By L. A. Hilton
We were stranded in Brindisi for a short time before the next boat out and it was raining. It hadn’t rained at all in two weeks and now that we were out of viable options, it rained. It was the one night on this whole trip – even our whole lives maybe – that we would have to sleep outside on the street. We decided to kill some time in a bar, nursing a beer each, making it last longer than usual so that we could stay inside where it was dry. We knew from the vaguely understandable newspaper weather reports that the rain was supposed to finish in the middle of the night and it wasn’t too heavy so we finished our drinks before the bar got too busy and went outside. We sat on a circular stone bench in the street, amidst cheering Italian drinkers who were presumably celebrating the arrival of the weekend. The Italians stood in the entrances to the busy bars, just about outside, smoking and laughing their rich laughs. The bench was a smooth expensive stone and had an enormous tree in the centre which sheltered us from the majority of the downpour. We’d left our waterproof clothes in France a fortnight before as the heat and sunshine had been ubiquitous on the continent for some time – it meant that all we had was shorts and linen shirts, sandals and sun-cream. Peter would meet us in Athens with our pay from the writing we had done together a month before, back home in London, and what we’d been writing for him since getting out here. We had only to see out one night in Brindisi before boarding the ferry across to Patras; sixteen hours on the boat and we’d be on Greek soil where the rest of the job could be done.
It was still very hot, the humidity had barely given way with the rain and we were wet through with sweat as well. Robert declared that he had had enough and stood up.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“This bloody weather, all their cavorting. We’ve got to wait another 12 hours out here until that boat.” He walked off down the street and I didn’t follow.
I turned my back to the street and faced the back of the bench, faced the tree trunk and hunched my back to create some cover in my lap. I took my bag and opened the front pocket and pulled out a copy of Moby Dick. I hadn’t decided to read this yet but it seemed, with our oceanic voyage coming up, that it was appropriate. I started to read, it was a cheap copy from the English section of an Italian bookshop, and the paper was especially thin, the cover was cheaply made and looked it; the artwork was uninspiring. What I found, in the perfectly set, serif characters was astounding and it took my mind off the weather. I agonised over each sentence and had only read a few paragraphs in five minutes. It was the first time I remember consciously returning to previously read sentences and re-reading them, taking the words in slowly like a drink in the desert. As if reading it too fast would shock and the pleasure of the words would be lost. I read the last paragraph of the first chapter ten times, the snow hill in the air, the grand hooded phantom seemed to be phrases better than any ever written. I couldn’t remember a time when words of fiction carried such weight, images of such clarity and foreboding. Obviously, I knew what the novel was about before I started reading it and to have a glimpse of the whale this soon was a thrill. It made the whole experience of reading that much more powerful, I knew that even if the whale was never seen in the pages that followed, it would be embedded in the text so expertly. I read the paragraph a few more times, knowing that I wouldn’t start reading the next chapter right away. I would, in all probability, not read any more tonight. It felt like these words needed time to completely fill me. I was beginning to think about the fact that I too was a writer and I contemplated whether or not I could ever write something as subtle as this with as much power. I didn’t even really know what was meant by snow hill but it was both ridiculously easy to imagine and, perhaps by course of the mystery imposed on the reader, cryptically powerful. A drop of rain hit the off-white page sending it transparent, showing a glimpse of words beneath the words of the page I read. I looked up in mock anger at the tree that dropped the water and as I did, I saw Robert heading back towards me with a blue and white striped plastic bag in hand.
“I brought reinforcements.” He showed me the inside of the bag which held four 1 litre bottles of red wine and a pack of plastic cups. I was surprised that he had even found a shop open, the whole place seemed closed except for the bars.
“How much was this?” I thought maybe he had been holding out some money and that he was, for some reason, stopping us getting a room in a hotel. He explained that each bottle had been 1 Euro and the guy threw in the cups for free.
“He put the wine through his till and then just as I was leaving called me back, he took a big tube of cups and put them in the bag. He smiled weirdly as he did it though.”
