Jackie Nichols, BFR Staff

To almost all pedestrians, the cobblestone streets were most charming in the lamplight of evening. They were reminiscent of grander cities, or of grander times for the once triumphant city of Sarajevo. But, for Ethan, the darkness could not be illuminated by wane streetlights, and searching for street names and signs of the bus terminal was next to impossible. He used his limited Bosnian vocabulary to try and tell passersby that he was looking for the bus station, but it was useless. This town was not a common tourist destination and the locals were not accustomed to speaking with someone who spoke so poorly. He rushed along the many side streets and, after a number of ups and downs, reached his destination in a huff. He showed the attendant his ticket and boarded the bus.

The bus was mostly empty, and Ethan continued to the back where there was a girl, about his age. He put his coat and carry-on in the seat adjacent, and set his luggage on the shelf overhead. He settled into his seat, and closed his eyes. The air from the vents was cold but he began to fall asleep. The bus driver made some announcements in Bosnian, and the sudden motion of the bus’s departure jolted him awake. He checked his phone again, and saw that the bus had wi-fi. He connected to it and, checking his messages, found he had missed five. Two were from his mom. The first: “Hi Ethan, just wanted to let you know that your dad is in intensive care now. The doctors are doing what they can, but we don’t know much yet.” The second said: “Your father is in an induced coma and we are awaiting further news from the doctors. Hope you are travelling safely. Love you.” Ethan put down his phone. Outside his window the battered streets of Sarajevo passed by. He saw families inside their homes and couples out on the sidewalks.

He thought about what he would have been doing at home, three months ago. His mom would have been making dinner around this time, probably would have asked him to run to the store for the scallions she forgot. And then there was his dad. His dad would be in his recliner, staring gravely at a half-filled crossword. Ethan would hear the intermittent sighs and perplexed mumbles from his own spot in front of the TV, volume half way. He would turn over some conversation starters in his head. “Hey dad, want some help?” No, too belittling. Besides, he had to go get scallions.

He checked his phone again, twenty more minutes on the bus. He looked out the window again, and couldn’t help thinking about his family at that very moment, so far away, in a too brightly lit hospital hallway. Heels, pens, and keyboards clicking loudly, reverberating off the linoleum. They were probably crowded together in the stiff chairs, his mother with a box of Kleenex and cup of coffee idly in her hands. He thought of his dad lying in a room, alone, silent, except for the beeping of the heart monitor and fan of the air conditioner. He wished he could reach out and shake him awake.

He was suddenly alarmed by a shove. The girl adjacent to him was trying to get something from her bag. He looked at her with a surprised look and she apologized. He mumbled some words of reproach to her.

“Oh, you are American?” she replied.

“Yes,” he said.

“Sorry to bother, but I was thinking if you had a light,” she said.

It took him a moment to realize she was holding a cigarette and wanted a lighter. “Oh, no. I don’t smoke. Sorry.”

“It is nothing,” she said and waved her hand. She turned around and continued digging in her bag. A sudden bump in the road caused some articles to fall from her lap. Ethan reached down and gathered the things at his feet. He picked up a worn photo of a small girl in the arms of her father. They were standing in front of a brightly graffitied wall. He realized he was staring and quickly handed her her things.

“Thank you.” She put the things back in her purse and settled in her seat. “So, where are you going?” she asked.

Ethan sighed to himself, wishing for silence. “Home, to the U.S. To St. Paul in a state called Minnesota.”

“Minnesota? Hm, I’ve never heard of it. Perhaps it is very exotic, yes?”

“Not really, if you live there.” He stopped talking then and looked straight ahead, but she spoke anyhow.

“I am going home also. To a town called Grimauld in France. It is in the south and it is very beautiful there. My mother, and brother, and sister, and grandma are there. They will be very happy to see me,” she told him.

They arrived at the airport in a few minutes and Ethan collected his things and got off the bus. He walked over to the map of the airport and found his terminal. He heard someone walking towards him and the girl stood next to him, also looking at the map.

