Towards Italy

Tuesday I travel on, taking an early morning train that departs at 7:21, towards Italy. The journey, The Tape tells me, is “fairly pleasant,” with the exception of one incident. This sits ingrained on my brain, and whilst most of the other experiences of that August 1988 are a haze with only the occasional moment or image in any kind of focus, this one is sharp and clear, and it still makes me squirm, to this day.

I was tired. I had slept for two hours. Monday night we’d decided to go to the cinema: Anne and some of her friends had gone to see some American movie I evidently did not rate or care about and so I had gone to see Le Grand Bleu: “one of the most stunningly beautiful films I’ve ever seen,” I now hear myself rave, and I remember that vividly too, though not only from this screening, but from another, much more thrilling one, later, in Paris. Jean-Marc Barr. “He is fantastic; he’s certainly a name to remember.” After the cinema, a crepe, and then to bed really late.

So, with very little sleep, I’m on a train that is completely full, though I do have a seat, by the window, near the end of the carriage. I mostly daydream and possibly doze off a bit now and then, and everything is going fine until the train stops at a spot where there seems to be nothing at all. It’s not a town, it’s not a village. It’s barely a hamlet. There’s a platform and a small building and some signs that to me in my state, which is not comatose but not alert either, are meaningless.

On board come two customs officers. I see them appear at the other end of the carriage, quite far away from where I am, and as I look up at them, I semi-consciously give a sigh of profoundest ennui, just exactly at the moment that one of them catches my eye. I think nothing more of this for the next five minutes or so and continue gazing out of the window thinking my nondescript thoughts. My sigh and my facial expression had lasted for maybe a second. But I do remember distinctly allowing that gut response to just come out: an aversion to officialdom. Almost, but almost not quite, wanting to show them I held them with a sizeable degree of post-juvenile contempt, not as human beings, of course, but as uniforms holding up the train’s so effortless glide through the artificially delineate countryside.

The two officials make their way through the carriage, checking passports, not hassling anyone. They work quite fast and I’m almost beginning to like them for being so efficient and quick about their monotonous task. Then they get to me. I am sitting by my window, resting my head on my hand, and I look up at them with an extremely tired and bored look on my face. I am wearing all black. I am twenty-three, with peroxide dyed hair. I had reacted to spotting them from a distance with a look on my face and body language that to them must have signalled not so much ennui as ‘I’m in trouble’. I am their prime suspect. Certainly of the carriage, probably of the train. Possibly of the day.

Granted, it could have been worse. They could have taken me off the train and subjected me to a strip search. Which they didn’t. They went through everything I had on me. They opened my luggage (I seem to recall this being a big holdall bag), searched through my clothes, opened my toiletry bag. They found a tiny tube of something and demanded to know what it was. It was a cream for mosquito bites. They thought that hard to believe, which was ridiculous, because it smelt like medicine and we were on the border to Italy, in the summer. My brain was not willing to argue. My Italian register brought forth: zanzare. It took about twenty minutes, it felt like two hours. It was not even humiliating so much as it was unnecessary and, I felt, vindictive. This, I now know today, is what profiling feels like, if you match the profile. This is what being exposed to low-level authority feels like if it turns against you. I understand people who complain about stop-and-search policies, or who are tired of being the ones picked out at airport entry points because of their skin tone or what they are wearing. It was, by comparison, harmless, and yet I wanted it just to end. I felt exposed and hard done by. And maybe I was.

Still. I had never in my life purchased or carried any illegal substance and so I had nothing on me and they did not find anything. They left, we departed, I arrived in Milan, where I did something really stupid. I got off the train and went into the station concourse to look at the board where all the trains were displayed. Vicenza, this told me, would next be up at 2pm. It was now getting towards half one, but, for some to me now unfathomable reason not trusting that, I decided to go to the information desk to make sure. There was only one window open: ‘Money Exchange & Information’. After queueing for half an hour, I arrived at said window, only to find that this was the wrong one. Nonetheless, they asked me what I wanted to know and I told them I wanted to know when the next train would leave for Vicenza. At 2pm they said, glancing idly at a timetable. I ran, as best I could with my luggage, to the platform, where I saw the train pull out of the station. What, I wonder, was that all about? Sometimes I just didn’t trust myself. At all.

