Week 17 – In One Year & Out the Other
by H D Thompson
Steph visiting was like a fresh perspective of my mental state. It went from “I’m doing great being alone this is fine” to, “I met a chicken today she seems cool” to, “I made friends with this chicken she is all I have we braided our hair and swapped secrets and I love her” to “a human friend came and we ate my other friend” to “I hope I don’t meet anyone else this could get weird”.
My favourite thing I found out so far is the Italian title of Home Alone – “Mum, I Missed the Plane”
Steph and I went on a long and exciting walk around the surrounding hills, through fields and tiny mountain villages and olive groves. The towns were so wary of a stranger’s presence, people were slamming their shutters at the first indication of us, and every time we entered a village the bells would chime as if to alert the townsfolk to our arrival. It felt correct to be the threat.
On one such walk, we came to a tiny village and with it, an old fortress section that was blocked off for what I can only assume was much-needed restoration work. I explored deeper in the abandoned stone buildings and my karmic punishment for dipping my toes in was to slam my head into a low lying bar and snap my sunglasses in half.
I felt like I was floating away into oblivion before Steph arrived. I think every now and then everyone needs a white girl to swan into their lives, to grab them, pull them back to Earth and say, “you can even”.
We got horribly lost on one of our walks and somehow magically ended up exactly where we had started. The flowing hills of Umbria acting like some kind of labyrinth, but instead of a Minotaur you just got barking dogs and the empty promise of frolicking deer.
An example of our time together –
Steph: Do you want a face mask?
Me: I don’t know. Does it hurt?
Steph: No, but it is intensely hydrating
One day, as part of a time-killing exercise, I got Steph to shave my head with my beard trimmer. It felt right to leave the tower looking less disheveled than I had entered it, even if in the light of day it kind of looks like I went mad and butchered my reflection.
On my last ride through the Umbrian countryside, I saw a topless man in a field at dusk working away despite the fact it was kind of chilly. He waved and I waved back but didn’t venture further; I just wanted to take in the countryside. He was like a slab of lasagne on a cheeseboard – I see it and I’m about it, but just not at this moment.
The last day in the tower I spent cleaning and laying about in the sunlight, napping and taking in the sounds of the bell tower over the valley. I scowled my last scowl at the villagers below and said my farewells to the valley that had been my home for the month. The day was speckled with bursts of conversation from two of my sisters who were having a night out in Canberra. From setting me up with a poor 21-year-old waiter(should I ever want to go ‘kitten over tiger’) and singing along on the dance floor of some dingy bar they were at. It was the perfect accompaniment to my final hours in the tower, and I highly recommend it.
Most of my interactions with the people here has been me apologising for jokes they can’t understand.
As I was about to leave, the bell tower played the tune that had been bugging me the whole time. I opened the windows and looked out, I saw a woman walking up to the church singing. I could just make out what she was saying and realised that the song was a hymn that I had heard in just about every movie that features a church – Our Lady of Lourdes, or Immaculate Mary, which I guess makes sense since the church was the Church of Ave Maria. I like that something so inherently catholic had invaded my senses and now would forever be associated with my time in a tower, scowling down at a slow little valley.
The week between Christmas and New Year is like some kind of weird limbo, like a seven-day layover in an airport. Time loses all meaning, days don’t really matter. Whiskey at breakfast is fine because it’s probably 4pm on a Thursday who even knows.
My last act before I left the tower was to strip naked and dance around to Olympia by Hole, cursing the ancient atmosphere with the stench of a wretched man-boy desperately clinging to his youth, evoking Liv Tyler in a way he had no right to. I also masturbated in the rocking chair but the dancing felt like more of a ritualistic farewell.
I wrote a note to the lady in the grocery store thanking her for being the only one who was kind to me in the village (not trusting Google or my atrocious attempts at the language, I had my friend Nine translate it for me). When I gave it to her and said goodbye, she hugged me and kissed me goodbye, patting my cheek in only the way Italian nonnas know how. I didn’t see Fred in my last few days there, but I’m sure he knew how I felt.
You know that thing where people ask you how you are just to be polite? Well, let’s just say my poor taxi driver picked the wrong emotionally unstable loner for a half hour journey one chilly Saturday morn. Sure, his question was a standard “come stai?” and my response was an 1800 word unfiltered purge of my heart, in English with speckles of Italian(the way one would dust salt on a broth as you stop to taste) but as Dr. Ian Malcolm famously said – when you gotta go, you gotta go.
My last night in Italy I spent in Perugia at a hostel, not trusting the bus system from my tiny country town to get me to my bus to Rome on time the following morning. When I turned up they said to come back in half an hour because my room wasn’t ready. When I returned two hours later it still wasn’t ready, which made me smile. Bless the Italian flow of time.
Perugia had an ice skating rink set up in the middle of their medieval streets. It was mostly filled with kids but at €3 a go I just couldn’t pass up that kind of bargain. After years in high school of taking ice skating, I was sure the skill had never left my bones. My bones, however, would vigorously disagree, as they fought with the cold hard ground I slammed myself against for the ten minutes before I gave up.
I caught up with a friend in Perugia for a drink, and with him came a friendly face to practice my Italian on. When Toxic came on in the bar, I intended to exclaim about how it was my jam, but then found out that the direct translation of “this is my jam” just leads to more questions than not, with him thinking I was trying to tell him a story about poisoned marmalade.
In the morning at the hostel, as I was cramming as many croissants and jam servings into my pockets as I could, an old man came in for breakfast. He seemed confused and couldn’t work out the coffee machine. I went over and helped him out, and explained how to do it. He thanked me and I left him and wished him a happy new year. It wasn’t until after I left that I realised that it was the last conversation I had had in Italy, and the entire thing was in Italian and I didn’t even notice.
A woman on the bus almost sat next to me, and in her arms was a newborn that was so fresh I half expected it to sing S Club 7 and be the soundtrack to the season. Thankfully, she took one look at me and thought against it, which I’m putting down to the mustache I am now never getting rid of.
I had decided to leave the castle early to spend New Year’s Eve with Rachel in Hamburg, where she was now living. As my partner in crime for our conscious uncoupling from Australia, it felt right to cross over to 2018 at her side. As an aside, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who likes flames/sparklers/fire more than Rachel, and luckily for her(perhaps not the people of Hamburg), they sell fireworks legally for the few days before New Year, and I couldn’t think of anyone I would want to see light her first set of self-bought pyrotechnics than her. Like a diabetic being told that for one day they could eat all the candy they wanted, and watching the joy on their face as they relish every bite.
Walking around Hamburg at the turn of the year felt like a low key warzone. Fireworks going off at every turn. Firecrackers were thrown at our feet, loud bomb-like explosions that seemed to serve no other purpose than to startle and deafen. The flashing lights of an endless stream of ambulances. Ambling through the smoky crackling streets, it was hard not to fall prey to the beauty in the mania. It felt right to cast aside the fuckbox of 2017 with gunfire and smoke. Plus, Rachel bought me weed and snacks for my January 1st hangover and that shit right there is some good start-to-the-year vibes.