One day, you’ll see China for yourself and understand why I can’t describe it very well in one postcard. It is a land of opposites, complications, and yet… simplicity.
On one hand, the bureaucracy to do anything at all is intense, and often requires an app which only mostly works in English, until you’re trying to do anything complicated. On the other, in rural areas, life has never been burdened with problems like technology, literacy, money or germ theory. Truly.
The nuances across this vast land are stark. This postcard is of the old quarter of Shanghai. It might not be a quarter. Vendors sell whole fried squid on a stick and tourists line up down the street to buy them. In the narrowest alleys, people hang their washing on the electrical wires and they look like a canopy of multicoloured trees above a rusty rainforest of decay, but no birds venture here. The sky is white with pollution.
What no photo can ever convey is the smell. This area stinks of fermented pig urine. In the distance, skyscrapers loom. The clean, sleek future, eclipsing the murky past. Even during the Mid-Autumn lunar festival, few tourists venture down these side streets, funneled away by mapping apps and official, approved guides.
When you get here, this urban wilderness might be gone; replaced by more skyscrapers filled with things China wants to be known for, instead of what it is. A land leaving its winter, its identity is as changeable as the tide. I hope you will see it in Spring, once the sakura blossoms.
Maybe, if I’m lucky, you will see me in my Springtime, too.
Lots of love,
This is part one in a series of postcards I have written to my baby while I was still pregnant, telling them about what we did before they were born.
So I went to Shanghai a few weeks ago, during the mid-Autumn festival, and here are some of the pictures:
Moon Cake for the Mid-Autumn festival
Overall, it was a lovely city, but if you weren’t coming to China to see some other things as well (or at least coming to this corner of the world to visit other nearby countries) I’m not sure it’s worth the time and expense to come only to Shanghai from the US or Europe as a tourist. Definitely a lovely place to go if you’re already within a thousand miles or so, though, and the shopping here is fabulous. There are so many markets and shopping malls that you’re sure to find some nice things while you’re here!
Shanghai also has a recently-opened Disneyland. If/when I get the time/opportunity to go there, I will show you what that’s like, too.
It’s been quiet on this blog for a few weeks because I’ve been hurriedly packing a 3-bedroom house into 2 suitcases, then renovating parts of it so my friends could move in (they’ve taken the rabbits with the house, so don’t worry, the bunnies are safe and happy), getting all the official nonsenses sorted out and generally moving from Britain to Asia.
We arrived into Shanghai the day before yesterday.
The furthest I’d been before now was Rome, Italy. I’ve been as far as Italy three times, but I was starting to wonder if the world ended at the stiletto heel tip of Otranto.
I have also done some significant renovating to this blog. A few categories are gone, now, because those are things I can’t talk about while I’m here. I can’t take comments on them while I’m here either, sorry. It was delete some posts or delete the entire blog. At the same time, I took the opportunity to remove some of the 1-2 sentence posts that were life updates for regular readers. You guys have all read them, and they’re cluttering up my page organization, so they’re gone too. There’s probably more of those that have gone than anything serious. Overall, about 100 posts have disappeared from the site. I’m a little reluctant to do that from an accurate-record-keeping point of view, but it’s for the best from a clearer-blog-layout perspective (and let’s not get my website blocked in the country I’m living in because then I wouldn’t be able to update any more, and so many sites are blocked here).
So far, all I’ve seen of China has been Shanghai airport, which is the biggest airport I’ve ever seen (admittedly I’ve only seen 3 other airports, including the one I left Britain from), and my apartment. There’s been a couple of brief trips to fulfil official requirements but that’s all. I’m hoping there’s a chance to see and do things but my husband’s work started pretty much straight away, and I don’t have any Chinese money (or any way of getting any) or much independence due to our living situation, so the seeing/doing will have to wait a little while.