“My plane is in A. And yours?” she inquired.

“Mine is in A, too.”

“You are stopping in Paris?”

“Yeah, I have a layover there.”

“Me too. I think A is over there.” She pointed to the left. “Perhaps we are on the same plane.”

“I guess we might be.”

So the two walked in that direction and found a sign which indicated they were in the right place. They walked in the direction of an old bench by the windows overlooking the runway.

He put his things down on the floor, and she put hers there as well.

“My name is Nadine,” she said and put forth her hand.

He shook it, saying, “Hi, I’m Ethan.”

They sat on the bench, and, together, they waited.

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BFR Blog – Losing Myself in Venice

Lauren Cooper, BFR Managing Editor

I once read a short story by Daphne du Maurier about a man in Venice who got lost in the winding alleys and trapped by the canals. As he walked faster and faster, finding himself more and more lost with each turn, he grew desperate. But I didn’t care about his dilemma; the man was just a vehicle to move the story along. The real main character was Venice. The alleys and canals were a network of arteries, and the buildings were alive. As I read, one thing became clear to me: the man wasn’t simply lost—the city overtook him.

For years, I wanted to visit this Venice and immerse myself in the strange reality the city of the story had seemed to create. Last summer, I got my chance. I packed my backpack, flew into Marco Polo Airport, took the train to Santa Lucia Station, and when I stepped onto the street… I found Wi-Fi. And souvenir shops. And signs in English, and German, and Chinese. I found that the GPS on my phone could locate me even on an island with no cell phone reception.

My vision of getting lost on my first day and making uncharted discoveries in an ancient city was clearly unrealistic. Major sites were mapped, and no matter how many times I chose a random alley to wander down, I eventually emerged on the Grand Canal, just a few yards from where I had started. No one had told me that Venice was so small.

By the end of the next day, I had given up trying to lose myself. I looked at a map and set out to see some landmarks. I used my GPS. And halfway between a hospital that looked like a palace and a palace that looked like it was about to crumble into the Grand Canal, I stopped thinking, wandered through a doorway by accident and found the strangest bookstore I had ever seen.

I was in awe. Masks hung on the walls. Gondolas filled to the brim with books on Venice’s high tide season crowded the main room. A cat lounged on a bookshelf. Wandering through the narrow aisles I choked back ecstatic coughs as I tried not to inhale half a century of dust. I picked up books that were yellowed around the edges and smelled of must. And I reveled in the fact that the store was empty. I had done it! I had discovered something!

Making my way to the back, I saw a staircase made of books. The climb was unsteady, but from the top, I could see all the way down a canal to where it met the main street. I planned my next move and readied myself to make my next great discovery. And on my way out, a group of nearly thirty tourists pushed past me into the bookstore, shattering the silence and sending up clouds of dust.

So, maybe I hadn’t been the first to discover the book-filled gondolas or the Venetian masks. As it turned out, quite a few people knew all about it—it had a 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor. Maybe in a world with travel sites and free Wi-Fi I could never fully lose myself in a deserted street. Maybe a city would never overtake me. But from the top of that staircase built of books, just for a minute, I lost the crowd. I felt I had found something amazing, something I had never known existed.

Hannah Harrington, BFR Managing Editor

After traveling through four countries for fifty-plus days, it is safe to say that I miss the comforts of my California home. I miss my bed and not having to consult my suitcase every time I need a pair of underwear. If I sound like I’m complaining, let me rephrase my sentiments: despite the fact that I have seen some incredible things and spent time with people from all over the world, traveling is not simply the romantic, beautiful pictures I’ve put on Instagram. At the moment, I have three countries left to visit, but would gladly change my flight home if my plans were not set in stone. I have begun to ask myself, why it is that I traveled here, and why it is that we travel at all. I have come to the conclusion that travelers of the twenty-first century, particularly millennials, are pilgrims of a sort, searching the world and its monuments for some shred of truth about themselves and the world around them. I remain unconvinced as to whether we can find truth at all. I have been left with a lot of questions instead. What is it that makes travel so widely popularized? What gives us the idea to travel in the first place? The phenomenon of travel has gained speed over the last century, and we are able to see so much thanks to the wonders of technology. The biggest fear I have about my own travel is whether I’ll be able to find anything truly authentic.

