Self-Indulgent Travel Journal: Edinburgh to Tampa 1

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5.38 am.

Yesterday I could feel the beginnings of something, a change of state, as I wandered town, picking up last minute gifts for friends back home, dithering about what to make for dinner. I felt my mind begin to relax, in the absence of stress about travel and in the presence of an affirmation, in the form of an acceptance to something I’d really wanted that came through this week, I felt buoyant, hopeful and creative. At the outset of a month-long holiday I felt capable of higher forms of thought in a way I hadn’t been while working full time.

Now in the midst of this change of state I’m attempting to affect another one. Moving from sleep to wakefulness has never been difficult for me, though the reverse has never been true. So I’m surprised to find that I feel almost human as I sit in bed (to which I have returned) fully clothed, waiting to leave the flat.

That being said I can think of little else to say but what I’ve already written, and I hope I get some sleep on the plane.

CROATIA SKETCHES 6 // Polače

sept 6:

Today’s been a warm, calm, lonely day. I think I’m ready to go back home, back to work. I hiked for a couple hours earlier today and found that an experience I’d wanted to have – a period of time and a place to walk where I could discern no sign of human activity – had been achieved, and that it was extraordinarily lonely. I had anticipated this and still wanted it but it’s helped me decide I’m not ready to leave humanity behind just yet.

sept 7 11.20am,
On the ferry now, saying goodbye to Mljet. The taxi I’d ordered for 9.30 came at 10, the 10.45 ferry left at 11. After a week and a half in this country I haven’t managed to get used to how relaxed they are about time. That’s a bit of a cliche about the Mediterranean, isn’t it?

My host gave me a lovely cup of coffee and a bag of bread and cookies – which I’ve already devoured – before I left. I had mentioned at the beginning I wanted to do some drawing (not just prose sketches) when I was here and my host really ran with that, even though I’m a complete amateur. But I suppose it’s good because it’s meant I’ve felt obligated to do some sketching, and I think I’ve improved that little bit. I left a drawing for my host in the room I stayed in, but after all the coffee and food and snacks is that enough?

My host also said I should come back, and I’m thinking seriously about it. Is the purpose of travel purely to see new places? This trip wasn’t. I think the next time I need to wind down and get away from people, maybe I’ll come back to Polace. At the very least I’ll recommend Pave’s place to my friends who decide to visit.

CROATIA SKETCHES 5 // Polače

[i’m back to numbering these again. Sorry.]

Sunday 3 Sept, 6.38pm.
Today was a tiring day, full of muscles i’m not used to using. I’m better on a bike than I remember, and haven’t had a proper coughing fit all day, well, since 1 this morning. I’m sitting on the balcony watching the sun go down behind the ridge to the west of the town. The one I cycled up this morning. I think I’m done with convalescence, which is to say I’m not giving myself any more excuses to sit inside and do nothing. The same can’t be said for sitting on the beach and doing nothing.

Polače has this curious second sunset, something I imagine must be very common in hilly countries but which I’ve never experienced. I’ll watch the sun go down, around 6.40, but the sky will only change color, like a proper sunset, twenty minutes later when the sun goes below the horizon, which is behind the ridge.

As I was biking back to Polače this afternoon a guy coming towards me lost his hat in the road. I didn’t know what to do so I just said, enunciating very clearly, ‘HAT.’ and pointed. The same guy has just walked below my balcony. I wonder if he knows I speak English. If not, it’s a bit less weird than me just having not processed the situation in time when his hat landed in the road. Maybe I only know the word ‘hat’, and not how to tell someone they’ve lost one.

CROATIA SKETCHES // Polače

[I’m giving up on trying to number these entries, it doesn’t really add anything other than organisaton]

2 Sept, 11.32am.
Up early again this morning, had a good breakfast. I owe the bakery one kuna (approx. .12 GBP) because I didn’t have exact change.

