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Sojourn: The Journals of Meghan McDonnell

Volume Eight

Meghan McDonnell

Copyright 2017 Meghan K. McDonnell

Discover other Titles by Meghan McDonnell:

Minor: Volume One

Novice: Volume Two

Limbo: Volume Three

Elsewhere: Volume Four

Faithful: Volume Five

Vespers: Volume Six

Onward: Volume Seven

Sojourn: Volume Eight

Ingress: Volume Nine


All names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. I have solely recorded my interpretations and opinions of all events. Certain place names have been changed. Aside from minor edits, all else is as I wrote it at the time. If you’re new to the journals, welcome. If you’re a veteran, thank you for coming back for more. You’ll find links to songs, books, films, and more throughout the text, and a playlist at the end.


May 2003

June 2003

July 2003

August 2003

September 2003

October 2003

November 2003

December 2003

January 2004

February 2004

March 2004

April 2004

May 2004

June 2004

July 2004

August 2004


May 2003

Saturday, May 3, 2003

We have arrived in beautiful Paris. We couldn’t sleep on the flights so we were up for 30+ hours. Delirium. Once we got to the city, we walked for hours before we found the hostel we’d chosen. It was booked full. We were beat and it began to rain. We found a lovely place to stay on the third floor of a hotel on Rue des Ecoles with a balcony that overlooks the street. I took a photo of Carson from it, with Mansard roofs in the background. We woke at 7:30 a.m. to a beautiful morning. After walking around sipping cappuccino, we found a new place to stay called Hotel Central in Contrescarpe. Our own room, a shower, and table and chairs by a window for €39.

We sightsaw today. First, the Pantheon, a block from our lodging. We strolled Luxembourg Gardens after passing by the Sorbonne. It disappointed me but I love that it has stood there since the 13th century, started by a small group of theologians who were too poor to afford an education.

We walked down Boulevard Saint-Germain and over to Notre Dame across the river. Exquisite. I cried, awed by the beauty of it. It’s powerful, too, how many people have gone there over centuries to pray, atone, and absolve. A kind woman greeted us inside. She told us that Jesus wants to bring us into His heart. We took our time walking through, mouths agape. After, we walked down to the river for lunch.

We walked by the Louvre but didn’t go inside. Tomorrow, they offer free admission. We’ll go. We must see the Mona Lisa firsthand. We hear it’s small and that crowds gather before it but why not see it?

Tomorrow, were going to Montmartre to see the Sacre Couer before we take a train to Bruges. After a jaunt by the Louvre yesterday, we walked to the Eiffel Tower. It was monstrous and swarming with tourists. It’s beautiful from a distance. I first saw it while we rode across a bridge into the city from the airport. Up close, it’s beastly and funny-looking. We walked back through the Latin Quarter to the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, dedicated to the French people who were deported during World War II and died in internment and concentration camps. It disturbed me.

We walked down stone steps to a carved out circle. I saw the river through stone and iron bars. We walked between two slabs, claustrophobically close together, into a stone room with cells, modeled after (I assume) the ones the prisoners were confined to. Bars shielded a room with a mausoleum. On either side of it, long rows of tiny lights extended back so far; hundreds of thousands of little lightbulbs, each one representing a human being who never returned after being forced out of France by Nazi Germans. It is a devastating and gorgeous monument. Words written on a plaque: Forgive, but never forget.

We moved on to Ile Saint-Louis and tried to find Hotel de Ville. We walked into an area with multiple buildings boasting this distinction. Signs pointed every which way, leading to nowhere, a seemingly non-existent place. I wasn’t impressed with the confusion. (Everything in Paris should be made to my liking, no?)

We found a café to play cards and have a beer. Our French is lacking but we manage. Everyone has been kind, despite people back home insisting that the French are rude. Carson and I have mastered the words, Oui, non, merci, merci beau coup, combien?, Parlez-vous anglais?, and Desole. Je ne parle pas francais.

I emailed Skyler and Claire earlier. Carson and I went to Shakespeare & Co., an English bookshop, before going back to our hotel to take a four-hour nap. I got Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Carson got The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

We feel out of our element at intervals but we are elated to be here. I’ve gotten uptight a couple times from disorientation. I need to keep in mind that Carson and I are allies. We are in this together. The sooner I learn to keep my cool, the better off we both are. This is true for life and travel.

It’s strange what travel does to you. It affects me and inspires me. It makes me reflect on home, different languages, ways of living. It brings me euphoria and elation. It brings fear and trepidation. I’m proud of Carson. This is strange and different from anything he has done before but he’s open to it.

It’s midnight. We woke up after our naps and played cards and drank wine. We need to go back to sleep soon to make the most of tomorrow.

I love Carson. It’s good to be in love in Paris.

Love, Meghan

Monday, May 5, 2003

We’re in Bruges. We had a great day in Paris yesterday. We stopped at the café below our hotel. A sweet woman gave us perfect directions to Gare du Nord. When we got there, we discovered that another train for Bruges wasn’t leaving until this morning. We weren’t sad about another day in Paris. We walked to the touristy Montmartre and saw the Sacre Couer, which was beautiful. Elizabeth told me it was her favorite part of Paris. We’ve had some strong beer since we got to Bruges, so bear with me.

I’m bummed that we didn’t see the Moulin Rouge and places that bohemians called home in Paris but next time. We got a room at Hotel Central again. We walked to the Louvre. It’s enormous. We saw the Mona Lisa but it isn’t much fun when museum guards push you through with cattle prods. We saw grand paintings, mostly religious. There were so many right next to each other that it was difficult to decide which ones to focus on. We saw Venus de Milo and headed back to Contrescarpe.

