Too ill to write fiction… I’m suffering from pampering withdrawals!
Tag Archives: non-fiction
Dex broke up with me approximately one month before my twenty-first birthday. It was also two months away from all my final assessments at University. To call his timing bad is an incredible understatement.
Although I can still relive with depressing precision the exact moment when the first love of my life told me he was moving out forever, the following few days are now a tear-stained haze of images – calling in “sick” for lectures, waking up with stinging eyes that were so puffy I could hardly open them, forlornly separating his belongings from mine whilst he was out of the house. But the one memory that has stood out from those painful first days, all these years and several other heartbreaks later, was the morning when my Mum came to visit.
The first thing she said to me was, “When was the last time you ate?”
I suddenly realised I hadn’t eaten anything for seventy-two hours – I recall attempting to swallow some bare slices of bread, but can’t imagine any cereal substance actually made it into my stomach – I simply hadn’t had the appetite. Despite this being highly unusual behaviour on my behalf, I shook my head. I didn’t want anything. I didn’t feel like anything.
Mum, with her twenty-odd years of matured maternal intuition, ignored me. “Come on, I’ll make you breakfast.”
I followed her half-heartedly into the kitchen, where she whipped up a small plate of fried eggs on buttered toast. Sunny side up, without irony.
And, of course, as I took the first few bites of my first proper meal in three days, a tiny fraction of me started to feel better. I didn’t recognise it at the time, but the small sliver of comfort derived from me eating those eggs and toast were my first steps towards healing myself – towards getting over Dex and moving on with my life.
. . .
Mr Blue and I broke up approximately one month before my twenty-sixth birthday. Five years had passed, but suddenly I was back to being that distraught twenty-one year-old who can’t see her future.
Except, this time around, everything else about my life was a hell of a lot different. My higher education was over. I had moved out of home and into the city. I was completely supporting myself by working in a soulless office – buying all my groceries, paying all my bills. I now had a whole new circle of friends. I also had the hindsight of what it is to be lonely, knowing you were once loved.
I am now a grown woman, which means I can’t just pike out of a day at work whenever I’m feeling broken. I have to suck it up and somehow get through those eight hours, pretending I still have my shit together. I have to act like an adult.
Now I have to make my own fried eggs on toast.
I went to Naples to taste the best pizza in the world.
I was visiting for other reasons too, of course – to see rare art and urban decay, do day trips to Pompeii and Capri – but really, as soon as I’d read that Napoli was home to L’Antica Da Michele, the number one pizzeria in all of Italy, I knew that it would be a stop in my Italian adventure.
I arrived in the city after four weeks of straight travelling, and summer had certainly come early to the country this year. The June heat had been oppressive, especially inland. The white sun bore down on the ancient stone cities like a Centurion, my pale Anglo skin trapped in a perpetual state of swelter. The day I arrived in Naples was no different.
But overnight, even the Roman Gods must have realised they couldn’t take their mortals’ humidity any more, because I woke up the next day to dark clouds and constant drizzle.
I must admit, I was disappointed. My first full day in a new city to explore, and it was washed out. Most of the hostel’s occupants were already camping themselves in front of the common room TV for day of DVDs.
But then, I remembered the pizza.
A little thing like rain wasn’t going to stop me finding this famous pizzeria. I figured I’d spend my morning at the National Archaeological Museum and wait for the rain to clear, then go have the best lunch ever. I grabbed my bag and an umbrella borrowed from the hostel and off I went, pleased with my impromptu day plan.
The afternoon soon arrived. I went to exit the museum, only to find a small crowd gathering at the threshold, staring outside. The rain had not eased.
In fact, it was the opposite – a heavy storm was now sweeping through the city. The rocky streets were slick with rivulets of the long-awaited rain. Even with my umbrella, the five-minute walk back to the hostel would leave me sodden. And the pizzeria was located somewhere on the opposite side of there.
I still really wanted some of that pizza.
I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. I mean, nobody else would be bonkers enough to go out for pizza in this weather except me, right?
So I braced myself and began my journey through the dark sheets of Neapolitan rain, huddling futile under my cheap umbrella. I walked slowly, simultaneously trying to decipher where I was according to my stupidly tiny and scribbled-over map of the city (a page torn out of my Lonely Planet guide), and not to slip over on the unfamiliar cobblestones. Needless to say, I quickly got lost. It took me a good half-hour minutes just to backtrack along the two-kilometre Spaccanapoli after working out I’d long passed the correct cross-street.
But then, through the tempest, the sun momentarily peeked through the clouds and I spied the right street sign. A trill of triumph rose in me. I sped up as I turned the corner!
…And saw a long queue of people packed along the footpath – sheltering patiently under their many umbrellas – starting at the opposite end of the block, and almost reaching me.
As I went to join the queue, resigning myself to even more time in the rain, a snippet of conversation from some American tourists landed in my ear: you needed to take a ticket before waiting in line. I immediately wormed my way through the throng of loiterers at the pizzeria’s entrance and found a waiter. He asked how many people would be dining with me.
“Uh, just one,” I pointed to myself, probably looking pretty worse for wear after my wet-weather wanderings. “Uno.”
He smiled and said in broken English, “We have room for one now. This way.”
I guess the Roman Gods really were on my side that day.
I was escorted to a table near the back, surrounded by the happiest diners I had ever seen. There were only two options on the menu: margherita and mariana. I ordered them both.