Also, it is HOT. Like, it’s been 35 degrees (95 Farenheit) this whole time. We have air con in our apartment. On the stairwells, in the bathroom and outdoors, however, it is seriously hot. The heat is so… liquid, like it clings to me and gets inside my body, then I’m exhausted all the time. The day starts and ends around 30 degrees and it just gets hotter. And it’s always sunny. It’s incredible. I’m interested to see what winter is going to be like.
More pertinent to this blog, of course, I am SO GODDAMN EXCITED to be able to buy and try out more Korean, Japanese, and other Asian beauty brands and techniques while I’m here!
I’ve been wanting to try The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Cleansing Oil for months, and I finally got my hands on it! I’m still trying to figure out K-beauty before I move to Asia, and this was near the top of my list of things I wanted to find out about.
I’m not a huge fan of facial cleansers in general. I have to confess that I normally clean my face by washing it in cold water (because our hot faucet didn’t work for 3 years, and now it’s a habit), with no products, then I pat it dry with a towel. However, when I wear make-up, that’s not enough.
I most often use the Clio Water Me Please BB Cream for a foundation (which I have reviewed here) because the SPF and PA ratings are really high, which is one of the main reasons I wear foundation (I really struggle to find a moisturiser with a good UVA or PA rating, despite the fact they all claim to have SPF-whatever in them, and it’s the UVA that causes skin cancer).
The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Cleansing Oil has a pump top, and the liquid inside is super-watery, I thought it would be more of a gel, so it will spread in your hand very fast. It’s also oily, because it’s a cleansing oil, and so I only use one pump of product on my face then I massage it in, especially into areas where I use a lot of make-up, for example my eye area.
When I get it in my eyes it stings a lot and makes them feel really dried out, so it’s not the best thing for removing eye make-up, even though it’s quite effective at getting rid of the layers of eyeshadow, eyeliner and mascara.
Overall, though, it is soft and gentle on my skin. I’ve used it about 5 or 6 times now and I really like how my skin feels moisturized not dry after I wash it off. Having said that, it doesn’t make me break out (which was a worry with an oil-based product because I tend to get spots when I use oil-based things, with a couple of notable exceptions, the main one being that I’m completely fine with face oils, such as the Manuka Doctor Api Nourish one; review here).
I recommend this product for people who don’t have oily skin (I’m not so sure it would be a good product if you have oily skin as it’s oil-based). I have normal skin that’s a little sensitive and prone to drying out or breaking out if I don’t treat it right, but I don’t have true dry skin. I don’t use it regularly, because I like my skin to breathe and have entire days where I don’t put products on it, but when I do use it, I’m really pleased with the result and I definitely like this product a lot. I never thought I’d find a cleanser that was also nourishing but here it is.
The only question I have left is, now that I’ve opened it, when I emigrate, how do I take it on a plane without it spilling everywhere in checked baggage through that pump top?? I could decant it into a smaller bottle but this is a really large bottle of product compared to those little travel bottles and it would be a shame to throw it away.
Some of you know I am a fan of boating and yachting, while to others, this will be a surprise. I’ve been on inland motorboats and seafaring yachts, and this article aims to cover how to start a boat with a motor, as well as a little overview of the rules of the waterways. Barges are a little different (I think; every time I’ve been on one, somebody else has sorted it out), but if you’re on a canal holiday in a barge, you should be shown how to work the engine.
1. Does it have a key-protected ignition? If so, put the key in and turn it.
2. Now find the engine. It’s usually a big, boxy thing at one end of the boat, or if it’s an inboard motor, they can be hidden behind a hatch or panel.
3. Find something that looks like a handle with a piece of string attached to it.
4. Pull it firmly. If you’re too gentle with it, it won’t start. If you pull it too hard, the string could snap. The engine might have a couple (or more) false starts before it catches; older engines or those which have stood idle for long periods of time have the most trouble with this. There’s a knack to pulling these so they catch more easily, which you will get the hang of with enough practice.