We got tipsy in a bar and met our first rude Frenchwoman, an old bird on the street. I asked her how to get to Boulevard Saint-Michel. Now, I don’t speak French but I’m fluent in facial expression, body language, and tone of voice. She muttered something about speaking French when you come to France. Reminds me of our brethren back in the United States. It didn’t faze me. Other than looking for lodging, I am relaxed here, especially in Bruges.

This town is delightful and it’s easy compared to Paris. Quaint cobbled streets and old buildings. Carson and I were in heaven while we walked around yesterday. We ate chocolate, walked through the market, and stopped for a beer in place with over 300 varieties on tap. We meant to have just one. But we sat at a table next to four Americans from Portland, Oregon. One of them graduated from Western a couple years ago.

We talked to them for hours, drinking dangerously delicious beer. One of the guys warned us, “You’ll want another one because it tastes so good but before you know it, you’ll be drunk.” This is precisely what happened. We stumbled home after three beers. I wish we would have seen more of the town last night. We didn’t foresee the high-alcohol content beers.

Today, we plan to walk all through town and do laundry. I want to see the Van Eyck exhibit. Europe is good for my body. We wake early, shower, and hit the road. My body temperature regulates itself here. We walk miles each day.

People in Bruges are friendly. We could stay here for days but we head to Amsterdam tomorrow.

Love, Meghan

P.S. I like writing here. My senses are absorbing. Carson and I have been having strange and vivid dreams.

Thursday, May 8, 2003

We’re on a train moving through Germany. The coffee tastes wonderful and the seats are comfortable. We have a table by a large window in the smoking car.

Carson and I racked our brains the other night in Bruges, trying to remember where we got tipsy before we walked to the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame so we could see them lit up at night. We walked into a funny little bar that evening. There was grass on the floor. We stood at the gates of Notre Dame at night, staring at the gorgeous architecture.

We reminisced about a bar we stopped in on our first night in Paris. We’d been walking for hours in the rain, looking for a place to spend the night when we found it. When we went into the bathroom (unisex), we discovered a hole in the floor. As a man, you stand above it to pee. If you’re a gal, you squat. A man in that bar knew less English than we know French. He kept telling us, “It’s okay.” We realized he meant that it’s okay that we are Americans, even though Bush is president. He told us he likes Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Carson has referenced this guy several times since we met him last week. It makes me laugh because at first, Carson said, “Do you remember that guy from our first night? Toby?” Since then, Carson has called “Toby” Tabby, Cherie, and other names in between. Spit flew out of Toby’s mouth when he got especially excited. He and his female friend told us to go next door and see their friend Maurice about a place to stay. We declined.

I’m a fair way through White Teeth. I am taken with Zadie Smith. She was 25 when she published this book. Makes me think I need to get my ass in gear.

When we went to Sacre Couer, a few women got in our grills and drew us on sketchpads. I walked past them but Carson said to wait. These women drew us and then expected €50. What a joke. I told Carson to keep walking whenever people insist on drawing, selling, soliciting. I asked him to follow my lead when I walk away from a street vendor.

On Tuesday morning, in Bruges, we climbed the winding 366 steps to the belfry in the tower at the center of town. At the top, we caught an aerial view of town. Breathtaking. The bells chimed while we looked. They made me laugh with their relentless loudness. We walked down after my vertigo subsided and walked to the Groeningemuseum to see what we thought would be the Van Eyck exhibit. They only had a few of his works. Our favorite was The Last Judgement by Hieronymous Bosch. Bosch was so detailed. Incredible. He was ahead of his time. He painted mechanically, grotesquely, beautifully. Bosch painted futuristically while communicating universal and timeless themes. Dali must have been influenced by him.

The last painting I saw disturbed me. Once in a while, an image enters my path and stays with me. Like the t-shirt I saw in the East Village, of a woman defecating into a pervert’s mouth. The painting that got to me and stayed with me depicted a man being drawn, quartered, and skinned. I could accept the knives that pierced his flesh and the blood they drew. But not the places of the painting where the skin of his entire calf was peeled away from knee to ankle, exposing veins and muscles.

After the museum, we walked. We did laundry, ate, and we walked more. We walked at night to see the town lit up. We got a cheap beer at our hostel, Passages, which Carson realized must be a reference to EM Forster’s A Passage to India. We looked through the CDs lining the shelf behind the bar, with titles like Buddha III and Buddha IV. We should have known it was a hippie hotel.

I talked to Mom and I loved it. The calling card ran out too fast. She said she’ll e-mail me. We’ll call home when we get to Frankfurt, where we’re meeting Carson’s friend Lindsey. She’s been living there all year and will know how to call home.

We got to Amsterdam yesterday. A scam artist came to greet us. When we got off the train, she approached Carson and asked if we’d like a €50 hotel room. She told us she was “paid to find boarders.” I’ll bet she was paid for something. I smelled a rat.

We walked from the station with her and she called someone to tell them we were on our way. When we got to the “hotel,” she walked up a staircase and beckoned us. I said, “Thank you. We’ll come back later.” She pulled the whole fake confused/why-don’t-you-want-to-come trick. We kept walking and a British guy looked at Car and said, “She’s not taking you to your hotel, mate.” When Carson looked back at him to inquire, the man looked away unassumingly, whistling and moving on.

We found a place to stay and walked to the Van Gogh museum. Marvelous. We stayed until close. It was quite the collection. They had Van Gogh’s paintings, including the original of a print we have above our bed. The collection included assorted works by painters who influenced Vincent. I loved one that Gauguin painted of Van Gogh painting sunflowers.

