Speechless in Sevilla

August 2013

I traveled to Sevilla only as a stopping point between my travels from Barcelona to Morocco. I was there less than 48 hours. But in the end, this city ended up capturing me entirely with its charm, breathtaking gardens, vast art and architecture, and surprisingly wonderful people.

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Plaza de España, Torre del Oro, Palace of San Telmo

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Teatro Lope de Vega, Plaze de España, streets in Sevilla

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Metropol Parasol (Las Setas), Plaza de España

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                        Sevilla Inn Backpacker’s (my hostel), outside La Giralda

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 More Plaza de España, La Giralda, Door of Pardon and Patio de los Naranjos,
Plaza de Triunfo, Se Renovo

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Rio Guadalquivir 

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Snapshots of Sevilla, Spain.

One of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen, and where I met the most beautiful people. Fitting that it was on my mother’s birthday- God must have known I needed family when He made my path cross with these four. I can only chalk it up to fate.

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The Night Five Strangers Fell in Love

Picture this- It’s nearly midnight in Sevilla, Spain. I’m just getting to my hostel when I hear a Jack Johnson song being played in the distance. As exhausted from my travels and at the end of my rope as I am (getting lost, train delays, aching feet, empty stomach, etc.) the melody pulls at my heartstrings. Even though I am tired, I don’t want to wonder “What if?” Something tells me I need to find where it’s coming from…so, somewhat reluctantly, I follow the sound to discover Jukebox Munich (pictured below).

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And damn it, they’re good, and funny, and play songs I still love. I’m hooked. I drop my heavy backpack, tell my sleepy conscience to hush, and decide to stay a while. While sitting there on the curb listening to them, I meet Andrea, from Italy. He had a camera and an infectious smile:

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We make small talk until it dives deeper into the darker parts of ourselves, and we tune out the music. After playing hours on end, the band calls it a night. Just as I’m thinking this is where my late night ends, someone makes a suggestion. And just like that, with a crowd of about fifteen, we all decide to get beer and hang out before going our separate ways home. However, it’s too early in the morning, and everything is still closed. We walk to the other side of the river, where a place was closing, but one of the locals convinced the owner to sell us beer for a euro. He poured them out quickly- red solo cups halfway filled- as if he was going to get caught.

So we go and sit next to the river, our half beers in hand, and next thing I know, we were talking about what our dreams were and who our siblings were dating, how we felt about having kids and marriage, language barriers and what we studied in school, all while the band carried on in the background.  Andrea seemed taken aback when I asked him what his dream was.  Moments later he finally brought it back up and said, “I want to do something with politics. I see so much about how old European tradition is fading away, and how the States and Italy and others have these problems, and I want to help fix that. Although I know that’s impossible.” It was such an unexpected answer and I could tell he didn’t share it with a lot of people. He asked me about mine. Why I was traveling. How I’m very different than what he expected from an American, though he knows we’re not all the same.

When the band finally had enough, and the crowd disappeared,  Andrea, three Spanish girls (Júlia, Melanie and Martina) and I stayed behind, still mid-conversation. I discovered the girls were from Costa Brava as well, not far from Blanes! Júlia studied in Rome so she could speak some Italian with Andrea, and and Martina had previously lived in Canada, and all three of them could speak English with me. We ended up sitting on a street corner while they rolled cigarettes and spoke about everything from this side of the sun. I completely bared my soul to them about the fear of losing my parents, about being terrified that I would not find whatever it was I came to Europe to discover, how I felt conflicted with my “almost” relationship, fights with my brother, my thoughts on gun control and gay marriage, etc. You name it, we covered it.

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             Martina                                                       Melanie and I

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           Júlia                                                        Andrea

It made me sad, even ashamed, to hear the stereotypes of Americans- just always thinking their way is right and that they are superior to other countries. I know this is a common stereotype, but I don’t want to be seen this way. While I love my country, I don’t think we are the best. I can’t disagree, however, that America has become wrapped up in fast food and television and so consumed by their own stress. The European lifestyle is about savoring– lunch and the company you are with is ENJOYED, not rushed. I wish we were that way. So many  Americans want to go to Europe, but it is not necessarily the case with all Europeans. I find this interesting.