Rules of the British inland waterways:
At narrow passes in open water, canals or rivers, you should be on the right hand side when you’re passing another boat (the opposite side to where you drive a car, if you’re British). This is also true if you’re at sea and navigating a marina or other narrow area.
Approach bridges slowly, and ensure you have enough height and width for your boat, particularly if you’re not on a barge, as those are what the waterways are generally designed for and there’s some very, very low bridges.
The person closest to the bridge (or other obstacle) has right of way!
The speed limit on canals is 4mph. Any faster, and the wake (ripples) from your boat could cause problems for other water users.
To stop your boat, put the gear lever to the opposite of the direction you’re currently traveling: If you’re going forwards, put it into reverse, and vice versa.
Further information can be found from the Canal and River trust here.
When I read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager)*, I thought to myself, “I really want to go to those places and see those things.” I often wish it was easier to find stuff in Scotland but there’s so many things in Scotland that it can be hard to know where to look for anything specific! Anyway, that was before they made a TV show out of it, and now there’s even more Outlander locations in Scotland!
*Book 1 was retitled Cross-Stitch in the UK for some stupid reason, and they wonder why it was initially less popular over here; it’s still the same love story between Jamie and Claire.
The first guide, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 1, covers the Outlander sites between Edinburgh and Inverness, while the second, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 2, covers Inverness and a whole plethora of sites around the city. In both cases, the sites are marked on a map so you can see the route that goes between them all.
If that’s not enough, there are also very clear directions explaining how to get to each location, and the guides are very clear about what you will find in each place, with lots of details to help you make the most of your holiday. One thing I especially liked was the thistle icons that rated each location, and showed whether a location was worth visiting or not, so I could see at-a-glance how many sites to spend time visiting (nearly all of them… now I just need a reliable vehicle to travel in).
Another thing I liked was the author has found pictures of what the places look like, and put them alongside what the places looked like in the TV series, so you get an idea about how similar the places are in real life (for example, some buildings in Culross were painted for filming so in real life they’re a different colour).
It was also useful to know how much time to schedule for each aspect of the trip; for example, it tells you how much time each itinerary will take, depending on whether you want to do it faster or slower, so you have a good idea of how much time to budget.
Other things that you will find in these guide books include: Where to park, for sites where parking isn’t immediately obvious; whether any individual attraction is worth a visit or not (and an explanation and references showing why not, if it’s bad, so you can make an informed choice); how much they cost; and there are even lots of extras, such as places of interest that weren’t in the books/TV series but are still worth a visit while you’re in each area.
These Outlandish Scotland Journey ebook guides also really make use of being in an electronic format, by linking to additional useful information, which basically means it’s like someone went out and painstakingly researched your holiday for you, so all you have to do is follow the route and have a great time! Or, if, like me, you’re the sort of person who likes to go out and discover things, these guides have a lot of mileage in them as well; I would choose the most interesting locations, and see what turned up in the space between them while I was traveling (because Scotland has a LOT of space).
If you live in Scotland, you could do some of these locations as a series of day-trips at the weekend, rather than a long holiday, and it would certainly be a great way to spend your days off! If I still lived in Edinburgh, I would definitely do that.
These guides are useful for a wide range of readers, both locals and further afield, and my overall conclusion is that they are well worth a buy if you are going anywhere in Scotland this year or researching a future trip.
When people say “best kept secret” they usually mean “tourist hotspot,” but the computer museum (called The Jim Austin Computer Collection, or the Computer Sheds) in Fimber, about 40 minutes out of York, is York’s best kept secret, and it’s anything but busy. In fact, we should keep it between you and I. I would be pretty sad if it suddenly became a major tourist attraction because as it is, it’s pretty much the best collection of artefacts that I’ve ever seen (and all the guys who keep it running were only too happy to talk computers with our group of 5 people who ventured out of York). I’d wanted to see this collection since 2008, when I first heard about it, but this was my first opportunity to do so, and I’m glad I did (and that I went with a bunch of people who knew more stuff about old computers than I do – and I’m pretty enthusiastic about them).