We walked back to our hotel and then to the Anne Frank House, where she hid during the occupation. Incredible. A writer and survivor wrote that the world mourns for Anne Frank, one of the millions who died; that most faces go unrecognized but maybe this is better: If we could comprehend the suffering and despair of all who died and endured the Holocaust, we could not live. It would be unbearable.

Carson and I left the museum and walked for hours, heavy and quiet. We ate pizza and drank beer and went to bed in time to rise early for breakfast and movement.

We didn’t smoke pot in Amsterdam. I didn’t like it much and it wasn’t like I’d hoped or imagined. I don’t mind. Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank made it worth it. We’re almost to Frankfurt and I have enjoyed this train ride. I look forward to seeing a familiar face (Lindsey) and communicating with family and friends through phone and email.

We met a charming man from Belgium on the train yesterday. Carson and I are pretty darn good at this traveling business.

Love, Meghan

P.S. I need to call Claire and tell her we’re on our way slowly but surely. What a great way we’re coming.

P.P.S. I miss Sylvie.

P.P.P.S. I love that Skyler and I reconnect when one of us is traveling.

Friday, May 8, 2003

“Ich glaub” - mir steht ein

Guten tag. The above translates to: I believe - I am. Or some such, in German. We saw it in a bar last night, below a framed drawing of a rooster.

I kind of freaked out last night. We walked through train stations and got lunch when we arrived in Frankfurt. We got a hold of Carson’s friend Lindsey when we figured out to drop the area code when we called her. We took a tram to her flat and met her and her roommate, Jonathan. He’s a kind and intelligent young man who speaks fluent German. We walked to the river Main. It’s lined with beer huts that offer drinks when you put a deposit down on a glass. It was a lovely evening.

Carson and Lindsey played catch-up while Jonathan and I talked. I felt shafted by Carson and wanted to be alone but I didn’t want to cause a scene. Car came after me when I wandered off from the group after we’d walked along the river to Old Town.

I cried and asked why my needing alone-time and needing space to write automatically translates to me not wanting to be around him. We talked briefly and met back up with the mates. Lindsey and Jonathan went home and Carson and I went to an old timer’s bar, each patron likely a regular. We had a beer and shared a shot of Jim Beam.

One of the regulars bought us shots of a strange quaff that came with a miniature French flag poking up from the glass. We were about to shoot them when the man ran to us, took the toothpick with the flag, and extracted what I thought was a worm. It looked like a leech. He stuck it in Carson’s mouth and made a motion for Carson to chew and drink the shot. Caron’s expression was priceless. He tried to get up to go to the bathroom because he thought he was going to ralph but I wouldn’t let him. I wanted to know what to expect so I kept him there while his nausea subsided and went through the process myself, laughing hysterically. It was a dehydrated pear (I think), fermenting in a liquor. It wasn’t pleasant. Polka music played. The place had a cozy feel and was a great respite from the other cheesy bars in the neighborhood.

We walked home through a beautiful thunder and lightning storm and read until we fell asleep. I feel weird around Carson and Lindsey. He lavishes attention on her and I fade to the periphery. She’s a friend he’s known forever. I wish I could accept that they enjoy seeing each other. It made me feel alone last night.

This morning, I realized the discomfort that Lindsey causes in me: she’s not a woman’s woman. She’s male-oriented. She understands, relates to, and enjoys men more than she does women. Lindsey has dated most of the guys in her and Carson’s old circle of friends. While she’s a pretty and feminine girl, there’s something sporty, sporting, and masculine in her - like Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby. She’s more in tune with a man in the room than a woman. I don’t know if my assessment is accurate, but I have a hard time with girls like that. Lindsey has been kind and I am sure I’ve made it more awkward than it needs to be.

I’m lonely for Cassie and Skyler. I can’t wait to see Claire in a couple weeks. I like Frankfurt. I want to go to Darmstadt, where Mom and Dad lived in the early 1970s. We’re going to the Mosel Valley this weekend, on our way to Prague. I emailed Nigel. He opened a restaurant with his girlfriend in a suburb of London. He said he’d love to see us but it will have to be in London. He can’t go on holiday because he has to look after the restaurant. He told me that Teddy bought a house with his girlfriend north of London but he just broke up with the girl. And fair Mark. Sweet Mark is at Oxford on scholarship for rowing. He may go to the Olympics this year or next if he can, as Nigel puts it, “stop boozing so much and barking at people.” It was great to hear from Nigel and it made me realize how much we have all grown up since we met four years ago in Australia. I hope they get a chance to meet Carson.

Love, Meghan

Saturday, May 9, 2003

Carson and I took a train to Darmstadt yesterday so we could see Mom and Dad’s old stomping grounds. We were at a loss for what to do and see. I tried to call Mom but we’ve struggled to understand the phone situation since Paris. If we don’t buy the right calling card, the phone won’t accept it. We walked through town in hard rain. We got upset and stood under an awning and argued. We felt awful. We walked through the downpour. We had a beer and played cards and talked before walking back to the train station. I felt sad that I hadn’t gotten a hold of Mom. I was disappointed. I’d been so excited to see where they lived but I didn’t have enough information before we left for our day trip.

We went to Lindsey and Jonathan’s and watched Jackass: The Movie on a laptop. I crashed early and hard on Carson’s stomach. We’re leaving for the Mosel Valley this morning and I look forward to getting back to old, rustic, beautiful towns. I’m having a hell of a time getting a cappuccino. I’m back at Caffe Fellini, the coffee shop I came to yesterday.

Carson’s friend Eloise lives in Prague now and we’ll meet her there on Monday. Nigel emailed again and sent his phone number. He said Teddy wants to see us if we go to London.

