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 9, ABERDEENSHIRE

Scene in Europe, Scene 9, Aberdeenshire, Roses and Thorns

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Sophie and Marty were sitting across from an ancient dovecot, amid the topiary gardens of Craigievar Castle, on a hill in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, not far from the Queen’s summer retreat in Balmoral which they’d driven through earlier in the hope of a royal glimpse but settled for buying a packet of custard creams in the local convenience store. It was an unexpectedly sunny day having arrived 4 days earlier to their two story Nordic styled lodge in the Hilton’s Craigendarroch resort, tucked into the woods of Royal Deeside, under a heavy blanket of clouds and rain. They’d detoured from their mainland European vacation for a family wedding, a distant relation of Sophie’s whose name she kept forgetting, but the festivities had distracted them from the downpour of the previous days. But now the party was over and it was their second day of Scottish exploration, at a slow pace, of course, considering the bunions, new hips, angina and all round ageing. Thankfully all bowel blockages were now a thing of the past, helped hugely by the sausage, bacon, eggs and haggis breakfasts.

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“It’s a castle,” Marty said disappointedly to his wife.

“I can see that, Marty, you think I bring you with me to point out the obvious? You think I thought it was mall?” his wife joked in her usual sarcastic tone, “this is what happens when you don’t want a shoe larger than your foot!” she whispered to herself. Even as a young girl, she knew she would never be able to cope with marrying someone bigger or better than herself, so you get what you’re given instead.

“But another castle, Sophie, really?” her husband questioned.

“Yes, another castle. Oy, if only I coulda got me another husband. Listen Marty, we don’t have these back home. It’s a once in a lifetime trip and at least it ain’t a cathedral,” she reminded him.

“But it ain’t all that different either,” he tried to point out.

“Oy Marty, you old putz, it’s a whole other story to a cathedral. People lived here; lords, earls, barons; the elite, gentry. Didn’t you watch Downton Abbey, it’s all the rage these days, all that old fashioned stuff; maids and servants, upstairs, downstairs; the traditions. We don’t have that sorta thing back home, all that land and not a bit of room for tradition. We pretend we do… but it’s all fake. We prefer a good condo to an old castle, even though we build our condo’s to look like castles.”

“Sophie, may I remind you that we’re Jewish, we have nothing but tradition.”

“Well, mazel tov to you then. We have our path, I know that, our Halakhah. I walk it daily and with you, believe me, Marty, it all takes on a whole other meaning,” she said with an exhaustive shrug, “we have Shabbat, Hanukkah, Yom Kappur, the mitzvah’s, the brit’s, the kipa, yada, yada, yada… they’re all a part of me, I ain’t denying that. But this, this is a whole other something, this is tradition on a whole other level. This is grandeur, this is excess, ain’t no one chopping anything off in these traditions, Marty.”

“Soph, you can’t say that,” her husband replied in an attempt to reprimand his wife’s words of disrespect for their faith.

“Really Marty,” she slapped back at him with that look he knew so well, reminding him instantly that he had forgotten that nothing was ever forbidden from falling from her lips, aside from a few words of affection that wouldn’t go amiss occasionally and a few other unmentionable words that he used to miss in the bedroom department, although that was now a department they no longer visited together. Someone had to love her, he told himself, maybe this was his Halakhah; his path in life.

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The baronial 17th century Craigievar Castle with it’s practically pink turret towers and glaring gargoyles loomed over them like a fairytale come to life as they shaded themselves beneath a giant topiary bush which Marty suggested was shaped like a UFO, a comment he’d earlier regretted sharing with Sophie.

“This one has a ghost too, you know, another story of love and loss,” his wife mentioned with a certain lightness to her gravel based voice while she scanned over the guide book, “seemingly, the father of a beautiful damsel tried to kill one of her suiters while he was climbing in the window one night, but before he was pierced in the heart, he fell from the window itself and plummeted to his death. Right here. Now they say he roams the hallways, in the eternal search for his love,” Sophie told him, “now ain’t that just darling. See Marty, men knew what love was back then, would do anything they could for it, dead or alive.”