Martina was tall, with so much spunk in her personality that although it would be easy for people to perhaps not appreciate it or like it, it made me fall in love with her. She had no boundaries on her feelings, no apologies about her thoughts, or words. Her outstretched hands brushed yours when she laughed. I felt instantly comfortable around her, around all of them, actually. She just didn’t give a shit about being anything but herself and it caught me off guard how much I admire that in a person. I wished I could be so secure in my own skin, so unapologetically myself. She was so strong because maybe before she had been forced to be. Melanie was beautiful, with dark hair and light eyes, and quiet, not as fluent in English. She agreed to many things we were saying, and I could tell her spirit was young but on fire. The streetlights shone across Júlia’s tan skin and reflected off her nose ring. She had the warmest brown eyes. She could say anything, and you’d trust her. She confided to us about how her parents separated and she didn’t become close with them until after that. She said she realized as we are getting older that they are not the vision of what we thought they were, they make mistakes and have hard times and need us, too.  We can’t force them to feel something or understand and change. But that when they finally realize it, we will be there with open arms.

Andrea told me he lives more than an hour away from his parents and at 25, this is his first time really traveling alone. He said he initially was nervous but felt he needed to do it. And how without that freedom, we never would have met each other. I realized he was right- if we were with our families or friends, we probably would never have thought to approach or speak to one another. He argued how we should really pursue writing or singing or painting, or whatever the hell it is that we want. Martina said it best- maybe it’s not even fear of failure that we are so scared of…it’s what happens once we actually GET what we want or have been searching for- will we take it? And then what? That is the big question, because we are always looking for and wanting something better.

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We talked about how it shouldn’t be so hard to love one another. I really just wanted to break down…I was falling in love with these strangers, these new friends, and we were feeling something so much bigger than ourselves, talking about the world and although we knew and had only seen so little, we realized so much. Some people, they said to me, would never do what you did, they’re too scared, and you’ve already made the most courageous step you could. I don’t think they could ever understand how much I needed to hear that.

We laughed, too- talking about the “cobra” move in a club when a guy approaches you and you duck away. I learned so many tongue twisters in Catalan and words for things that I didn’t know had their own definition (all of which I have now forgotten). Also, that all Catalans talk about is shit. “My face is shit.” “My life is shit.” I was dying of laughter.

Finally, Andrea looked at his watch and realized it was 7:30 a.m. He suggested breakfast. So we walked around to find a restaurant but none were really open at 7:30 am, and if they were, they didn’t look that appealing. Finally, we stopped at the square, where we joked Andrea was Lord of the Flies since they all kept landing on him. We saw an older man painting the most beautiful picture of the cathedral. Took snapshots of us laughing and looking dead in zoning out from zero sleep. We finally stopped to eat, getting pan con tomate and jamón, and café con leche. Everything was so good and perfect and cheap and we just laughed because Júlia said it was her favorite birthday she’s ever had and that she didn’t even feel tired even though she had been up for almost a full day, and everything was fate that brought us together. And that since I had to leave at 2 p.m., why not spend every second together and make the most of the last time we have together?

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So I checked out of my hostel early and they bought me a Red Bull and we headed toward Júlia’s car, which was near the corner of O’Neill’s restaurant that we had been sitting at and talking all night. She went to park it somewhere else because they were giving out tickets, but we ended up listening to “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke (which was so cool that, despite being from three different countries, we all knew) and driving the completely wrong direction to just make a circle and park the car again in the same spot, finally giving in to just paying the meter. It made me laugh because that’s precisely how I drive.

I convinced them to go to Plaza de España and I loved their reactions to its unspeakable beauty, because it was exactly how I felt when I saw it for the first time. We took pictures and sweated under the sun together, then got granizado to quench our thirst, and cool our throats. So refreshing and good! Headed back to the square by the cathedral and sat in the shade next to the building where a man played the guitar (probably annoyed by our incessant talking), and the horse drawn carriages were pulling in. They kept telling me I’d have to write the story of our night but I can’t think of one word to say about it. Even if I could think of a million, it wouldn’t do it justice.