In about fifteen minutes the two pizzas were sitting before me, their pools of tomato sauce still bubbling. I had ordered the smallest size, but they were each roughly the size of a dinner plate. The intoxicating aroma of fresh basil and half-baked dough hung heavy and warm in the air.
I hunched over in my seat and admired my beautiful pizzas, telling myself to memorise the sight (this was before my blogger-days of photographing every meal). I then realised how ravenous I actually was. With both hands, I tucked in.
So. Was the pizza of L’Antica Da Michele that good – the best in the world? Were those simple slices of margherita and mariana worth braving a storm in a strange and occasionally scary city, all by myself? My answer is this:
Reader, I ate everything.
All of both pizzas. In approximately the same amount of time it took for them to be made. And went back again two days later.
Because goddamn if it wasn’t the greatest pizza I’ve ever tasted.
. . .
Friday 7th September, 2012:
Setting the alarm tone on my mobile phone took a lot longer for me than it probably does for most people. Despite its designated task, I didn’t want a tone that was too alarming, that would startle me awake in a cold sweat. In the end, I settled for a inoffensive guitar strum – upbeat, but not up-tempo.
The carefully thought-out decision, alas, turned out to be a moot point. What I actually wake up to at 7:00am is a sharp buzz that seems to infiltrate my very being, bitch-slap me at my very core – the phone suddenly vibrating against the thin plywood of my bedside table. A split second later the fake guitar starts its electronic shrill, mocking me with looping cheeriness that yet another working day has arrived.
I need the alarm because have never risen naturally at this hour. Rather, I need to be wrenched forcibly from the murky depths of my slumber. Waking up this way usually feels like I’m being revived back into consciousness after having been knocked over the head with some heavy object. I wake with my eyes crystallised shut with “sleep” and a terrible saccharine taste thick in my throat. I don’t ever feel like I’m properly alive again on these working mornings until at least 11:00am – and all my shifts begin at 9:00am.
My head full of static and silt, I force my body to roll over and switch my alarm to snooze. Most mornings when I do this, I am immediately assaulted by the too-bright light of my bedside lamp – accidentally left on throughout the night after I’ve fallen asleep whilst reading. This morning is no different. Blinded, I fumble for the lamp’s off-switch. I roll back towards the wall, trying to cocoon myself from reality beneath my warm doona.
But crap – I forgot! The goddamn alarm is still ringing. It feels like so much energy is required to roll back over and turn it off. The only reaction I can muster from myself is emitting a long, guttural, cave-woman style groan.
Then the first coherent thought for my day gently emerges from the dark fuzz clouding my brain:
“This is your last morning.”
This is the last morning I will have to wake up this early – the last morning I will have to awake unnaturally, to an alarm. This is the last morning I have to shuffle off, yawning resentfully over the sleep-in that I’m never allowed to give myself, to a stressful job that I loathe.
I shrug myself back over to my bedside table and pick up my phone. It’s 7:02am, and – for the first morning since I can remember – I am smiling.
It’s time to face my last morning.
This was originally written as a submission for publication in the soon-to-be-printed version of The Books They Gave Me. Turns out I missed the deadline by just under two weeks, but nonetheless I was really pleased with how this piece turned out.
. . .
Mr Blue was a book-seller, once upon a time. He worked part-time at several different chain stores across the city, his favourite one being the furthest away from his home – an independently-owned second-hand book shop hidden across the harbour by the name of Desire Books.
I first visited Desire on a unseasonably sunny winter day that just so happened to also be Mr Blue’s birthday. Neither of us had been scheduled to work for the whole day, so we celebrated this miracle by filling my car boot with an excess of unwanted books and taking a leisurely drive over to Desire Books. We were hoping to swap our pile for a new one of unread (by us) treasures, and on the way there we discussed which particular books we would like to return home with. I mentioned offhand that I’d like to find something by Anaïs Nin, an author whose existence I had only recently found out about but was instantly intrigued by. Mr Blue, who had of course already read most of the body of her work, assured me that I would definitely respond to her style of writing.
As I browsed Desire’s displays for new books to add to the tottering heap of to-be-reads on my bedside table, I took note of all the quirky details in this charmingly tiny store – the floral vintage fabric of the lampshades; the mismatched Scrabble tiles used to spell out each section of the shelves; the cluttered suburb bulletin board, layered with fading leaflets for local businesses. The small square stickers stuck on the back cover of every book to hide the defunct bar-codes, printed with the logo for Desire Books – a simple black and white illustration of a postage stamp, with a single striking word in its centre: Desire.
Eventually I re-joined Mr Blue at the front of the store with an armful of books, who was placing his selection down on the counter to finalise the exchange. I looked at his pile – on the top sat a lovingly weathered Penguin reprint of Little Birds by Anaïs Nin.
“Hey, you found her!” I exclaimed. “You’ll have to let me read it after you’re done.”
He stared blankly for a split-second, before correcting me with his soft introvert’s smile: “Oh, that one is for you.”
He had decided to use part of his exchange credit, on his birthday, to buy me that book.
Mr Blue loved me, once upon a time.
. . .
After almost four years in that foggy bliss, Mr Blue and myself broke up late last year. But I still own that copy of Little Birds.
Sometimes, when I can’t seem to shut off my brain for the night, I’ll crawl out of bed and pull the slender paperback gift from its spot in my bookshelf, hoping that Ms Nin’s warm cocoon of intimate words will lull me to sleep. And always, I will flip the book onto its back and lightly touch the sticker that Mr Blue had attached there so many years ago – a square of paper and glue still steadfastly holding on, even when he couldn’t: Desire.