“You know, Soph, they told us all this while on the tour, is your hearing all right? You think it’s time for a hearing aid? We could be hearing aid buddies,” he joked but as usual, she didn’t smile.

“The only aid I need is carrying around your lard ass, Marty. That pizza overload from Italy’s still pushing your tush southwards. And I can hear damn fine, thank you. Just can’t understand a thing anyone round here is saying. You sure it’s really English they speak in Scotland? I have my doubts. I can tell you. But it sure does sound good and boy oh boy, the men round here are real men, Marty,” she said, reminding him once again, in her own not-so-subtle way, of all his inadequacies.

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Yesterday, before their walk around the Spittal of Glenmuick at the end of Loch Muick, protected by the luscious heather covered hills dancing over glorious green mosses all rejoicing from the recent rainfall, they’d driven to Braemar Castle, built as a 17th century hunting lodge. It was there that Sophie had first been driven wild with excitement by the history of it’s reported ghost; a young woman who’d killed herself on her wedding night after awaking alone and believing her husband had deserted her. Sophie was almost teary eyed at the thought of the poor ghost, newly married and newly dead. And yet Marty’s wife managed to spent most of her time critiquing him, chastising him, chopping him. Today Marty realised he would never fully understand this woman on front of him, even if he managed to survive as long as this castle on front of him.

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He looked over at her; her dyed blonde hair, the skin a little softer now on the face as she’d missed her last two Botox sessions since they’d been away, her once buoyant chest now almost leaning on her fanny pack as she bent over to adjust the side seam of her turquoise leggings. Romance, he said to himself, half the time her heart’s as stone cold as these bloody castles and cathedrals, impervious to time and man himself. And other times, well, sometimes the drawbridge lowers itself to allow entrance but nowadays, with body getting older, that drawbridge seemed to be having trouble opening up as much as it used to.

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“You’re a real oxymoron,” he told her with a smile on his face.

“And you’re a real son of one, but so what? We make do with what we have, Marty,” she said as she took his hand to heave herself up out of the seat, “all these tales of youth and romance, they bring a flicker of something to me, what can I say?” she said with another shrug, an annoying habit she’d picked up in France.

“And what about us, what about our romance?” he asked, hands back to hiding in his tracksuit pockets, fearing the reply.

“Oy Marty, come on now, love in youth is a crown of roses, love in old age… it’s a crown of willows,” she told her husband as he made a small yelp, having leaned back too far against the shrubbery and pricked himself on a thorn from one of the low lying rose bushes.

“All righty then,” she continued, ignoring his pain, “how about we see about getting you a kilt to show off those legs of yours? You know how much I like your legs.”

“Well Sophie, that’s real nice of you to say,” he said, instantly forgetting the prick and suddenly beaming with an underused sense of pride and a rise in affection for his fortified wife. Perhaps the drawbridge just needed a little oil, after all, he thought to himself.

“Yeah well, Marty, anything to distract me from that saggy ass of yours.”

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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 7, ERUPTIONS IN POMPEII

 
Scene in Europe, Scene 7, Eruptions in Pompeii

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“You remember the dust in Florence, Marty? Well, let me tell you, I was wrong, that wasn’t dust, this is dust. How many bubkes did this cost us? Look at it, I mean, the parties certainly done and dusted in this fakakta place,” Sophie complained, not for the first time, to her long serving husband as a sea of sweat swept its way down her neck, seeping under the strap of her bulging brassiere strap and on down to places her husband hadn’t seen in years, “and where are the people? I read in a book they had folks from ancient times, days of yore or what-have-you, who were turned to stone, literally, and you could see them! Well, I ask you Marty, where the hell are they?”

“That’s a lot to deal with all in one go, Soph. You want me to start anywhere in particular?”

“Oy, Marty. It was rhetorical, re-tor-ic-al,” she repeated phonetically, “don’t be a schmuck, if I ever needed an answer to anything, have I ever asked you? Come now Marty, let’s face it, you don’t send a dog to the butchers shop!”

