Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Palermo Home

To Donigan and Holly

How sad it was to leave you today, to leave your home and your white cat and those long, wide windows that look out onto the street. How I wept after Holly stood in the doorway to my bedroom, one hand on the doorjam, and told me she’d miss me. Don’t leave, she’d said, her smile tired and thin because of her cold. Do you know how long it’s been, since someone asked me to stay? How long, too, since someone’s sat on my bed and watched me pack my things, since they’ve put food in a bag for me - chocolate, empanadas, all the things that I love. For the road, Holly said to me, adding crackers to the bag. This is the way my mother packed food every time I’d leave the house to drive back to Wellesley, then back to Cambridge. It’s the way she brushed tears from her eyes as she handed me the bag that last time, when I hugged my family and then drove my car to my grandmother’s house in Connecticut, where it’s sitting now, waiting for me to come home.

God, this year’s awful goodbyes. If I’d known how many there would be before I left, I don’t think I could have borne it. It isn’t just the hillsides, the little towns, the cities where I lost myself and fell in love. I’ve said good-bye to the countries that showed me Spanish, and endless, winding markets, and what real suffering means. I’ve said good-bye to people who taught me how best to climb this region’s many mountains, and where to find the nicest fruit, the biggest, cheapest cut of meat, the coldest beer. I’ve said good-bye to little schools on crumbling blocks, and to the rambling brick building where, for three months, I taught English to those Ecuadorian kids. I cried and kissed my parents when they put me on that bus to San Jose; I said good-bye to Kendra, to Hilary, to Carlos and to Pamela, to Gaby. I said good-bye to Raphael and wondered when I’d see him next; I kissed Eloesa’s mouth and walked away. I have turned my back on so many places, so many people and so many homes. Little rooms, little stoves, and tiny mats where I was told, so many times, to leave my shoes.

Today I struggled to close my pack as Donigan looked on. It gets bigger every time I leave a place, I told him, and he started to rummage for another bag I could borrow for the shoes and books I couldn’t fit. It’s just for while you cross town, he said. I left today because I thought it best to give you your space; I didn’t feel right about living without paying, tripping over your life with Holly, but I didn’t think that leaving would make me this sad. I just didn’t think it would feel like family this soon. I waited so long to come to you, and when I finally got here, you opened your lives to me. You gave me this bed with the smooth yellow sheets; you gave me hot water, hot food. Never once did you say a cross word, a cruel thing, and always you told me how much you respect me. You praised my writing so much that I turned red and begged to change the subject, and you never once asked for me to pay. And so I know it was time to leave, time to work, time to push myself a little farther past the white, quiet walls of your apartment, but I hope you both know that I will always be grateful for the way you told me, as I walked out the door, that I could always come home.  I’ll never forget you, do you know that?

And so now here I am, in this living room just south of San Telmo. The second floor looks over a busy street that’s lined with bank machines and green-grocers and tiny delis jammed with cheese and wine. The window of my rented room watches the overgrown courtyard below, and that window has tiny cracks that let the wind in, so Alex and Vicky, the two women who live here, show me how to use the heater in the night. They microwave an empanada for me, and ask me whether I can figure out the MP3 player they bought just yesterday. Hijo de puta, Vicky swears; she is too old, she tells me, to learn to use such stupid things. She fiddles with it still while Alex washes the dishes from lunch and then hauls their big black cat onto her lap. 
How old is he? I ask Alex. 
How old is Pirouchi? Alex asks Vicky. 
Stop screaming! Vicky replies. He’s seven. Alex snorts. He’s five, she assures me, and Vicky, from where she sits with the tiny MP3 player in her hands, murmurs Six. Alex nods. 
He’s six, she confirms, and then kisses Pirouchi on his furry black head.

So far from Palermo, I feel. Here the buildings are closer, the people poorer, the grocery stores cheaper and dirtier and crowded. Here, Vicky and Alex talk over each other, finishing each other’s sentences and explaining to me what you can buy at the tienda across the street. Puta madre, they shout at the television, as the male politicians of the world parade past. And I wonder how Holly is feeling now. Are the antibiotics beginning to work? Have you started the movies I left there? And is Sophie sleeping on Donigan’s lap; is he holding his magazine over her? This is your home here, Donigan had said, and so I will practice my Spanish with Alex and Vicky, and after I do that, I’ll come home.


  1. How nice. Of course. Because you wrote it in your way. Actually, since you left, Holly has been making herself work to prepare for her next trip, and I am about to pound her over the head with her computer so she will stop and rest some more. Sophie is curled up where you always knew to look for her, in the storage closet next to the hot water pipes. I have finished a long, long siesta, and am getting hungry -- who is going to drink wine with me tonight? Who is going to enable me?

    So continue your adventures, Kate, and when you get burned out, just come home, get a glass of wine, put your feet up, and let me tell you what a brilliant writer you are until you make me stop.

  2. Keep getting experiences. I look forward to the book.

  3. Sophie misses you (she told me so), and so do I. It's a good thing you're still in the city; otherwise, this would have been REALLY hard.

    Until we meet again (and I'll be healthier then; I promise), have a great time getting to know this amazing, complicated, beautiful and humongous city, and please keep up your thoughtful blog posts. They make us miss you less.

  4. I am missed! Thanks for another boozy lunch, Donigan. I have done nothing but buy and consume alfajores since I left the house.

    Bueno, ciao ciao! Y hasta domingo, si no antes. xx

  5. eToro is the most recommended forex broker for newbie and pro traders.