We sat and drank on the bench for a while in the rain. It had lightened and we weren’t uncomfortable. We spoke of the journey tomorrow, both looking forward to it. With the weather due to improve it seemed that a Mediterranean romanticism had overtaken us, thinking of the boat setting off through the pearl waters, islands and scorched coastal lands. We both agreed that our only trouble with the journey would be that there was going to be lots of other people on board the ferry, as it was an enormous passenger ferry which took cars and busses over to Greece. We would be two of the few foot passengers getting on. We passed the wine between us as drinking out of the cups seemed unnecessary, they would get watered down with rain that way – this way we could drink a lot and things would be fine. I thought about how we must look to the Italians sitting or standing in the bars, looking out the windows at two soggy foreigners drinking cheap wine. We were both thirty years old and looked it, if not even older.
“Does it make you feel pathetic? I asked, “Sitting here, directionless, drinking on the street in the rain.”
“Why would it?”
“Well, most people our age have steady jobs, they commute, they have savings that they use to buy commodities.”
“I like this life.” He seemed not to care too much about my reasoning for asking.
“Me too, I suppose. Though I would like to be writing something a little more substantial than just city reviews and restaurant guides.”
“And you will, we both will. Once we’ve got Europe out of our system we’ll both be back in London.”
I supposed he was right but I couldn’t particularly see myself writing anything as poignant as Moby Dick, and back in London I would need to take a normal job to pay rent.
“Do you have any ideas what you’re going to write?” He continued.
I didn’t, and I shook my head solemnly but he didn’t seem to notice. The truth was that I didn’t feel ready to write anything. I never really had. I never felt ready to do anything in general. When I was twenty-five I remember wanting time to write my novel so I worked a job for a year and a half in a newsagent to save the money to take six or seven months off from work. When the time came I decided that I wasn’t old enough yet, I had nothing to say, no mark to make on the world – my experiences weren’t useful to me yet. So I didn’t write anything and took my old job back. Occasionally making a bit of money doing restaurant reviews and writing tourist guides, which is how I met Peter in the first place. Now, at thirty, I still felt like I had nothing to give to the world. In everything I did I seemed to float through, looking for the easiest route to the end of something. I lived my life like that. Always looking for the end of one thing and the start of another. I knew this trip, in somebody different, probably in Robert, would bring out something ingenious – he could return to London and write about this trip and it would have energy and verve, it would speak to people on a level so much higher than travel writing. He would have things to say beyond the mere actions we’d taken. Words beneath words.
“No, I’ve not got too many ideas yet. You?”
“A few, this and that. Why don’t you write about the trip?”
“Well, what about it? Nothing’s really happened.”
“I suppose nothing out of the ordinary. But we’re sleeping rough tonight, drinking on the streets of Italy to keep warm under the rain.”
Everything he said sounded as if he knew something that I didn’t. He seemed to notice something lying underneath what we were currently doing, some greater social realm that our actions could inform. It made me hopeful that I could write about this trip but then the beauty of Melville’s writing came back to me and I felt underwhelmed at the prospect of doing anything myself. Like if I just sat and gathered moss I would be safe from failure.
“Well, lots of people have written about that kind of stuff. The Beats… but they had passion and energy in what they were doing. We’re just going around seeing cities and writing about them.”
“You make it sound dull.”
“You don’t think it is?” I asked.
“Look at this place. Even in the rain there’s so much to see, atmosphere to soak in. You tend to just see a place don’t you?”
“And what do you do in a place? I felt the wine getting me slightly lightheaded and thought that my words might try to sting Robert unintentionally. “Do you feel a place?”
“Well, no. But I feel like I live it.”
And with that I told him that I would write about this trip. I said I would probably keep quiet on most of the ferry crossing so that I could make some notes. I had filled up two notebooks so far but they were full of travel tips and handwritten copies of menus, next to restaurant names and addresses.
“You should make some notes about the actual journey itself. Maybe if it’s interesting enough you could write about it. It seems like it’s going to be quite something, don’t you think? Crossing the med, arriving on that bleached sand in Greece. Maybe Lonely Planet will buy it if it’s good enough.”
Lonely Planet, I thought.
