WHEN THE EMPRESS IS REMOVED FROM THE EMPIRE

 

There is art
           on walls,
               winding walls,
            in rooms
       on show
           with light,
                    luscious light,
                          and climate controls
                                   while she’s sidelined
                                to the shadows
                         to weep
                              for the darkness
                                        that devours her
                                               skin, stuck like tar
                                                       and trapped in stone
                                                once tempered
                                 by an artists touch
                      now off and absent,
             now long grown
                  cold, not being of stone
                                   but breaking bone,
                                                while she weeps
                         neath polished position
         on partitioned pedestal
and waits
        in the shadow
                      of his name
                         long forgotten from rooms
                alight with art
                                on walls,
                                          the art
                                                of other men,
                                                            maybe more remembered

          like lands,
                  once considered,
                           now grown careless
                                                in their unions
                                         next to nations
                                    who have not
                                          nurtured the need
                                                              to be noticed
                                                      for notions
                                               long ago
     set in stone.

 

All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

Audio Version available on Soundcloud:

https://soundcloud.com/damien-donnelly-2/when-the-empress-is-removed

 

 

SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 10, PORTUGAL, PEACE AND…

 

Scene in Europe, Scene 10, Portugal, Peace and…

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Henry spent the first two days of the Portugal leg of his trip in Lisbon, amid a wave of modern architecture in stark contrast with its older, neighbouring terracotta rooftops of charm and a sea of towering cranes best seen from the sleek cable-stayed Vasco da Gama Bridge while he satisfied his appetite with an array of fish dishes and an impressive selection of wines from the region but, after two days of hectic life in another city, he craved something a little more remote, so he hired a car and took to the hills and valleys and happily lost himself along country roads twirling through the landscape of forest covered mountains, tiny, almost deserted towns and sprawling vineyards that crept their way over the scenery as he coasted past it all.

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He stopped, finally, at the Pousada Convento Vila Pouca da Beira, a place that had quite literally been chosen for him when he fell upon it during a spectacular rainstorm; a white beacon of hope in the early evening’s sudden downpour, with it’s huge cross and flickering lanterns on either side of its front door, a vision of sanctuary that came out of nowhere as his wipers frantically swept across the windscreen of the car just as he’d started to worry that finding a decent place to stay, in the middle of nowhere, in this erratic weather, might prove positively impossible.

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As he slowed the car down and turned into the cobbled courtyard, the building and its adjoining church loomed over him in the darkness, looking haunted, naturally, but somehow cosy too, austere, yet comforting at the same time.

It turned out to be one of a chain of hotels all established in former convents or historical buildings throughout the country, hence its name. But it’s timing and arrival along Henry’s route was nothing less than a miracle. The large entrance door had just clanged shut behind him when the heavens finally crashed with thunder and, as he was lead to his room, past an inner courtyard and up a huge marble staircase with enormous tapestries and a thousand shadows that loomed ominously, the lightening clashed with the blackness of the night sky and echoed through the hallows of the building itself, giving an eerie uncertainty to the shapes, columns, corners and stone eyed angels that decorated the walls, lingering in shadows, waiting for the next bolt of lighting to announce their spooky presence.

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The room itself was basic but spacious and, when morning woke him, he opened the doors, stepped onto his balcony and took in the breathtaking view that spread itself out before him. The rain had washed away the shadows and the landscape now sparkled in a million shades of vibrant, life affirming greens as a scent swept through the air of the bounty of nature’s freshness, crispness and energy while below him, fresh coffee was brewing which enticed him back through the same corridors, inner courtyard and down the same glorious staircase which had been home only to ghosts and shadows the night before, but which was now bathed in its own glow of morning light as antique treasures glistened in their own grandeur before he took a seat on the empty terrance overlooking the lushness and life of the whole valley.

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It was silent, he was silent, the whole world was silent as he sat himself down. It was exactly what he had needed after almost a month of being constantly on-the-go; looking, searching, rushing, seducing, being seduced, being let down. A time of huge highs and a few comical lows. A time to become a man, he though as he figuratively tapped himself on the back. He had secretly feared the trip to Europe, all by himself. He hadn’t even travelled in the States without the boozed-up comfort of his often out-of-it mother, the occasionally present father or just on the road with his own friends, at the very least. But this trip had been his test, his personal journey, his own awakening. And boy, oh boy, was he beginning to feel awake.