Marty ignored her little saying, and the knowing dig, but was grateful that, since being in Europe, she’d actually managed to reduce her spewing of confusing little rhymes, phrases and all around sayings about what to do or not do with life, though never her’s, alway other peoples, but she rarely managed to use the right saying at the right time, he knew her more as a woman who liked to be heard than to put too much worry into the content of what she was actually saying.

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“If we ever get to Berlin, you can be advised to just lock me up in Jane’s apartment, after we check it out first, mind you, and then just leave me there, night and day,” she told him.

“What, so you can take to peeing in the closets like Mary Margaret’s old klutz? That was a narrow escape, I tell you.”

“I just need some structure, can’t you understand that?” she asked him as she twisted her fanny pack back around to the front, “I need walls that are built to last, air conditioning, the fresh smell of polish. I believe the Germans know the difference between a bomb site and a bloody good building,” Sophie said, ignoring the still painful reminder of the loss of two shiksas who seemed like the perfect travel companions who they’d bumped into in Barcelona but who turned out, regretfully, to be no more than one half of a pack of lunatics.

“You can’t say that,” her husband told her.

“You wanna bet? Show me a good German and I bet they can show me a perfectly made bed with hospital approved corners and a decent martini, but I will say this,” she said, looking up along the remains of a cobble stoned road and off into the distance, “I will confess to being very partial to this landscape. Look up there, at that mountain, the pointy one,” she said as she mustered up enough force to raise her arm through the weight of the midday heat, “I wonder if they have a cable car or yet another form of decrepit transport to get up there. I’m sure the view from the top is just darling. And away from all this soot into clear breathable air. I need something to get my mind off all those vulgar men, loitering around that backwards station this morning. What is it about Italian men and their need to constantly touch themselves, as if it makes us gals all wanna run up to them and have a go on it ourselves?”

“I’m not sure what you mean about the Italian’s and having a right old go on them, but I do know about that mountain up there. That’s Vesuvius, Sophie!”

“Oy, look at you, who’d have known it? A schmuck like you knows the name of a hill. Marty, you wanna build one of those now, too.”

“It’s not a hill Sophie, or a bloody cathedral, and I never wanted to build a cathedral in the first place, thank you very much. But I will tell you that that hill you’re talking about, that’s the damn volcano that tore this place apart,” he informed his uninformed wife, “but if you want me to send you up, then I tell you now, Sophie Moskowitz, I’ll sure as hellfire carry you up there myself,” he told her, eye to eye, in no uncertain terms, “and throw you in.”

“Marty,” she yelled at him as the already ruined walls shook from the force of her gravel grazing voice.

“Sophie,” he yelled back, sending further reverberations into the city of what used to be.

And then there was silence. It was a standstill. It was 40 years of marriage together, day in, day out. It was 50 days on holiday, alone but together, back to back, with no family to break them up and distract them from each other. It was Pompeii and the weight of its own destruction in the scorching midday sun reflecting poorly on their own long standing, but often fragile, union. It was blisters, bowels, bunions. It was flights, fatigue and foreigners. Eruptions were bound to arrive, eventually. They just had no idea who would blow first.

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After 30 minutes of time out, Sophie found Marty sitting in the remains of the 80BC Roman Amphitheatre, looking more broken than usual as he sat on one of the steps, melting in his white tracksuit. What a vision, she thought to herself, this ancient site with its rising stone walls all around her and her ancient husband amid it, certainly no gladiator but, well, he’d done her well, so far. Maybe his angina was acting up again, she thought as she came towards him, although she was secretly more concerned that he’d get dirt stains on the seat of his white pants.

“But you love me,” she began coyly, hopefully and her head nodded with a mix of rejection and old age.

“But I love you,” in said as his facial frown cracked like plaster and he reached out and took her fine freckled hand in his as he stood up, next to her, and they looked around as if there were Pompeiian King and Queen.