I want to see more of Germany - old places that I have pictured in my mind and seen in books, where women wear dirndls and men wear Tyrolean hats. I want to go to the towns where you can see snowy peaks from the windows of wooden and stone pubs, and beer flows frothy from steins.

Love, Meghan

Monday, May 12, 2003

We have arrived in old, beautiful, well-preserved Praha. I am beat. On Saturday, Lindsey and Jonathan took us out to brunch in Frankfurt. We walked to the shopping district. On our way through a park, we saw a man masturbating.

Carson and I took a train to Trier, along the Mosel River. The ride was gorgeous. We had a large car to ourselves. We rode through the Rhine and Mosel river valleys, dotted with castles on hills. In Trier, we found a cheap youth hostel. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant and stopped for a beer before bed.

We sightsaw yesterday. We couldn’t find Karl Marx’s house. No tears shed. I’m not too fond of old Karl, you see. We walked along the river. I got thirsty so we stopped in a bar. The woman running the place was sassy and the regulars were three sheets to the wind, just shy of 11:30 a.m. local time. Flies swarmed.

It annoys me that no one in Europe drinks water. They only drink carbonated mineral water. I’ve read that carbonation robs the bones of calcium and that it inhibits hydration.

We walked to Porta Nigra (the black gate, for those of us who don’t speak Latin) that was built in 200 AD. Trier is Germany’s oldest town and saw its heyday during the Roman Empire. We went to the ruins (some intact) of Constantine’s bathhouses. It was creepy and great. We walked into the underground through maze-like tunnels with archways and halls that extended in several directions. It was extraordinary to be in a patch of sunlight outside and then to walk in five feet to one of the entrances, into the cool, fecund, damp smell of earth - places the sun never touches. Not quite moldy, but earthy and cool. It reminds me of the smell of forests in the Pacific Northwest, and oddly, water rides at Disneyland.

Carson and I got spooked, lurking underground. We walked to an amphitheatre where they used to torture and kill people for sport while crowds gathered to watch on the surrounding hills. We walked through the arena’s underground tunnels.

Carson and I had lunch and a beer and took a train back to Frankfurt. We stopped by Lindsey’s to gather our backpacks, said thank you and goodbye. We may see her in London at the end of June.

We took a 9-hour overnight train ride to Prague and slept for part of the ride. We had a car to ourselves during most of the trip. We met a German man who talked our ears off. A man from Iraq sat next to Carson. As we rode through Czech Republic, we gazed at misty fields and trees, country houses. It’s beautiful here. It just started raining.

Car and I stopped at a café for cappuccino when we got to town. We waited for Eloise to finish work. I was singing “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush this morning, aching to hear it, hoping Claire might have a copy in Florence. Five minutes later, it came on the speakers in the café.

White Teeth amazes me. I’m looking out the window at the rain. It comes down in fat drops, different from Seattle rain. The skies look ominous but the rain doesn’t last long. Prague pulses and there’s so much to do here. It’s my favorite place already. I am in Kafka’s city. It has charmed me. I am fascinated by the recent history here. I have a hard time grasping the recent political and economic changes. I ashamed that I don’t my history better now that we’re here.

When I get back stateside, I’ll study European history mercilessly. A bit backwards but it can’t be helped. Carson is stuck in this torrential downpour. I hope he comes back for me soon.

Love, Meghan

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

I have found the most delightful café on earth - Café Ebel in Old Town. I noticed it earlier when Carson and I walked through town. I bought a beautiful blue pashmina to keep me warm. The café is light and beautiful. It has simple furniture, tile floors, comfortable cushions, candles burning, and classical music - a perfect respite from busy, bustling Prague. I love this town. Even the tea cup is pretty and the coffee is delicious.

We met Eloise at the train station yesterday. She took us to her apartment so we could unpack. We came back to town and walked to Wenceslas Square, a wide street really. In 1968, in the square, activists drew straws and the one who drew the shortest lit himself on fire. 21 years later, in 1989, people gathered to celebrate the anniversary and it catalyzed the fall of Communism here. I feel close to tears when I think about the life that has been breathed back into this city.

Eloise has shown us buildings that were erected during the Communist era. They are drab, depressing edifices that stand in stark relief to the incredible ancient architecture mixed throughout town. Everything here is beautiful (except the commie buildings).

We went to the Latin Quarter earlier to see the castle and cathedral. We walked down Golden Lane, where Kafka used to visit his sister in wonderful tiny cottage-like places built into the castle. The cathedral is enormous and rivals Notre Dame. Carson and I wonder why its fame doesn’t rival the latter. We reasoned that one is in Paris, the other in Prague. Paris is more popular? How odd and silly.

We walked by shops and Eloise told us that when there is a molding depicting a good or service, it represents what was sold there during the 1600s. Sheep mean they sold wool or textiles, violins mean instruments, etc. The street was colorful and gorgeous. I just split off from Carson and Eloise so I could write. Eloise is taking Carson to see yet another horse’s ass. Seriously. There are so many statues of horses and humans. We keep talking about horses’ asses and giant baby heads that we see all over the city.

Eloise took us over the Charles Bridge, lined with statues. One is of Christ on the cross. Above it, something is written in Hebrew, etched in gold. A Jewish man convicted of a crime paid for the plaque as atonement. This city is filled with stories and histories of the poor, Jewish, kings, bishops, and religious conflict. The monuments are bound up with stories of someone screwing up and having to pay for something beautiful to be erected as their punishment.

