books and miles

A girl reading on a train. (source)

Twenty-seventeen. I returned to Prague on January 2. It’s a tradition now to welcome the new year in Split. My second trip back home since September with two more to follow. I’ve been incredibly lucky that way. Winter seemed to be particularly bad this year or maybe it was just my feeling. It was snowing, it was cold, dreadful. Passed all my exams, closed the winter semester. Spring semester is well underway now, and I am almost done, too. I finished The Goldfinch, which knocked me off my feet. Writing like that gives me life. I read fifty-two books last year and set another goal for this year. The craving for written word, for the feel of paper, for the discovery of new worlds has returned. I read Murakami for a while — A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore (couldn’t get past the second chapter), and of course, Norwegian Wood; my favorite. Murakami has published many books since 1987 and I need to catch up. Starting with this one. On my way back up north, I started Sylvia Plath’s Journals, which I am still reading; it’s a long read and I am unable to stay with it longer than a dozen pages at a time. I am struggling to get drawn in. Several short sentences about writing helped me with my own, at least for a while. When I stopped writing again I turned to Sherlock Holmes and Jo Nesbo.

In February, I met someone and began researching the Latin American revolutions, stumbled upon Che Guevara’s diary from his days in Prague, discovered Liubliana, but I am yet to buy the book in a language I can read it in. Shortly after, I returned home again. Three times I found myself in Zagreb in a span of ten days. Drinking coffee and eating bureks on the go. I spent time by the sea but only reading Czech constitutional law and detailed accounts of atrocities committed during the Vietnam War. Among others. A weekend spent in Maribor interrupted my reading flow for a while. I rode my bike around the half-island instead, drank rakijas on the terrace with my parents. I was grateful for every single day. The sun was out most days turning my hair into gold. I was happy. I returned to Prague again. After a whole-day trip back through Amsterdam. I vowed never to do that again.

That second return to Prague was short. Barely three weeks in the city before I was off again. By then it was March already. Time flew and I flew with it. Back at the airport in Split, the first direct flight of the season. That first glimpse of the sea that makes my heart skip a beat. I brought the second Harry Hole with me; reading in Slovakian. But then we sailed off to Hvar and I haven’t returned to it since. Five days on the beautiful island of Hvar. Of all the places I know in Dalmatia, it could easily be my favorite. I spent three days at home with Susan Sontag. I wrote in my own journal, drank smoothies in the morning, and slept. But I wouldn’t be still for too long.

I went back to places in April: back to Zagreb, back to Slovenia, back to Austria, back to Italy. Four countries, four days; I turned twenty-six on a beautiful Saturday. Lake Ossiach before me and Buena Vista Social Club in the background. The meaning of it all changed. There’s none of that emotional baggage anymore; only beautiful feelings, memories, and being happy. Feeling grateful and content. It was in his garage that I noticed a pile of books and unable to resist, I walked over to see a dog-eared, beaten up copy of Siddhartha in Italian. My mind went blank and then I let out a gasp. I’d forgotten about this book. It was my favorite back in Hong Kong, back in the other life, back when I needed the words to pick me up, keep my head above the surface of life. I picked it up, leafed through it, and even in Italian, which I am definitely not fluent in, I recognized my favorite passages. I couldn’t stop thinking about the book for days after. Until I caved in and ordered a brand new copy for myself. After my birthday, I returned to Prague again.

Finished Anna Karenina once and for all; it took me seven months to read. Maggie Gyllenhaal helped enormously. And now halfway through May, The God of Small Things blew me away. Someone I’d only met once, a year ago, recommended this book to me. I searched for it online, only to realize that I already have a copy. Inherited in one of the three boxes of my mother’s old books. I started reading immediately that evening. And could not stop. Suddenly, I wasn’t in Prague anymore. I was halfway across the world. Nothing but the book existed for me. No borders, only words, and all the miles I’d traveled, and everything that has ever happened. I felt connected to the characters in a way I am not able to connect to people around me. Then I thought perhaps there is a god. There must be. And it’s in all the small beautiful things around us.