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This week, a writerly round-up related to geography, working spaces, and literary retreats, with an emphasis on the idyllic.

We begin in Sirenland, an exclusive annual writers’ retreat founded by American author Dani Shapiro and conducted in the absurdly photogenic seaside village of Positano, Italy.  From a profile by Maria Shollenbarger in The Financial Times:

Ten miles of rough road separate the ghost town of Bodie from the paved highway. Swift-moving clouds add to the particularly scenic melancholy. In a group of people, Bodie is charming, even a little mysterious; but when you stand alone in the shade of a crumbling house, you feel the severed edge of civilization. Bodie’s allure runs deeper than the harpsichord in the schoolroom or the bleached swatches in the window of the general store. Bodie embodies the hope that no matter how brutal our present, the past was infinitely worse.


Victor and I are on

a long drive.

I tell him,

time for a pit stop,

and

he says,

fine

cause he needs gas

anyhow.


A sign we pass

says

gas station –

next exit.


There is only one,

and there are

no signs

for restaurants

or motels.

We pull off,

but there are

no directions

to the gas station.


We choose

right

and drive

for about a mile.


We notice

an abandoned building,

weed trees

growing

through the roof.


No indication of life,

not a  grocery store,

not a church,

not a school.


We don’t glimpse a

single person,

not even

a dog

or a cat.


We’re about to give up

when

Victor spots the

station.


He slowly pulls in

next to one of the

pumps.


To our left

is a  bench

and

on it

sits a young

white woman,

considerably heavy.


The woman is wedged

tightly

to a young black man,

equally ample,

fleshy.


Squeezed

in between them

is a

listless baby.


No one is

making a

sound.


They are

still

as

road kill.


I feel a jittering

inside me.


I look to our right

and there is

an old black man

standing

by the gas pumps.


I hop out of the car

and smile at him

and say,

do you have a

bathroom

I can use?


Slowly,

he lifts a

stiff right arm

and

points

to the side of the

building.


He doesn’t say

a word.


His gaunt face is

without

expression.


He isn’t looking

at me,

but

he isn’t looking

at anything else,

either.


I say,

thanks,

and run

to the side

and

find the

bathroom.


The door

doesn’t

close.


The light

is

burned out.


There is no

sink,

just holes

in the wall

where

a sink

used to be.


There is a toilet.

I use it,

and

it flushes.


I dash back

to the car.


Victor is sitting

stiffly

in the driver’s seat.


I hop back in the car.

You got the car gassed up

fast,

I say.


Buckle up,

Victor says,

quick,

I want to get

out of here.


I buckle up.


They don’t have

any gas,

he says.


The gas station

doesn’t have any

gas?

I say.


Nope,

he says.


I take one look

back

at the four of them.


Something

bitter

drips

down my

throat.



I squeeze

Victor’s leg.


Hurry!

I say.