We sat drinking the rest of the wine for a few hours. At one point we realised that we would probably want a few bottles on the boat tomorrow and we had already drank two and were starting on the third – I suspected that the shop would be closed by now but I volunteered to go have a look anyway.
The rain had now completely stopped and only a faint hint of it stung the air, a smell of cool wet leaves filled the city streets. I walked on down the road for a while, staggering sideways slightly with an exaggerated alcoholic enthusiasm, and pulled a squashed pack of cigarettes from my back pocket. It was slightly ruffled but it would do. I pulled a soggy matchbook out of my other pocket and managed to get the first match to light. Walking alone down the Brindisi street, with the partying Italians all around, I felt more like I was at home than in some Mediterranean land. I walked down to the port area of the city, thinking that I might be able to find a shop that was open for some wine. I stood looking out at the water wondering where the boat would be picking people up from tomorrow, there didn’t seem to be a good place for cars and large vehicles to embark. I wouldn’t worry about that now. I finished the cigarette and threw it on the ground, stubbing it out with my damp sandled foot, I had done this throughout France and nobody had minded, as they tend not to in England, but an Italian man shouted at me from behind. I felt an instant sense of dread, mostly from the fact that I couldn’t communicate with him. He could complain at me and I wouldn’t know what he was saying, nor what I could say to improve the situation.
“Eyy! Eyyy!” I turned and looked, he was a youngish man, with dark shiny hair coming over the sides of his head. I imagined his name to be Antonio. He pointed at the cigarette, his tanned face stony with accusation for my crime of littering. I thought about apologising but decided there was no point so I bent down to pick it up. My subservience made him laugh and he started to shake his hand saying ‘joke’ in a thick accent. He was laughing to his friends about the fact that he had been able to make me, a stranger, pick up a stubbed out cigarette butt from the floor. I didn’t know whether to carry it with me or throw it back on the floor so I kept it pinched between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand and walked quickly away. While I was walking I heard him shouting, ‘eyy, eyy, my friend!’ and thought that maybe he felt sorry for embarrassing me. But I was right to feel stupid. I had broken the rules and he shouldn’t have been joking, I was dirtying up his country. So close to the sea.
I felt that everybody around me was hostile and their dancing to pop songs was so familiar next to the water that I felt really at home. I felt that I hadn’t come anywhere, done anything.
Eventually I found a shop that said it was open 24 hours, although it looked like the man working there was about to shut the place. He was lowering metal shutters with a long rotten wooden pole.
“Speak English?” I asked him.
He nodded but didn’t say anything. He beckoned me into the shop where I browsed the cheapest red wines, the dim lamplights from the boardwalk by the sea coming in through the front of the shop. The air was humid in here too, I couldn’t tell if I was covered in sweat or rainwater.
I paid for the two bottles and stood outside the shop while he closed the place. I wanted another smoke and the shop keeper was smoking himself so I knew he wouldn’t object to me throwing the butt on the ground.
“Nice night.” He said, not looking up from sweeping.
I met back with Robert and we drank the last of the third bottle. I had bought two more so we had three for the boat if we stopped now. He was going through the back pocket of his bag when he found a ten euro note, exclaiming how we could possibly buy more alcohol in the morning, as three bottles was unlikely to suffice a sixteen hour boat ride. I suggested that I might get sick.
At about midnight he fell asleep with his head on his bag, a spare shirt covering him. He looked tired, almost dead lying there. In Naples we had been looking for the best pizza in the city that somebody on a budget could buy – it was for Peter’s online travel website for which he had commissioned us to write – I had pages and pages of notes and descriptions of the food on offer, the price, the service (which was usually very basic), the ease of access, the location, the atmosphere, the history of the restaurant (if there was anybody there to tell us anything about it). I had written vague summary-like articles of each restaurant and, at a less-than-300-word limit for each restaurant, they wouldn’t take much expansion on the computer in Greece before we were done with them. It had been an easy and enjoyable job, a few anecdotes for flourishes, simple. It had also been thoroughly boring. I found that having such a set plan was stifling, I asked Peter if he minded if we tried out some other types of food, as we had in Rome, or maybe took in a museum, but he said there was no need – he had already sent somebody out to Naples to do that a year ago, and how little things would’ve changed in that time. He said, of course, we can do what we wanted but he wouldn’t pay us for anything other than articles on the pizza. Robert was the photographer and together we made a simple yet unnecessary soft-journalism team. He would talk about our intrepid voyages, to which I would point out that we’re only in Europe; a two hour flight from pretty much any city would see us home again. The fact that Peter had hired the both of us was purely down to friendship (though he maintained we were both necessary), either one of us could’ve done both jobs. I was looking forward to arriving in Athens at Peter’s apartment and working on the articles, seeing them published online and then, maybe, it would feel worthwhile.
