travel diary [italy, switzerland and johanna]

i took a trip into the mountains and lakes of switzerland and into the labyrinth that is venice. i started alone but met, for the first time, a girl i've known for years. i wrote a whole lot of pages. these pages have been boiled down into something that i (and possibly i alone) consider fit for human consumption. no monkeys allowed.

05.08.2004 Thursday (gatwick village)

i was going to write "and i havn't even seen a mcdonalds or disney store", but i appear to be rammed between the two. i've been here before. the route i've taken while walking about feels familiar. and lying on these seats, where that girl is currently sleeping, these used to be hard plastic.

the first thing i did when i got here, after realising i had no idea where to go, was run to the toilet and put my contact lenses in (avoiding the maniac attempting to change the hand towel and kill me in the process). how hard can an easyjet check-in be to find? it's big and orange. did i say it was big? and orange? and big? indeed, it was big and orange.

there are no bins and i am being made to feel like a terrorist. "we would like to remind you that you are all potential terrorists". but no, there is not a metal fork with my lunch. and no, there are no sharp objects in my bag (which i did pack myself). i lie, as i have a pen and we all know how mighty they are (or have you not seen the running man?). when i was nine and flew into morocco i couldn't believe that the airport police had pistols. stalking gatwick airport today we have police armed with assault rifles. how can anyone do a job where you have to hunt around shopping malls with artillery? is this the reason you can't buy hardback books at airports? they could be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands, the corners are lethal. "we would like to remind you that your mind is a weapon, please refrain from using it". needless to say they do not sell adbusters in the otherwise vast and comprehensive airport newsagents.

so i have no idea what this 'journey' is about. i have my suspicions. and in retrospect it will become obvious. but right now it is not. and i am already missing my mug (i say this for comedy value alone). and i wish i could have seen the x-ray scan of my bag. it is mathematically packed. it is beautiful. i say this wondering if you believe me.

05.08.2004 Thursday (dans aeromobile, 2pm italian time)

you know how much i love clouds. you know this, and i comprehend nothing. i am the filling in a sandwich breaded by dream topping. the clouds are achingly beautiful and all encompassing. the violent storms over europe are worth the price of the flight itself. i wish i had the literary skills to put them to paper. whenever i try just one name comes to mind, and it makes me curse myself.

the clouds are far below us now. it is a sea of burning white, and my retina burns from the glare on the wing of the plane. i wish my view was through more than just a 20cm x 30cm porthole. you get out of your life and you can still only see part of the sky. thirty minutes later and fuck, we are flying over the alps. i can't believe i nearly missed this (along with everyone else on the plane). if there is anything more awesome than flying through clouds it's witnessing snow encrusted mountains ripping right through them. "laputa! laputa!", he cries. and no one understands. this isn't passe you fuckers, inadequate this.

"ladies and gentlemen we have now begun the the descent into milan". you bastards, do you think my ears hadn't noticed this ten minutes ago? the noise of people talking is muffled and the roar of the engines dampened. the word 'swallow' is burning between my eyes. i suck at the end of my pen. none of the buildings look real, i bet everyone says this. runway.

05.08.2004 Thursday (on a train that better be going my way)

i spoke too much english at the airport. but the bus journey to stazione centrale was smooth. there was a beautiful roundabout doubling as a park. the trees, so detailed and tall, were casting sepia tones. shady and faded. benches and brown. around it and amongst the fallen leaves ran two deep sets of tram rails. i was in a movie. against the general consensus i was thinking how beautiful the buildings were. how they were dirty. how intense fascist architecture is. and how the graffiti is old school and rife.

jo minus one hour twenty.

