Whenever anyone asked what I was doing for spring break, my answer came automatically: “Sleeping, not eating grains, playing World of Warcraft, going to Galena.” More often than not, people would fixate on the place I chose to go to. My response was often the same: “it’s a tiny and picturesque historical town just before the Iowa border. Full of museums and nice people. President Grant used to live there.” Inevitably, someone would comment on how it probably felt idyllic but would be very boring after a while. “I don’t know,” I’d murmur. “I’d be fine as long as I had Wi-Fi.”
What usually came next was the justification. “I’m writing a novel set in Galena. I wanted to be somewhere relaxing. My best friend is a total history nerd and she’s never been, so I’m taking her out there.” And, while those are all true, there is one reason that escaped me until I got there: Galena is a short(ish) drive away, and when I am there I am myself. I can be happy. Everything that hurts or weighs too much seems very remote. It’s like, as I climb the hills on curvy roads (which often scare me), I leave behind all of the fried outer layers and it’s Eliava–the fresh-faced, confident, powerful side of me–who arrives.
Of course, there is something to be said for detours. This time, we decided to drive past–after stopping at the Grant House, of course, a route 20 tradition for me–and take a look at U Dubuque, where part of the book is taking place. If wasn’t until we had committed to the course that something clicked–I would have to drive on a long-ass bridge over the Mississippi River. Well, fuck. I hate bridges, I hate heights, and I’m terrified of drowning. But I’d made up my mind, so I prayed a quiet Shema and we made our way across. Getting to the other side was like breathing for the first time after a coughing fit. I felt lighter and accomplished. With this feeling I was able to drive back across with less fear (although the second Shema might have helped). I found it lovely that it was the first thing that came to my lips when I realized how afraid I was, and the feeling carried me through most of the day.
And then, of course, was the wonder. This is my third time in Galena and I always love it, but showing it to Kat was like seeing it for the first time again. (Interestingly enough, it has always been like that because I have been there with a different person each time.) It reminded me why the most upsetting part of being single (IMHO) is not having a partner to share things–life!–with. As much as I’ve learned to enjoy my own company and thus grown comfortable with traveling by myself, there’s something really special about making location-specific memories with someone else, so that you can relive them together and bring that place back to you, wherever it may really be. Having my best friend and #1 partner in crime in Galena with me was absolutely lovely, but it also made me ache for a life partner to share a vanilla and strawberry cone with at the ice cream parlor on Main Street.
The one new thing that I did this time–and I’m damn glad I had Kat with me to do it–was to stay the night in Galena, trying a bed-and-breakfast for the first time. It was the most adorable building I have ever seen in my life, and the room itself was also very cute. The owner, Don, was super nice and very accommodating about my intense Passover and kosher-style dietary restrictions, as literally 90% of the breakfast options were off-limits. Even though I insisted coffee would be fine, he went out of his way to make sure I could eat everything he put on my plate. That’s just the kind of guy he is, as we’d discovered earlier because he had upgraded us to a bigger room when ours wasn’t available due to another guest extending her stay. He was also very helpful when I explained that I was basing the B&B in my novel on his, giving me behind-the-scenes trivia and answering any questions I came up with. The love he and his wife have for the place is palpable, and it made the experience so wonderful that I cannot wait to stay there again.
Come to think of it, there was another first. I have been wanting to go into the comic store on Main pretty much every time I am in Galena, but I kept leaving it until later and never quite got it done. After spending some time writing at a café on Main so I could finish my grad school paper (because not all spring breaks are created equal), Kat and I headed down the way and into Poopsie’s before dropping by the Have Fun Collectibles store. I knew I had found my people when I realized they had a Cthulhu game where you lose your sanity. I mean, seriously, what an amazing place! I then made friends with someone who understands all of my Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels (AND THERE ARE MANY), and she proceeded to recommend comic books to me, whereupon we traded Twitter handles and wanted to be BFFs, basically. It was a wonderful time and it reminded me of what I love the most about Galena–you get to interact with the wonderful people that own the places where you are shopping. It’s this idyllic little town that just screams “family” to me, and it’s making me seriously consider moving there… will scan the job listings at Galena HS, just in case…