One of the best things about this place is that it hasn’t had “museum heritage management” done to it yet; it’s still got that sense of discovery, you’re not just seeing what some overpaid museum education officer wants you to see, you get to see everything. And touch some of it (if you’re careful and sensible). There’s other electronic equipment besides computers – televisions, cameras and radio equipment are also represented in the collection.
There’s no cafe, there’s no gift shop, no ticket office, and no twee middle aged women reiterating the same 5 facts every 20 minutes to new tour groups; there’s just boatloads of computers, and the people who love them (and they do actually have a boat). It’s fitting, because that’s really how the whole computer movement has progressed. There are so many stories of “Windows started out as two enthusiastic guys in a garage,” “Apple started out as three enthusiastic guys in a garage,” and so on, that if this place got the proper museum treatment, I’d be sad.
The Jim Austin Computer Collection reminds me of why I fell in love with archaeology – and exactly why I have no intention of working in a museum. This stuff is real, it feels real, it’s being taken care of by people who know about it, and I recognized loads of the stuff that was there. More than that, it felt alive. There’s no arbitrary reductionism going on to cheapen the past to make it more palatable for people with short attention spans. I wish I could say the same for most museums.
But if this place did become a ticketed, gift-shopped museum, I think it’s the one museum I’d actually enjoy working at.
I have more photos, but since the majority of my readers are not computer enthusiasts, I shall save them for another time.
If you are in the area and would like to visit the Jim Austin Computer Collection, further details can be found at their website. Personally I found this to be a great day out, although I wouldn’t recommend it for (chronological) children unless they’re sensible and very well behaved. Entry is free but it would probably be polite to get in touch in advance so someone’s there to open up the place for you.
Have you ever wondered how to make a rabbit stroller for your houserabbits, so you can take them places? I wanted a rabbit stroller because my bunnies sometimes need to travel with me, such as when I took them to the vets today. I originally wanted this rabbit stroller so I could include my rabbits in our wedding, but sadly the registry offices in the UK don’t allow pets or animals except guide dogs, and we didn’t want the rabbits to wait outside on the hottest day of 2014, so this project languished in obscurity.
My rabbit stroller is finally a successful, completed project! After procrastinating for 2 years, I finally got it made last night. It took about half an hour last night, plus about an hour or two (two years ago). I couldn’t afford a fancy stroller conversion by a professional rabbit stroller company, and a dog stroller was way out of my price range too, so I made do with the cheapest pushchair money couldn’t buy:
Broken pushchair rabbit stroller
When I bought the stroller (a pushchair), this was what it looked like. Note the cracked handle (right) and the open front for baby’s feet to go through (or, for my rabbits to escape through)! The pushchair was also dirty and very difficult to open and close, but it was an unbelievable bargain at £2.80 from a private seller on ebay. There was no postage to pay as I collected it myself. Why did I buy this shitty cheap stroller for my VIP bunnies? Because at the end of the day, the fabric’s not important, I can fix that, but I wanted a good solid base, intact and working wheels, and more important than anything else, the backrest on the pushchair seat had to adjust to flat, to turn it into a pram, because I wanted more floorspace for the buns to lie down in. This one had that function but still folds down for storage.