and already the italians are lying to me. the guy who i eventually managed to get my biglietto from was happy to speak english to the foreign girls, but not to me. this is what i have to deal with when i eventually find the only qiosk (out of hundreds) that deals with international travel, and the queue was gigantic. a big, big queue. so i missed my first train. finding the second was nightmarish. partenza - there was no bellinzona, no chiasso, no locarno and definately no lugano. where else is in switzerland? on the timetable the trains are listed by time rather than destination. so i spend ten minutes wandering around looking for a half italian girl (true). failing that i tried my first italian and failed that too. "parla inglese?" he asks the woman standing under a big 'i'. "no" she says, laughing and looking at me over her glasses. i thought she was joking but she wasn't. she proceeded to scribble '19:15' on my ticket and point to the roof of this nazi labyrinth stazione centrale. by the time that train arrives in lugano i will be tre hours late (that was a bad attempt at a pun). five minutes later and i'm staring desperately at the timetables. as i go to walk away i spy, and in the smallest writing that would never catch my contact-less eye, a train to bellinzona in five minutes. zurich. switzerland. i run to where binario due should be. all i can see is tre through 56 (or something equally stupid).

already the italians are lying to me? they've been lying to me for months.

my ticket, it was 'chocked' mechanically and checked manually. then stamped. hence i am on the right train. what could have been london melts into orange groves, melts into scenery. we ride through como, a stunning valley town with high rise mountains. how they build up them is great. the texture on and of the buildings is great. their colour scheme is great. my vocabulary has failed me, just great. we're into a long dark tunnel and that was the end of como. we're snaking between cliffs and mountains and skirting around lakes. huge lakes. the light isn't different, but something is. i keep dashing across to the other side of the train carriage. gazing in amazement out of the window as everything rushes by. what must the locals think? i just wish photographs could capture the immense scenery. this thought is going to plague my whole holiday. and then into lugano.

06.08.2004 Friday (jo's lil room in lugano)

suddenly you have no time to write. yesterday was great and today's morning came too quick. arriving in lugano was epic. of all the towns and villages she could be living, jo is living in this one. it's mountains crawling impossibly steep out of an awesome expanse of water, dragging the town up with them. at night they look like christmas trees. i love that the last thing you see before the sky isn't buildings. there is just too much to look at. i keep hearing "words that can move mountains" in my head, egged on by jo's "lets have a parade". jo. i had managed to not think too heavily on meeting her. and then suddenly out of the train window there she was. and it was just too cool. really. it couldn't have been better.

we walked around lugano and talked and had pizza and drank wine and shared an ice cream (sorry, gelato). the town is impossibly beautiful for somewhere you can describe as being vaugely like a disney version of an italian town (i was thinking this before jo even mentioned it). there is something too clean and tidy about it. it clashes with the mountains. so i pretend i'm in brazil and imagine shanty towns riding up to the sky. it works either way.

we slept with the balcony door wide open, and how much do i love that? i left my shoes out all night. the climate just loves me. the morning feels so fresh. and all i need is an earl grey to enjoy on my new balcony. and this one actually is european.

07.08.2004 saturday (too early again) - so i totally hate jo. this is a place i could really do with hanging for a while. being dwarfed by mountains really puts you in your place. perspective. i feel i havn't been here long enough to leave, but yet we must. but the lakes? but.. but..

so i'll be honest. yesterday was the best birthday i've had in a fantasically long time, and not just because i didn't really notice the fact. it was comfortable and the way it should be. after i wrote, we went for breakfast downstairs. the woman was so terribly suspicious she kept forgetting what language she was speaking in (we've been speaking it so long as our second we've forgotten it as our first). after continental breakfast (whoo) we attempted to buy a pack of normal cards from the manor store (it's a chain). be warned, they have weird cards in this country. one bus to the station and a train to bellinzona later and we're surrounded by a different set of mountains. this time with castles. one of which sits proudly in the middle of the town atop a rock bizarrely named 'mont saint michel'. access to the castle is through a giant 'keyhole' slit into the rock that leads to the most disconcerting echo chamber. i couldn't speak without interrupting myself. around the castle are what remains of huge walls that used to surround the town. you can walk along these and i pretend i'm in china. they're lawned on top and have tunnels running underneath. it's so cool.

after the first castle we bought stuff from a store. semolina and funny coloured fruit, of course. i was totally enthralled by all the crazy shit we could be eating. outside the store is a flat square entertaining a couple of skate boarders. and some weird playground picasso-bastard animal things. then we walked up to the second castle. jo has too much determination, her knee is properly done in. all these steps. we sat on a wall for ages and a cloud passed over casting a heart across the opposite side of the valley.

back in lugano and we went in search of wine under a menacing sky. (jo just gave me a kinder happy hippo, i'm so happy). wandering around a supermarket i bought nothing. i have lost my decisiveness and it irritates me. i hope it doesn't irritate jo so much. later i will understand why and never let it happen ever again.

