Death and Return
I did not die. As the hours of yesterevening went on, I became increasingly sketched out by the dude I was supposed to be staying with from Couchsurfing (https://www.couchsurfing.org/). He wanted £20 a night up front just for a couch and that seemed like bullshit to me. So I bailed. I'm also pretty sure he wanted to rape me. Please world, please, do not use emoticons with people you do not know. It's not okay.
I turned up in Edinburgh airport at 11:30 pm with nowhere to go and nowhere to stay, fighting off disapproving glances from the lady at customs as I lied to her, saying, "I don't know this dude's address. I met him on the Internet." After failing to commandeer a room from several hostels, I finally found one to stay in around 1:30 am. Adventure life.
This morning there was breakfast for £1.50, which included some of the most plain motherfucking cereal selections I've ever seen. Bran flakes or bran-er flakes? I don't know what's gonna happen for the rest of my meals. I still don't have any money. There's free milk in the fridge at the hostel. I've had at least 7 glasses of milk thus far. Can a person be sustained on a diet of only milk?
Book City Zero
Not far from where I'm staying, there's a colony of white domes and tents where you'd hope people were performing future experiments, but instead you'll find something entirely different: a community conjured up from the idealistic dreams of our grandparents who tell us we don't read enough. Well, these old people sure seem to read a lot. And there are so many of them. A heinous amount. A heinous amount of grandparents. It's a common sight to see them just passed out reading their books. I'm certainly the only "press person" here that's staying in a hostel. I'm also the only person here who doesn't need any extra help to maintain an erection.
House of Secrets
I don't want to create advertisements. I want these people's books to do well if they deserve to, but I don't give a damn about relaying standard details. I want to try to capture the feeling of being at these mini booths and mini readings. The last time I attended a literary reading I was still in college and was attempting to hide my laughs because I had eaten some fungi that made me feel funny. So it's been a while. It's a different world here in Scotland.
The first reading I attended was with authors Giorgio Vasta and Marli Roode. Oh man, I'm gonna have nightmares about Mr. Giorgio Vasta. He was absolutely terrifying. He looked like Lex Luthor with pointed elf ears. His eyes were like black marbles suspended in bleached mercury. He was impossibly bald, his head smoother than the sheen of his own eyes. He had no eyebrows. His skin was eerily tan, like someone had set up an Instagram vacuum, filtering his aura and all its colors into a vintage glow. The saccadic movements of his eyes were akin to a fucking robot. A fucking writing robot. He couldn't speak English, so he was provided with a translator who mangled his surprisingly soothing (and not demonic) Italian sounds into a blunt Scottish drawl.
Halfway through the panel, Giorgio recounted a story he'd once read by a Swedish author. The story begins with a boy underground, alone, amongst the bricks of the subways with a colony of kittens. These kittens had just recently been born and their mother had abandoned them, but this dungeon boy of roughly age eight was determined to save them. He found milk and put it in a bowl, but the kittens were too small. After trying and trying, the boy failed to feed the kittens. So he picks up a large stone, and repeatedly drops it on them. "It took the whole afternoon," he said. At the end of this haunting tale, Giorgio regaled that there is no evil. The boy tried to do good, but ultimately the only refuge from optimistic failure is destruction.
Yeah. Shit's fucked up. This dude was enigmatic. He described Italy as being governed by fathers, then boys, then something else. His book was all about the creeping specter of violence in Italy in the 1970s and three boys who indulge their curiosity toward violent natures. Here's a final thing, two quotes I scribbled down from the reading and have smashed together to fill in the parts I didn't get, "Their eyes were like mud and water. The asphalt was silver and with every step I felt I was sinking…"
Kill Your Boyfriend
"Women are dangerous crazy bitches when they've fallen to the communists." Marli Roode's reading wasn't on the same level as Giorgio's, but it dealt with the subject of violence as well, this time in post-apartheid South Africa, where the author is from. Her book focuses on the juxtaposition of violence during apartheid and violence that erupted in South Africa in 2008. Roode read from her own work with a strange reticence, like she was reading from a diary that wasn't meant to be read. Or like her mother was in the back row. If you looked closely, you could see Roode’s lips twitch and her voice hush ever so slightly each time she whispered, "Fuck."
Roode commented intellectually on writing in ways that I hadn't heard before, which comes from her background teaching creative writing, despite being so young. She talked about impoverished children creating worlds to escape from through writing, and I imagined rabbits digging dens or little boys building secret treehouses to hide from their abusive fathers when they've had too much whiskey.
Marli's piece spoke to me when she discussed some of the themes of her work, specifically what it was like live without a city, without a place that ever feels like home. I'll be returning "home" at the end of this adventure myself. Will it feel like that?
– Tyler Gross