Many of the cathedrals were built by Jesuits trying to outdo Protestants. I touched one of the pictures on the bridge for good luck. Story goes that a queen confessed her sins to a priest, St. John Nepomuk. When King Wencelas implored Nepomuk to impart his wife’s confessions to him, John refused. King W. had him tortured and thrown off the bridge. When he hit the water, five stars appeared around him on the surface. Statues of him abound, with a crown of five stars over his head. We’ve seen him so often, he’s beginning to feel like an old friend.

We walked back over the bridge and met Eloise’s friend for dinner. She took us to a wonderful cocktail bar. We drank White Russians and the drinks were cheaper than anywhere else we’ve been. After that, she took us to Double Trouble, where we drank beers and talked for hours.

We walked by a clock in Old Town. I can’t describe how beautiful and detailed it is. Every hour, it chimes and a skeleton rings a bell. The twelve apostles roll around on a track through a window. The clock tells time, the date, and the phases of the moon. The signs of the zodiac are painted on it. There’s a saint for each day of the year. The king who commissioned the clock ordered the clockmaker to be blinded. He didn’t want the clockmaker to build something so beautiful anywhere else.

I’ve been having fun with Eloise. This is the most time I have spent with her. She goes way back with Carson and Craig. She’s intelligent, interesting, and funny, and she’s a great host. After the castle and cathedral, she took us to the Hunger Wall. A king commissioned starving people to build it so he could feed them in return for their labor. She took us to the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. It’s horrifying. It starts out with a sculpture of an incomplete man and through different sculptures until he becomes a whole man.

We had lunch at Bohemia Bagel. We checked email, drank coffee, and discussed White Teeth. I got emails from my brother and from Cassie and I replied to both of them. Cass wrote that Sylvie is crawling now. Cass is considering going to nursing school.

Carson and I are going to Cesky Krumlov on our way to Vienna. It’s a small, old town centered around a castle.

I feel better and not so insecure. Eloise and I talked about that last night: being in a new place that is foreign to you. It makes you self-conscious and aware of things you wouldn’t otherwise think about back home. I’m trying to get a handle on it. I’m meeting the kids soon so I’m off to write postcards.

Love, Meghan

Monday, May 18, 2003

We left Prague on Wednesday or Thursday. Before we left, we hiked a spiral staircase to a belfry so we could see an aerial view of Prague. Eloise took us to a Mexican restaurant and then to spaceship-looking structures that commies built. She had taken us to it a few nights before but I didn’t understand its significance or why we stood there looking at it for so long. We got into a political discussion and my back was turned to the structure most the time. Carson kept asking me if I was “seeing it” but I was so wrapped up in conversation that I blew it off. I couldn’t understand why he and Eloise kept talking about “giant babies.” I thought they were referring to the statues on Charles Bridge. But when we came back to the space-age structures, I noticed that they were covered in gigantic faceless black babies.

Eloise and I laughed our asses off when we realized I hadn’t seen them the first night she took us there. I kept saying, “That went right over my head.” Carson said, “Literally.” Later, I said, “Man, I must have been really checked out not to have seen the babies or realize what you were talking about.” Carson said, “You were really Czechin’ out.”

I was taken with the cathedral at the castle. John Nepomuk is buried there. I liked the light from the stained glass. Carson and I walked around Prague at night to see the bridge and buildings lit up and took the tram back to Eloise’s. We had a ball with her. She’s fun and she laughs a lot. We took her up on her suggestion and went to Cesky Krumlov and took a long bus ride from Prague to arrive in a cold downpour.

We found a delightful place to stay right away, Penzion Gardena. We had a view of the castle and our own bathroom. We got something to eat and walked through the town and around the castle grounds and stopped at Café Bohemia to drink and play cards. We had a great breakfast at our place the next morning before we went to Egon Schiele’s museum and a Dali exhibit. We stayed for hours. I was overwhelmed by all the work by Dali. I was impressed and I liked his work. He was a creepy weirdo and I never much liked his most famous paintings but he was talented. I wish art history courses spent more time on his earlier work instead of focusing on shit like The Persistence of Memory or Swans Reflecting Elephants. His older drawings are gorgeous. I was bummed that they didn’t have more of Schiele’s work but it was cool to see his furniture and a photo history of his life.

We went to the castle afterward and then had cappuccino. The castle was gorgeous. The moat houses live bears. We climbed to the top of a tower. Carson and I did laundry and emailed friends. We grocery shopped for dinner and went back to the hotel to eat, drink wine, play cards, and stare at the castle from our room. We read and went to sleep and made the mistake of leaving the windows open.

Bug invasion 2003. I didn’t like sleeping with hundreds of tiny bugs above us but I got over it. We woke up and had another delicious breakfast before walking to the train station. It was a hike but we got there early and had time to relax.

I’ve had a bitch of a time getting a hold of Claire. Carson and I took the train to Innsbruck. We debated about getting off the train in Salzburg since it was closer but I wanted to be in the mountains so we rode on. The mountains were beautiful but the town was touristy and dirty. We found a hotel right away and walked through the town. We stopped for a snack and beer at a place that felt like Capitol Hill in Seattle. Hipster bullshit. I ordered gazpacho and bread, expecting cold soup and, you know, bread. When the dish arrived, it came on an opaque glass plate, garnished with minced red pepper. There were four squares on the plate. One square was “gazpacho.” The other three were red, green, and yellow heaps that looked like whipped foam. Aerated cucumbers, tomato, and asparagus? I stared in surprise and tasted the red lump. I gagged. Carson was a sport and ate it. I couldn’t hang with the texture. We laughed and wondered if these aerated vegetables weren’t a garnish or if someone was pulling our leg.