I bought a net cot cover (one of these) for about £2 from Amazon Warehouse Deals which, if you’ve never heard of it, is where you can buy loads of Amazon.com products at amazing discounts for reasons such as “the box is damaged” (which, if you shop on Amazon, you know happens all the time on full priced products anyway). The strong mesh didn’t look like it would protect from mosquitoes as the holes in the mesh were too large, but it was perfect for keeping rabbits in their stroller while making the whole thing breathable (I didn’t want hot, cross bunnies). I cut and sewed the mesh cover to the bottom of the fabric pad like so:
This then went over the baby handrest like this, to stop rabbits escaping through the leg holes:
Optionally, when it’s raining, it’s possible to also lift the foot rest up to cover the same spot with more solid plastic, but it does still need that mesh net there to stop the foot rest just falling down all the time:
I don’t know what this is called but I bought it at the Mothercare outlet store on sale for £5. The brand of this rain hood thingy is Mamas and Papas. It’s like a rain hood with a mesh net, the whole thing attaches over the top of a stroller to keep bugs away from babies (or something, I really don’t know but all strollers seem to have things like this). This one gets narrower towards one end for some reason, but overall it was perfect to attach to our stroller to stop the bunnies from just jumping out of their snuggly space:
This hood thingy had popper loops that made it easy to attach to our stroller, even though our stroller was some obscure brand, not Mamas and Papas (as a sidenote, I highly recommend Mothercare for rabbit toys, they make indestructible toys for newborns that are often also great for bunnies).
The existing (non-waterproof) canopy hood thingy on the stroller was non-removable and part of the structure of the stroller but the new one from Mamas + Papas was really great because it was wider than the original, and fitted perfectly over the top, but the metal frame of it was lightweight and flexible so it also squishes through the stroller’s handle so I can change the direction the rabbits are facing (the handle flips so you can either see your rabbits, or they can see where they’re going; I recommend one where you can see your rabbits if you’re getting a stroller with a non-movable handle because the rabbits will try to escape).
The outside of the stroller had now been rabbit proofed, but the inside still looked utterly miserable. I hated it and the fabric was worn and discolored in places, so I found this cute rabbit scarf someone had bought me for a present at some point in the past, and I lined the stroller with it.
See? Way cuter and it has a rabbit print on it. Long term, I think I’m going to make a new padding for the inside of the stroller so it’s machine washable because bunnies are generally very tidy and clean but sometimes they gotta pee and I like to wash their fabric cushions and other items ASAP when they get soiled.
I also tied the front of the fabric to avoid any dangling ends that could get caught in the wheels:
To continue the improvements, I used two wide hair ribbons I bought about 5 years ago from Wal-Mart (ASDA) and wrapped them around the handle, after tying them to each other to make one long ribbon. This looks much nicer than the cracked broken handle, and feels a bit more comfortable to hold, but long term I want some foam padding between me and the cracked handle and of course this handle isn’t practical in a rain storm:
I hooked my umbrella over the handle because if it rains, that mesh netting’s not going to keep my bunnies dry so I’ll need a backup! This is the finished, fixed, converted rabbit stroller, it fits two bunnies in the main area and the netting just unhooks from the front to get the buns in and out:
Another view of the finished bunny stroller:
And, of course, here’s some pictures of Timmy in his new stroller:
Today I took the rabbits out in their stroller, since I no longer have a car and they had a vet appointment. The vets is just over a mile each way. I didn’t like how low the stroller’s handle was, and it didn’t have any way of raising it. I’m only 5’6″, I’m above average but I’m not a giant, and it seems a bit sexist that they’ve designed this pushchair for really, really short people. I’d be aware of that if you’re buying a stroller for your buns. Aside from that it was ok although I want more padding between the rabbits and all the bumps of the pavement. The biggest issue is that they can’t be in it for more than about half an hour because there’s no way of giving them water. I need one of those travel pet bowls for dogs in cars, because my rabbits don’t drink from bottles, and even if they did, there’s nowhere in this stroller to attach one. That’s going to be the next addition to this bunny stroller.
The rabbits liked being able to see out, and I think they didn’t mind being in their stroller once they got over the initial confusion about what was going on. The vet thought it was adorable. After going to the vets, I needed some feminine hygiene supplies so I walked around the supermarket with my rabbits in their stroller. The woman at the till gave me a very strange look but no-one else really noticed that there were bunnies in the stroller. I’ve used the stroller once before, taking Fifer to a supermarket the day after Katie died (he needed companionship and so did I), but he could easily escape because the sides were open (he chose not to, because he’s a very well behaved rabbit), which I wasn’t happy about. Now it’s 100% rabbit proof and safe to use outdoors too!