One of my favorite parts of my month long stay in Paris was visiting cafes and restaurants owned by foreigners. Many of these cafes, mostly run by young, hip Americans or Australians, have opened in the last two to three years. If California borrowed the Parisian cafe lifestyle, then Paris certainly borrowed the California aesthetic. What is most alluring about these cafes, my favorites being HolyBelly, a brunch haven in the Canal district, and Ob-La-Di, a small hideaway in the Marais district, is that there is a community of expatriates who visit them on a regular basis. Though my stay was only four weeks, I managed to become a regular at the cafes and become familiar with their community. A common question that goes around is what these young people are doing in the city anyway—why abandon home for a place that doesn’t even speak your language? There is a sense that expatriates are constantly searching, be it for adventure or self, and they are convinced they will find it outside their own communities.

This spirit of wanderlust defines our generation. We are disillusioned by our culture, and we can temporarily escape it by traveling. We search for authentic experience somewhere outside our own familiarity, but can we find it? What we have left are flocks of twenty-something travelers all backpacking across various locales. Do we find what we’re looking for? What is both alluring and troublesome about travel is the sense of restlessness, that settling down somewhere must be avoided. However, it was only when I settled into a routine in Paris that I was able to appreciate it fully. The fear of settling down, I think, is similar to our fear of oncoming adulthood; we have to see all that we need to see before resigning ourselves to the deep dark dungeon of cubicles and bills. We had better get it in while we can.

Despite my qualms with modern-day travel, traveling has been, for lack of a better term, life changing. What I did not expect when I boarded my flight two months ago is that I would come back with a better understanding of my own country. I have become more in-tune with my own fears, desires, and insecurities. I understand why I was encouraged to travel by older friends and family. You can bet I’ll return home with a suitcase full of gratitude—and a whole lot of Eiffel tower keychains, too.

Elva Bonsall, BFR Staff

woods

While it’s easy to forget stories, their details, characters, and perhaps even the imagery so painstakingly created for the page, it’s unnervingly difficult to forget the impression it leaves upon you. Cold, slippery, and often creeping into your thoughts long after the story itself has been filed away and stored in memory, old emotions from stories often appear to the reader in different forms.

Miserable, lost, and fed up with underpowered technology, I once happened upon this little house, deep in the woods somewhere in a countryside far away. There’s no joy in being lost. Nothing wonderful about being late and out of place, either. And while consumed with hunger, disorientation, and a general aura of grumpiness I stumbled halfway up a muddy hill and found this tiny, tiny home.

While it’s easy to forget stories, it’s hard to forget the emotions behind them; what first connects someone to a page. Seeing this tiny house, I was no longer miserably lost but in one of the fairytales that was read to me as a kid. A sense of place from a small piece of literature I had read long ago made finding a random shack, far away from my intended destination, a magical and special happening. My emotional connection to this sense of place from a story meant I was no longer lost, and instead needed a picture to remember it by.

Robert Tooke, BFR Staff

Driving town to town, I see little beauties and tiny facets that make and break the area: people, attractions, personality. It’s a nebulous idea and an easy ability being able to characterize an entire populace with a brief generalization in good accuracy, especially since road trips don’t offer much time and experience in three or four days, if that.

Social media, namely every youthful adventurer and their blog, helped breed this absolutely gorgeous idea for me that the Pacific Northwest is a lucid daydream where Evergreens, abandoned railroads, and delicate espresso shops lay along the coast, hidden in the fog as discoverable gems, waiting for wanderlust couples to find them.

