Lisbon Diaries From an Erasmus Girl

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by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Blog

Day one wasn’t the best. It must have been the tiredness of the plane, or perhaps the immediate awareness of being in a foreign country, where I don’t know anyone, far from home and everything. The thought of not having any point of reference immediately caught me: almost as a joke, and as I threw myself to explore the city, at least my neighborhood, I was scared to death.

The road I went along (Avenida da Repubblica) was immense, four lanes, with many people coming towards me speaking a language I did not know. I went back to my hostel, a bit lost, and I went to sleep. Sleeping is what I do most of the time. It’s not a good habit for an Erasmus student, you’d think, but it’s like this: when I have nothing to do, I just close my eyes so that time passes faster. It’s not great, I know. I realize that.

I’m writing from the hostel. The elevator doesn’t work well, and for me on the fourth floor, it’s not a nice walk. The kitchen is clean, luckily, and it’s there, while I was trying to make my Italian coffee (an effort, since the hobs are induction cookers and I have to put a pot under the machine to make it work, with the terror that it could burn). I’ve met a lot of people. There’s a Japanese guy from Tokyo who’s an Erasmus student at my university. There’s a couple of Belgians traveling aimlessly, and they’ve been staying here for a month – one of them is in the military, and he’s been at war, he told me. He was shot several times and I felt so sorry for him. Some Sardinian friends and I offered them the risotto we were cooking, and to thank us he took a picture of us. That was a good night after all. But for the rest, it wasn’t all good. I have to fight panic attacks and unmotivated anxiety attacks, at least I think, which just makes me want to go to sleep so that time passes faster. I was hoping for a different start to Erasmus, but I don’t think I am the only person who’s ever felt that.

I made friends with a Sardinian girl at the airport, her name is Anna and she is a true force of nature. She’s always smiling, always lively, and with a mind-boggling desire to live. During these few days, everything happened to her while looking for a home: she found a rude lady who tried to keep her in a contract never signed into a dirty house and was attacked by a drunk boy in an area she did not know. Despite this, she speaks and smiles, and never breaks her mask of happiness. As I said, she is a force of nature. It is she who gives me the strength to go on, despite now that she has found a home she is no longer near me, and she is not at all a morning girl, while I, who fall asleep even too early, wake up practically at dawn, and I have to administer my anxiety about things to do. When I am alone and I am not there I go in the balloon. But like I said, I hope I’m not the only one who’s been through this. Sometimes I think that I should have left for Valencia, at least there I would have had my colleague always next to me, but on the other hand, the thought of being there for a whole year troubled me and not a little. Now I’m only here for a semester, but I’m alone, and I have to get away with it. I haven’t filmed much yet, but I’ve been to the Baixa-Chiado area and to the Bairro Alto, which is lovely. To get there I have to take the subway, which works super punctually, but I still don’t feel like taking it alone. I’m going to go all over the city, but once again, doing it alone scares me and not a little. I don’t know what’s stopping me: maybe the strenuously wanting the awareness of not being alone in a city I don’t know.

Asia Leonardi

And yet shooting alone is not so bad: the other day, as I was going to Marques de Pombal, I met an Indian boy with whom I spoke as I walked, and he spoke to me about the trips he made, he had been to Copenhagen, Iceland, Italy, France, America, Peru. And the next day he was on a plane to Houston, and he was hoping to get to New York. He was studying medicine, and he was traveling around the world. I can’t believe I thought, how many lives you can cross just walking down the street. For now, the people I met in the hostel do not stay here permanently. Many of them are looking for a home elsewhere. Which I will probably do, too, when I meet a few new people. But now I am here, shipwrecking among the nomadic lives of the people I meet, who make me understand how life can be lived in various, amazing ways, always different from each other. One day in Portugal, the other in Spain, the other in Belgium. And always with a smile, always with a desire to live that snaps from their lips and that I would like to bend down to pick it up and drink it by sips. Maybe, all in all, it just takes a little willpower.

In the end, Lisbon is beautiful, I’m the only one who remains closed in me and I’m afraid to open my mouth. People here have fun, what do I miss? Will I be the ultimate problem of every situation? Before I left, I made a clear promise to myself: Let the bee sting you. It may seem like an unreasonable and meaningless promise: in reality, the bee was my greatest phobia when I was a child until I got stung, then it completely dissolved, as if it had never been there. Maybe I was afraid of something I did not know, and above all, I did not realize that I was certainly not the one to lose it: the bee, pricking me, gave up his life. I gave up my fear. And now when the bees come up to me I don’t scream anymore, but I smile, and I look at them amused as they dance around my legs Now the promise acquires its proper meaning: let yourself be stung by the bee, go to meet your fears, without stopping, without looking back. Straight and fast, like the sting that comes across the flesh to extrapolate the last string. You have nothing to lose, I tell myself: you just have to get stung by the bee to be able to observe it with different eyes; it was just a sting, it didn’t even hurt that much. And now you’re not afraid anymore.

The Carl Kruse blog homepage.
Contact: carl AT carlkruse dot COM
Other articles by Asia Leonardi include: The Mandrake, Sea Shanties, and The Woman in Gold.
Articles by Carl Kruse include: Borges and I, On Escher and Overcoming Fear.

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