Posts Tagged ‘writing a book while traveling’

Mindless debauchery update

Friday, October 22nd, 2010


I got nothin’.

I suppose when every day is mindless debauchery, it’s so hard to differentiate.

Sometimes I do think about perpetual mindless debauchery as an option. Minus the occasional periods where you’re forced to sober up and deal with your shit (or so says your parents or loved ones or parole officer), I suggest it might be preferable to what I commonly think of as “the real world.”

Freaky food

I don't know what this is. I'm not sure I want to know. Maybe some kind of messed up cream pie with cherries and, uh, green weeds? At any rate, what matters about this picture is this: it's the least of the evils when you type 'debauchery' into Google Images. ***shudder***

Who needs “the real world” anyway?
Unless you’re rich or famous or otherwise high on the hog, the real world kind of sucks. Regularly.

In other news, I thought I’d attempt to give you some uber-boring but hopefully slightly amusing updates on my latest distraction. Oh yes. It is now official (and I’m even thinking of getting business cards made). I am Vanessa Wolf: international cat sitter,  writer, and raconteur.

Man, I love the word raconteur, and now thanks to Jack White (whom I also love although the live Union Forever album is a bit – well – rough, and Meg’s terrible drumming shines in all the ways you wouldn’t want it to) it’s in somewhat more common vernacular now so I could actually use it without seeming like a snob, but then again, most people probably aren’t super-familiar with the actual definition, just the band, and maybe it’s a bold claim to make about my own self (although I would like to learn it was put on my tombstone or at least mentioned at the funeral) so it’s probably best if I just keep it to myself as I have been doing for some time now already.

Speaking of which (and I swear I’ll eventually loop this around to where you can see the relevance), a girlfriend of mine was in Italy last week and on a trip to make connections in the leather and textile worlds. In her first email to me she related that she’d “met a wonderful Italian man. He is 80-something and owns a fabric shop where I spent $150 on a jersey silk wool blend. He spoke to me of harmony, poetry, and magic.”

So, like you, I wondered if she might actually be having some kind of affair with this elderly dude. Hell, with Viagra and Roman blood, I guess you never  know…

Thankfully, she followed up with some texts where she explained further that he did say something to the effect of, “please don’t wait me wait so long before you kiss me” but no such thing ever happened. However, a few days later she texted that she was “told I was exigent, whatever that means.”  I explained that it means demanding or unreasonable, and whoever said it was clearly a big, fat jerk.

So (as the story goes) she informed that it was the ‘ancient 80 year old guy’ who said it (and was once again rebuffed for a kiss, although I don’t know if that was before or after the highbrow name calling started), and then I suggested maybe he meant to say “exquisite” or “exotic” or “exceptional” and she said, “No. He meant exigent. He even spelled it for me.” Which brings me to two points:

1. Yes, it is impressive to know, let alone use big words, especially when English is (presumably) a second language, but it also makes you look like an arrogant asshole – especially if you call someone a word they don’t understand and even repeat it without providing the (judgmental) definition.

2. Eighty is OLD. I’m sorry, but there are very few 30-something women who are drawn to men old enough to be their grandpa (money, intelligence, charm, and ownership of an Italian fabric store notwithstanding), and my friend is not one of them. Neither am I, for anyone wondering. So don’t be a jerk about it, just age up about 25 or 30 years, and you’ll probably be fine. Or not. Whatever. Jerk.

Actually, seeing as I still feel kind of fired up about this, allow me to add a third point.

3. Unless you’re in a spelling bee or someone has SPECIFICALLY asked you for spelling help, don’t fucking spell words for other people when they don’t understand you. That’s so incredibly arrogant I almost want to buy a ticket to Rome just to hunt this guy down and give him a verbose talking-to and maybe hard slap across the liver-spotted cheek. Jerk.

In other news, I am sitting in my dad’s living room where I will be for many days to come and hopefully writing copious amounts of the new book (which I am rather happy with so far, happily) and watching the king, er, his indoor cat and his outdoor kitty zoo of feral felines. At this point, like any good ruler fearing an unfavorable coup, the king has been laying low, observing, and plotting his next move. I suspect he’s acting all nervous and coy in an effort to lull me into an unsuspecting state such that I won’t see nor expect it when he leaps from the staircase and claws my eyes out.

Either that, or he’ll decide to roll with the punches and warm up within the next 24-36 hours.

We shall see.

I know the Egyptians revered them as gods, so I don’t plan to underestimate His Royal Highness. For now, I’m just keeping the bowl stocked with Friskies Surfin’ and Turfin’ and watching my back.

Human skin is so soft and vulnerable to angry cat claws and my vision is not what it should be.

Truth be told, I feel a little bit like Ripley near the end of Alien, but as of yet all paranoia is purely the product of my own imagination.

