What follows is a portion of a rather half-assed journal of my summer trip through Europe.
Somewhere between Reykjakiv and Boston. Tuesday. Time: depends on who you ask, I suppose.
On my last day in London, a cute, blond Australian girl appeared at the front door of the Walrus Waterloo Hostel. I was on my way home from picking up another yogurt at the grocery store; she was trying to figure out how to check in. I let her into the bar that’s on the first floor and helped her find Alex, the dreadlocked man who’s in charge of the place. Then I said that it was nice to meet her and went up to my room – it was early and I figured I’d let this one develop and then see what happened, for a change.
Twenty minutes later, a knock at the door of my six-bed dorm; it was Alex and the Australian. She was my newest roommate.
We had lunch together, the Australian and I, at a place near Trafalgar Square. She told me what she’d seen that morning: buildings and palaces and parks. Then she asked me what I was going to do that afternoon.
The dirty secret about traveling is that seeing things won’t stick with you. Oh sure, you’ll get the picture of Buckingham Palace, but what can you do with a picture of Buckingham Palace? Put it in a photo album, I suppose. But, really, when we put pictures in albums, are we not just giving ourselves the chance, to one day, remember how we felt on our trips?
When I was in Berlin, I took the subway to Potsdam Platz to see Hansa Studio – the studio where U2 started (and later abandoned) the recording of my favorite album ever, Achtung Baby. I was proud of myself for going – here was an attraction that was wholly created by me, in that Hansa Studio isn’t an attraction at all. It’s a place of business. Accordingly, there was no one to give tours, no information, no documentation.
It was fun to think about Bono and the Edge stumbling up the steps I was standing on so they could start a day of recording songs that would one day be piped into my bedroom. But all I really got was a picture – taken using a timer, of me in front of the door to the studio. I was only trying to revisit the memories of other people by interacting with an inanimate object. I wasn’t creating memories of my own.
Later that day, sitting at a table across from a friend of a friend who had been commissioned to tell me about the city, drinking German beer and wondering if the girl who had just sat down at our table was waiting for her boyfriend or her husband. (Neither, as it turned out.)
That’s a memory.
Banging into the glass door at the NH hotel in Amsterdam at 4:00 a.m. and having that be my indicator that this particular hotel probably didn’t have any rooms and that my circumstance – alone and lost in a city I’d only known for 12 hours – were even more dire (and later, hilarious) than I’d previously thought.
That’s a memory.
The night after my lunch with the Australian, when she and I and the two Argentinian girls who were also staying in our room sat in the bar beneath the Walrus and drank Stella and spoke bad Spanish and worse English and then set out for a club that turned out to be closed for a private party and then saw a fox on the way home and then went to bed, not in the way that you might think is memorable but in a perfectly innocent, platonic, excuse-me-while-I-step-past-you-to-brush-my-teeth kind of way.
That’s a memory
Trains and restaurants and wines and maps and mistakes and conversations and feelings.
Those are memories.
I explained all of this to the Australian girl – or thought I did – with a shrug. I said I didn’t know what I was going to do that afternoon; maybe the Tate Modern, maybe not. She furrowed her brow, struggling to understand why I wasn’t more worried about seeing things.
I told her that I was sure I would remember the conversation that she and I had had that morning, after she’d arrived and was unpacking, and while I was lying on my bed, contorted by its tininess and listening to that story, than I would any palace or park or wall or tower or castle or river.
She nodded, as if she understood. And then she got out her map, on which she had scrawled all manner of circles and arrows and stars, and began to plan her afternoon.
I looked at her, smiled, and filed away a memory.
To read the previous Euro Bits entry, click here.
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