i once had a dream like this

[4 March, 2017]

12 hours later on the road, yes, we were on the road again. on that slippery foggy drive back, with windows rolled down and my right arm drenched, i looked at joão driving, adriano asleep on rick’s sore arm, sasha looking out into the dim dusk of the end of the day and the ending of the trip, and wondered how i could ever write this down, or put this into a photograph. this, from the cynicism of orientation week, looking emptily at the people around me that were to be my schoolmates to this car and this moment, swept by the euphoria of the road and fondness for the company. it was just last morning that we had driven another rented car out of the garage, leaving the garage operator shaking his head about our 200km limit.

out of the urban highways of Florence and onward north to the mountain passes and little towns surrounding Lake Garda, the drive became impossibly, impossibly beautiful – the clouds had parted and the day was turning out sunny, the mountains rose so, so high, dwarfing us in our little car and little ambitions. in the distance – the alps. no matter how many times i’ve seen the alps, they never lose their pristine grandeur, suspended as they are in their own time – snow capped and eternally evocative of winter.

we turned the car around on an empty mountain road and pulled into a pizzeria, having lunch in a different world from where we had breakfast. the people who came into the pizzeria looked at us as much as we had looked at them, outfitted in what can only be described as “mountain fashion”, with red headbands that amused sasha greatly. we climbed up to Arco castle – ruins at the edge of a cliff overlooking the whole village. we dozed on the stretch of grass as if suspended in the sky.

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we continued the drive to Rive del Garda, where in the confusion between Google maps and the actual terrain, brought our car right in the middle of the piazza’s no-car zone, where we became an object of curiosity to the people of this pastel coloured town. joão and sasha ran off into the first reptilian house they found, while i remained outdoors with rick and the largest lake in Italy.

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before the day turned dark we went back to the car, driving south to pick up adriano from Desenzano. in the sleepy foggy state of the dusky drive, slow music playing softly, and the world outside turning as pastel as the town we’d just left, i looked at joão driving onward into the infiniteness of the road – we were talking about films and art and tarkovsky – suddenly a realisation hit me with a fullness that made me want to scream: hey, joão, this is my favorite place. this, right now, i would cross the world again, i would leave everything behind again, i would start from scratch again, if it meant i could be here. i’ve said i love road trips too many times for it to mean anything anymore. and sitting shotgun right then with only one other person awake, i became made entirely of the explosiveness of a fondness brought on by the fatigue of travel and a long day – i gave up words and the urge to reach out for my camera and looked on.

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that night we made dinner in a second-floor rented apartment in an unheard-of town called Lazise – got drunk on cheap wine and cheaper beer and great food and exhaustion, and passed out. the next morning everything went to shit – the kitchen was hidden under a pool of butter, half-eaten pudding, empty bottles and burnt pasta. it was late, the apartment keys were missing, the car keys were missing, the boombox was missing. each one of us had lost something. joão was out by the lake looking for the boombox, i was on the streets for the car keys – in the end we found everything but the boombox, and left for rainy Verona.

rick had yet to lose anything, which was why his umbrella got blown off the top of the amphitheatre. adriano overcompensated for having lost the apartment keys by bringing them to verona. all of us looked at him and the keys with dumbstruck silence. why did- i guess it doesn’t matter, alright, alright, back to Lazise we went to return them.

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Lazise was as we had never seen it – leaving it in the frazzled rush of the morning, we had missed the cloudy charm of the lake, stretching far out, disappearing into the fog before the horizon claimed it. the street market, meant for no more than one group of people like us at a time, that provided our German sandwiches and adriano with his estathé. joão in a poncho, biting into a sandwich – i was barely warm in my scarf, biting into rick’s sandwich – we sat there overlooking the vastness of the Lake, and then, we were back on the road.

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second privilege

YC and XY were laughing; wasn’t it just in late August when I had the most melodramatic, enduring goodbye? dragging even nmh who was already in Singapore into tears, and later XY, when I was calling everyone still at home from the plane heading off to London, saying this is it, this is it guys! I’m leaving this timezone! No conversation will ever be in real time again, and you can say whatever you like about Skype and texting, but it’s all gonna be pixels and digitized voices from now on; I’m going off far far away, this is the last time we’ll see each other like this, because who knows when we’ll all be back at the same time again? it felt so permanent then; i left knowing i wasn’t going to come back until at least summer next year.

and suddenly, before the end of the year, I’m back again.

and then on Christmas day nmh and YC drove to my house and we stayed in bed all afternoon eating christmas candy bought off CVS pharmacy in Union Square,

and the next day I took the half hour drive I used to complain so much about to nmh’s house only to take a nap there, and wake up to see her waiting for me,

and the midnight after that all of us met up in a most unglamorous spot as the McDonald’s frequented by high school delinquents eating as unglamorous a thing as fries dipped in sundae, letting curfews slide and phones ring,

and the dawn following that I took a five-hour trip to KL to meet Taliza and Karu, reached her room and shook Michelle from her sleep in Manchester through a Whatsapp call, and got her to Hangout with us, only to fall asleep in front of her pixelated face,

and all these ungodly hours, and long trips, that used to be obstacles are suddenly causes for gratitude, because I can’t believe I can reach my friends by car, and without whipping out a passport, and touch them, and hear them, and witness all the untranslatable quirks of their expressions in real time, and just be. here’s all my gratitude for the privilege of a next time, when I thought the last was the last.