy at a One Direction concert with Adam, Katie, and an absurd number of preteen girls.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Meeting with a literary agent in New York who absolutely loves my work and wants to read my novel when it’s finished (eee!!!); serendipitously ending up at a Postmodern Jukebox concert in NYC; my last Open Mic at An Beal Bocht with my cousins and Katie and her friend Blake; my last night with Katie in NYC before I moved to Rome and she moved to Boston; a road trip with my parents from Paris to Rome (even if they drove me crazy) and meeting up with my brother there, too; moving, finally, to Rome!

Friends Made: A lot of travel friends made, but no new local friends.

Best Artistic Moment: I chilled quite a bit writing-wise this month, since

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: René’s The Click Shortcuts, which is totally fabulous and intellectual, and which you can purchase and read for a very low price (just under $8) here: http://www.amazon.com/Click-Shortcuts-M-René-Ghosh/dp/2953100423 .

Song of the Month: “Better than Words,” by One Direction, a song I had totally taken for granted until I understood its great genius

Favorite Place Visited: Total tie between New York and Rome, though Rome was now my new home, so perhaps I am no longer visiting it, am I?

Worst Moment: Arriving in Rome and finding out that the place I was going to live was no longer available, which would mean I wouldn’t have a lease, which would mean I wouldn’t have a tax contract I needed for work, which would mean I wouldn’t have a job. But it all worked out, thankfully!

September:

Best Moment: Waking up my first day of work, completing my first day of work, and knowing it was totally, totally fabulous.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Lots of runner-ups. Working for 3-5 hours on my novel every day  (draft 2!); watching Taylor Swift’s new video “Wildest Dreams” the day I woke up for my first day of work at my dream job; drunk-texting at night with Adam; spending crazy nights with Carmen and Helena; starting Italian classes and meeting expats through that.

Friends Made: Carmen, Helena, Amy. My roommates Kristen and Lauren. And some travel-friends and expats too!

Best Artistic Moment: Until I got mono, I was writing an absurd amount—3-5 hours a day on my novel, taking breaks only on weekends, and blogging a lot. Then mono hit me and I seriously got slowed down, but by getting mono, I ended up relaxing a lot and ended up spending a lot of time writing music, which was the only thing I could do. I wrote some songs of my own, called ‘Ready to Fly,’ and ‘Secrets,’ very much influenced by Lana Del Rey, and started writing songs too about Tinder and having mono.

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which ended up being slightly disappointing but which was perfect for mono.

Song of the Month: “Music to Watch Boys To,” by Lana Del Rey, and all the other songs on her Honeymoon album.

Favorite Place Visited: I did not visit any places, because I had mono.

Worst Moment: HAVING MONO. Though I did learn to relax for once in my life.

October:

Best Moment: Biking around Rome with my new bike! Once I finally got the okay from my doctor to exercise.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Open Mic in Rome; Open Mic in Paris; volunteering at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center; hanging out with my Paris friends in Paris the first weekend of October; visiting Oscar Wilde’s grave in Paris; having pizzas and beers at piazzas with Helena and other Rome friends; I started doing Pilates; I had an amazing Halloween night with Oliver, Amy, and Helena.

Friends Made: Salvatore, Paul, Siryo, Oliver, Emma, Alfonso (all of these people I met at the open mic in Rome, except for Emma, who I met in the bathroom of The Yellow when she was passing out tissues to everyone because they had run out of toilet paper). I also met Drew through Expats, as well as Mackenzie and Isie.

Best Artistic Moment: Now that the mono symptoms were slowing down, I could spend a lot more time writing now. And going to Open Mic inspired me as a musician and I started writing even more songs and practicing almost every day! This included “The Music Between Us,” from my novel.

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: Just Kids, by Patti Smith, which I found on a Buzzfeed list about memoirs you have to read in your 20s.

Song of the Month: There was no song of the month in October because I was a total Spotify fiend that month, listening to recommended songs forever and ever.

Favorite Place Visited: Paris, the only place I visited!

Worst Moment: Having mono, but at least it finally ended!

November:

Best Moment: Art night with Helena, Alicia, and Amy, which included getting drunk at my house while painting, then going out for dinner at a Thai place nearby, and then partying at The Yellow.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Singing at Paris Lit Up several times (because they wanted me to sing “One Direction (To Two Erections)” several times); hanging out with my friends in Paris (especially at brunch); volunteering drinking at the beach with Helena in Barcelona; all my nights at Open Mic in Rome

Friends Made: Alicia, whom I met through Amy! And Ryan and Rachel and (the other) Maria, whom I’d known from PLU but who I’d never really hung out with before until November.

Best Artistic Moment: Got super-behind on my writing and my song-writing this month because I was going out all the time with Helena since she was moving away to Naples. Not so proud of that, but hey, that’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for, aren’t they?

I also wrote “Paris,” a song about Paris, after the attacks. To be honest, part of why my writing slowed down was because of what happened (same with dropping off on exercising until December).

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: Hannibal. I watched it many nights when I returned drunk from Open Mic with Katie, since that was almost the only time the 6-hour time difference worked. And I also spent a lot of sober hours watching it with her as well.

Song of the Month: “End of the Day” by One Direction, and all the songs of their new album Made in the A.M., which I spent much time listening to while riding buses and walking around Rome when I was going to or coming back from having drinks with friends.

Favorite Place Visited: Barcelonaaaa with my fabulous friend Helena!

Worst Moment: Finding out about the terrorist attacks in Paris, and feeling such sadness for my friends there, especially the ones who live near where it all happened.

December:

Best Moment: Having a couple beers in the cold with Helena, overlooking the Bay of Naples when I visited her there.

Best Moment Runner-Ups: Catching up with my friend from New York, Valerie, over coffee; catching up with my friend from New York, Blake, over drinks; dinner with Adam and Jonathan my one night in DC; exploring Naples with Helena; celebrating a Christmas-themed Open Mic in Rome for which I bought Christmas hats for everyone; poetry night with the ladies (Helena, Amy, Alicia, and me); going out lots with the ladies; riding on the back of Mackenzie’s scooter; spending the holidays with my family in Uruguay; going to the beach in Uruguay; Skyping with Katie on New Year’s (just yesterday!).

Friends Made: Got closer to Katie’s friend Blake when I stayed with her my few days in New York between Rome and DC and Uruguay–we’ve always been friends, but this was the first time we hung out alone, and it was totally lovely and special to really bond.

Best Artistic Moment: Once I started my vacation and finished grading, I had a lot of time to write. So I started to write 2 pages a day, especially once I was in Uruguay, and that was great!

Book/Movie/Show of the Month: A combination of Just Kids and Hannibal, both of which I am still working on.

Song of the Month: “Fearless,” by Taylor Swift, because when I travel I don’t have much 3G but I definitely feel fearless.

Favorite Place Visited: Uruguay, New York City, and Naples were all wonderful. But the prize goes to Uruguay because of family.

Worst Moment: Not going to end on a negative note, so I’m going to keep this a secret. Instead I’m just going to say that, no matter how many bad moments, my life was so beautiful in 2015, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings! Here’s to the new year and to a beautiful and rich life for all of us!