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He sipped his coffee, looking down over the vineyard that grew out from the end of the gardens by swimming pool of the former convent before it disappeared into the forest below it, just as the land rose up to greet the sky, sighing in the welcome return of the sun after a night of unimaginable rain which seemed like a dream now on front of this view; this mirage of tranquil wilderness. The car had been pounded so heavily with rain that he’d feared for his own safely along the tiny, mud soaked road the night before, so when he’d seen the light, literally, at the end of the road, he’d stopped the car and knocked on the door without a single care as to who or what answered. He’d already seen the ghosts of Europe, bold and brazen and tempting him on streets in broad daylight. What was wrong with another one or two to add to his list?

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But surprisingly, in a place that looked more welcoming to the afterlife, even with its own gated old chapel in the basement, a crucifix on every available wall, and saints, carefully carved in stone, perched in every nook and cranny, the only souls that lingered about were living, breathing ones; smiling, nodding and giving off not a single scent of the scary.

The only Portuguese visions he saw came from nature itself as he wandered down the hills, amid the vines, and over fences to open pastures with grazing sheep and sleeping cows. The only smells he noticed sprang up from either the dew in the morning or out of every oven; simple roadside restaurants with the best roast chicken he’d ever tasted, deliciously fragrant cheeses from goats and sheep that came in clumps and spread itself over bread like butter or the traditional mini custard tarts, pasteis de nata, which was the one thing that haunted him as their delicate taste lingered on the tongue long after he’d finished them.

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It was life and it was his for the tasting, his for the taking, his for the smelling, he said to himself as he swaggered nakedly over to his bed as the open window let a gentle, warm breeze blow in past the curtains and he turned off the light and slipped his youthful, unlined body beneath the folds of the perfectly crisp hotel sheets. He closed his eyes and let his head nestle into the soft pillow, sensing sleep lean in to take him just as a hand reached over behind him, beneath the constriction of the blankets, and ran its icy cold, fine, foreign fingers up along his spine while his entire body froze in fear and the window slammed shut as the scent of death crept along his flared and frightened nostrils…

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All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 8, MADRID

 

Scene in Europe, Scene 8, Madrid and the Reoccurring Scent of a Dream

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Henry sat on the edge of the bed feeling his burgeoning body cave and crumble. He was exhausted, confused and broken. In Cologne, after a date that proved as evaporating as water, he’d met a group of Spaniards celebrating their last night before heading home to Madrid the following day, and, although he spoke no Spanish and they had hardly any English, he managed to wangle a free ride to Spain.
Little did he know that it would take so long, that the car would be so small or even worse, how much and quickly they would all speak, simultaneously, in a language he’d only ever heard his mother’s overly familiar gardener speaking. The trip unfolded into a 17 hour long cacophony of voices clashing within the confines of a sardine can while everyone sweated, salivated and slurped up whatever liquids they could find from motorway takeaways. Sleep had been hoped for but proved impossible sitting between two 18 year old boys intent on beating each other up. He’d envisioned an entirely different kind of road trip when they’d first made the offer, thinking of positioning himself between the two girls of the party but they turned out to be the designated driver and navigator and claimed the more spacious position in the front of the car, so close but just far enough to be out of reach.
Up till now, his European vacation had not overly taxed his Father’s credit card but his Father had told him that, if absolutely necessary, he could treat himself to a little comfort and so, as soon as he arrived in Madrid, he jumped ship, or car, grabbed a cab and headed to straight to Plaza de Santa Ana and the ME Madrid Reine Victoria Hotel, lush and lavish and on his list of just-in-case-emergency hotels.
“A shower and then a little rest,” he told himself as the bed seemed to lift up to meet his back and sooth his aching head before, almost immediately, all went dark. The next thing he knew there was a bright, warm light shining on his face, his mouth was so parched that his tongue kept sticking to the roof of it and a drool had dried itself to the side of his stubbled cheek. He moved slowly in the bed realising he’d fallen asleep, missing the afternoon and dinner, along with the entire night as it was now 11am the following day.