07.08.2004 Saturday (on the train to venice)

european rain is brilliant, it's soft and warm. although after a hot day of walking it makes you itch. the clouds just roll down the mountain and you want to be saturated. i'm just fed up of being in awe of other peoples lives, this is just a passing comment. best just ignore it.

last night we drove to locarno where they are currently holding a film festival. there are people everywhere and its bustling. specks of show business. like, whatever. we ate pizza (with carrots and brocolli? are you crazy?) and then watched dogora, a beautiful and totally stunning film about cambodia. we sit in an open air cinema, a grande piazza. rain dramatically falls through the projector beam. to the side is a dark mountain stretching up into the sky. it's only identifiable against the night by the lights in the buildings; so high up they look like stars. insects flying into the projector light look like fairies and shooting stars. all the words i wish i could use. it was perfect. and the wine we bought was delicious.

when we eventually got back to jo's room her stomach was rumbling relentlessy. it was too funny. and then all of a sudden it was this morning. i found waking up easy and piled all my sheets onto jo. this just made her comfy instead of getting her up. hey, she was cold. i guess i love sleeping with the door open too much. so we bought some food from the store and had a coffee in this cute place over-looking the lake. just awesome. we catch the train and seating confusion ensues. they have buttons to control the window blinds, jo keeps knocking them in true slapstick style while trying to sort out our seats. we talked america and exchanged puzzles. i was stuck with gnomes and her with counters (counters, chips, french fries, freedom fries, war - you see how we descended into talking america?).

the window won't open and i am being cooked alive. i can sense i am starting to talk like jo. i will be teased on return if i can't sort this out. i just ate a muesli yoghurt with the smallest spoon ever.

08.08.2004 Sunday (venice, about to miss breakfast)

that we got a hotel room is too cool. the bed is my best friend ever. last night it thundered non-stop. when lighting strikes it fills the whole sky. it rained like a bastard and we had the huge windows open all night. it was so beautiful. it was the best sleep i've had for so long.

yesterday was tough though. we were awake for twenty hours. the heat was mean and we left it too late to eat and drink. had i been with anyone else we would have killed each other. a few times i felt myself becoming pretty withdrawn. shakey legs are a good indicator you need food, to double check everything you say for stupidity and stop being paranoid (she doesn't really hate you for not being able to pick a drink). this first happened when we had just arrived, i totally crashed. i had no idea what we were doing, i floated along and an apple saved my life. we caught a boat bus to lido and the hotel guy was rude about jo's italian. the fucker. then without too much of a plan we headed back to central venice. for hours we walked, picking streets and bridges at random. it was the best, it really was. i had a five cheese pizza (just count them, i dare you).

but venice is a strange and unreal place. like the labyrinth crossed with ico crossed with prague. like an escher drawing all folded out into a reasonable dimension. i love how some little streets are dirty and stink. it's the only thing that makes this place feel real. so many alleys lead to dead ends, it's so much fun, and there are random arrows everywhere.

we had some hardcore conversations. we played moo pah chi. there was a man with an orange for head. i began to climb up between two houses but chickened out. it was all so good. walking off down beaten up roads and smelling amazing cooking coming from the houses of actual residence. but when we decided it was time for our own dinner we just couldn't find any. the restaurants here suck. we walked for miles for hours, it becoming harder and more ridiculous at every junction. just standing there saying "have we been here before?", listening to every other person say exactly the same thing. the sky was full of lightning but there was no release, the rain just wouldn't come. i became more and more paranoid and began to piss myself off. in the end it was okay but we were far too tired. jo slept all the way back on the boat, her head lolling against the window. on the walk to our hotel we got gelato (eventually) from this fucking horrible bar. it was beginning to get to me, but the ice cream was so good.

