A CALL FROM THE DEEP: TRAVEL DIARY EXCERPT
I began this long walk more than a month ago. I’ve heard stories that would put several people in jail. Love, betrayal and disappointments, baptisms and funerals, faith and despair. And dinosaurs.
I’ve passed countrysides, mountains, cities and coastlines.
I’ve seen light in the eyes of those that go unnoticed and emptiness in those who’ve forgotten what life means.
I’ve enjoyed forgotten pleasures and those that I’ve never experienced before.
I’ve met angels and poor devils.
And after more than 800 kilometres, I’m starting to no longer feel the need to reach my destination.
Going is what’s important.
What follows here is my record of one day several weeks ago.
The names of people and locations may have been changed or not even mentioned as a matter of privacy and because all the world is ‘place’.
I eat breakfast with Maura, a wonderful person with a large heart. I thank her profusely and start walking. It’s splendid weather, the first light of dawn gifting poetry to these hills. There are two distinct mountain ranges: the first struck by rays of light that pass through the clouds; the second, very distant, sharply-defined and covered in a snowy drape.
Today’s plan is to find some decent lodgings. My idea is to start by asking in the bar, then, if necessary, try the priest or the fire brigade.
There’s no hostel or b&b on the map.
My legs are holding up well with no trace of that pain in my tendons.
The sun soon makes room for a thick blanket of cloud that turns everything colder, more hostile. After a dozen kilometres, a woman around 70 years of age approaches me and asks if I’d like a lift. I hesitate for a moment and then accept.
She’s kind and friendly. Her name’s Carla. She relocated from Emilia to Piemonte forty years ago but still hasn’t quite settled. Like this, she stays resolute.
She doesn’t like the people from Piemonte whom she finds to be false, superficial gossips.
There’s enough time to tell me that she lived for 16 years in Costa Rica where she imported second hand clothes from Italy that she then resold.
As a young woman she hitch-hiked around Italy, as her son, who’s my age, does today.
She also says that they’re both poor and only have enough tears to cry.
Then she laughs with gusto.
She leaves me at a point that wasn’t along my route but that in actual fact puts me 6 to 7km ahead.
She wishes me a safe journey and swiftly disappears with her car into the fog. She had some intriguing black hairs protruding from her nose and bad breath. I also recall the plaster on her right finger caused by a chainsaw. What a crazy woman. And yet what generosity.
I walk uphill for more than an hour.
The gentlest of barely visible rain wets my beard and moustache.
Then I start my descent. The fog doesn’t give any sign of abating.
At about 30km from my point of departure, at the first small place furnished with a bar, I take a bit of a break and start making some enquiries.
My research takes time. I find out that there’s a hotel and a b&b, but their prices are steep.
I ask an old man who’s perched on his balcony about the priest. He tells me he’s called Don Virgilio and that he’s a good man.
I find the priest’s house and ring the bell, but no-one answers.
There’s another bell. The name on it seems Russian.
I notice the registration of the van parked two metres away: it’s Ukrainian.
A young woman looks out from the third floor and with a thick accent asks me who I am.
I tell her that I’m looking for Don Virgilio.
She asks in an argumentative tone whether I’m capable of reading the name on the bell and tells me to get lost.
I wish her a good day trying not to respond to her provocation.
I’m somewhat shocked. I haven’t met a woman that rude and aggressive in quite some time.
I decide to ring the bell again.
She reappears, shouting something.
I smile at her and tell her that I’d read the name properly and was actually looking for her.
She looks at me, confused.
I ask her for Don Virgilio’s number.
While she’s replying, snarling something that’s hardly friendly, my attention is drawn to the cries of an infant.
I’m afraid it’s her child.
While thinking on the unfortunate life he’ll have with a mother like that, the window slams shut.
I wasn’t paying attention but I’m pretty sure that she wasn’t shouting out Don Virgilio’s phone number.
I persevere and ring the bell of the local police station in the town square.
It goes through my head to ask for one night’s shelter on a bunk or in a cell in the worst case scenario.
An officer opens up and asks me to sit down with the same consideration that an expected, welcome guest is received.
I explain my story. He takes a keen interest and sets to finding the priest’s number.
He calls his wife, committing himself to one of those classic Italian marital conversations. In the end, he gets the number. He asks me again about my journey and suggests I tell Don Virgilio that I’ve already spoken to him, Carmine. He takes my details as a matter of course and wishes me a safe trip.
Finally, I speak to Don Virgilio who seems a kind person from the off.
I explain my situation to him and he encourages me to join him.
On meeting, in the space of just five minutes, he offers me a room, brings me spaghetti and olive oil. He has kind eyes that evade being thanked.
I’m truly grateful and offer my help, but he seems busy and suggests I go and rest in my room.
The sheets are extremely worn with square patches that cover tear holes.
In the kitchen, I also find some tuna.
While cooking, I mull over a few thoughts. I look at myself and laugh at the situation I’m in. I wouldn’t have even been able to imagine myself in this kind of circumstance a year ago. Asking for help from the Christian Church…
My experience in the Middle East has taught me to look beyond dogma. The reality that confronted me there is precarious because of religious dogmas and their interpretations. And yet avoiding discrimination means finding good regardless of belief or any other label.
A poem by Ibn Arabi comes to mind:
O Marvel, a garden among the flames!
My heart can take on any form:
a meadow for gazelles,
a cloister for monks,
For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka’ba for the circling pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah,
the scrolls of the Quran.
I profess the religion of love:
wherever its caravan turns along the way,
that is the belief,
the faith I keep.
I spend the rest of the evening reading, writing and planning tomorrow's steps.
Translation by Sarah Waring