February 26th, 2004

Packing It In, Packing It Out

I leave tomorrow morning for the 20th Century Literature conference in Louisville. But instead of sleeping, I'm up writing an entry about the fact that I never seem able to sleep before a flight. I wait and wait and wait, then finally start packing at the last possible minute.

Even when I was headed to Europe shortly after 9/11, facing a 20+ hour trip from Tucson to Phoenix to Frankfurt to Venice to Klagenfurt (Austria), I still couldn't rest until it was almost to late to get meaningful rest.

That time, I regretted my pre-trip excitement. I vividly recall driving in circles north of Venice, baffled by the Italian system -- or lack of a system -- for numbering local roads, coming to a traffic-filled bridge for a second time, like some mountaineer suddenly realizing that he has walked ten hours in the snow only to come back to the place he started from.

I didn't calm down until I stuck Yo La Tengo's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One into my rental Fiat's tape player. The surreality of listening to "my" music, music I once listened to with Kim while driving up Highway One in Sonoma County, made me a bridge home.

Still, when I think about the insanity of flying all that way and then driving four hours in a rental car, when I'd never even driven in Europe before, I can't believe that I had the courage. I was so frazzled from the post-9/11 mood, further darkened by the anthrax that was turning up in new locations every hour. At least I had the presence or absence of mine to take pictures while driving in Slovenia

Driving in Slovenia

Did I mention that I landed in Venice on our wedding anniversary, which is also Skylar's birthday?

As the plane descended into the Venice airport, I looked out the window to my left and saw how long, skinny, and densely packed the old city was -- so much bigger than the central portions of German towns I'd visited as an exchange student -- how the hazy glare made everything shake and shimmer, I thought, "It's the Manhattan of its era."

Somewhere in my closet is a box full of items I collected to document my trip to Europe. I had grand plans for a piece about my experience. But I can barely lift the lid off the box. It's like there's toxic waste inside.

Those were strange times. Now I can barely fathom driving from Louisville to Lexington. Everything feels harder. Everything feels dangerous. Everything in me has aged.