The day after I arrived in Marburg having travelled for several weeks, I received an email from the university saying I hadn’t gotten onto the course I’d applied to. It was a simple email, no longer than a few lines. Despite having told my brother on the phone in a matter of fact manner that I was fine and it would all work itself out, I looked up at Jacob when he got home from uni that evening with tearful eyes and he hugged me with such love and a sadness for me. “I was looking forward to you being a student”, he said to me and I knew he was referring to our cohesive life in which we, equipped with student cards, would have explored Hessen together, attended lectures, worked in the library and lead a harmonious life. We’d be able to get up at the same time and start the day together, a huge contrast to our distant relationship the past year has seen. That’s what I saw in his eyes when he hugged me in his room, our hands held tightly together, pressed between our chests.
We spent four days in Marburg together. In the day I would be in contact with the university and would spend time applying for jobs, trying to move on from the image I’d created in my mind and Jacob attended a series of mycology seminars at the university. In the evenings we cooked together and he helped me keep my anxious thoughts of “what will I do now?” at bay. On Friday a change of scene beckoned us forth as we travelled to Frankfurt to take the night bus to Venice.
Night buses through Europe are much more fun and manageable when your loved one is on the other side of your travel pillow. We slept for most of the journey, shared music and woke up to the Swiss Alps as we crawled along the crowded road towards Italy. Mountains soon became lakes and the last couple of hours to Milan went by quickly as we packed out our breakfast picnic and witnessed the landscape change from kilometre long lakesides to the fields and agriculture near Bergamo.
My parents picked us up from the bus station near Venice and we excused ourselves for our state of having sat on a bus for nearly a whole day. They were just happy to see us and beamed with excitement as they told about the week ahead. Although I’d seen my parents just the week before at my cousin’s wedding, I valued the time I had with them that evening, especially seeing as the event was to begin the next day. I showered quickly and went to meet them in the lounge downstairs, knowing that this could possibly be our only time as a trio. We chatted about the trip and what we’d all been up to and then they asked about Marburg. With a smile, an act of reassurance, I explained the situation and in their shock I felt their sympathy. It was brief as my dad quickly followed up his surprise with comforting words of practicality, reassuring me that I should use the time to think about what I really want to do and not jump at the first job I see. Throughout the week they would both check in with me intermittently, gauging where I was at and asking if I’d had any new ideas.
From the moment I arrived in Italy, I was caught between two spaces: a week of writing with incredible people in an idyllic area and a place of conflict in what to write in front of my parents, partner and friend and who to spend time with when each person here has a story I want to hear. On our days out on tours, I battled with thoughts of appreciation for the present and concern for afterwards. That night, I found solace in the silence of my dreams and looked forward to the beginning of the seminars and the opportunity to breakdown my thoughts into bitesize amounts
On our first morning, a small group of four, including Jacob and myself, journeyed across the lagoon towards Venice. The warmth of the week that would later join us hadn’t yet made its appearance but I felt snug in my coat and enthusiastic to be here after many years. The alleyways of San Marco were slight and busy but not at top capacity. We navigated ourselves towards Piazza San Marco and recrossed our path several times. Once there, we realised the rest of our group were in fact where we’d begun and with nourishment on the horizon, we hotfooted it back to the Accademia. Jacob and I met the afternoon with a slow pace, exchanging our morning march for a leisurely mapless stroll in the carless and therefore peaceful place that is Venice.
Through the drizzle we wandered and stumbled across several exhibitions belonging to the Biennale, Venice’s international art exhibition that happens, as defined by its name, every two years. We found ourselves at the Antigua and Barbuda National Pavilion that looked at carnival culture across the world from Notting Hill to the West Indies. Later on, we found an art showcase in cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency. In art we see injustice in a new way. Four of the five artists have been granted asylum in various European countries, however, Hassan Yare from Somalia lives in a camp in Kenya and wasn’t granted travel papers to attend his exhibition. We’d stumbled across this second expo by chance as we’d lost ourselves in the cities corners and asked each other, “shouldn’t this be one of the main displays and easier to find?”
As afternoon gave way to evening we wandered back to the ferry. We freed ourselves of our coats as the clouds let way to sunrays that were gradually beginning to peak through. They lit up the buildings and emphasised the architecture’s bright and pastel hues, the colours seeming all the more intense as the grey masses in the sky drew away into the distance.
Doorways for Kathy