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I swear to you, we just couldn’t stop talking. Our conversation continued into handsome Spanish dads and why they don’t like bullfighting, and how Júlia’s mother makes her gazpacho for when she is hungover and gets home early in the morning and sleeps all day, how European lifestyle is just better and I just need to move here. Our feet were caked with dirt, Júlia’s nice once white shorts stained from sitting on city curbs and street corners and dirty pub chairs. Martina’s thick dark eyebrows danced when she talked, a wide mouth grin and deep voice, that went high when she sang or got excited, always joking. Melanie’s bright blue eyes reflecting with the sun, her dark curly hair bouncing as she laughed and shook her head at Martina. I cherished them…Júlia’s warm embrace and Andrea’s smile that lit up like a sunrise and their nose rings that I thought about getting sophomore year of college and the fact that they rolled their own cigarettes and could speak three languages and still be so incredibly beautiful after all the traveling and nights without sleep. I was soaking in every moment. I learned if you close your eyes and have a spoon in your hand, the moment the spoon drops you’re having the best moment of sleep. What about the best day of your life? I wanted to say.

And I started to cry right then and there, because I had never felt happier, or experienced a connection like this before, but also because I knew this was probably the last time I would ever see them again.

Perhaps we were only meant to have that one night, Júlia said.

Maybe she was right. Maybe it was so perfect, it could only last a day. But it was enough- in just those hours, they changed my life and healed my soul.

So this is for you, my dearest friends. Until we see each other again.

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All my love,

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The Mark I Left

*As promised in my Madwomen In the Attic post, here is my first draft for my creative nonfiction workshop.

***UPDATE: This piece was published in Longridge ReviewCheck it out here!***

 

 

The Mark I Left

I run my hands gingerly over the white and tan splotches of matted fur on my new Calico kitten. We got her a week or so ago, from a woman getting rid of a whole litter. She promised she had all her shots but she just couldn’t take care of all of them anymore. The kitten was thin, probably sick. But that would change now that she was mine.

She squirms in my arms, escaping. With hesitant steps, she explores her new jungle of four acres of wide open land. She darts around my bare feet, pawing at dandelions, and then lowers to the ground, ready to pounce. As I watch her hunt, I think back to last week when I held her alone in my bedroom. She would not stop crying. She meowed relentlessly, and when I tried to pick her up, claws extended and sharp teeth sunk fast and hard into my sensitive skin. Red lines rose, etching marks on my hands.

I did not think, She was just scared.

I did not think, It’s okay, it was just self-defense.

I did not consider the condition of the home the kitten knew before mine.

Furious, I opened one of my empty dresser drawers, plopped that stupid kitten inside, and slammed it shut it. That’ll show it. I pictured it in the dark, afraid and deeply regretting it had ever thought to leave marks on me. Well, good. The kitten had to learn that I was in charge. If she didn’t behave, I would punish her. That’s just how it works.

I left the kitten there for a few minutes until my rage abated, and remorse quickly washed over me.  I didn’t want to hurt her, that was never my intention.  But I couldn’t deny how powerful it felt to be in control for once.  It was impossible for her to get out of the drawer without me. She needed me.

In a way, we were the same. She was small and helpless, and I was accustomed to that role. The baby of the family, I was always being told what to do, forever a puppet on a stage with an older brother or a parent pulling the strings. My parents had my brother, Ryan, and I to attend to, full-time jobs, and bills to pay. Ryan had dirt bikes to ride, a punching bag in the form of a little sister, and better things to do than be bothered with some “dumb cat.” But forget any of that. This living animal was mine. I alone held the power. I knew that I was the stronger, bigger one.

Her fate was in my hands. For the first time I was the one to restrain, not be restrained, and it felt good. I could see why my brother liked it. The thought sickened me as I stared down at my hands in disbelief.  Even at eight years old, I knew that feeling was wrong. My mother would never do this kind of thing. Only bad caretakers would. Fear plummeted to the pit of my stomach.  What does this make me?