We went back to the hotel and I read The Golem, a book of stories about Jewish history in Prague. The next day, I went to a place called “Tiny Snack Bar.” I met a wonderful Indian woman who runs the bar. We talked about travel, President Bush, and life. She has children who live in the US. She locked the shop so we could go outside to watch a procession of people walking below the mountains, wearing lederhosen and dirndls, playing brass instruments.

I walked to the hotel to get Carson and we went to the train station, had lunch, and emailed people. We walked the rest of the day. We saw the Golden Roof and walked across the Inn River. We had dinner in the bar at our hotel and played cards. We called it an early night so we could catch an early train to Venice.

We’re in Italy. It’s beautiful but the pigeons and tourists that crowd the narrow streets drove me crazy earlier. Yesterday was gorgeous and hot. We went to the Rialto Bridge and walked along the markets. We went to Piazza San Marco. It was filled with pigeons, and people feeding them! People let the flying rats land on them. It was a grotesque, gothic, but gorgeous dream to look at Basilica San Marco with its gold pictures and stunning architecture, surrounded by pigeons.

I am PMSing hardcore. I deserved to be shat on by a bird because of my attitude today. We got lost yesterday and ended up at the edge of the island before we found our way. We got groceries: bread, beer, and mozzarella for €4.50. We felt like kings. Beats the hell out of spending €40 on a so-so dinner. We went home early to read and sleep. It was warm and overcast when we woke up. We walked back to the basilica and went inside. We saw the gold murals and treasures that Italians stole from Constantinople in the 5th century BC.

We got horribly lost and a thunder and lightning storm hit. We took refuge in a bar. I lost my favorite hooded sweatshirt at the train station in Mainz but the pashmina kept me warm. When the rain ceased, we traversed the winding streets and got even more lost. My menstrual rage overtook me and I cursed through the streets. We consulted Uncle Rick (Rick Steves’s European guidebook) to find our way back to civilization. We had dinner and now we’re doing laundry around the corner from our hotel.

I’m glad amenities are close by (laundry, grocery, internet café) because the sky looks furious. It’s blustery and chilly. We leave for Cinque Terre tomorrow.

Tori emailed last night and it was great to hear from her. I called Nina today and it was comforting to hear her voice. I still can’t get a hold of Claire. It’s too cold to stay out here and write but I must remember to write about the crazy guy on Charles Bridge, Cesky Krumlov’s long-armed people, and much more when it’s weather- and time-permitting.

Love, Meghan

Friday, May 23, 2003

We are in heaven. The last time I wrote, we were in cold, blustery rain. Now I’m sitting under blue skies, sunburned from Cinque Terre sun. Carson and I took a train to this cozy, nestled town from Venice on Wednesday. We got a room at Davide in Manarola. We walked to the harbor to take in the water, cliffs, and trails. We found a bar with a patio overlooking the Ligurian sea. We bought groceries and wine and played cards in our room. We went to bed early to be rested for our hike through the five towns. We did the Manarola-Corniglia-Vernazza-Monterosso connection. We found a beach in Monterosso that we love.

I got an email from Claire, forwarded by Nina, which reassured me. We took a train from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, got groceries, and had wine at the top of a cliff overlooking the water. We had walked to Manarola and a woman told us we had to go back to Riomaggiore to find an open store. We hauled ass back to get water, cigs, and wine and rushed back in time to watch the sun set. We had a picnic at a viewpoint and stayed until long after dark. We spotted lights across the water and decided it must be Atlantis. Today, a woman told us it is Corsica.

We had a beer and played cards at a lovely place with large storm windows so we could look out to sea and rocks. We took a train to Monterosso this morning. I twisted (or rolled) my ankle last night and it hurt. I cried from the pain this morning but it will be okay.

Carson and I have been on the beach at Monterosso all day. Paradise. We rented beds and umbrellas and have been swimming in the clear, salty sea. I feel relaxed. The water has helped my ankle. Carson’s in the shower now. After I rinse the salt from my body and assess my suntan/burn, we’ll do laundry, email home, and have dinner.

Our stay here has been therapeutic and necessary. Tomorrow, we’re off the Florence to see my darling Claire (if we get a hold of her). Cinque Terre is Eden and a highlight of the trip. I’m looking at blue sky and rocks. We’re staying in a bright, tiny room with large windows.

I laughed hard last night while we played cards, remembering Venice when we stayed at a place that made us buzz in and out when we came or went. Not ideal. We requested a different room because the one they gave us was a dank, bottom-floor room that we feared would flood in Venice’s rising waters. Once, when Carson rang for us to be let out, Carson heard a woman on the intercom say, “Hello?”

Carson said to her, “Open the door.”

The woman said, “Please?”

Carson replied, “Yes.”

She opened the door for him. I went on to Carson about how frustrating the buzzing in and out was. Carson said, “I feel kinda bad.” The woman said, “Please?” often anyway, but in hindsight, I like how Carson was like, “Open the door. You heard me. Open it.” The thrills of language barriers.

I tried to call Claire yesterday with the number she had emailed. A woman yelled, “Pronto? Pronto!” and rambled at me in Italian. I thought it was Claire, fucking with me. It wasn’t.

Cinque Terre is manmade perfection.

Love, Meghan

Monday, May 26, 2003

I am proud of Carson for being a great traveler and showing grace through everything we encounter. I’m in the doorway of Claire and her boyfriend, Matteo’s, flat. They’re inside cooking dinner, surrounded by friends. Claire is thriving here. She has overcome some of her anxieties. She has told me some of her troubles but she is well.

I won’t forget our last night in Cinque Terre. We walked up paths and saw fireflies and then we walked to the beach we’d spent the day on and drank wine.

