The pictures followed us everywhere. Every street corner, every crowd gathered, cafe front, sign post, and cobblestone path—we punctuated our trip with stops and semi-stops. We stopped the rental car on the side of the road and paused in front of windmills. We stopped in the middle of the crosswalk for elderly couples crossing the street. We had rolling stops too, where we just slowed down imperceptibly, for a cat strolling in through the front door of a postcard and souvenir ship.
Today it was Brussels. Or Belgium. Yesterday was the Netherlands. Or Holland. People in Europe have at least two different names for each place they know. Even for home, but so did we. Instead of asking for directions when we were lost, we learned how to use maps.
I followed Jenny down a street filled with Belgian chocolate vendors. All of she shop windows looked the same with lavish displays of designer sweets in front of the glass. I wondered they were able to keep it all from melting down in the summer, on a day like today in June.
I followed the back of her sunflower coat through the procession of a Chinese tour group. On the opposite side of the street was a Korean group being led a women wearing a baseball cap with the South Korean flag pinned to the back. They were blocking the way. Jenny and I maneuvered through them since no one would move. “Excuse me. Pardon.” They too were stopping to get their shots in.
The creme from the crepe Jenny had me hold was melting down my hand. I never cared for sweets for this particular reason. Walking down the street with them, they were a messy mishap waiting to happen.
“Look at these people. They’re even more chill than Portlanders.” I looked at a couple having tiny cups of coffee in front of a cafe. They woman wore white jeans and a beige cardigan. Her Ray-Ban sunglasses were slung back in her hair. The man wore a black turtleneck, black jeans, and boots. They didn’t seem much different than people back home but Jenny was thrilled. She pulled the camera in front of her face and snapped away.
This was our fourth day on our Euro trip and already, I was losing my interest. What had seemed cool in the beginning was now tacky in that uniquely Eastern European way. I realized that I was not looking forward to Prague and Sofia.
I thought about being back home in Hawthorne and getting tipsy at the Laurelhurst. I missed Portland. Jenny and I had been together for two years already and in that time, we barely touched the streets of my hometown.
None of these people were locals. Locals don’t hang out where the tour groups number twenty people deep. Jenny flipped the camera towards me. I flashed her the customary peace sign and cheesed into the camera. In my mind, I was thinking of where the nearest bathroom was so I could wash my hands.
“Why are you so grumpy?” Jenny said when we were back at our hotel room. We had driven the hour and forty minute back to Rotterdam after dinner.
“You are. I can tell it from your face. I see right through you.”
I hung out coats in the closet and wiped the smudges off my glasses with a cleaning cloth. Jenny started singing, some Julie Delpy song.
Mister Always Angry
Mister Always Sad
Tell me what to do…
“I get it,” I said.
“Talk to me when you’re feeling better Mister,” she said.
Jenny was sitting on the bed with both of the hotel towels, one wrapped around her body, the other around her head. She looked a ball of whipped creme and skin. Even though we were in our late twenties, compared to the Europeans, we looked like we were barely out of our teens. Such is the fate of being an Asian man in a white world.
I joined Jenny on the bed. Her laptop was now propped up in front of her, balanced on her knees. “Aren’t you going to shower?” she said.
“Later. I’m going to get something to drink in a bit.”
“No. I’ll buy something and bring it back to my room,” I said, “How were the photos?”
“Didn’t even look at them yet,” she said.
I went downstairs to the corner shop, and bought a bottle of cheap wine while Jenny was showering. The area around our hotel in Rotterdam was not the kind of area I wanted to be in at night. Three strip clubs and a sleazy looking casino down the street and around the corner from us. The lanky and thuggish Albanian guys that hung out in the plaza didn’t give me a good feeling either. Later, when my former college roommate, who is from Rotterdam, told me he lived a mile away from our Hilton hotel, the only thing I could say was, “You’re from the ghetto.”
The TV was showing the world cup, USA against England, when I got back to the room. I never cared for soccer, but I felt obligated to cheer for the US anyway. On the inside. Damn, I missed the USA. I wanted taco truck tacos.
I set the wine bottle on the table and opened it. The only cups we had were the plastic ones in the bathroom. I drank straight out of the bottle instead while standing by the window. I handed Jenny the bottle. She took a drink while unfurling the towel from around her head.
“There’s no blow-dryer?”
“There is but the cord is stuck to the wall.”
“That’s retarded,” I said. “Feeling better?”
“It’s not me that’s being moody. You?” she said.
“You only say ‘just fine’ when you’re not.”
I watched the game. I admit, soccer was boring. I got up and had a better time looking at the traffic loop around the round-a-bout outside. I set up the tri-pod and took a few long exposures, hoping to turn the car headlights into glowing streaks of circular light. I screwed the cord release into the shutter button. The first one went for a minute. The second one went until my thumb was tired and I couldn’t hold it down anymore. They were the last two frames on the roll and I rewinded the film. Then put a new one in.
“How many rolls is that?” Jenny said.
“I don’t know. Maybe four of five.”
“I’m tired of traveling. We’re better when we’re home together.”
“Next time hm?” she said.
She starting singing again from the beginning of the song this time.
Why do you want me to be what I could never be?
Why do you want me to act like I was another man?
You always say I’m crazy, then why do you stay with me?
Oh, tell me why…
Both of us were interrupted by the TV. The announcer was screaming “Gooooal!”.
Wow. They actually scored.