I phoned my friend Stefano in Vicenza from a public phone box, which cost me 600 lire, I record, to tell him I’ll be arriving one hour later. Stefano, once I’d arrived and had settled, took me to the beautiful piazza in the town centre, where we also met up with Giovanni.

Thus begins about a week in Vicenza, and at the hands of Stefano’s mum, I tell The Tape, I’m being fed to the point of bursting. I spend one day in Venice, at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and, passing one of the many small shops, I see a leather jacket I particularly like the look of. I go inside and casually ask the shop assistant how much it costs (there being no price tag). Five million lire, she tells me, which at the time is about two thousand pounds. I see, I say, as matter of factly (or so I think) as I can, and I do this unnecessary thing of looking at it in a little more detail to signal that I’m really not perturbed at all at the price. I’m really perturbed at the price. Then I do that even more unnecessary thing of looking around the shop a bit further before I leave, just to make sure the middle-aged woman whom I will never meet again in my life and who has long since sussed that I’m in the wrong shop understands that the prices here are really no big deal for me, at all. They’re a really big deal for me…

Vicenza, I tell my self of the future, is incredibly quiet, but I like the Teatro Olympico, calling it “stunning”. Built like a Greek arena, but all indoors, I describe it as “absolutely beautiful” and venture that it may be the only one of its kind in Italy (though where I get that from I don’t know).

At one point we go to a party together which I confide to The Tape reminds me of the time when we, I and my gschpänlis from the Gymnasium Münchenstein, had our parties: the ease, the freedom. I feel charmed, I put on record, and delighted by the friendliness of these people.

I also go back to Venice on “various occasions” (there can’t have been many, unless I stayed there for much longer than I recall), and on one of these get to see a Pier Paolo Pasolini film at the festival, apparently as a matter of extreme luck: “How I ever managed to get there and get there on time, I will never know, but it worked, and it worked to the minute.” I seem to have walked into some post office (presumably having got to the Lido first), and asked where the auditorium was that I needed to get to, only to find that it just so happened to be that particular building where the film was about to start. What the film was I don’t put on record…

There are two more moments that stick in my memory from Vicenza, and although I don’t talk about them on The Tape, I am as certain as I can be that they belong to that same trip. (I’ve since been back to Vicenza a number of times and there was most likely at least one more visit within the next year or two, but the way things fit together – especially with the amount of time I seem to have on my own whilst staying with Stefano and his family – make me think that this is all one occasion.)

The first one involved me attempting to make coffee with one of these typical two-part Italian coffee maker jugs. I took the thing, which I myself had just used and which was still hot, off the hob and, wearing oven gloves, unscrewed the top from the bottom. At that point there was a loud bang and ground coffee splattered all over the immaculately clean small town kitchen. Stefano was grace personified and just helped me clean up before his mum got back home.

The other one takes place in Vicenza town. I go up to a small church which is either closed or about to close and there’s a young, good-looking, guard at the gate. This makes me think it might have been a museum or some other historic site, since churches didn’t usually have guards, as far as I can remember. He wears a uniform of the nondescript probably charcoal or dark grey variety, and to my surprise he opens the door for me and shows me around. We get to the end of a short tour at the lowest part of the building, a crypt or a vault, of which I do not recall what it contained, and there is this moment that stays in my mind. This moment when something is meant to happen. And nothing happens. I wasn’t sure then what it was that was meant to happen and I’m not even entirely sure today. Looking back I wonder: was he about to make a move on me? If so, why didn’t he? I was, then, I now see, quite attractive, though I didn’t think so then. We were alone. He had keys to the building, he had, most probably, locked the front door. I liked him. I think I would have wanted him to make a move. I certainly wouldn’t have made a move first, though. I was on foreign territory, I was far too shy and too gauche, and also nowhere near conceited enough. I never assumed people fancied me enough to want to make a move on me. Sometimes until long after they did. Maybe I was too aloof too. Looking at me now, sitting opposite me at the Limonlu Bahçe, I think I understand why he might not have made a move even if he had wanted to and had felt that I possibly wanted him to and the conditions were well nigh perfect for, well, at least a kiss, just to see how and where that would go. I was quite aloof, quite distant, remote. Is this a double tautology?