Is It Legal?
Regarding the law, unless you’re going somewhere such as a government building (eg. for a wedding), anywhere else there is no specific law in the UK against taking your bunnies as long as they are safe and in an enclosed space. As long as the bunnies are safe and can’t escape, its perfectly legal to take them to most public places (if slightly unusual), but I would suggest people consider whether the environment might stress the rabbits too much before just taking them out everywhere. Public transport (bus drivers etc) may have issues if you get on a busy bus and have to take the rabbits out of the stroller to fold it away and put in the luggage hold, because at that point there’s a loose rabbit on their bus, so I would think about that aspect as well.
I spotted a point on my map* that said “Blackadder” near the Whiteadder river, so I went on another adventure in my car because I had to see this for myself. It was 2012 and I was on my way back from Edinburgh heading south.
Being, of course, a huge fan of Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson’s comedy show “Blackadder” I had to take a detour and see for myself that this was a real place. I wanted a photo of the sign that said “Welcome to Blackadder.”
I followed the route on the map (see also, my article on how to buy a good road atlas) until I reached the Whiteadder River, along with a signpost for the village of Whiteadder.
After driving around the open farmland of Northumberland for an hour, I spotted this handwritten signpost that said Blackadder Mains is this way (in Scots English, “Mains” isn’t part of the town/village name, it’s a short way of saying “town center” or “village center”). I was hopeful that there’d be some shops or whatnot that I could photograph, along with the “Welcome To Blackadder” sign I wanted to see.
I turned down the road thinking it must be past the two farm buildings I could see. Wrong. Turns out, despite what the mapmakers must have found hilariously funny, Blackadder isn’t really a village. It’s a hamlet at best, but probably actually a farm. There were a couple of buildings side by side and that was it. One of the buildings was a barn. The best part? When I stopped to take a picture, I discovered that visitors to Blackadder are so rare that the people here came out of their buildings to demand to know what I was doing. And asked me to leave before I could get a photo. There was definitely not a sign saying “Welcome to Blackadder.”
So the moral of the story is that maps are not better than Sat-Nav, despite what techno-luddites (usually trying to look good in front of old people) might tell you, they have their flaws. One of them being that generally the cartographers haven’t visited every place on the map and can’t always guarantee that the information is correct. I would imagine that Blackadder is only marked on the map because otherwise there would have been a big empty space, and mapmakers detest empty spaces on maps, they don’t want people thinking they didn’t do their job properly. Google maps, on the other hand, offers you a satellite view of your destination so you can check that you’re really going where you think you are going, and if you’ve got half a brain you’re not going to mindlessly follow the “turn left” instructions on a sat-nav any more than you would with a paper map. Maps can be useful, but sat-nav is more helpful.
I also don’t think places should have signs saying “Mains” if they don’t have at least one shop (or, y’know, three houses) because it’s misleading. Maybe that’s why the sign was written in marker pen. What it probably should have said was “Blackadder Farm.” At the end of the day, however, it’s sort of funny that this is the place that bears the same name as the scheming weasel of a man from the popular comedy series.
If you want to visit a nice place in this area, go to Berwick Upon Tweed. They have petrol stations and other modern conveniences such as shops that are closed on a Sunday and closed after 5 on a weekday, and they also have car parking. There is a nice river and they’re not too far from Lindisfarne (which I will write about soon) which is a great day out in and of itself.
*A map is a piece of paper that behaves like the screen of a Sat-Nav. For advice on choosing sheet maps, check out this article
This post gets quite gloomy. After a short break from this series (because I lost my notebook with all my notes in it) I am going to continue with my solo Interrail journey. The series starts here and the previous installment can be found here.