Trekking up north from Berkeley during spring break, I realized it’s true. Actually, kind of. I spend some time scribbling down every detail and idea that wanders through my head about what I see, or what I wanted to see, because after scrolling through Instagram or reading way too many Gary Paulsen novels as a kid, I created this little monster inside of me that yearns to see everything that would make up the aesthetically pleasing Pacific Northwest.

It’s funny though because you also discover things you wish you hadn’t.

After a while, it became a routine to notice practically everyone staring at your racially mixed family walk into a hotel, restaurant, or gas station, and even worse, endure the occasional drive-by heckling, “Hey, boy! Look-y here…” It was frightening, disappointing, and wholly confusing. It was reminiscent of the antagonism in Deliverance and severely distorted my view of what I thought I could call an escape from school, ironically giving me more social anxiety than ever before. Before I make another generalization about what it’s truly like as an Asian-American spending his spring break in seemingly smaller, impoverished, and occasional racially driven towns, I guess I came to a conclusion the morning after I left Josephine County in Oregon that there exists a minute façade in front of every pretty idea. This time, it was that there was this heaven north of SoCal. I really don’t know how to accurately generalize the experience—I guess it wasn’t picture-perfect and I couldn’t exactly put it on a postcard.

The beauty of it is that I can always dream about the spectacular fantasies of driving by elk in Ecola State Park and meandering through the fog from Mendocino to Cascade Locks in my writing, but can never escape the reality of actually experiencing the living partition of racism up there in the paradise I used to speculate about.

Rebecca Olson, BFR Staff

It has been so long that I no longer remember whose sadness weighed so heavily that night. But something flavored the darkness as we drove, through desert empty without sun to warm it, over mountains made bare by the raw eye of the moon, past trees who shed their skirts and raised bare arms to the sky.

I didn’t know where we were going, but the night insects flashed their wings, illuminated in the headlights, and the desert seemed to swallow us, coaxing my eyes open with the light of its stars to watch the rhythm of stones and trees swimming past the window. Now and then the sky opened, revealing a thread of color, and filling me with a longing for spring, for trees, for my home in soft green hills, and for me, this was enough.

When I was hungry and needed to pee I asked my dad to stop the car, but he wouldn’t stop, and I began to think of my mother, of the light that shone through the gingham curtains in our kitchen, of the hours I spent there doing my math homework or talking to my friend on the telephone, each of us unable to say goodbye but throwing the word back and forth until one of us gave in. I thought of that warm kitchen and I drank it into my body like milk. I asked my dad again if we could stop but he didn’t answer.

The silence in the car was so thick that it filled my throat, and it was into this silence that we flew, gathering speed on the empty highway, my father bent over the steering wheel, serious and heavy in his red flannel shirt.

I didn’t ask where we were going, only “What makes them so dark?”

“What?” He asked. “The trees, the mountains, the earth, the sky?”

I realized then my father was weeping, quietly, and without knowing why I watched the darkness grow wings, expanding to fill the silence in the car. I was alone, maybe for the first time, with this broken man my father who had helped me build rockets and sandcastles, and I was afraid. In the darkness he suddenly seemed small.

It was several minutes later, after we had climbed the road that wove like a black snake through the mountains and entered the national park, that my father explained how canyons are formed.

“It’s from the erosion of rivers,” he said, “the rock on either side tends to be stronger, while the rock inside the canyon is softer and more easily weathered over the years by wind and water. Here, for example, the rain falls in torrents, and the soil is so hard that when it rains the water has nowhere to go but to flow down into the river, the Colorado River, down and down and sometimes overflow its banks.”

We pulled into the parking lot then, maybe it was four o’clock in the morning, and my dad walked to the edge and looked down, into the empty canyon. I stayed in the car at first, afraid of the cold and the dark and of my father, but soon I opened the door and stepped out into the moonlight. I didn’t take his hand, but stood beside him, looking down into the depths.