“Come on, we are going to be late!” my mother calls from inside. I hurry to climb shotgun into our sky blue Plymouth Voyager, leaving the kitten down in the grass. We are already late for a meeting at church, and I can hear the stress in my mother’s voice rising as she rushes down the stairs, carrying so many bags over her shoulders and under her eyes. She held so much of my world together. If that’s what being a mom meant, I don’t believe I could ever do it.

The sound of the ignition interrupts my reverie as our old van springs to life, and my mom flings her purse in the space between our seats. She puts it in reverse, steps hard on the gas, and that’s when I feel it. So fast I don’t even have time to process what the bump meant, then so painfully slowly, leaving me breathless as if my own lungs are the ones being crushed. Tiny ribs collapsing, the weight of an eight passenger van and two human bodies, alive and breathing, as life is sucked from a kitten, not yet one month old.

My mom quickly jams it into park and falls silent with the realization. It’s almost as if the world stops and gasps, watching, waiting.  I throw open the passenger door and scream, seeing the tread of the tires imprinted on the patched white fur. The mark I left. I know I am going to be sick. Bones and blood and whiskers and more blood. Blinded by hot tears, I go to hold the limp head in the palm of my hand but stop when I see its pink pearl nose. Just minutes ago it was wet and soft. Now, guts gush through nostrils. They push out, pouring red and already caking over in the hot July sun.

I realize I am still howling. Was this because of me? I know things about accidents, a little about death, some about pain. I know bodies have spines and heads and hearts and bones, and blood. There is so much blood. I wonder if this is God’s way of punishing me. I wonder if God will pluck me from this driveway and shove me in a box and slam it shut. That doesn’t happen, but I feel the guilt just the same. Death doesn’t care what mark it leaves.

Although numb, I force myself into motion. I stand up with skinned knees, spinning around wildly to face my mother, and choke out the words,

“You.

Killed.

Her.” 

I am hysterical, repeating it over and over again, wailing so loud I’m sure the Kilburn’s next door could hear, despite the overgrown fields between us. Everything inside me breaks. My mom is at my side instantly, smoothing my hair and whispering apologies. We don’t say it, but I think we both knew it was my fault. We lived in the middle of nowhere and left our pets outside all the time, but this was different and I knew it.

Why did I leave the kitten so close the driveway? I should have kept her inside. Why didn’t I check to see where she was before getting in the van? How could you be so stupid? Good job, moron, I could already hear my brother saying. I block out his voice in my head. I can’t think of that right now. Forget this church meeting, I don’t care. I insist we hold a funeral for her right then and there. We can at least give her that. My mom obliges, albeit reluctantly, and disappears into the basement, emerging with a cardboard box for a coffin.

“We have to put holes in the top,” I say. I had learned this is necessary for creatures to still breathe. She doesn’t remind me that the kitten is already dead and this is useless, but instead pokes holes through the top of the box. And then my mother, still in her black pumps, follows me to the woods. She carries the kitten’s lifeless body in the curved belly of one of my father’s shovels. I choose a spot next to one of my favorite trees, feeling the heavy box hit against the side of my leg as I walk up the hill. I tell her we should pray, or give a speech like I saw them do at my uncle’s funeral last year. She bows her head to pray, but I hear nothing.

My head is spinning. I am wondering if Jesus will forgive us. For how I kept that kitten trapped in my dresser drawer, for making my mother late for her meeting, for not paying attention to where the kitten was, for everything.  I look down at the dandelions I’ve picked to cover the grave, and realize I never even named her. Perhaps I knew, even at that age, that she wouldn’t stay with me for long.

Seventeen years later, when my mind has a better understanding of motherhood, and my hands know how to hold something fragile, I still feel my lungs give out at the question, “When are you having kids?”  Distant family members will ask me, trapping me at the dinner table during holidays. It is suffocating. I wonder sometimes if God forgot to poke holes in the top of my box.