The moment lasted – not very long – until it was over and he led me back upstairs into the Italian sunlight. I thanked him, I said goodbye. And I wondered: what was that? Did I miss something here? This feeling, this question: did I just miss something here, that was happening or should have been happening or could have been happening had only I been alert to it, perhaps less naive, perhaps less insecure, perhaps more attuned: it followed me for years, for decades even. Until recently. It doesn’t do so much any more: I miss things occasionally, still, but not so much as a rule. And I make mistakes, of course, who doesn’t. And sometimes I’m just not brave enough. In fact, I often, I think, am probably just not quite brave enough…

Then on the way onwards, in Milan, I actually went to some nondescript building in the outskirts of somewhere and tried to talk to somebody from Reteitalia. What on earth about, I have no idea…

Jupiter

I shall return to Saturn. I’ll not ignore it, not have passed it, unawed by its majesty. Unwondered by its spheres. Unswayed. It sways me, Saturn; but not now. Now I am drawn on further, down – not down, across – the path: the gravitation is too strong, its presence too immense, I must succumb to Jupiter. For a moment. For a while. For an eternity that lasts a fraction of a thought. For a whirl of a gas storm. For a communion. With Callisto. Io, Ganymede. Europa. These friends I have not met. These habitations. These absorptions. Thoughts. Sensations. My body, more than my spirit, attracts them and they me. We enter each other’s orbits, and dance. Moons they may be, mere satellites to a planet all of their own, but I enjoy them, their company, their zest, their life. Their juvenation. I visit them, they me. We journey not together, we relish the here. The nowness of it all. It is not mere. Have I not longed so long to be in the now?

This here is good, I like it, though it will not, doesn’t have to, last. The mightiness that overshadows us encumbers us not: we are not oblivious, but we don’t care: choose not to be intimidated by this massiveness, this bold inelegance. The world right now, that world that is not this world and that is this world still though we may never wish it so, it bears great force, great danger, anger too. But not for us. We delicate ourselves out of its artless rage. We are not like that. Are not of it. It not of us.

I no longer feel the need to explain myself and I no longer long for the need to be free. I am free, now, having got this far, and I relish that freedom more than I treasure my life. I am not Jupiter, nor ever want to be. That bulk, that pompousness. That body of hot air covered in cold. That implacability. That dehumanising fervour. And yet, these satellites, seductive with their charm. I’m glad I came here. Happy to have paused. I’ve long abandoned the idea of destination. These are sojourns on a celestial perambulation. How privileged I am. How powerful. How small. Here, seeing Jupiter be big, be brash though not beguiling, I believe my time has come. This is not new, I’d thought on one or two occasions once or twice before I felt the tug above my wings but here I realise my strength is not outwith. You may be one and a half score septillion times the size of me, but you are no match to my mind. You have the mass; the sun has all the power: I have the intellect. To survive. To discern. To accommodate myself in this universe, or any other. To thrive.

I launder my library of references by adding experience. The hunger to live. The need to swallow. The acceptance of millions of potentialities in one go. The taste and the texture. A slither of hope, of forbearing of premonition. A spark of the imagination. A tenderness, returned. And wanted. Handsomenesses. No warriors, these, no battle axe ire, no strategy and no plan. No tactics. No goal. A glorious swim in the sea, a pool of tadpoles of random configurations, a swirl in the mind of the gods. Ye gods. Ye godlinesses. Ye buds of brimming boisterousness. Ye flowers and sparks. Ye spermly waggers of tails. Ye lusciousnesses. Ye beetrootjuiceredvoluptuousness. Ye inspiration.