Thus far.

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If this is true, then I’m golden

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone

- Blaise Pascal

Audrey Hepburn lookalike

Channeling my inner Holly Golightly.

In the last week and two days I have proven – in spades and in excess – that I am capable of sitting quietly in a room alone.

Hell, I thrive quietly in a room alone.

I’m like a low-maintenance houseplant.

Or a cat with access to a dripping faucet and an open feedbag.

Go about your business and don’t worry about little old me. Just leave a light on and let a neighbor know I exist, okay?

All the same, I’m kind of appalled at my own absence.

Five days?
How did five days get by me?

Well, for starters, I’m sitting quietly – minus the ticky tacky tapping of Macbook keys – in a room alone all the livelong day (and night).

I could be on Mars for all I (or you) know.

Secondarily, I’m writing a chapter a day.

I should be proud of this, but the thing of it is, my (overly, I now realize) aggressive schedule had me writing two a day.


Who do I think I am?

Joyce Carol Oates?

(I once read that on a real roll she writes 40 pages a day, so she is my Parthenon of big-time page quota writing)

Mexican laundry on the line

Doing my laundry old school. Feeling very salt of the earth and wondering to myself, "Do I own any clothes that aren't gray?"

Anywho, I’ve been writing a chapter a day, which honestly isn’t easy, and due to my own strange (inspired?) idea to have the first ten chapters be parallel and modern-day retellings of the life of Christ ages 30 to 32, they’re tedious as well. In addition to the time spent doing said writing, I spend about two hours a day reading Biblical interpretations.

Which I kind of hate.

Okay, I hate it a lot.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate Jesus…but when you’re dreaming about the man in a scholarly kind of way, you’ve possibly/probably/definitely gone too far.

Anyway, I’m working like a dog and making daily progress. Despite this, I’ve been growing increasingly despairing.

“Why?” you ask.

Well, if you’d been paying attention, you’d know I’m growing increasingly despairing because I thought I could write two chapters a day, and it just ain’t happening.

So self-admonition and “mañana, mañana” kick in until today, when the landlord sneeringly asks me, “So are you getting any writing done? Or do you have writers’ block?”

“No,” I told him, “I’ve written nine chapters.”

The sheer look of shock was enough to make me realize that although I may not be JCO (see above for secret decoder ring), but I am doing pretty darn good.

And then he stammered, “Wow. You’re a disciplined writer.”

Giant box of Special K

I only buy cereal that's at least four times the size of my head. And yes, the house really is as round and pink and freakishly fluorescent light lit as it seems here. I've grown accustomed...

And THEN he went and made my day (sort of) by adding that he’s happy if he writes a chapter a month.

I don’t have any clue what it is that he’s writing, but whatever.

Doing some quick math, I calculated that on his ‘aggressive’ plan, it would take me three years to write this book. So two or three months instead of one ain’t too shabby.

And it certainly isn’t three years.

So yay me.

In other news:

  • The first day I got a funky tan from my ever-present necklaces, but I have hence removed now-not-so-much-ever-present necklaces and evened that mess out.
  • Last night, in a fit of “I’m sick of corn tortillas and beans” I made cabbage rolls (any of you with any kind of Eastern European or Russian heritage know what I”m talking about), and they were wonderful. And I ate more for breakfast. And more again tonight for dinner. And there are still five left. Happiness…
  • I was trying to trim an errant hair with oversized scissors and cut a chunk out of my eyebrow. Oh well. It’s hair. It’ll grow back.
  • I have a girl crush on Ellie, the fast-talking Mexican maid. Not my maid, mind you. I do my own laundry and dishes and sweeping and cleaning. Not that I mind. It’s kind of a simplified, hand-hewn Little House on the Prairie-type existence. Anyway, back to Ellie, she’s so sweet and doesn’t seem to care a lick that I only understand about 30% of what she says. And she’s willing to try all kinds of words until she stumbles into some vocabulary I recognize. The same cannot be said for everyone…  Enough said.
  • I miss TV. A lot.
  • I am really damn tired (it’s a little after midnight here) due in large part to the aggressive ray of sun that shines directly on my face every morning at 7:00am and my persistent very late night bedtimes. In other words, I couldn’t let another day go by without posting something, but in just a few more words that’s all there is to say. Be good. More soon.

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Shock Therapy

Friday, September 5th, 2008
Thun (the town where I lived in Switzerland) was every bit as beautiful as I remembered

Thun (the town where I lived in Switzerland) was every bit as beautiful as I remembered

I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before, but part of the reason I’m on this journey – a big part of the reason, actually – is because I’m writing a book. The book, however, is nothing like this blog. It’s a fictionalized account of the last time I did this trip (or, more accurately, the period of the trip that I developed kidney stones, became incredibly ill in Switzerland, and fell in love with the man who took care of me. Actually, those tidbits are still just a small part of the story, but you get the drift).