I thought about starting on the other bottle of wine, knowing that at six tomorrow morning I would feel terrible. Within half an hour, mostly spent staring into the distance I was asleep.
I wasn’t woken at all in the night, and when I did wake up it was close to six. The sun was already hot and our clothes were bone dry. My mouth felt like it was full of sand.
“We’ve got to go.” Robert said.
“The boat, it leaves in half an hour and we don’t know where from.”
“Oh yeah, that. We could just stay here another day. You found that ten Euros.”
“No, come on.”
We got up and ran down the road to the port area, checking the pockets on our shorts as we ran to make sure nobody had picked them in the night. Everything seemed in place, at a gentle jog I held my bag out in front of me to check for my passport. It was still there. When we made it to the seafront, where we assumed the boat would be waiting in all its enormous glory, there was nothing there. Just a few early risers, fishermen making their way out on small crafts. I looked for a sign saying something about the ferry crossing to Patras but there was nothing, nobody even around to ask. There was a tourist office on a small green in the middle of a square by the water but it wasn’t open until 10am on Saturdays.
“Well, it’s not the end of the world.” He said, calmer now.
“We can always spend today finding out where it goes from. Maybe Peter can transfer some of the money he owes us into our accounts.”
We sat, with our dry heads in our sun-cracked hands, waiting for a noise that suggested a ship. It looked like the weather would be great but for two people stuck outside with ten Euros to their name it wasn’t a perfect experience. We’d probably have to use that money for some food.
I looked up and saw a big man heading towards us with a smile on his face. His huge face which must’ve been almost seven feet up.
“You speak English?” He asked us. We nodded, not certain of his aim, but always enjoying that pleasure when somebody asks you if you speak your own language. I felt like it was some pride in not obviously looking like where you were form.
“I’m Maurizzio.” He told us.
“Hi, Maurizzio. I’m Robert.”
“Lee.” I said, holding out my hand for a shake, feeling stupid while doing it but not knowing exactly why. Maurizzio shook my hand and asked if we had any cigarettes. I took one out of my shirt pocket and handed it to him, I went for my matches but he took a lighter out of his trousers and lit the cigarette.
“Not having one?” He asked me.
“I don’t feel like it.”
“Ah, but it is a beautiful morning. I always enjoy a smoke on a morning like this.”
“Especially when it’s free?”
He laughed. His face was all one colour, a soft beige, and he had a layer of black and white stubble on his chin which extended all the way up to his hair which was the same colour and equally short. His eyes were almost hidden by his eyebrows. His polo-shirt was the same colour as his face and he wore faded blue jeans with sandals.
“What are you too doing up so early? Where are you from?”
“We’re English,” I offered, “from London.”
“Ahhh, London. I was there many times.”
Neither of us said anything so he continued.
“I was there in the 80s, with the military on a training exercise, and I studied there for two years in the 70s. A lovely place.”
Robert said “sometimes.”
“Oh, it is beautiful. The buildings are wonderful. I studied engineering. A very good college. I’ve been to most of Europe but the buildings were best in London. Well, apart from Rome.”
“Yeah, Rome’s nice.” I said, not really believing that he studied anything in London.
“I’ve been to Belgium, Hungary, Romania, France, Switzerland, Russia, Spain, Malta, I was in Malta with the army too, I’ve been to Serbia and Croatia.”
“That’s a lot of places.”
“And I’ve been to Germany, once, I didn’t like Germany, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece…”
“Yes. I spent two months in Athens in the 90s working on a building that they were putting up. I heard it got taken back down about two years ago.”
