Katie Botkin

You are currently browsing the archive for the Katie Botkin category.

Mont Saint Michel

A chapel along the beach at Mont St. Michel. Photos by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in France:

I’ve been wanting to go to Mont Saint Michel for about seven years, based on the ethereal photos I’d seen of the place. So I convince Sophie and her boyfriend to drive down with me, and we make the trek of about 2.5 hours from Rouen. When we’re a few miles out, we start seeing parking lots, which the French call les parkings. That’s my first clue that this might be more touristy than I’d envisioned. We can’t even get close — we have to stop the car and resign ourselves to walking the last couple of kilometers, although it turns out there’s a bus as we get closer.

Sophie exploring.

We get up into the city, if a little place run entirely on tourism can properly be called a city, and I start feeling claustrophobic. There’s just too many people with cameras in the narrow passageways. Sophie sees a tiny street of stairs, and dodges into it, running upwards until she emerges into a less crowded place.

Over the next three hours, we trip up and down stairs, exploring every corner — especially Sophie, la sale gosse, who disappears at one point and emerges from a thicket of trees with an unripe fig — and then walk outside, all the way around this city on a hill surrounded by wet sand. Sophie gets her flip-flops, which she bought in Idaho, fantastically muddy.

I’m starving by this time, so we walk back to the car and have leftovers from breakfast as a picnic in the grass: large, dusky grapes, pain au chocolate, French bread with cheese. The pain au chocolate is still good, crispy-soft and decadent without being too sweet.

I tell Sophie, I have dreams about pain au chocolate like this. And I’m not even exaggerating. I’m sure they think I’m crazy to be having pain au chocolate for dinner, but faut que j’en profite. I cram the last bit into my mouth and sigh with weariness and contentment.

Tags: , ,

French again

Rouen, France. Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in France:

Several years ago, I lived in upper Normandy, teaching English, and now I am going back. After I land in Paris, the relief of being able to understand the language is acute. No longer do I have to stand straining to listen in to the conversations, picking out a word here and there. I can make my way by asking for directions and because I know the general layout of the metro. I can saunter up to the counter at the St. Lazare station and glibly ask for a ticket to Rouen. And then ask when the next train is, and which platform it’s going to be on. I love being able to speak the language. Madly. The words surge in my blood, the flash of idiom and lilt and what is culturally possible. This carries me along, in a prickly, but beloved, fog, though the hour is late and I am famished.

I get to Rouen around 11 p.m. and walk the streets I once knew well, to rue Guy de Maupassant, and ring the bell. Sophie, who spent a month with my family in Idaho, lives here.

Tags: , ,

Goodbye to all that

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Italy:

I’m lying on a bench watching everyone else crowd into the boarding line when I see a familiar figure, dressed in the olive jumpsuit of the Italian Navy-Coastguard, heading towards me, scanning the crowd. He hasn’t seen me yet. I sit up and wave.

“Botkin!” he says, and plops down next to me. I laugh.

“What are you doing here?” I ask “How did you get through?”

He lifts his I.D. card and says he can go just about anywhere in an Italian airport. “I just landed,” he adds.

“How was Naples?” I ask him. He nods. I eye the line; people are disappearing into the airplane, so I ask him to stand with me. He’s been waiting with me for all of five minutes, and I’m the last in line, when I hug him goodbye. I hate this part of these friendships I make when I travel. Although, sometimes, I do see people again when I least expect it, as evidenced by this very meeting.

And who knows? Maybe I haven’t seen the last of Alex yet.

Tags: ,

Walking to the airport

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Italy:

“Alex,” I say.

“Tell me,” he responds.

“How do you get to the airport from your house?” I know he has to leave early for work, and he doesn’t exactly live near the bus station. If I need a taxi, I’ll have to arrange it in advance.

“Oh, you can walk,” says Alex “It takes ten or fifteen minutes.”

As I shower and emerge with dripping wet hair, he draws me a map. The next morning, after he’s flown away to Naples to have some maintenance done on his airplane, I follow this drawing dutifully, rolling my suitcase behind me.

It’s a tiny airport, and, for a second, I wonder if it’s a train station. But it isn’t, and I really have just walked to an airport for the first time ever, luggage and everything.

Tags: ,

A night in Vasto, Italy

The church in Vasto, Italy. Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Italy:

On the way back to Pescara, we stop in Vasto, which has been a nice town since the days of the Roman Empire, for some pizza, meeting up with one of Alex’s friends in the process. Our table has no adornment, so Alex runs outside to pick a small bouquet of flowers and sets it in a cup.

“You know that not all Italian men are like this,” Fatma tells me. I nod sagely.

After the pizza, we take a night tour of the town. The sidewalks are made of marble, softly glistening under the street lamps, and we can see the curve of the bay below, glowing with lights. We walk through one wall of a cathedral, the rest of which fell into the sea a couple of decades ago. And where there was supposed to be a parking lot, there’s a collection of Roman ruins.

“That’s the problem with doing any construction around here,” says Alex’s friend, our impromptu guide. “You run the risk of finding ruins and not being able to complete anything.”

Tags: ,

« Older entries § Newer entries »