After a much needed shower, he gelled back his blonde quiff, admired his now refreshed physique and set out through the tiny, twisting streets of burnt orange buildings, bustling with determined locals and distracted tourists until he made his way to the Puerta del Sol, the swarming centre of the city and centre of Spain itself, with its famous Bear and Madrone Tree statue, the symbol of city, and the ever ticking bell tower, famous to all Spaniards as it rings in the New Year on every TV in the country while everyone tries of gobble down 12 grapes in the first minute of the midnight. Freeing himself from the crowd, he took the Calle Mayor with its 19th century buildings either falling, fading or fabulous, he found his way down to the sun drenched, sand coloured Palacio surrounded by melting tourists all queuing to see the guilt lined walls so he wandered around the neighbouring Almudena Cathedral instead before managing to make it all the way across town to the Prado Museum before 4pm.
“I’m gonna know this place in less than two days,” he told himself when he got back to the hotel and through down the postcards of El Greco, Goya and Velazquez before devouring two twisting, sugar coated churros looking like giant french fries.

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An evening nap left him dozy when he woke up as the clock flashed 10.15pm and he thought he’d missed another night till he heard the heavy bass of a sound system steaming in through the open window. Dressed casually in a fitted black V neck tee and white jeans, he took the elevator up to the top floor and gasped as the doors opened to the sight of the city spread out before him, glistening in the night light while the coolest group of people partied and paraded above it; beautiful girls in revealing dresses; sleeveless, backless, breathless and men in cropped trousers of every colour imaginable. It was the United Colours of Benetton meets Victoria’s Secret, all under a magnificent sky full of stars.

“Como Estas,” asked a dark haired goddess as he stepped onto the wonderfully scented terrace while she offered him a glass of champagne from the tray in her hand.

“Muy bien, gracias” he said, a little shocked at her beauty but taking the glass anyway as she looked him up and down and smiled seductively before turning away and vanishing into the crowd.

“Como Estas,” came a voice from over his shoulder and he turned to see another dark diva smiling at him while serpent-like curls swayed over her barely covered breasts. Henry didn’t know where to look but couldn’t bring himself to divert his eyes.

“Muy bien,” he replied again, ‘I am fine’ being the only reply in Spanish he knew how to say but she’d already turned and was sauntering away like a model twirling back on the end of a catwalk.

This felt crazy, like he’d woken up to his hottest, favourite dream, with audio as well as visual.
As he watched her disappear like the last one, into the crowd, another girl, this time a blonde with silver painted lips and an almost transparent dress, sailed past him, blew him an air kiss and offered another “Como Estas,” without even stopping for a reply.

Henry knocked back the champagne and made his way to the bar for something stronger but, from out of nowhere, another tray of champagne glasses came up to his face, held again by another Spanish beauty, offering the same “Como Estas” greeting.

“I’m in love,” he answered this time, the last glass kicking his courage and labido into place, “you smell amazing,” he told her as the nights breeze caressed him with her scent, realising it was the same smell he had been inhaling since the doors of the elevator had opened.

“Lo siento, no hablo Ingles,” she told him before she offered the same greeting to a man standing next to him, along with the same enticing smile. At least he understood when someone told him they couldn’t speak English but he was a little offended that the smile and look of come-to-bed-with-me wasn’t just for him.

“Fucking hell mate, d’you see the ass on that one?” questioned the man next to him in a heavy British accent.

Henry turned, relieved he could finally speak to someone in his own language but a tiny badge on the collar of the man’s shirt distracted him. It looked like a tiny bottle and splashed across it were the words ‘Como Estas’.

“I’m sorry, you mind if I ask… what’s with the badge… on your shirt?” Henry asked, pointing to the welcome words that he’d originally thought were opening lines and already a little worried as to what the response might be.

“Ah, didn’t you get one in your room, when you checked in, with the stash of samples? I’m with the sales team, over from London… for the bash. So there’s an American team, eh?” the man asked him, “didn’t realise they’d take it global, so fucking soon. It’s a bit cheesy for my liking but I guess you lot like cheesy, sorry mate.”

“That’s all right but I’m still missing something, sales team for what?” Henry asked.

“Christ mate, you had too much bloody booze or what? The launch… this launch. ‘Como Estas’, the new perfume. Don’t it smell like a real dirty fucking dream?”