“We’re trying to get to Greece.”
“Do you have tickets?”
“Yes. We bought them online a few days ago.”
“For the 7am ferry?”
“That’s right, do you know which part it picks us up in?”
He laughed for a while and took a few drags on his cigarette, he was eyeing us with what looked like kindness. I still presumed he wanted something from us.”
“Well, it doesn’t come in here. This is just for small boats. Yachts, dingys, that sort of thing. I used to have a yacht. And I worked on a fishing boat that operated out of here.”
We both looked panicked and it must’ve shown because he stopped talking and pointed off towards the distance. We looked but there was nothing of note to see.
“That’s where it goes from. What time is it?” he checked his watch, “ah, six thirty-two, he must be late.”
“Lorre, he comes by here every morning at half past to pick up stray travellers for the ferry, the ones that didn’t know where the port was.”
“So, he’s coming here? Soon? And he’ll take us?” Robert said.
“Yeah, he wont even ask for money, he drives a van. I think the town pays him.”
He pointed off down the road towards a small café and told us that Lorre picks us up from there. There was even another tourist waiting.
“They must’ve got given that info by the tourist office behind us.” I said.
“Oh, no. I told them too. I often go around advising people. I know everyone and everything around here.”
It seemed odd but if it worked things would be fine.
“So, how long does the drive take?”
“About twenty minutes.”
“But it’s almost 7 anyway!”
He laughed again and threw the cigarette on the ground. “That’s fine, the boat never leaves on time. Which is a good thing, you wouldn’t want to arrive in Patras at 5am as they have it on the schedule!”
We both got up and thanked him and began to walk towards the café.
“Boys, do you think I could have just a few Euros, to get a cup of coffee.”
I gave him some coins and said thanks, I didn’t care enough to tell him we had so little money on us. He had been pretty helpful and it didn’t seem like a scam. At least, if it was, there was another tourist that would be stuck in there with us. The way he said cup of coffee was very appealing, he adopted a British accent which seemed so strange cloaked in his own Italian, thick and rustic, that it made me sleepy for a second. We thanked him again and walked over to meet the other tourist. She didn’t speak English, only what seemed to be Russian. I smoked a cigarette and gave one to her too, she asked, I didn’t offer.
Lee and I were on board the boat by 10am and both very tired. He had seemed edgy for most of the morning and said he was going to read while I slept – I fell asleep on a large padded bench near the restaurant part of the ship – Lee sat on the floor next to me and read. When I woke up a bit later he was asleep using his bag as a pillow and his book was laid out next to him. This part of the ship seemed quite empty but I knew there were many more people on board, we watched them drive their cars onto the back of the boat in their hundreds – groups of Italian tourists on coaches made their way inside. I assume they had proper rooms to retire to for the morning whereas we had opted for the ‘deck only’ tickets. The morning sun had driven us inside as soon as the ship set off, the areas of shade on deck had already been taken up by tourists setting out inexplicable sun-beds and laying down in their swimming clothes. We calculated the ETA of the ship in Patras as about 8am (a big discrepancy existed between the reported 16 hour journey time and the advertised departure and arrival times) and thought that by that time things in Greece would be up and running and we’d easily get to Athens for lunch. Before we settled in to sleep we had looked at the restaurant menu which told us that we were heavily underfunded and if Peter had given us an advance we’d have eaten well – as it stood we’d be getting drunk on sun-baked red wine and eating the cheap focaccia bread that they sold in the sweet shop. Tea or coffee would’ve been a waste of our ten euros.
I woke up and checked my watch once I saw that the interior of the ship was full to the brim with people – quarter past one – I sat up bleary eyed and saw that there was a family angrily looking at me, presumably for taking up an entire bench to myself. Lee was still asleep so I nudged him with my foot and suggested that we have a look around the ship. With our bags in tow we went onto the deck and into the burning heat of the Mediterranean sun. We sat at the top of the ship on a couple of old shirts we had, any surface of the ship in direct sunlight was burning hot and my legs went red and sweaty in my shorts.