We found Claire in a square by the bus station when we got to Florence. We rode with her and Matteo to his dad’s vacation home in Castiglione della Pescaia. We grocery shopped and they made us dinner with several courses: caipirinhas, seafood, bread, and wine, followed by coffee and cigarettes. It was a beautiful night. We spent the next day on the beach and wandered the town. After naps and showers, we went to dinner. I hear stories and think thoughts and I need to get them down in here.

I’m reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Beautiful book. Matteo is going to cut my hair. I expected Claire would do it but I forgot that Matteo is a stylist. I didn’t know what to make of him at first but he is tender and sweet. It’s a blessing to be with Claire.

Love, Meghan

Thursday, May 29, 2003

We had dinner at Claire and Matteo’s after I last wrote. I haven’t had any time to myself to write and I need it. I’m always going somewhere or doing something with Carson or Claire or both so I can’t write things down as they occur to me. I need time to figure out where I am and what is going on with me.

Since Castiglione, we have been in Florence. We’re staying until Saturday morning so we can see Claire’s exhibit at university. Staying here so long has made me wonder if we shouldn’t see other places. I did not want to wear out our welcome but Claire has made it clear that we are not at all. She keeps telling us how much she likes our company. I am happy to be with her, too.

I rode on Matteo’s Vespa with him last night. I love those bikes. I like the exhilaration of open air, zooming through narrow streets. We got tapas and cocktails at a bar. Then Matteo cut my hair. I was in a weird mood when he did it because we had smoked pot. He cut it into a shape that is popular now but that doesn’t suit me. I may need to cut it shorter.

We’re going to southern France on Saturday for a couple days and then we are taking a boat from Barcelona to Ibiza to meet Claire, Matteo, and their friends. We’ll be on Ibiza for a week before we go back to mainland Spain, then Portugal.

I got a new journal at a shop and a pretty red and white reversible skirt at a flea market yesterday. More to come.

Love, Meghan

(later on) Part of me feels like we’ve been in Europe for ages, when I look back to Paris or Bruges. We are on a mellower leg of the journey. I don’t want to pass through days unaware. I feel distant from Carson. This is difficult. I can’t determine if it’s me or reality. Why is there a separation between the two in my head, like there is a standard of reality that I must gauge so I can follow it or protect myself against it?

I am in love with Love in the Time of Cholera. I was beat last night but I couldn’t put it down. It’s hot here. I like it but I wish we had a body of water to swim in. That can wait for Ibiza: seven sea- and sun-filled days. My shoulders are peeling from the sun we got in Cinque Terre and Castiglione.

I don’t think Carson is excited about going to London before we go back to Paris, but I want to. Claire has a good thing going in Florence. She and Matteo seem happy. He is the most genuine boyfriend that I have seen her with. They have a good lifestyle. They met when he cut her hair. He asked her out. Their apartment is perfect - small and compact but comfortable.

Being here makes me wonder where Carson and I will wind up creating a life for ourselves. The thought of finding a job, then career when we get back scares and tires me. Sometimes I worry that I will be too depressed and stagnant to involve myself in what can bring me peace. The gang’s all here so, see you soon.

Love, Meghan

Saturday, May 31, 2003

We’ve been on trains for the past seven hours. We have another 11 hours to go and we’ll be in Barcelona. We went to Claire’s art show at her school. It was great to see campus and her and her classmates’ projects. After the show, we went out to dinner. Then we went back to her apartment and talked for hours around her kitchen table. We listened to music and turned it off briefly when we tried to remember lyrics to Fiona Apple songs. We sang. Claire is funny and sweet. She seems more comfortable with herself now, more down to earth.

Claire talked to us about what she went through in New York. She was alone and on her own for the first time. She was somewhere unfamiliar and overwhelming. She felt incapable but convinced herself that she knew what she was doing. I’ve been enjoying our time together. I don’t understand why I feel moody and emotionally drained.

I’ve been a jerk to Carson. I don’t know how to communicate what goes on within me. We were going to take a train to Nice and go to Provence for a couple days but it felt too scattered and random. I felt displaced and awful at the train station in Pisa earlier. We decided to barrel through and get to Barcelona instead, on our way to Ibiza.

Claire, Matteo, and Claire’s friend Georgia are leaving for Ibiza on Monday. We’re staying in a house with them on the island, a holiday within a holiday. I got uptight while we made plans, feeling like part of this trip is not ours anymore. I felt like I had no say and like we were catering to an itinerary that I wasn’t comfortable with. I want to go to Ibiza but it feels disruptive.

I have been tired, cranky, and sad for the past few days. I cried a couple nights ago and tried to call Cassidy but she was at work. I finished Love in the Time of Cholera. While it was a beautiful book, it was far from uplifting. None of the characters had redeeming qualities. They were desperate, unfaithful, prideful, selfish, indulgent, and self-exonerating. Unapologetic. I like books about “realism,” but I don’t like the idea that as people, we are disappointing, mediocre, imperfect, selfish, and unkind. The book and my period contributed to my melancholy and frustration. It bothers me to feel down while we’re here.

I worry sometimes. I don’t have a word for what I want to express. It’s not jealousy and it isn’t simple insecurity. I don’t know what to call it. It’s an unstable, out-of-control emotion that washes over me and disallows me from functioning or faking my way through until it passes. Carson doesn’t know what to do or where it comes from. He’ll talk to me about it but we just open a can of worms and walk away from it without coming to a satisfying conclusion or understanding. Nothing gets amended or improved.

