It’s been forever since I sat for eight hours just listening to music and staring out the window. Maybe never. It was a surprise, I hadn’t planned it. That was a surprise too. I like to plan stuff. I like to have all my stuff with me just in case.
The week before I left was stressful. There were many things to do at all times to prepare to leave my home for a month. There were old lists and new lists and visa stuff. I only left the house once a day for an hour or two. I felt attached to the apartment – did I really want to go away? I could be happy here.
The night before I slept lightly and my heart beat fast. What was this? I saw gypsy children surrounding me at train stations and wondered if my bags would be stolen. ‘Ferme bien votre sac Madame.’ Well, I do have a history with France.
I had the feeling that taking the train would bare great gifts. I love the train. I was heading south through Switzerland, changing in Milan and carrying on through Italy towards my destination, Nice. I wanted to see the landscapes and the people getting on and off and really feel the journey. I liked that it took nine hours and there were three changes to make. I was thinking I’d be getting a lot of shit done. Shit I still had to do, shit I needed to do. I thought it would be fun to glance out the window while doing it but…
Things changed on the train. I just sat there and didn’t get out my laptop once except to charge my ipod. I was looking for the music to take me back – not because I want to be twenty-two again – just because it felt good to slip into the memories. Or not even the memories but the feelings. Freedom. Adventure. Anxiety. Friendship. Lauryn Hill, Outcast, the Avalanches and Deltron 3030. That was the summer of 2001 in Europe. I felt so grateful for all the people and places that have brought me to where I am today. Tears welled but didn’t break.
I love the communality of trains. People help each other. Men offer to put my suitcase up. I feel supported and safe in their company. Years ago and alone, I took a 35kg suitcase and an 18kg backpack from the South of Italy to France changing the train three times. I must have got some help to get through that ordeal. There are a lot of stairs in Europe.
Coming through Italy, I didn’t want to put on my ipod for a bit. I wanted to listen to the musicality of the Italian language. The woman’s trip to the bathroom became a story so alive. The other passengers in our cabin smiled.
Italians are sexy. The young woman travelling with her boyfriend across from me wore a jade green top and had her brown eyes outlined in black. Bird-boned and plainly dressed in Birkenstocks, she was studying maths from a text with her boyfriend. But even this looked sexy. I kept catching her glance at me. It was near lunchtime and she must have been hungry, eyeing my array of snacks with envy. I imagined they were going to someone’s house for lunch at their destination and wouldn’t have eaten since their small breakfast. The Italians and French don’t snack, but they do eat white carbs and drink coke. Now I’m getting off track.
Italian guys have a way of looking that makes you feel like Sophia Loren. They are not afraid to stare. Their eyes bulge and burn bright white. It was good to feel like a woman again. I miss this in Australia and Switzerland – I remember a guy looked at me on the bus last October. Of course I remember it. All women want to turn heads, don’t we? Isn’t it what we’re made for?
The brown girl opposite got on the train at San Remo. Bored of her magazine and unable to sleep, she took out her new cosmetics from a purple paper bag to look at. They were shiny and new in their plastics. She opened one box containing ‘invisible powder’ and applied the soft brush to her face. It was, in fact, quite invisible and I was reminded of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Have we come to this?
I wrote some lyrics from Outcast’s So Fresh, So Clean in my journal.
“I love how you are. You’re so Anne Frank. Let’s get to the attic and hide out for bout two weeks.”
Okay it sounds better with the music playing. Try to read it to a beat.
“And we aare… the coolest mother fuckers on the planet. And my my… the sky is falling ain’t no need to panic.”
Go listen to it now you won’t regret it.
Step away from the self-help section and put the hip-hop on. (Advice to myself)
Poetic aesthetics. Finally, we got to the beach. Seaside towns with train lines only going in two directions. Towns and tracks built right up against the shore. White washing hung between faded peeling orange walls and dark green shutters. Rented umbrellas bright and patriotic like the flags of our fathers. Europeans rubbing oil into their already brown bodies. Palatial homes with stairs winding down the cliffs to the pebbly shore and green sea below.
Sometimes it’s worth going the long way.