“s’hot,” was about all either of us could muster.
We tried to go back inside where it was air-conditioned and cool but there was nowhere to sit, even the spaces on the floor were out of the question as there were too many passing through the restaurant for lunch – I suggested getting some food even though I wasn’t hungry and Lee felt the same way. We drank some water and stood awkwardly. The heat and last night’s wine had given me a headache.
“This is crap.” Lee said.
“What? The people?”
“Yes the people, they’ve got bunks and places to go where they can be alone and eat, why can’t they give us any room?”
“They’re social creatures, these Italians.”
“Well, they can fuck off. I’ve got nowhere to be.”
He was angry but I knew it was just the heat – I suggested that we find somewhere to drink some more water and read for a bit. He’d been carrying Moby Dick out of his bag for the last hour as if at any minute he would break into spontaneous reading. We found somewhere outside by the gates that connected the passenger area to the cars. If we arched our backs we could stay entirely out of the sun.
“You like the book?” I asked him after he’d been reading and I’d been staring into the sky.
At about two or three the sun was at its hottest and even the shade of the boat was unbearable. Lee had taken his shirt off and was intermittently dabbing himself with it, they dull grey of the cloth had darkened a deep charcoal. Other passengers had vacated the outside and we were basically the only people left, it was quiet outside but people were still inside drinking and eating late meals. I suspected that it wasn’t going to be the most memorable of trips.
“If you think about it,” I said, “the most important journeys we take don’t actually involve any physical movement.” I thought that I could offset his meanness by suggesting that this long awaited boat was actually never going to be the life-changing event that he had hoped and we might as well focus on what we would do with ourselves in Greece. He didn’t say anything. I was beginning to feel as though prickly heat would break out at any minute so I said that I was going to have a wash in the toilets. I took a bottle of wine and asked for a cigarette which he gave me.
I stood out at the back of the boat. The swell of the waves gently moved across the wake the ships massive engines left behind. There were two other people at this end of the ship which I was pleased about because it was cool and almost entirely in shade, they were a woman and a man and they looked like a couple. They kept eyeing me and I thought that they might be thinking about having sex, since they almost had the place to themselves and, with the right company, this could be quite a romantic time. I leant up against the handrail that circled the entire outer deck and drank from the wine. There were islands not too far away that looked small and uninhabited, they had deep green centres and burnt sandy edges – they were steep and I thought that it would be almost impossible to get onto one if you set out swimming. The wine was good. I occasionally looked at the couple who had given up on the thought of getting amorous, and they focused on the waves in silence. I put the cigarette Lee had given me in my mouth and readied a match, when the woman looked at me I struck it against my shoe and lit the cigarette thinking how amazing it was that it had actually worked. I stood and thought for a while, I thought about simple obvious things – the waves, the sky, the birds flying above in total silence, I realised that the ship itself had gone quiet and the shade made everything very peaceful. Inhaling on the cigarette, as I don’t typically smoke, made me very light headed with the wine. I saw islands and smaller boats, probably annoyed at us for causing disturbances to their fishing or whatever it was they were doing. I felt the heat and the breeze and smelled the air and thought it smelt different to any air I’d smelt before. I thought simple things that I could see and they calmed me. Then I thought about Lee and started to question why I was thinking so simply. He seemed to be a serious man, obsessed with his work and his mind and I couldn’t necessarily tell why. I thought he had been coy with me the night before when he wasn’t giving anything away about what he would write on our return to London. He was obsessed with seriousness. I thought about that and realised that his work reflected this exactly – he wrote with such clarity and precision, touching on enormous themes through minute details but there was always something missing with it. It wasn’t humour which he could force quite convincingly (though you could tell it wasn’t his forte). Whatever it was it made me feel lessened. He seemed to spend all his time thinking and obsessing over details and facts.