“You know Soph, we’re just like this place. Once young and happy and now just crumbling under a heavy layer of ageing.”

“Oy vey, I gotta tell you Marty, you sure are full of shit sometimes. The only thing heavy about us is your mozzarella and basil filled pizza belly. How I ever managed to marry so beneath myself, I’ll never know,” she told him, much to his surprise as she looked out over the walls of the amphitheater until her gaze closed in on the point of Vesuvius, once again, “but I guess we gotta face it,” she continued, rubbing her free hand along the length of her husbands arm, at the end of which their hands were forever entwined, “it’s gonna take more than a volcano to tear us down!”

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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 5, Barcelona Bonding

 

Scene in Europe, Scene 5, Barcelona Bonding

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Gravel voiced Sophie and her hard of hearing husband, Marty, were sitting on a sun drenched terrace near a bustling intersection, burnt, blistered and blocked up but embracing a very real possibility of relief. They’d just met another American couple, also doing a European tour, though travelling in opposite directions, and they were overjoyed at finally finding like-minded people after all the weirdos they’d come across so far. It was also a well deserved distraction from their own company. Marriage could be a blessing, but 40 days together, without a break, was beginning to put more of a strain on their relationship than their previous 65 years of togetherness. Mary Margaret; big earrings, big boobs and bigger smile, and her grown up daughter, JoBeth; no earrings, no boobs but winning smile, had been at the same cafe, a table away and, as accents carried, a conversation began between the 4 foreigners and, 2 hours later, they were huddled together under the heat of the Passeig de Gracia putting this strange European world to right. Sophie was already calculating the possibility of cancelling Jane in Berlin and following her new BFF’s while Marty basked in the much appreciated attention of his new female admirers who knew nothing about his bunions or his wife’s poop problem.

“Oh golly, I tell you, Parc Guell is just wonderful, truly, like Disney without the Mickey’s. What can I say, I’m a Gaudi fan, love the man, even have one of his t-shirts. So much colour, I was in heaven while Mother just loved the mosaics, didn’t you, tell them, you did,” JoBeth was saying, “and then the beaches, oh my! Although I’d stay away from Mar Bella and Sitges. It’s sorta boys only, if you know what I mean,” she told them and gave Marty a cheeky wink along with her winning smile.

Marty and Sophie didn’t know what she meant but nodded away in blissful ignorance.

“And you gotta take the cable car up to Mont Tibidabo. I swear, I didn’t think that old contraption was gonna make it, truly. Thought we’d plummet back down when we were only half way up, but once you’re up, golly, the view is just wonderful, I tell you, wonderful. Am I right Mother, or am I right?”

“Oh well, she’s right, but she always is, it’s just darling,” Mary Margaret replied as she fumbled with her phone, “we should take you both up there.”

“And the food,” JoBeth interrupted in another bout of excitement that seemed irrepressible, “have you ever seen so many small plates just begging to be tasted? Tapas back home’s nothing like this. Authentic, didn’t I say that, Mother? It’s truly authentic. Watch out for anything red, mind you, blows your head off. Mother here downed a whole pitcher of water last night after the peppers,” she told them in between gulps of sangria, “then spent the night pressing her ass into the fridge. Not really, but you get my drift,” she said as her mother giggled and Sophie and Marty smiled at them even though they’d been petrified to try anything that wasn’t sauce free and grilled to cremation.

“Red is hot in every language, in every culture, on every plate,” the daughter told them.

“Unfortunately, Marty here ain’t really one for anything too hot,” Sophie told her BFF’s, as if signalling a slight disappointment at her own husband which, this time, didn’t slip past him.

“No, but you could sure do with something to let more than just the steam out,” he whispered to her “if you know what I mean.”

Sophie knew exactly what he meant. There was rarely a time when she didn’t, but there was many a time when she wished otherwise.

“And you gotta see the Flamenco, it’s wonderful. How they don’t break their heels with all that banging I just don’t know, and the noise, but it adds to the atmosphere. Just don’t go expecting a quiet romantic dinner,” she told the couple and Sophie wondered if this younger woman had any idea what romance was when you’d been stuck to the same man, bunions and blockages, for more than half a century.

