Since I don’t go anywhere anymore except for like to Target and Fred Meyer (we got a fence istead of a vacation in 08, which we will never do again!) , I thought I would make my own self happy and write down what is written on my heart and emblazoned on my brain from the the travels that I did oh, so long ago. Back, long before shoe bombers.
After about 8 of the longest, hardest, weirdest months of my life, I decided that I would toss caution to the wind. I was going to get out of Dodge. Only, I wasn’t in Dodge, I was in Russia.
I decided to go to the UK because even though I love language learning, I was struggling enough with Russian, and feeling my college major (Spanish) drifting away, I just wanted to stick with one I knew. A bad criteria for location choice, but there it was. I wanted easy travels.
After landing in London and discovering that “WHOA! This place is EXPENSIVE!” I continued up to Scotland. I was drifting. In Scotland there is a lot of beauty, but it isn’t exactly full of “destinations”. But there is Edinburgh, so I went there.
Now, this was not a trip well-conceived and planned. In fact from minute to minute I didn’t know where I would be staying that night. I didn’t know what I might see that day, where I might go or if I would really be able to afford to do much at all. That and the fact that I came from Russia set me vastly apart from the traveling youth set. They had MONEY. I did not.
Fortunately hostels were plentiful enough, but the bus station was always there, to be avoided. Being summer, the first thing to do when waking was to secure a bed for the night.
While the whole trip felt much more like me ambling around reading while napping in parks (this sounds alot worse than it was), or taking public transit here or there to see something for free, or self-consciously eating alone in a pub, drinking water, there were moments that punctuated the trip with something memorable.
I stayed in a hostel that was at the top of Edinburgh, next to the castle. There were alot of young british girls in their “gap year”, and it seemed like they were always in the giant room we slept in, and they were often repacking their bags or just sitting around, curling their hair. I wondered why they weren’t out having fun. It was one evening in the reading room there that I met “Phil” while I was reading.
Phil and I struck up a conversation because of the book I had (I think at that time I was reading some Saul Bellow). We had one of those long, deep, sort of meaningful conversations that you have when you are in your twenties, until about 3 in the morning. After that, when we were going off to our separate sleeping quarters, he did the weirdest thing: he begged me to kiss and hug him good night. I think I only hugged him, because I wasn’t really that interested in “Phil”. I had enough problems, I didn’t need some random person I met at a hostel to complicate things.
“Okay, instead, let me take you out tomorrow.”
“There is this jazz band I was going to go see, come with me.”
And so he and I met on the corner of a cobblestone street at the top of Edinburgh. It all seemed so very nice, on this summer night. I felt like I belonged, sort of, to something good.
We went down a stairwell that started on the sidewalk and deposited us directly underground. There was a person sitting at a small metal box on a table, collecting money for the show.
Phil was going to pay and it was the deal I would buy something to drink. Just as we arrived, the man was closing the metal box and told us the show was sold out.
But then he must have taken pity on us, a young “couple” out to enjoy some local culture. He told his friend to go see if there was any space. Returning moments later, the friend escorted us to a table right in the front, not a better spot in the house.
He sat us, and took our coats and our order and just as the band started, we were were brought two beautiful pints of Guinness, which is lovely to watch after it has been poured, even though I am not crazy about it.
I couldn’t believe the serendipity, after the misery that my life had been for the previous 8 months. Even my travels were riddled with delays, getting lost, being broke or just being wiped out. At that moment, I was with a friend and the world had a warm welcoming quality. The band was phenomenal, each instrument doing their own solo, it was very Charlie Parker sounding stuff.
I never saw Phil after that night, but I think we both enjoyed the band. Poor guy, he never got a kiss.
While I was there in Edinburgh in the summer of 1997, it was the time of their biggest party, The Fringe Festival. Many acts come together and there are music groups playing everywhere for free. How lucky I had gotten.
One afternoon, enjoying a steel drum band, the sun warm on my face, I felt so relieved. The world I had occupied in Russia existed at the same time as all this joy. My winter of 96-97 was really the darkest I’d had to date. My path was completely obscured, and I could not figure out who I could trust in the middle of problems. And here beside me were 2 beautiful kids with Downs Syndrome dancing in such freestyle joy to these tropical drums. I was so relieved, so grateful that Russia was just one little place among many (okay, it’s a very big place, but you get the picture).
It is good to have these memories tucked away in an envelope somewhere in my brain, it’s a relief to pull them out to remind me that where I am NOW is the best place I’ve been yet.