“Yes,” relied Henry, deflated and disappointed yet again, “like a reoccurring dream you just can’t wake up from,” he admitted as he downed the glass of champagne in one go. Europe was suddenly beginning to smell far to aromatic for his liking.

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All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 6, CUNNING COLOGNE

 

Scene in Europe, Scene 6, Cunning Cologne.

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He was sitting by the edge of the river, proudly stroking the growth of his beard, as tourist boats sailed by when she passed his table and her scent caught him, a lingering fragrance of citrus and bergamot, flooding him with childhood memories of beaches filled with exotic tourists who’d frequented his usually quiet seaside town during the summer months, hijacking the harbour with their boats, the sands with their strange accents and all the while emblazoning his local haunts with an air of excitement and mystery.
Dressed in an almost transparent turquoise skirt that caressed her ankles and a cream, almost gold, fitted tee shirt, she smiled as if in reply to his stare and took a table next to his, even though the terrace was empty except for them.
“You are foreign, no? American?” she asked in a direct and clear voice.
“Yes,” Henry answered, adding a cough to clear his throat and break his stare.
“I think so, I see you here and that is what I think, you look much too relaxed to be German.”
“Well, can’t say I know much about that, only been here a day… you know, but you got the American tourist damn right, and in one go. Am I such a goddamn giveaway?”
“No,” she replied, both immediate and forceful, as if there were no point to ever question her answer and she swept blonde tresses back from her face that bellowed on a breeze that continued to cover him with teasing traces of her scent, “but you have an air of elsewhere, if you understand me correctly, you have a… a certain mystery to you,” she said, almost repeating what he had just thought himself with regard to the people who’d visited his home town, now way across the seas.
“I gotta tell you, your perfume’s sweet as,” he told her, sensing a directness to the situation that was both integral and to be encouraged.
“Oh,” she said, almost dismissively, “this stuff,” she continued as she brought her wrist up to her noise and took in her own aroma, “I guess it’s ‘sweet as’, like you say, to someone who does not live here. No one from here would ever remark on it, but thank you,” she said and he wasn’t sure if that had been an acknowledgement of his own ignorance or a disappointment at her own countrymen and their disregard for all that lay beneath their noses, literally.
“May I ask what you’re doing here, at such an hour, you know, for a Tuesday?”
“I may ask you too, no?” she responded, cunningly throwing his own question back at him.
“Well, for me, it’s just like you say, I’m the relaxed tourist, remember? So I got my excuse.”
She raised an eyebrow and smiled at his slowly reverberating response before turning towards the water to watch an open topped barge pass by, shipping coal down the ancient flowing valley of the River Rhine.
“It’s good to step out of oneself, now and again, do you not think? Test the other water.”
“I heartily agree,” he replied, reminding himself of the various waters he recently waded through and the ladies who’d only been too willing to share them with him since he’d arrived on this exotic continent, overflowing with tastes and odours that he’d previously only dreamt of.
“I go to the Chocolate Museum this morning, two children were at the cacao fountain and, behind their parents backs, they let the chocolate trickle onto their tongues,” she told him,” it’s that building just over there,” she continued, pointing just a short way down the river.
“No one from here goes in, you know, we don’t even eat that chocolate. But I saw them and wondered what it felt like, to be so excited, to taste what you shouldn’t, what you usually can only dream about and then… well, I suddenly found myself doing the very same thing. Can you believe it?” she asked him.
“No, but gimme a sec,” he said and he began to imagine her delicate tongue slipping its way out from her tender lips and moaning slightly as the warm liquid caressed her tongue.
“Okay, now I can,” he said as he shifted in his chair and spread his legs in her direction.
“I see you can,” she said, giving him a sultry smile before standing up and walking over to him.
“4711,” she told him, “Glockenglasse 4. See you at 5pm, today, then you can really get close to the scent that is so arousing to you. I see you there,” she said and suddenly she was off before he could reply.
Shocked at her straight forwardness, he quickly noted her address on his phone. Jesus, he’d been told the Germans were direct but this was something else. He’d been in the city less than 24 hours, was leaving the following day, but had already scored and scored big.