When I try to explain to people that I just don’t want children, I give them reasons like finances and freedom. I don’t say how I am afraid of what my own two hands could do, or how you can love something so hard and still not keep anything safe in this world. I do not reveal my choking insecurities and how I feel unfit to care for another. Nobody asks. I know they label me heartless, but it seems easier to ignore that.  Because it’s hard to explain how when love and death and fear gripped the axles of a four door van, and guilt flowed freely into the four chambers of my heart like blood out onto hot asphalt, this decision buried itself in my womb many summers ago.

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Sala Vega

Sala Vega

We met in the small moment when thick Barcelona air stopped on a dime
I was trying to catch a train, you were asking for the time
Two blonde girls, lost and confused
Same color in our eyes, just different hues.
You’re from Russia, and we spoke Inglés
Talked about men and whiskey, liked the way both taste
I found a friend, God himself must have sent
One of the same, but yet so different.

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Tequila sunrises have always been one of the loves of my life.
It’s what we ordered when my new Russian friend met up with me, my first night to escape from the house, and her to experience the way my native English language sounded, as we threw our blonde heads back and laughed like teenagers again.
What an odd combination, the Dutch workers would say. But it was almost like I had known her for fifteen years, not minutes, when we crossed paths in a Spanish train station.
Slipping inside that discoteca was the best ten euros I don’t remember spending. I was bathed in a dream, because the air was hot and free and the music filled me with what I thought I knew.

I won’t lie to you, I was infatuated with her. Elena, Lena, Helen, whatever. She was tired of the cold winters in her country so here she was, coral dress clinging to her hips like a child being pried from its mother. Her hair whipped the edges of the world around me as she jumped up and down, pumping a fist into the air to the beat. Maybe it was the tequila, or maybe it was because for the first time in two months, I had a friend. But, My God, I just felt invincible. I remember thinking: I need to write about this. I have to write this down so it will never end. And then there was the foam- frothy, translucent spheres bubbling from machines and soaking into our sun-kissed skin, snaking across the floor and billowing out to touch the flushed faces of young girls and men who couldn’t think of wanting anything more. They throw out “¡Qué guapa!” for us to catch at our feet.

I wrung out my hair, the droplets trickling down my breasts as I caught my breath, and tilted my head back. Clear liquor in a red and white bottle. Had to be cheap vodka, but I needed it. To dance with her, to keep up with the crowd of a Monday night, to love like a tourist and live like a local. And there was France by the DJ booth and Germany at the bar and I think Italy on the dance floor, yet we all melted together. A family of worlds from America and Russia and the unknown guy in the corner with a stuffed penguin, and the stuck up girls with now ruined designer handbags, and it didn’t matter because it was like we were born to dance to this song. Helen kept swaying, but I had to get more tequila, this time by myself. I needed it to make it to the morning.

And just like that as I made my way back to her, it was over. And I didn’t know how or when, but there were guys sliding across the floor on their stomachs, making the soapy mess a playground. There was an empty room- when did the crowd seep through the back door? And there was Helen saying goodbye and mumbling something about a taxi, but we were both too tipsy on the moonlight to understand this was the last we’d ever see each other. My hand was taken by the DJ who took me to the beach and told me I was beautiful, and I told him thanks but I had a boyfriend, and I could tell he was leaning in for a kiss but he helped me into a van, and I was driven halfway home, from what I know…

The next morning I wake, my eyes finding the house keys, and a cup of water. I know I couldn’t have done it alone but I pray that I did. Helen, where are you? And I’m so sorry. I’ll come spend winters with you in Russia if you can fly me out tonight. And I’ll make 7 am Tuesday morning up to you.