I’m going to write until 1 and then go for a swim at the beach. It’s windy, clouds are scudding overhead, and there’s a restive quality to the town. It’s very quiet and most of the yachts have moved elsewhere. I look at the weather prediction and I think I can guess why. We’re supposed to have thunderstorms this afternoon and tomorrow. I’ve always loved thunderstorms, probably beause (like rain, which I also loved until I moved to Edinburgh) they don’t happen often in California. And really, anything outside the norm is exciting and romantic to an extent. I’m pleased because I’ve got a good view over the little inlet and further east, out to sea, which is where I hope the storm will come from. It’s still intermittently sunny, but I can see the water getting choppier.

CROATIA SKETCHES 3 // Polače

31 August, 9.50am.
In Polače now. A couple hours to kill before check-in so I’ve found a little pebble beach further along the inlet, at the end of the street that makes up the bulk of the town. Polače is slower and more peaceful than Dubrovnik, I can already tell I’m going to like it here. I’m lying on pebbles, trying to favor my pulled serratus muscles, my feet in the water. The tides in this spot are so invariable that, when I lie back and shut my eyes, it feels like nothing more than a playful nymph, a sprite, splashing me with seawater. First softly, now harder. Perhaps she is trying to wake me up.

I’ve just noticed the cicadas. They’re a constant low buzzing chirrup, coming from the pine trees all around us which run in places right down to the shore. It’s a sound that says ‘summer’ to me though I’ve never lived in a place with cicadas. It fades from my consciousness without concentration. It’s almost subliminal and I wonder if it’s putting me in a sunny frame of mind, because all I want right now is to immerse myself in the cool blue water lapping at my feet.

1 Sept, 5.31pm.
Today has been a lazy day. I went for a wander in the national park, got to see the lake. I spent about an hour sketching an abandoned boat sitting broken under a tree. There was no one waiting on me and no one to worry about entertaining, so I got to finish.

Mljet has this kind of haze, I don’t know if it’s dust in the air or a light mist or what, but it creates a very evocative kind of layering, you can look out at successions of islands or hills, each one a little less defined. I think this is called a landskein.

Don’t know what I want to do with myself this evening. Perhaps a walk. A man on a passing yacht walks from bow to stern, and appears to be walking in place.

CROATIA SKETCHES 2 // Dubrovnik

29 Aug, 1pm.
I swim in the sea. This is something my mediterranean friends have told me to do. Nebulous medical benefits aside I had intended on it, if the opportunity presented itself, from the beginning. Swimming in the Adriatic has had a kind of unattainable lustre in my mind for the last ten or so years. I’d been on a trip, a cruise, around Italy with my mother. We stopped – possibly for tax or customs reasons, in Croatia for a day or two. I have a memory – I had thought this was in Dubrovnik when I booked my holiday but I realise now it may have been Split – the clearest memory of the whole trip, of dangling my feet in clear, impossibly blue water. Some extrermely tanned German kids were swimming in a cordoned section of the sea on the other side of the jetty I was sitting on. Oh how I wanted to join them. But our time was nearly up and I had no swimsuit.
Since then I’ve had a lasting fixation with clear blue water lapping against stone, unmediated by sand. This image has followed me even out of waking, I’ve had dreams of pristine travertine edifices facing onto a churning turquoise sea.
I ease myself into the water at this beach fronted by a luxury hotel. No one stopped me accessing the beach, and clearly not everyone swimming is a guest there, but my cough and the general strange paleness of my body marks me out as an interloper. The water is the perfect temperature, but there are currents and I cannot draw enough breath to keep myself afloat. I tread water and paddle around like the invalid I am, my breath coming in gasps. I manage five or ten minutes before I must get out, and then coughing takes me. But I can feel myself healing as I take the waters.

30 Aug, 4.30pm.
Went kayaking in the sea today. Not much to say about it but that it was exactly what I wanted. By some miracle I avoided a coughing fit for the whole three hours. It is only now that I have sat down to dinner that I begin.  Perhaps I am like a shark, I’m at my most robust while moving. Perhaps that is why nights are so difficult.
As I write I’m having prawns in garlic and risotto with cuttlefish ink, and a glass of local white. I had a coughing fit at my table between two other couples, and asked the waiter if, because I felt I was disturbing them, I could move to a different table. When I said this none of them disputed it, so it must have been true. This cough is making me obtrusive. I’m used to being able to go unnoticed if I want. This is not possible now.