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At 4.30pm, he was on the way to her apartment, No. 4711, in the Glockengasse, building number 4. He was wearing navy American Eagle jeans that gripped this thighs and a crisp white teeshirt, trying to suggest an air of low key, kinda-bothered-but-not-really.
That afternoon he’d wandered haphazardly around the ancient town, past the imposing darkness of the city’s impressive Cathedral, a short flit around the modern art museum next door before taking some photos of the old City Hall as a smiling, newly married couple posed on the historic Renaissance steps of the hall’s magnificent Loggia which looked as if it had been kidnapped from some sleeping Italian city.
Later, after changing at his hotel, he turned off the Rudolphplatz and wandered through the gay dominated streets known as the Bermuda Triangle and realised that not only were gazes turning in the direction of his 21 year old ass, but if he didn’t hurry up, then he might not make it past some of the tougher looking leather clad drooling faces, all busy dreaming up ways to show an American in Germany how down right perverse they could truly be.
Once free of the wolf whistles and surprising amount of chaps without a horse in sight, he felt a certain stride slip its way into his walk. This Europe was doing its very best to make a man out of him. Mamma would be pleased, he thought. She’d had her own share of foreign adventures right on her own doorstep, throughout his childhood, with the Cuban cabana boy, the Mexican gardener and the Brazilian so-called masseuse, so perhaps it was rooted in his jeans after all.
He crossed a busy intersection and immediately came face to face with a startling Neo-Gothic building with the number 4711 splashed across its top floor. Instantly his heart began to sink. What the hell, he though to himself as the stride slipped from his legs and his steps became heavy and slow. Under the arches of the lower floor he could already make out countless windows stacked with enormous bottles of perfume with a turquoise and gold label.
As he stepped beneath one of the arches and, as the sun slipped away from his fair hair, he made out the name of the perfume, Eau du Cologne, and suddenly a German sense of twisted humour flooded his 21 year old innocence and foreigner gullibility. He’d been duped, he thought to himself. He’d met what looked like the perfect girl by the water in Cologne who’d turned out to be nothing more than a walking advert for the water of Cologne itself.
“You’re one damn fool, Henry,” he said to himself as he opened the door to the ancient perfume store and followed up on the truth of her offer by really getting close to her scent, even if it was only in a cold, but well packaged, bottle.

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All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 3, FLORENCE

Prose,
Scene in Europe,
Scene 3:
Famished in Firenze

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Florence bustled in the early evening light as true Italians took to the streets in their finery, partaking in their nocturnal parade of pride and prowess. It was still early for aperitivo’s but the hunt was already on for the best place in town to sit, see and be seen. Sophie and Marty had found the terrace at Harry’s Bar, along the banks of the River Arno, the night before and today had downed two cocktails before the bells of the Santa Marie del Fiore had announced sunset. Marty was wearing the new tracksuit Sophie had found for him in Paris while she herself was in her usual colourful leggings, cerise today, and a lightweight North Face jacket beneath which she’d tucked her fanny pack. It was their third day in Florence and their 30th day in Europe and the sights and sounds of this whole new world were taking its tole on the pair of them, not to mention the demands of each others constant company.

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“I mean, it’s all just darling, who could say otherwise, but it’s so old, Marty,” said Sophie, attempting to whisper through her gravelly voice, a tone below what her husband’s hearing aid could pick it up.

“What’s that, Soph?” Marty shouted, attracting attention from the terrace of coffee connoisseurs who preferred contemplating the gentle gyration of the Arno than overhearing foreign critiques on their celebrated city.

“Old, I said, Marty,” she replied with a raising of the eyes, wondering if any of his responses ever required her to not raise her eyes, and asking herself why he always had that damn hearing aid on so low? He never hears anything I say, she noted. “I just mean, well… I just wonder, don’t they ever wanna to build something new on this continent.”

“Well, I guess they could ship everything off to a retirement village, Soph, but I’m not sure it’d travel that well.”

“Oh now Marty, look at us, we manage to move around, relatively intact,” she said with a quick look down at his feet which were now outside his sneakers. She could actually see his bunions throbbing while she unconsciously rubbed her new hip that had been a little too active in recent weeks.