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E.T. Phone Home

Tuesday, July 2. 2013

We set off for Marineland early in the morning. It reminded me of Waldameer‘s water park (in Erie, PA). We first went to the dolphin show, and then stayed in the kiddie pool the rest of the afternoon. I went down a couple water slides with Jordi and Mar. For lunch, we had ham sandwiches (“bikinis”) and also got gelato before making the trip home. It was an exhausting day for all. Once back home, Jordi put together a more traditional Mediterranean meal. This was interesting… Sonsa? I believe it was called- very skinny fish that were ingested whole. Except…the eyes were still there. Now, I am not a particularly picky eater, and I will try anything once. And it was good! But I could not get past the fact that I was eating this fish with its eyes still there. I swear it was staring at the back of my throat as I swallowed it.   Next, I talked with JJ for quite a while. (For those of you unfamiliar, he is the man in the picture on my post The Foundation. We were friends from college that kept in touch the entire time during my five months abroad, and are now dating!) It was so good to hear his voice! He always makes me laugh. Here’s our conversation about my dinner:

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Later on, Jordi and I went to the supermarket. He told me I could pick up whatever I needed. Embarrassed, I put tampons, shampoo, and a razor in the cart. I said a silent prayer thanking God that I would finally have a razor- because I needed one more than life! And I’ll shamelessly admit that I couldn’t read the labels on the bottles in the shower, so I am not entirely confident what I have been washing my hair/body with these past couple days…

At the supermarket, it was shocking to see the switch between fresh and processed foods. Jordi took me walking through the weekly food market downtown where you can buy local fruit and vegetables. “This is how you know it’s fresh,” he said, motioning to an insect crawling through a head of lettuce. “It’s straight from the garden because these are still there.” He also showed me what the good price of meat is and some esteemed fish markets in Costa Brava. I felt like…I needed to not eat so much processed crap. And that I really should learn to cook, like him. He also made gazpacho, which looks like a delicious smoothie, but is made with with raw vegetables.

After we returned to the house, the kids and I went to the pool upstairs at their grandparents’ house. I don’t think that Jordi’s dad likes me too much. He seems very uptight and is not warm to me. Perhaps he thinks that having a stranger be an au pair here is a mistake, and that I am just another mouth to feed. Or, that I am just a young American girl that is incapable of being any help as a teacher to the children because of my inability to speak Catalan, and their young age. Whatever the reason, I can’t deny that this stings.

Now it is late, but I just got off Skype with my mom. She is sending me a package with more toiletries, necessities,and iPad accessories (since I fried the other ones). I am so grateful! Who would have thought that I’d ever be so happy to have such simple items? (Now, I was far from destitute, and I had saved up plenty of money from my first job after college to buy whatever I did need, but I just hadn’t had the chance to go to the store to replenish my own items, or didn’t pack them in the first place for other reasons.) Cliche as it sounds, the one thing I have learned quickly is that the things I truly need in this life are few, and plain and simple. I have neglected to remember that, but was reminded when my mom drove to Pittsburgh to help me prepare for this move.

We were finishing packing my backpack and boxing the rest of the stuff into storage when she said, “You have two boobs and there’s seven days in a week. Why do you have so many freaking bras?!” I love that woman.

But in all honesty, she’s right. What is it all for? I don’t need two closets full of clothes. I don’t need the latest technology, designer handbags, or more items that clutter my life. You can’t take these things with you when you go.

Just give me the sound of my mother’s voice (and maybe some clearly labeled shampoo) and I’m golden.

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The strength of this woman is unmatched. She didn’t want to let her baby girl get on a plane to Europe alone, and she certainly didn’t understand it, but she still stood by me. She’s my backbone.

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Clarification on FROM THIS SIDE OF THE SUN

*Clarification on From This Side of the Sun:

I traveled to Europe alone over two years ago, in the summer of 2013, and was there for five months. I started this blog because I want to share my experiences, photographs, and travels with you, as I never wrote or spoke about it much. I want to give those stories and people and places a home in the form of this blog. That means these events happened in the past, not currently.

However, I also will be posting more recent and current writings: poetry, short creative nonfiction pieces, random thoughts, photography, etc.

For my journal entries, I will categorize them into the country they occur, and mark them at the top of the paragraph by a bold date. For example, Beaches, Bathroom Accidents, and Bread Making has the date of June 29, 2013.

This is how you can distinguish between the two. I understand it is tricky, and I apologize for any confusion- I am still getting acquainted with WordPress. I hope you enjoy, and would love to hear from you!