09.08.2004 Monday (thinking how to nicely wake up jo)

i don't know what to write actually. i'm feeling quite sad. this is obvious, with it being my last day. the journey home is going to hurt. i'm nostalgic and the event isn't even over yet. i could go on but there is no need.

yesterday, after writing, we went over to san marco to see the basilica. the queue to get into the cathedral was long so we decided to do breakfast instead, repeating the mistake of the previous night. eventually we got coffee and apple things. we couldn't work out where we were but headed off to the peggy guggenheim gallery anyway. the only tourist attraction in venice that i had actually heard of. it's a really good gallery. although small, it's better than most famous galleries i've been in. still not having learnt my lesson, halfway round the gallery i felt paranoia and guilt creeping into my head. worries about being in the way and jo needing some personal space. i have no idea if this was actually justified or reasonable. but it was hurting. my fourth (or maybe fifth?) pizza of the trip made everything much better. it just takes so long to do things. canals are slow and we are both really tired. it's been really intense.

we walked back to the basilica but managed to travel in a complete loop and were heading back the way we came. this was so funny. the actual cathedral is kind of impressive, although you have to pay to see most of it, which we didn't do. it felt strange inside, in a way that i can't explain to my satisfaction. i think it was due to the number of people in there and the huge difference in it's meaning to them. after a quick sit down we went up the bell tower (it has a lift). the view was fantastic but you can't tell the streets and canals apart. with my camera battery running low i took some really quick photos. back on the ground we headed for the bus back to lido. i took a nap and jo checked her email. but when i woke up i felt weird, i think i had a strange dream? and all of sudden i was on my own for the first time in three days. waking confusion is all. but now it's time for that breakfast.

09.08.2004 Monday (train back to milan)

jo is all curled up on the seat opposite me, she's totally asleep. she needs it. but i can't sleep. i only have a few hours left in italy and can't bear to sleep through them. instead i've been pacing the train and drawing on jo's cards.

anyways, the remains of yesterday. after my nap we walked down some residential streets in lido and ended up at the beach. it was drizzly and grey and i loved it. to the right was what looked like brighton's west pier, all broken and tragic. it had been so long since i'd actually been on a sandy beach, i can't even remember. we walked along it and down one of the groins. half-rain and warm water. it was so warm. we should have gone swimming but this is no big deal. the boats out on the horizon were massive, but no replacement for my mountains. it was so good but i think i was feeling mildly sad for something. the beach had a certain longing but it's nothing that i can put my finger on.

for dinner we took the stupidly long boat ride back into central venice. we found a nice place that did good pizza. sitting outside and drinking wine. candle light. it was gorgeous. really, it really was. we walked some more and sat in a square. i think exploring venice randomly is the way forward. all the miscellaneous things you see and don't see. the white hand prints on the walls, the scary amadeus, a lone and very lost cow. we bought icecream (or rather jo did) from somewhere shockingly bright and we drearily found our way back to the hotel.

we woke up about on time. i didn't want to wake jo, she looked like she was really enjoying her sleep. apart from the time she punched me while rolling over. haha. breakfast was awkward and the boat to the station took too long. the ticket queue was astronomical and the ticket machines were a nightmare. everyone was messing it up. i can't even speak the language and it was obvious what you had to do. that and it also wouldn't accept 20s. had either of us been one person ahead in the queue we would have caught our train. instead we're on this one that arrives about 40 minutes later in milan. it was frustrating but i'm so over it. jo is still asleep.

i have nothing new to write do i? i don't know. i'm feeling so many things. and my speech is all americanised. my intonation and emphasis. even when i think to myself it comes out half in her voice. and italy is rushing away behind the window. i need a suitable quote but i'm too tired to think of one..

"so her and me, did greet the evening,
with much red wine and giddy o's,
in these times, of wandering sculptures,
building towers on ruined land"
a silver mt.zion - there's a river in the valley made of melting snow

were not wasting paper [or grammar]
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