“Soph, honestly, I don’t know what you mean,” her husband told her between bites of his custard filled pastry that flaked down the napkin he’d tucked into the neck of his t-shirt as if he were back at the Lobster Lounge, although it did cover the gelato stain he’d gotten earlier from downing an ice-cream the size of his head in the Piazza della Signoria, “you wanted to see it all, Alice,” he reminded her, “while we still had the ability to remember it, or have you forgotten that already?”

“Well, it just feels a little dusty, is all. I’m entitled to my opinion,” she said, with that attitude of poor-unheard-little-lost-girl that he knew only too well had never ever suited her well stocked closets of opinions, “and I remember everything, Marty, believe me,” she continued as she looked him up and down, “I remember it all… sometimes too much.”

“Oh come now, Sophie, I mean really, you’ve always entitled yourself to an opinion, has anyone ever told you otherwise? Really Soph, as if? But what about that Duomo, the Santa Maria what’s her name, you can’t tell me you weren’t impressed by that massive erection?”

“Dusty Marty, dusty, and I can tell you, straight faced with just a hint of Botox, I’ve seen more erections in my time with a lot less dust,” she said with a shake of her head, annoyed she’d followed him down the erectile slope.

“So what about that Palace we just saw, the Pity something or other? They filmed Hannibal there, and you loved that.”

“Dusty,” she remarked as she took a look at her fingers as if to check for a residue before she pulled a small vile, filled with lubiprostone pills, out of her fanny-pack and knocked two back with the rest of her Mojito.

“Are you sure it’s not your glasses? Maybe that’s the only thing that’s dusty, Soph. I mean, I saw you take them off to look at the tush of that David.”

“Oy, don’t be vulgar Marty, I have a new hip, I don’t go that low anymore. Besides, a woman can still look, no? It’s nice to see what an ass is supposed to look like… now and again, besides the one we have to travel with,” she said, knowing that his would pass right over his empty head, currently covered with an Orioles baseball cap, “and would it hurt you to look at mine now and again? Maybe then I wouldn’t be looking at a giant stone one, Marty.”

“Soph, don’t be looking in the mirror then, your tush ain’t that big,” he said, with a chuckle that told him that he still had it; that charm, that wit that had first drew her to him.

“Oy… he made a little joke. Bring me a drink,” she laughed with her hands and fingers washing through the air as if to fan herself from the shock of his response, “who knew all this time I was shleping about with a funny man? So what’s next then, Marty, or should I call you Jackie Mason?”

“Alrighty, well… according to the last few emails about the German itinerary, Jane said she has a couple of good bits of theatre lined up for us in Berlin, so we should cross that off the list while we’re here.”

“Oh good, so we can finally get some tips on how to build a theatre back home, eh? Who does she think we are at all, I wonder?”

“Oy, enough of that sorta talk, Sophie. Besides, I hear there’s a Dante trail in town, maybe we follow that tomorrow for a few hours?”

“Marty, for goodness sake, I’ve been following you for the past 65 years, now you want me to follow another old fool into the gates of hell. Let me tell you, heat burns, Marty, and when it doesn’t burn… it fades.”

“Damn it Soph! Alrighty then, well let’s just walk along that Vecchio Bridge over there and then we’ll go wash up before dinner. I’ve got a real treat for us, Alice, you’re gonna love it, I just know it.”

“Pizza again, Marty, really,” she asked him as she placed a hand over his bulging belly, “you sure that tummy of yours can take it?”

“Well, looks who’s talking. How those pills treating you? At least I’m able to let it out now and again. Would it hurt you to push once in a while on that toilet seat, Soph?”

His wife gave him a look that needed no words and her husband’s swallow was suddenly almost as difficult to pass as her holiday poop.

“No pizza tonight, Soph, we’re in Florence. Tonight we are dining on cow. Pure red blooded cow, a Florentine favourite, according to those in the know.”

“Ay-yay-yay, now you’re talking. I am practically carnivorous. I could eat a human right now. If it was good enough for Hannibal then let’s do it. You know how much I like cow, Marty. You sweet old man,” she said as she slipped her foot out of her sandal and gently grazed it over his stockinged foot and smiled at him before turning her attention to the last of the sunlight that slowly wound its way along the banks of the Arno. He was a sweetie, she thought to herself. He might not have been one in a million, but he was her one just the same. Mazel tov!