Anyway, I had the idea that it might help me remember what it was like fifteen years ago and tell the story with more emotion – and perhaps weave in the perspective of being definitely older and hopefully wiser – if I went back and retraced my steps. Not to drone on and bore you with the details of a book you can’t read (yet), but I will add that there is a second story line about the trip I am on now. That was something I didn’t anticipate writing, but which seems to be working.

So a few nights ago (a week ago?) in that awful room in Madrid, I watched an episode of House on YouTube. It seemed to be a two-parter and I tuned in for part two, but the general gist was be that House had been in an accident of some kind, had a heart attack as a result, and couldn’t remember what had happened. Eventually, he realized that one of the other doctors was involved, but the details eluded him. At the end of the episode I watched, they decided to drill a hole in House’s head in order to send electricity directly into the cerebral cortex or some similar part of your brain that holds memories. With enough of a jolt, his memory came back.

For a while I lived in the basement of the house on the far left

For a while, I lived in the basement of the little house one from the right

Although a slightly less dangerous approach, the last two days in Switzerland have been the equivalent. I have never felt so emotionally overwhelmed by a scent, remembered so many small details about the way someone walked or talked or smiled, been moved to such intense emotion over the mere sight of a place, or slept so poorly in my whole life. I think I’m in information and stimulus overload. I have had a virtual shock therapy performed on my brain.

Add that to my general schedule. In contrast to the slow travel movement, wherein you might go to, say, Florence and stay there a week and then drive two hours south into Tuscany and stay there two more weeks, and slowly progress such that thirteen weeks pass in just Italy, I have developed a ‘two night rule.’ Generally speaking, I stay in any given town for two nights (planned exceptions for slightly longer include Rome, Vienna, and a couple Greek islands).

There are three reasons for this:

  1. When I made this trip in 1992/1993, I had no money and a Eurail pass. As a result, I would show up at the train station around 22:00., figure out what were the overnight trains and get on one. The next day I would store my luggage, tour that town, and repeat the process. I don’t think I could survive that schedule again. I don’t even want to try. However, in the spirit of my original journey, I am a rolling stone.

  2. Spending days and days sampling the restaurants of London, strolling the bridges of Prague, and shopping the boutiques of Paris is wonderful if you have disposable income and a friend or lover by your side. When you have neither, it’s much easier to evade loneliness and homesicknesses – or just plain old moments of misplaced jealousy at the sight of happy couples or laughing friends – with new stimuli (i.e. a new place). I have nothing against that type of travel (in fact, there are quite a few days it sounds damn good), that’s just not what this trip is about for me.

  3. They call it ‘travel’ for a reason! The train time is good for writing and thinking – after a full day of taking in a city or (more recently) crawling through the ashes of my own past – I relish the time to process my thoughts and just breathe.

However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that moving every few days exacerbates the culture shock. I get attached to the soda bread of Ireland, but get cut off. I develop a real zeal for the sardine-stuffed olives of Spain…and then they’re gone. I trade them in for fresh baguettes and brie at bargain prices, when suddenly there’s nothing but dense grainy breads and Gruyère cheese.

The Jungfrau (happily, not completely covered in clouds for once!)

The Jungfrau (happily, not completely covered in clouds for once!)

Similarly, just when I get used to saying, ‘Abrigado’, it becomes ‘Gracias.” I no longer have to remember whether it’s day or night, as now I’m back to saying “Grüezi” at all hours like I did 15 years ago. And as I adjust to ‘S’il vous plait’ it turns into ‘Bitte.’ For some unfathomable reason, I have resorted to saying, “Scusi” as my multi-cultural “excuse me.” Every time it pops out of my mouth, I briefly stop just to check that some miracle hasn’t occurred and maybe now I’m fluent in something besides English? No such luck. Apparently the “scusi” is just my poor, overwhelmed brains attempt to do some advanced prep work for Italy in a few weeks?

There is a lady standing by the seat where I’m sitting on the train from Zürich to München, just staring at me. Very weird moment here, folks. I’ve smiled at her a couple times and said, “Hi” (when in doubt, I just speak obvious American English to make it clear I’m not going to understand much anything else) to no avail. If I had to guess, I’d say it was fascination with my mini-computer. That or my captivating smile. Who knows?

Meanwhile, in a couple days (Sunday), I’m supposed to have free wifi in the room. If that works out, I’ll backtrack and add a bunch of pictures for your viewing pleasure. Meanwhile, wish me a couple dreamless nights to get myself back together. Gute nacht and viel glück!

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