Once, when I was fifteen or sixteen and still trying to figure out what I could do to appear ‘deep’ and impress the kinds of girls I wanted to impress, I stayed looking out of the window for almost a whole day, the sky was white as paper and it rained exactly four times and it rained different levels each time – sometimes it would rain hard and other times it would be much lighter, almost bearable to be outside in – in that white sky I repeatedly saw absolutely nothing and eventually it just became a test of will to see how long I could stand there looking – it was like the time at university when I thought it would be a good idea to listen to every R.E.M. album in a row, taking no breaks, from dawn until dusk, but it eventually grew very tiresome and any peace or joy the music would’ve brought on its own was crowded by all of the other albums that had preceded it and would follow, it got to annoy me after a while but I persevered and made it through – the real similarity to me listening to everything R.E.M. ever recorded and looking out of the window for a whole day wasn’t only in that I grew to be annoyed but stubbornly continued, it was the expectation and results of the test that proved strikingly similar – in both cases I had thought that I would find some kind of greater understanding of myself and the world we live in and culture and people in general – the music of R.E.M. would take me back two generations and allow me to explore a different culture, a different people, explore the modulation and shifts that occurred not just in style and technique but also in their subjects and perceived audience – similarly, staring out of the window for an entire day, to my love-stricken fifteen year old mind, sounded both the thing that a poet would do and an unbeatable way to gain an insight into the minutiae of a single day; I would stare and stare and unblinkingly watch each person, dog, car, bus, truck, bird, fox go past and see each look on their faces and I would understand what it meant to be a person, not just a young person, living in London at that time; living in the world at that time – I thought I found similarities between the two events in their aftermath – although now I see the falsehood of this statement I, on both occasions, perceived myself to have been completely unchanged by the experience, I felt only annoyance at having insisted to myself that I wasted this time; each note of music and each falling raindrop was a wasted perception that I could and would take nothing from – though, standing out on deck of a passenger ferry to Greece I could see that this might not have been the case, while both situations were undoubtedly similar in the grievances they produced in my mind; they both appeared as wasted time, standing out looking at the sea and contemplating nothing in particular I found that I was able to appreciate, for the first time, the significance of these two events in my past, indeed, every event that I ever experienced seemed to serve me up as I was that day – what I had said to Lee earlier about the most important journeys not being physical journeys was rubbish – there were no important journeys because nothing could be separated from anything else – though it’s cliché to say this: life is one big journey with no dividing lines anywhere in it and the only trouble that comes from this is that there may be in fact no important journey in the strictest sense of the word as most of us, and I’m sure about myself (less sure about Lee) will live incredibly unimportant lives of no consequence and we’ll die as we lived – thinking about the important things and how they are passing us by, how they passed us by in the past and how we’re not going to let them pass us by again.
The night was over quickly, we pulled into some port and neither Lee nor I had any idea where we might be. It was a strange sensation to have no geographical bearing on your location – we could be in Italy still, or the boat could be taking a route that we didn’t even know about, we could by in Cyprus for all we knew. We came in to the port at about 7pm and some people got off and some more people in cars got on. It was a warm evening and the sun was just starting to disappear behind the hills – the cooler air appeased both of our aching heads and we sat on deck surrounded by the last remaining people who were also probably ‘deck-only’ passengers. Underneath a circle light that had just switched on I watched a moth flying incessantly at it. It was still fairly light out but that would change in a matter of minutes and without warning.
“Shall we drink that wine now?” Lee asked, wisely.
“I had some of the first bottle earlier, we’ve still got two and a half though.”
He was still more interested in reading his book than talking to me but that was fine, we each drank from a separate bottle once we quickly finished the one I had been drinking during the afternoon heat. I smelled pasta and tomato sauce blowing out of a fan from the restaurant to the deck and it seemed like a cruel trick to play on the impoverished passengers – not that I could be certain we weren’t the only people not utilising the hot food. We hadn’t actually eaten anything all day. I took my camera out of my bag and looked through some of the digital images of the food we’d reviewed in Italy. There were pastas and thick cuts of meat in a variety of dressings. The accumulation of the food was making me hungrier, all these ingredients formed a vision of Italian cooking, a collage of flavour – olives, roasted peppers in olive oil, glistening red in the light of whatever restaurant that was, ripe tomatoes as red as blood, capers, fresh basil, soft pizza dough, the kind you eat with a knife and fork, dripping with mozzarella and olive oil, garlic roasted and squashed into Mediterranean vegetables, strings of long pasta with just garlic and butter because it was so fresh it didn’t need rich sauces – I had a fine selection of pictures and it reminded me of something that I had been wondering the whole time we were on our Italian leg of the trip:
“Lee,” he looked up from Moby Dick¸ “do Italians actually eat garlic bread?”
