I miss Europe this week. Not really the Europe I spent the summer exploring, but the Europe I’ve since idealized — where everything’s beautiful and nothing hurts. Instead of walking down piss-stinking streets past too-friendly men, my memory meanders down cobblestone corridors strewn with flower petals, lined with gelato shops.

I don’t remember the homesickness or frustration. I remember the glory of new language and comfort of new friends. I remember train rides past dream landscapes. Paintings that made me feel like I was the only person in the gallery to experience them. Sunsets (and some Spanish sunrises) with truer colors. Yellower lemons, oranger oranges, bluer skies.

 I remember the Mediterranean waters at Nice so warm. The Atlantic coast sands at Cadiz so hot. The rainwind in Ireland so biting cold.

 The printers were making coffee last night at work, and in the instant I smelled the brew I was heating coffee on the stove at No. 30 Felipe II; I was downing a shot of espresso at a cafe in Riomaggiore; I was filling a chipped hostel mug.

 My mouth waters for hazelnut chocolates. Italian kisses. My mind wanders around book stores stuffed with familiar titles in unfamiliar tongues.

 I’m drinking up that remembered Europe. It is morning coffee, evening red wine and all-day Cruzcampo beer. Mint tea in Arab saunas and French goat’s milk in sunny country kitchens.

 I want to go back. I want to go to ChinaIndiaAustraliaScotlandMoroccoTurkey GreeceGhanaCostaRicaArgentinaIceland. To LondonMontrealRioJerusalem SeattleMoscowParisTokyo.


Things I learned this week:

1. Gas stoves heat stuff much faster than regular stoves. They also are more beautiful. And dangerous.

2. Pepper seeds and oatmeal flakes may look similar, but they are definitely not the same thing.

3. Crushes can be fun, distracting, and totally meaningless.

4. Don’t watch Dexter right before going to bed alone. Especially when this means going to bed at 4 a.m.

5. Marriage/babies make me nervous.

6. The man who has a key to my apartment in order to spray it for bugs shows up in the middle of each month around 10 a.m. (on the mornings after all-night Dexter marathons).

7. Most people are a little sad. Confused sad, self-destructive sad, lonely sad, helpless sad.

8. There’s almost never a thing I can do about it, which makes me helpless sad. I only can listen if you tell me where it hurts.

9. Weather, more than anything, dictates my productivity and music choices.

10. More trains go by at 3 a.m. than 3 p.m.

11. I could crash church sandwich suppers and bake sales and eat free (they ask for ‘donations’) for a week.

12. Candy corn is rarely a good idea. Feta cheese is rarely a bad idea.

Exodus 3:14

In Spanish, I am I AM.

In trying to sound out my name to my host family this summer (who had been expecting Alison Martin and got me instead), one makes the Z more sibilant and the E hard and sharp, like the A in weathervAne — indicating the northsoutheastwest of my identity. Zzzooohhhiiieee becomes Sooohhhiiieee becomes Sooohhhaaayyy. And said quickly, my new moniker came out a lot like the verb soy, pronounced like the bean, a conjugation of the verb to be. Soy = I am.

The misunderstanding during the first few days verged dangerously on blasphemy. Had I burned a bush during the period, that probably would have been crossing a line.

 “I no longer want to be anything except what who I am. Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

My Very Own Pile of Unwashed Clothes.

Just saw a “My Very Own Laundry Station” play set in the back seat of a car at Target. Mattel is taking domestic fantasies to a whole new level.

Coincidentally, I was there to buy a few pairs of underwear to complete my laundry-less month (not as gross as it sounds…OK, maybe).

Too tired for ghosts.

The table lamp in my living room had been turning itself on every time I left the room today. I’d turn the dial to try to find the “off” position, but there didn’t seem to be one until gentle shaking coaxed it into temporary darkness.

Finally, exasperated, I unplugged it. If it still turns on, I’m not sure what I’ll do. The obvious answer would be scream and run out of this place, but I’m a little sleepy today. A haunting would be so inconvenient.

So this is love?

Haven’t made up my mind about this Ottumwa place, but I’m falling in love with my ramshackle living quarters. Like a three-legged dog or a tattered pair of favorite jeans, the place has its issues and its charms.

The drain’s a little slow…a lot slow…and the radiators can’t seem to make up their minds. Sometimes it will be so hot, even the walls share my misery, oozing perspiration. But the mornings still wake me with shocking cold. There are pock-marks of long-gone nails, the ghosts of pictures past. The thin panes of window glass do little to inhibit the almost constant whistling of passing trains (you’d think they would be more considerate at 3 a.m.) or the bitterness of the October wind (which I’m thinking can only get worse in the coming four months).

It’s the third/top floor of a big house on a hill, so that I could spend hours in my kitchen (wall-papered in parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme), gazing over the (gas) stove out the window, past a falling-apart downtown, all decaying bricks and gang graffiti, to glimpses of the sparkling Des Moines river and its trifecta of bridges. These arches, alternately beautiful or awful, barriers to a life not here.

The place is all arches and angles, a sloping ceiling–walls that apparently gave up in their fight against the pressure of the roof just above.

The walk-in bedroom closet has a living room escape hatch, and the front window has a spiral fire escape.

My best friend here, Aaron from the phone company, told me this house is more than a hundred years old: He knows because he used to play here as a child, when his great-grandfather owned the property.

So I’ll excuse an old lady her quirks. The musty grandma smell has given in to my whims. Now there’s a perpetual smell of coffee, sometimes mixed with the singed, metallic smell of the radiators’ steam. (When they start up, they squeal like tea kettles).

I can curl up with a book or a friend or a lover in this house. I can dance around my living room to Passion Pit and Wilco and Jay-Z, though a turn-of-the-century crooner would be more appropriate. I’m waiting for the invention of the automobile, the rise of Hitler and the dropping of bombs, the neighbor’s shipping out to Vietnam tomorrow, the neighbor’s shipping off to Afghanistan, to Iraq.

These crooked walls remain the same.