I can’t solve or erase inherent qualities in myself or problems that have taken time to form. These “problems” adversely affect Carson and me. I fear that I may be a chronically depressed person who has moments and “lucky” phases of non-depression often enough to believe it’s not a defining quality of my life. Naming or indulging it perpetuates it. Sticky territory. I consider my thoughts, emotions, behaviors … and gauge them against an imaginary panel of people who shake their heads and say, “That’s not healthy.” We all harbor things we don’t like. We all feel guilt that we haven’t necessarily earned.

I had hoped I would feel better-adjusted, more developed and confident, more secure and easy, than I do. I had hoped I am improving, becoming more loving and selfless. I wanted to believe that I only get better as I grow and age and that I am good to myself and the people I love. I don’t understand why I can’t remain in a space of completion and satisfaction in myself. I change. Life changes. But why can’t lifelong lessons and truths remain? It makes me feel schizophrenic, like I don’t have identifiable qualities or characteristics.

When I was alone, I dealt with depressive episodes as I saw fit. But being married changes it. I can’t stay stuck in a rut or stay perpetually impossible because I can’t do that to Carson. I can’t be an asshole, insecurities a-blazing. When I feel angry or sad, I don’t have the self-control to sit tight, shut my mouth, and let it pass.

This train is so hot and we have nine more hours before we can find a place to stay in Barcelona. My body is covered in mosquito bites. Luckily, only one itches at a time. My new haircut is too “hip” for me. Carson and Claire admitted that it’s a little butt-rock after I mentioned it several times. I need to chop a few inches off.

I wish I didn’t feel overweight. I could stand to lose a few but thinking in those terms automatically means I won’t. My body doesn’t appreciate my mind being mean to it. Too much unconscious warring between the two. Too much separation.

A drunk Spanish man is rolling all over his seat and the floor right now. I’m trying to get into Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying but it’s too down-home South for my tastes.

Love, Meghan

June 2003

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

We’re at the house on Ibiza. It’s beautiful but it needs some work. Carson and I tackled the kitchen earlier. He and Claire are gardening now. I teeter between relaxing, working, and feeling trapped. The house is in the middle of nowhere, not near town or even a street with essentials (groceries and coffee). I can’t find a place or time to be alone.

We got a ride to town with Klaus last night. He’s an Austrian guy staying at the house with us. Carson, Georgia, and I walked through town and took a cab back. We had dinner with the group. We drank wine and smoked hash.

I got irritated earlier because we have running water now but no hot water until it gets hooked up tomorrow. Cold showers. The purpose of a shower is to be warm and relaxed while bathing. But when the water is cold, it sucks.

Carson and I had an extra day in Barcelona because we didn’t realize there wasn’t a morning boat to Ibiza. We did laundry and went to the Picasso museum. Though Picasso was an asshole that everyone adored, I must admit that I was struck with being in the presence of genius and extraordinary talent. I took a picture of a picture of his face. What a mug.

After the museum, we grocery shopped and walked Las Ramblas, where we heard someone call my name. It was Claire. She and Matteo were in the park with their dog. They were on a layover, waiting for their boat to Ibiza. We took the same one. Once we boarded, we had dinner and drinks until we could fall asleep. A bloke on the boat was snoring and it drove me up the wall.

We got coffee in the morning and watched the sun come up. When we docked, we had to wait for Antonio, Matteo’s brother, to take us to the house.

I loved Barcelona. We will stay there for another night before we head to Madrid next week. Carson and I want to go to Portugal. I found out that Belem is part of Lisbon. Mark Strand references Belem in Elegy for my Father. I want go to Fatima.

On Monday, we went to the Gaudi Cathedral. It was more impressive and attractive in person than in photographs. I love the odd spires.

I have to go now. No chance to write because people are always around. And since we’re in BF Egypt, I can’t sneak off to a café or bar.

Love, Meghan

Friday, June 6, 2003

Beautiful day. Carson and I slept in. I wake up and wonder what to do. There’s nothing to do except yardwork and dishes or sit around the house or patio. When I woke up, the house was empty except for a couple workers. Everyone went to the beach and didn’t bother to ask us if we wanted to escape the compound. No one left a note. I understand that Carson and I aren’t helpless, but when we volunteer to take the bus to town, people insist that we wait for a ride, on their time.

I took a bus to town earlier because I had to get out of the house. Carson is meeting me in an hour. I like the house we’re staying at and I like the mates here but it’s unclear to us: what is communal and what is independent?

We went to town for dinner last night, and met the mates for wine afterward. We watched people run around in silly outfits, going from club to club. Ibiza is different than I thought it would be. I expected to go to the beach. Parts of the town are seedy. I feel trapped at the house. Claire gardened all day yesterday. She said she wants to keep busy because she’s been thinking too much.

I don’t know if being here is so frustrating because of my attitude or because of the situation, but I have a strong idea that many people want to share with me that it’s my attitude. I don’t like to be at the mercy and whim of other people, especially when they believe they know best.

I bought an International Herald Tribune to see what’s going on in the world. I’m looking forward to Madrid and Lisbon but I want to enjoy my time here. The further south we go, the slower and mellower it gets. Transportation declines and becomes less efficient.

I told Carson that I feel like I can’t talk to anyone here. I think he read that as me not being able to talk to him. I’m struggling with insecurities and self-image issues. I had them back home but they are compounded here, with language barriers, not knowing the protocol for sitting down in a café or restaurant or bar. Do we wait to be seated? Do we seat ourselves? Do we smile or demur when richer-looking, older couples who come in after us get seated before us, their asses kissed while we wonder how to get service? Do we ask for the check or wait until we turn blue? Is it a way that we look, act, talk, smell … that doesn’t warrant decency or service? It’s these little things that I want to ignore or overcome or transcend.

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