Saturday, 23 June 2012

My fourth and last Grand Tour

Tomorrow I begin the journey to my home in Portugal after the fourth and last of my European grand tours. Despite the rich and varied experiences of the last three months, I am filled with sadness. I very much wish to leave the small town in the north of Italy where I am. Yet I do not really want to return to the place in Portugal.

I have come to this town many times because a young friend of mine lives here. I met him on Christmas Day 2009, on the first grand tour, and he was then nineteen years old. I was passing the bar called Pop Bar, saw him inside at the counter, and went in. They were just about to close for the holiday, and he was helping his mother, who was in the back of the shop, to serve any last customer who might turn up. I had come to the town that Christmas to look for other friends who had lived there. They had moved away, but this thoughtful, intelligent and perfectly sweet boy - not quite my type physically - was friendly and asked me if I liked chocolate. So I thought I had found him.

Now it is he who is unobtainable, and I am back to the round of contacts with hoteliers, restaranteurs, and cafe owners, pleasant people enough, but with whom money must always be exchanged. Well, in many ways, as I have said before in this blog, I prefer such contacts. Professional people will never hurt you. For, if they had been people to hurt, you would not have hired their services in the first place or you would swiftly have dispensed with them when the person in question turned nasty.

Yet, just now, as I was writing this piece in the noonday sunshine on a park bench outside the library, in which I had previously been whiling away the time looking at a book called Empire Tales, two female librarians came out and stopped to talk to me. We had such a pleasant chat, and now they have ridden off on their bicycles. That is what I love about the Italians, the way they combine sympathy and a ready approach with the essential human hardness. That is why it is in this one country alone that I could live, and where my own essential solitude could be mitigated, once my travelling years are done.

For how simple in its sophistication is this land, whose long Western shore I have followed for seven hundred miles. And so often it was just a small green verge and a drop of stones between where I sat on the train and the endless sea, all the way from leaving Menton Garavan in France and coming to Ventimiglia, with so many miles until I passed the Gulf of Joy, and Tyrhennian, Ionian and Mediterranean seas met like the weird sisters, beyond the straits, in Sicily. How beautiful it all was. But there have been beautiful times too in France and Germany and Portugal and Switzerland and Spain. What am I worrying about? Is there any human being more free of every problem than myself? Anyone more endlessly fortunate? More totally blessed by God?

And now I must go home. I will drop my bags in the dark house. There will be silence there. I shall  sleep after the long journey. But in the Algarve, too, there will be a shining sea, and at least some pleasant friends. So I do not repine for a moment. My heart is full of love. But it is not for anyone in particular. My house may be dark. But how bright is the shore on which I travel now.

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