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December 2, 2015 | Dispatches

Rome/Barcelona/Chicago, Summer, 2015

sara mcgrath

Rome/Barcelona/Chicago, Summer, 2015 photo

July 26 2015

At lunch Dad told me my mother’s stepmother avoids acknowledging the existence of my mother’s birth mother. My mother’s mother was nineteen when her mother died. When my mother died I was fourteen; my dad kept the silver locket with a picture of her mother inside.

Most people in Italy have nice bodies but it might be that the ones I see are in places where nice bodies are bared, like this beach that blares house music on the sand.

It’s customary in Italy to have food during happy hour. I ordered white wine but was nervous to ask for a plate. When I don’t understand what someone is saying I will just say no.

My dad and my sister are in the ocean and I can see them bobbing about. She often sighs and groans at things he says. I understand her annoyance. Gratitude shows up when one has done without.

 

July 28 2015

Dream: Throwing a party at my dad’s. Kidnapped by two girls I tried to seduce to distract them so that I could escape.

Leaving from Rome to Barcelona, Zia Monica left me with wise words.

On the train alone, finally some time to think.

 

July 31 2015

“I feel like the leftover child and you are the main course,” is something my sister said to me at dinner tonight. She will have to learn that nobody owes her anything. Being present to witness her first identity crisis is becoming insufferable.

I can identify with her in the way that once she decides to be in a bad mood there is no changing her mind. Being around someone more mercurial than I am has had me reconsider the notion of happiness as a choice. I thought happy people had never had anything bad happen to them, but I laugh easily.

“...the thought occurred to her that in a certain kind of story -- not the kind that anybody wrote anymore -- the thing for her to do would be to throw herself into the water just as she was, packed full of happiness, rewarded as she would surely never be again, every cell in her body plumped up with a sweet self-esteem.” -- Alice Munro, What Is Remembered

 

August 8 2015

Everywhere I go I expect elation. Anything less I equate with depression. I’ve taken a liking to smoking. Seems okay in Europe. Bought another Elena Ferrante book, Troubling Love:

“Following her mother’s untimely death, Delia sets off on a breathtaking Odyssey through the chaotic, suffering streets of her native Naples in search of the truth about her family.”

I’ve set off on a breathtaking Odyssey through the chaotic, suffering streets of a partially familiar Rome in search of picturesque places to roll sloppy cigarettes. For days I’ve felt sweaty and chafed between my legs, even when I sleep.

Yesterday I went to my old favorite pizza place. It was not as good as I remember it. I sat in front of a mirror and watched myself eat. The smell of anchovy on bread was making me sick.

I want to be the most popular girl in the room or isolated from everyone I know.

I feel so self-conscious traveling alone that I can’t always enjoy what’s around me without relating to my physical body. A man on the street said I looked sexy. I ran to any store that would sell something to cover me. I bought a long sleeved shirt with ITALIA embroidered on the front and flags on the sleeves. Is it better to look like a tourist or a slut?

Sat down for dinner because I had been walking for so long it turned dark and dinner is something people do at night. I forgot how many families and couples frequent this area. Hardly a single person, much less a single woman.

An accordion and a stand up bass are playing the James Bond theme song.

Good god I am flanked by couples. On my right is a couple from England who trade plates in the middle of their meal without looking at each other. Tender. On my left, an American couple who have just been engaged. The man keeps taking pictures of her hand with the ring on it. Lets try another one with flash. I hate it.

 

August 11 2015

Just finished the The Goldfinch. I do not usually like to reach the end of a book. I feel depressed, and anxious in the remaining pages. Separation anxiety, maybe. I was not reluctant to finish this one but instead wrapped up in its final musings.

“Why am I made the way I am? Why do I care about all the wrong things, and nothing at all for the right ones? Or, to tip it another way: how can I see so clearly that everything I love or care about is an illusion, and yet -- for me, anyway -- all that’s worth living for lies in the charm?” (p. 760)

“No one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because here’s the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence -- of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends...is a catastrophe.” (p. 767)

I am not quite as self-destructive as Theo but perhaps I would be under different circumstances. Sometimes, though, I smoke, and sometimes I will have a drink at home after a night of drinking away from home.

The novel stressed that the matter of existence remains in concepts of love & art & forever. I’m so often accused of being dramatic but then I think -- can’t you see the drama around you??

Though I still remain unmoved by ancient ruins.

 

August 13 2015

Dream: In the park, drawing. A skunk comes near to nap. As I gather my things a small girl tells me the skunk is famous around here. He sidles up my leg. Despite his affection I am very preoccupied with the spray. At Veronica’s apartment, an older woman is visiting. I realize I’ve been washing my hair with just conditioner, no shampoo, for days on end. It feels greasy, and I am worried I smell, from the skunk. I am embarrassed to have chosen a spot on the couch so close to where she sits. Our arms are touching. I try to inch away slowly as to not seem rude by getting up quickly. She is starting to think that I believe her to be the dirty one, and grows angry with me. She is very offended.

Veronica looks great when she picks me up from the airport and I admire how much she doesn’t brag. I keep saying “cool” after everything she says while describing her friends. I have never seen any of her friends before, not even in pictures. The pallor of Veronica’s skin could be described as milky.

In the dream, I am the kind of person who hugs upon meeting.

“I’m a hugger,” I to tell people before going in for a hug. The burden becomes too much to bear and I regress to shaking hands. “I thought you said you were a hugger,” people accuse. I say the wrong thing more than once, and leave the party.

We sit in a field at an estate in upstate Chicago while everyone is looking and pointing at something I cannot see. I retreat to a sunroom and sit in a wicker chair until everyone leaves.

image: sara mcgrath


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