“Yes Soph. I know how much you like cow,” he said, taking a sip of his chianti and sucking in the air over it through his teeth while he put his hand on top of hers on the table before he turning away and, just a whisper under his breath and out of earshot, continued “and they say it takes one to know one.”

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SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 2, VENICE

Prose,
Scene in Europe,
Scene 2,
L’Ora Blu- The Hour of Blue

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All was cloaked in sombre shades of azure as dusk gently fell. Henry, 21 and fair haired, wandered through the shadowy slender streets of the ancient city that awoke within him so much of his, as yet, unspent youth and energy. He was only now beginning to feel the pulse of blood rushing through his body as he finally understood what it was like to look upon life and taste its endless bounty. Free and far from family ties, he’d been travelling through Europe on his father’s seemingly endless wallet of money and his mother’s gin flavoured blessing and quickly found temptations too intoxicating for his nubile body to say no to. He had a swagger in his step now that had replaced his teenage goofiness and the stubble, newly worn on his high cheek boned face, still enticed his own fingers to stroke its magnificence.

Having spent the last hours of sunlight in Piazza San Marco, amid the lure of the orchestra and the popping of champagne corks which increased his relaxation with every explosion, he left the small group of Spanish ladies who’d gathered around his table, intoxicated by his charm, carefree gaze and ripening musk, and wandered off alone to explore the island, leaving the grandeur of the Bell Tower, Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, stopping along the way to watch the market traders of the Rialto Bridge close down their stalls for the evening before he let the island and its canals be his guide. After taking a turn somewhere to the north of the island, through a cluster of narrow side streets of scorched red walls, lined with drain pipes, hanging baskets and swaying blankets on balconies being aired, he approached a rundown old bridge where a wane woman leaned over the balustrade and permitted troubled tears to fall into the water. Her taffeta skirts, in bolts of brilliant blue, billowed in the breeze while in her hand she held a single white zinnia. As Henry drew close to the woman, her scent enveloped him, an aroma reminiscent of his grandmother’s pantry filled with cinnamon sticks and almond paste wrapped in muslin cloths.

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“Why are you crying, Madame?” inquired Henry, “don’t you think Venice is already filled with enough water of its own?”

“Tis the hour of melancholia, sir,” she replied and, as their eyes met, she saw immediately in his those sparkles of youth and life that were so recently his gain and so long her loss. She looked away, as if to shield herself from more unnecessary pain, turning her gaze instead to the zinnia which trembled in her hands, hands that had once been complimented on their texture and tone, which now looked like cracked particles of paint longing to fall from a mural upon which it had rested for far too long.

“I am Padua,” she told him, but her eyes remained on her fading reflection in the water beneath her, “I was once worshiped like this Venetian City, had a youth that was considered priceless and a lust for life that was worshiped by all, and not just the myriad of merry men who courted me constantly. But time is cruel and now I’m as broken as the bridge upon which I stand, as the city upon which it leans into. So quickly fallen from momentous to meaningless and I’m falling still,” she said as she dropped her single zinnia into the canal.

Henry quickly bent by the water and retrieved it, still intact, though dripping with its own tears, but when he rose there was nothing more to see except for the empty broken bridge and a rusting balustrade held by nothing but the grip of unyielding time. It was then that he noticed the old and pealing poster on the wall just across the bridge, advertising the perfume.

L’Ora Blu was written in sapphire smoke escaping from an open bottle. “We are nothing more than the memories we make,” it read, “remember who you once were in the melancholic magic of L’Ora Blu.” And there, in print on the cracked poster, was Henry’s vanished woman, younger certainly, but still recognisable. As he watched the last of the light caress the wall, her fragile hand extended out to accept a zinnia from a man serenading her from a gondola, while the rest of her body leaned toward another hand, beckoning her deep into the shadows.

Time is cruel, he thought to himself, remembering her words, but then he remembered the bar from the previous night with its own myriad of merry maidens and he turned away from the scented shadows and headed off for continued adventure with that newly acquired swagger. As he hummed a tune to himself, he was totally unaware, that with each footstep he took, another petal fell from the single white zinnia that he still held in his, as yet, unblemished hand.

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All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 1, PRAGUE

Prose,
Scene in Europe,
Scene 1,
Prague; Crumbled, Cracked and Magnificent.