“I don’t remember seeing any garlic bread, this whole time.”
“Well, their pizza, it’s garlicy, and their bruschetta, so they do.”
“I mean, like in the supermarkets. I never ever saw a frozen garlic bread, like the baguettes we get back home. Or dough balls, or anything like that.”
“Uh, huh.” He started to go back to reading.
“But, I thought garlic bread, the stuff we eat at home, was Italian?”
“I guess it isn’t.”
“So why is it served in Italian restaurants in England… and everywhere else. Just not Italy.”
“I don’t know, maybe they don’t need it. Nobody really needs it. Think about it, if you’re eating a big meal of bread, like a pizza, which has loads of garlic on it anyway, or something heavy like pasta, why would you want yet more bread?”
“So you’re saying that it doesn’t make gastronomical sense to eat pizza and garlic bread? That eating double carbs, carbs of their stature, is redundant?”
“So, they’re doing it right. In your opinion?”
“And the rest of the world is doing it wrong, yes.” He didn’t look up from his book and took a drink from his bottle.
“You’re looking forward to getting off this boat aren’t you?”
The sun dropped down over the port and I stood by the railing looking out. Lee was sleeping in the corner having finished an arduous chapter of his book. I had taken a cigarette out of his pocket while he slept and stood inhaling it over the side of the ship; the water was alive with light from the port – cars headlights reflected on for miles out over the water, the water which disappeared into nothing but a deep satisfying blackness. The sea was calm while the ship was still and the waves were very mildly beating the lamplight back and forth into long parallel patterns – I knew how beautiful it was, I could tell that this would be an image I’d always remember but I doubted that I’d ever be able to succinctly display the image in words. It dawned on me that it wasn’t just the beauty of the lights on the deep dark water that made this important to me – the whole scene had an aura. It felt the way I expected Mediterranean life to be. I took a drag on the cigarette and a pull on my wine. I realised that just describing what I saw wouldn’t be enough because it was the whole feel of the moment that made it so powerful, the lights, the heat, the quiet salty air. It confirmed things for me. I thought about waking Lee up to take a look but I didn’t. We ate a little bread after the boat started moving again and finished off the wine. Lee seemed in much better spirits so we talked until people started going back to their warm, well lit cabins to get into bed with their wives and husbands, to tell their children to hush because they would soon be arriving in Greece and sleep was important. Lee and myself got our sleeping bags out and leaned back against the wall of the restaurant, outside on deck. One or two other people were going to sleep out here instead of on the couches inside as well, they were all much younger than us and had been drinking and eating and shouting all day – the sun seemed to have effected them and they all became very quiet. At around ten the wind became much more noticeable and it was pleasant on our sunkissed faces. Lee leant back reading and I rolled onto my side, head propped on my bag, and slept easily.
I woke up before anybody else on deck and stood looking over the rail at the approaching land. It was only half five so we would be arriving in Greece much earlier than expected, even with the delay. I don’t know what Maurizzio was talking about. Lee was asleep comfortably and there were just a few people stirring outside. Inside people were already eating breakfast – they probably got a notification in their rooms saying we would be arriving early and breakfast was going to be available earlier. I wasn’t hungry, nor could I afford any food.
The light was dim, that kind of light where you can’t really tell if it’s morning or evening unless the presence of people gives it away. The clouds were grey above us but it didn’t seem as though it was going to rain, it seemed as though the sun would be out before we knew it and these clouds were there just to cover the sky for a while. We were running alongside Greece now, about to come into the port of Patras. I thought of Greece as sunny beaches with people eating octopus and drinking merrily, but I didn’t know where that impression came from. All I did know was a strange sense of disappointment as we passed each scorched beach, one more sandy crescent after another. It all seemed so empty and wasted, but beckoning us.