I awoke in the Novotel Hotel Rossi in fair Verona (of “Romeo and Juliet” fame) and it was raining. So apparently that happens in Italy from time to time, despite their best intentions. I was quite surprised because I’d never expected it to rain south of the Alps for some reason despite the fact that I know how ecosystems and desertification work. I guess I was having a blonde moment, which was odd because I was auburn at the time and I tend to be blonde when my hair is blonde.
So the day hadn’t started well, but I didn’t want to stay indoors because I wanted to get a better impression of Verona, given that at the time all I had seen was a) copious discarded syringes around my hotel, b) everywhere (except that one Japanese place) seemed to be closed on a Saturday night.
After deliberating about whether to go out over fresh coffee surprisingly tasty cheap wine in juice boxes that would fit in a child’s lunchbox (seriously), I wandered out into Verona. I was glad I did.
The Roman Arena in the town centre (amphitheatre) was stunning – smaller, but more complete than the one in Rome, much more manageable to walk around and a really nice thing to find in the city centre.
After that, I went to the thing I’d wanted to see the most in all of Verona – the Casa Di Giulietta. It’s in a little square and the house is a museum to Romeo and Juliet. After making my way through the exhibition (which was really professional despite being in a small-ish 16th century house), I got to the piece de resistance – Juliet’s balcony. Now I will be the first to say (as they do say at the Casa Di Giulietta) that it is highly unlikely that this is the actual house that Juliet lived in. For starters, as far as anyone knows she was a fictional character in a play made by a man who lived 800 miles away. Regardless of that, it was nice, just for a little moment, to forget the reality and just imagine that it *was* real, that Romeo somehow scaled the sheer walls and got up to this balcony… after all, isn’t the whole point of fictional and theatrical narrative that we get to imagine realities other than the one we occupy??
Afterwards, I found coffee at McDonalds because it was lunchtime and all the restaurants wanted meal-buying customers not coffee drinkers. The girl behind the counter who served me was so skinny that she looked consumptive. She will always haunt me. I have never seen anyone that thin before for their skeleton size (if you see what I mean). I still have nightmares about her. There was literally no muscle mass on her arms just an unnatural and mesmerizing consumptiveness. I wanted to know why. Did she have an illness such as AIDS or TB that she was fighting through? Was she not making enough money to afford to buy food? I have obviously seen underweight people before, myself being one of them (chronically) but I have never seen anyone as malnourished as this woman. She looked like she was in her mid twenties, and at death’s door with her gaunt, grey face and her neck silhouetting the rings of her windpipe and the hollows either side of it. If I’m a size US 2-4, she was like a size -2, and she was taller than me and I’m 5’6. When I returned the next day, she was on the counter again.
I think about her from time to time, even all these years later, and I always wondered what became of her, whether she got the medical treatment she so obviously needed or if she faded away. Healthcare is not free in Italy – and it shows in so many places.
She was extremely rude to me, but I just got my coffee and moved on, resisting the urge to wrap her up in a blanket, bring her home and feed her soup until she looked alive again.
It made me feel morose – then I got mad at myself because there I was, on an incredible once in a lifetime trip to Verona on Interrail, and I still wasn’t happy. And I realized it went deeper than my day-to-day mood, there was a cavernous, all-encompassing melancholy that had ensconced my soul so thickly that I had no idea what would make me happy. I should have been reveling in how wonderful everything was. Instead I felt like there was something missing, and I didn’t know what it was.
I think this was the first time I asked the question (to myself, in bed where nobody could hear me); ‘am I depressed?’ I quickly stifled it with a boatload of excuses.
The gloom gave way to a cracking migraine, so instead of going onwards to Venice as I’d planned, I extended my stay in Verona to 2 more nights and I went back to the hotel, where I sat in the dark wearing earplugs and downed a few co-codamol (Vicodin) with some wine to try and get the pain to stop.
I passed out, and when I awoke it was a bright new day.