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A married couple are standing in line outside Prague’s Neo-Gothic St. Vitus’ Cathedral. It’s an old, cracked, crumbled, reinvented, restored and altogether magnificent building standing in the very heart of what was once Bohemia. In their early 70’s, the husband, Marty to most, in a typical grey tracksuit which many tourists over a certain age think is appropriate to wear while vacationing, ignoring how humorous the get up is on a body that can hardly get up on its own anymore, suffers from angina and bunions on both his feet which is why his oversized trainers slide about from time to time. It is also why it took them a full quarter of an hour to cross the 14th century Charles’ Bridge over the River Vltava earlier on in the day. Sophie, his wife, currently wearing an astonishingly large amber necklace which he just bought for her at the Erpet Bohemia Crystal store on the Old Town Square, still thinks she could’ve married better if she had of held out a little longer and has a voice that sounds like it scrapes over gravel as it makes its way along her vocal cords and out her throat. She has a new hip, a new knee and would have a new face if Marty weren’t such a tight ass with what she calls ‘their finances’ and he calls his ‘hard earned cash’.

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“So what’s so important about this cathedral?” Sophie asks her husband as the queue comes to another standstill.

“I don’t know, Soph, how many cathedrals must we see, I mean, really?” he replies as he leans down on her gamy shoulder to balance himself while he tries to adjust this Nike trainers for the twentieth time in as many minutes.

“I don’t wanna to see another cathedral anymore! You want to see another cathedral, Marty?” she asks him, adjusting her position slightly so that she can no longer be his balancing pole but so underhandedly that he doesn’t notice she did it on purpose.

“Lord no, I’ve had enough,” he admits as he steadies himself against the wall while the young couple behind them snigger.

“So why don’t we just tell Jane that in Berlin we don’t want to see another cathedral?”

“Damn fine with me,” agrees Marty, “though I believe that she’s already lined up a few for us to see.”

“Well, good Lord, what do people think of us, I don’t want to build a cathedral,” his wife insists with a growing impatience, “you want to build a cathedral, Marty?”

“No, Soph, I sure as hell don’t wanna build a cathedral!”

“Well then, there you go, we’ll just say that cause we don’t wanna build a cathedral then we can’t bare to see another cathedral. We’re old, Marty, can’t we be honest, finally? Oy!”

“It sounds like a plan to me, Soph,” her husband concedes with a nod and tries to put his arm around her but she adjusts the position of her over-the-shoulder-travel-pack just in time to keep his hands from making contact.

“In Berlin, we’ll see art museums,” she informs him.

“Art museums? Good Lord, Soph, what now? Haven’t we seen enough art museums already? And I can tell you, I don’t wanna build any art museum either!”

“Well, neither do I, Marty, but what’ll we do instead?”

“Drink beer,” he says with a self satisfying smile, proud of his own ingenious suggestion.

“Why Marty, you gonna make some beer back home?” she mocked him, not for the first time in their 65 year sentence of a life served together.

“No Sophie, I’d just like to drink some beer, that’s all!” he replied, as usual missing the overtones of her undertones completely while addressing her by her full name so as to give his answer a certain level of maturity.

“Well, alrighty, we’ll say we wanna drink some beer, see a little art, but definitely no more cathedrals!”

“Well, I sure do like the sound of that, Soph. You think they’ll have some of those old wartime tanks in Berlin?”

“Jesus Marty, what the… you wanna build a tank now?”

“No, I just want to…” he tried to answer before she silenced him with a wave of her hand that had ended every argument they had ever shared since the day they’d first met.

“Oh shush,” Alice tells him anxiously, grabbing his hand which she always took hold of in moments of excitement, as if to make sure they were experiencing it all together, “the queue’s finally moving,” she said with a quiver in that battered old voice of hers that brought an instant feeling of pride to her husband, “come on, let’s go see this cathedral!”

And so they did…

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Coming tomorrow… Scene in Europe

Coming tomorrow to 

Deuxiemepeau,

The first instalment of my series of Prose Vignettes entitled

Scene in Europe

The comments, comedy and commotions

of a married couple and a single man

making their way through Europe

on vacation…

Scene 1: Prague; Crumbled, Cracked and Magnificent

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All photographs and artwork by Damien B. Donnelly