The Long Way Home


What I Failed to Capture on Film

There were moments in my travels where the camera failed me, or I failed the camera. I wasn’t fast enough to load film or grab the camera from my bag, or I was flat-out too shy to risk that moment. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I chose to be a passive observer, knowing that the images – the ‘proof’ –  could be lost. I retreated to memory, or the quiet of my journal to record those snapshots. 

Slovenia, near the Hungarian border, a stork in her nest. You could see the outline of her against the setting sun, her long beak tucked into her chest. I couldn’t get over the size of her, balanced on top of two crossed telephone poles. I couldn’t believe at that moment that I was there.

Eastern Slovenia, on the balcony off a room at Flisar guesthouse. The moon was orange and hung so low in the sky that it looked as if it would drop into the field. 

Croatia, getting off the bus at the wrong stop and walking two miles back to a gypsy village to teach English to elementary kids. I was pissed off and cold. I looked off to the left of me and there were fields, flat as the American Midwest littered with signs that had skulls and crossbones painted on them. They marked landmines. It was the first moment I really felt that there had been a war there only 10 years before and I was walking in the aftermath of it. I passed stucco-looking homes with red tiled roofs, laundry stiffening on lines. I never understood this – why put your wet laundry out in the cold? I missed my American dryer, which softened all of my jeans. I passed a gypsy family hovering over the hood of a red Skoda, screaming at each other. They were trying to make the car run, but the battery had died. There were chickens walking across the road. The bus never came.

Vukovar, the most painful and confusing part of my trip. When you first enter Vukovar, you are greeted by an abandoned tank, as if someone had jumped out of it and would return right away, but got sidetracked. Which is probably the case. Or they ran out of gas or died along the way to help, which is more likely what happened. Vukovar was the most heavily hit city in Croatia, and it shows. The buildings look as if they were cut in half. There is only part of a train station, and the trains don’t run there anymore. Maybe things have changed even in the two years since I’ve been there, but I look it up on the Web, and I don’t read about a change. Vukovar is along the Danube River, and suprisingly, a stop on the myriad of Danube River tours that are advertised all over the EU. And right at the stop where tourists are released from their cruise, there was the brand new Hotel Lav. My friend Ari and I were the first Americans to enter the hotel, so we got the grand tour. It had just opened a few days earlier from the day we arrived, and the woman at the front desk was very proud of it. There were no guests since it was January, an off-season for Croatia, and even more so in a part of the world that nobody wants to remember, or that nobody knows. We were lead by the desk clerk through mirrored hallways dimly lit, but very modern. One Ikea-esque room, furnished in blond wood and metal, looked out over a bombed-out warehouse roof along the Danube. “This is our presidential suite,” the woman said.

Lake Balaton, Hungary, a snake shooting through the water. A mother tossed her naked little girl into the lake, coaching her to doggie paddle. A man walked out to the middle and the water still went up to his waist. A 70s era discoteque building on the boardwalk stood faded and silent in the sun. I wondered what it was like to be here during communism, when the country was shut out from the world. 

Ireland, a back road, somewhere in Dingle. I don’t remember any place names in Ireland, just the roads and the pitch blackness when it finally grew dark at 10pm. I loved that it grew dark so late, how you could see stars, or hear voices somewhere out there, but unlike America, it felt safe, like you could be out there for a long time and nobody could find you. And the smell was damp and clean and nothing like home.

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