“Our JoBeth was taken up, actually, two nights ago. This moustached man got her into a right sweat. She brought the house down, our little girl,” her mother said, smiling at her daughter and touching her cheek as if she were still 13 with pig tails and double track braces.

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“Oy Marty, things are finally looking up,” Sophie said, almost unable to contain her excitement when JoBeth went to the restroom and her mother left them to find a better reception for her cell phone, “these are the kinda gals who could put fun into foreign, into being away from home, for so long, away from good company. I feel homely just hearing their adorable accents,” she told her husband as she waved a salamander painted fan over her glowing cleavage.

“Thought we got away to see something new, Soph?” Marty replied, not wanting to appear too over eager at the adoration he’d been getting from these new glorious gals.

“Oy vey, you wanna make friends with these European freaks, Marty? I’ve barely understood a word anyone’s said in the last 3 cities. And now, at last, two smiling shiksas, happy to share their adventure with us. They’re probably lonely too, starved for a little male company, I’d say,” she said as she jokingly elbowed him, “seems such a pity it can’t last a little longer.”

“Well, they are good ones, I’ll give you that, Soph. And they seem to like us, even listened to your description of every cathedral we’ve seen so far. I can’t believe you hold in so much,” he remarked, with pun intended.

“So, how is everything?” JoBeth asked her mother when they both returned to the table.

“No change, praise the Lord,” she replied as she checked the buoyancy of her body-waved hair, “he’s in bed and she’s still held up in the suite with her empanadas for company.”

“And the closet?” the daughter asked.

“She won’t check,” came the response that intrigued Sophie and Marty and he gave his wife a look to see if she knew what it was all about but she seemed equally lost.

“Is everything okay?” Sophie asked, hoping her new friends felt close enough to confide in them.

“Daddy’s taking to peeing in the hotel closets. It’s our 3rd hotel in Barcelona,” JoBeth told them bluntly while her mother covered a giggle with a napkin.

“Daddy’s taken to what?” Marty asked, feeling more confused, “it’s not just the you of two?”

“Oh Lord no, sometimes I wish it was, Daddy’s here with us,” Mary Margaret explained, “and our Chilean nurse who’s decided to get homesick. Locked herself up in the hotel in the last 5 cities. Refuses to come out anymore till we go home.”

“And your Daddy?” Sophie asked Mary Margaret, confused as to whether it was her husband or if she just called her husband Daddy.

“Oh God, last time we took him out we lost him for 3 hours, at Park Guell. Security found him before we did,” she said, now unable to cover her laughter, “he’d taken off all this clothes and was sitting in the fountain. They didn’t see the humour so we were asked to leave.”

Neither did Marty or Sophie whose connection to their BFF’s was suddenly slipping away.

“He took a body wash across the road, in the Casa Batllo,” JoBeth added like it was nothing unusual, “there was an old washstand in one of the rooms, we got carried away with a painting and when we turned back, well, he’d just dropped his pants so we can’t go back there again either. It was truly a sight to see. A Chinese couple took a photo of him, they promised to email it to us.”

“Does this happen often?” Sophie enquired, deflating in her seat as her hopes ran down the drain.

“Oh golly, this is nothing, truly, wait till we tell you about Paris and the Louvre. He certainly put the smile on Mona Lisa. But it’s best if you meet him, maybe tomorrow?” Mary Margaret suggested.

Sophie shifted her position so she could kick her husband in the leg. It was time to go.

Who needed strangers, who needed peeing Daddies, who needed naked men in fountains? They had each other. They’d survived 65 years together. It was time to get back to just the two of them. Who needed American wackos, Europe had its own and they had each other.

5 minutes later, they’d made their getaway and were happily strolling hand in hand until Sophie felt her bowels finally move and she smiled at Marty lovingly before she made the most startling noise.

“There she blows,” said her husband with a proud smile.

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All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

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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