I wish I could become a travel writer who writes dispatches full of observations and perceptions of the place where she’s landed. Like that scene in Under the Tuscan Sun where she ghostwrites postcards for her tour bus neighbour and waxes so poetically observant that her bus pal decides they’ll never pass to the folks back home as his own writing. I want to see the grape glisten in the sunlight as an Italian stranger pops it into his mouth.
My first day in Montenegro, and here’s what my observations are: I killed an insect in the bathroom sink, please God let it not be a small cockroach, or at least please God let it be the last one I see, I’ll keep spraying bathroom cleaner down all the drains to be safe. Wood grain and textured print in earthy colours make me uneasy in a new space because all that variegated colour makes it hard to spot insects. My shifty eyesight these days makes any tiny spec appear to be moving. Also, the light playing on my tortoiseshell rims wreaks havoc on my peripheral vision. Is that noise overhead a small child toddling across the room, or is it some enormous varmint scampering through the space between floors? Sleeping in a bunk bed, which is less threatening: the lower bunk with that confined space or the top bunk with potential for collapsing and proximity to ceiling cobwebs. Thank God for sleep apps with soothing noises to soften the shock of first-night darkness. It’s too hot for blankets, so there’s a chance I will float away in my sleep. And don’t get me started on the gauntlet of waking up, lying down on the floor to do yoga, first time using the shower.
(Don’t worry, folks at home, this is a clean apartment in a safe location. The only real danger is the one my neurotic self whips up, and all the physiological reactions I have to that nervous froth. My skin crawls, I jump at every noise. My only problem right now is fear itself, see.)
I need to triage the unfamiliar, try to make my day as “normal” as possible. Establish a morning routine, but don’t expect to get the details exactly like they are at home. If I want to fit outdoor exercise into the day, I’d better do it early before things get too hot. Walk before breakfast, then, and already I’m telling myself this is my new routine. Notice the quince growing on the tree in the yard next door, looks like shabby apples. Pop into a shop. Pick up bread and honey. This honey has English writing on it: lime honey. The cashier seems to hate me, I guess for shopping while not speaking the language, or maybe for sweating profusely, I’m guilty of both. Walking back from the shop, I take photos of the morning light shining through the stone arches and remind myself I am in a place that I have never ever been before in my life. There is light shining through this centuries-old arch and it is no less unique than the Eiffel Tower, even though it’s just a normal functional piece of the streets in Herceg Novi.
Get back to the house and eat breakfast with Turkish coffee, delicious but I can only brew one cup at a time, another adaptation to my morning routine. My nerves are easing up slightly, I’m regaining my ability to observe things beyond my own skin. But I know when this visit is over and I’m back in the ease and routines of home, when someone ask me about Montenegro, this is what I’ll be thinking of. I’ll make an effort to talk about the beaches or the scenery or the restaurants, but my most compelling memory will be the bread smeared with lime honey, the tart citrus zipping through the honey’s logy sweetness as I eat at the table with the fake rattan pattern, ignoring the flicker of light on the rim of my glasses.