Ye words.

Saturn calls me back, I know. I’ll have to detour there, a loop. This Jupiter wilfulness cannot last. I feel for Ganymede, I feel for Europa. Ye Kepler-452b. I feel for you too. I feel for my brother who is writing these words in a universe just like ours only different, having acceded that that’s what he’s doing without knowing why. I feel for my coccyx, I feel for you. I feel for you and I sense you are there and I feel strongly for a new love a new warmth a new glow a new smile a new touch of a new hand a new face and new dimples a new tuft of hair and a belly button, a new mind a new generous heart, on the horizon. Where is the horizon, in space, in the orbit of Jupiter, near one of his moons? I baffle myself into submission and accept the reality as it is though I know full well that there is no such thing and there is no such thing as necessity, distance, perspective or pain. There is pain, it is felt, it is lived. Does it have to be, ever? It need not be celebrated quite so. There is no hate, it is an illusion, and there is no anger, it disappears. There is there is there is love.

I like that thought and take comfort in it although I can’t prove it, and I think of my new love on the horizon whom I haven’t yet met. Literally, have not yet met. We know each other, we are in communication, we are getting closer all the time, but the thrill of the unknown persists and we both hold on to it a while longer not because we want to but because we want to believe that we must. So we must. So we do. We’re pragmatic like that, and we have lives to live. So we think, so we hope, so we trust.

I salute Jupiter for all his preposterousness and kiss each of his moons farewell. I’m not sure I need to come back here: this was good, this was fun, this was excellent, while it lasted. But possibly, probably, for me, it has now run its course. I bid thee farewell, most mighty of planets: you have been, I know, quite misunderstood. But don’t worry, my gaseous friend, for so have we all…

Neptune

i whirl within the wherefores of my wonder

still coming at me are the shooting stars, the comets, the debris

celestial collisions

i am at home here, though my longing knows no boundaries now no aim, knows no

deliverance from thought, from search for meaning

would my soul took over

would my skin shirked not the touch, would i felt this fear of losing were not real, this

holding on, this

need for explanations, this

reluctance

ever to surrender to what is: what is this if not ice not gas not water and not energy, what is

the reason reason holds me

holds me in or back, then back from what, back where, back to what end?

is there an end?

there’s no beginning, then how is there

reason?

I sit on the edge of the solar system, invisible. I’m known to exist, but nobody sees me. I think I see them, from a distance. Through a haze. I can’t be sure. Twinkles, here and there, allover really: wondrous.

I have, inadvertently, become a god. This is both puzzling and absurd: those powers they invest in me are merely mythical. I am not even drawn to water, not as other people are. Some see the sea and jump right in. I don’t. I am content to sit there, pondering. Until the time comes. Until I’m ready. Until I feel the need. Until curiosity gets the better of me. Or temptation. Or just the wanting to have been in the water before going home. Not so much the desire to be in the water as the desire to not not have been in the water at all. For a moment. Or two. With the lover, the dolphins, the mermaids, the waves and the fishes. The other gods. The propensity to ponder. It may be an affliction; but why not. ‘Why not?’ seems to be the overriding question. Is it a question?

I walk from my planet towards the sun through the snow, falling, falling. I love the snow falling on my face as I look up at the sky at the space at the universe the aboveness and the aroundness of it all and the path ahead is white and clear and there’s no-one about. Of course not, I’m alone. Alone on the edge of the universe. A pang of love, a moment of pain. Love for whom? Pain for what? A special one now, this time, really? A sense of myself, now, really? Or of the idea of myself. Of The Concept. The Unreality. I like my reality right now, I can deal with it, I can live up to it, make sense of it, or so I tell myself, knowing it not to be true, not entirely. I walk, steadily – not fast, not slow – along the path of the planets thinking myself Neptune. I am not a planet. I am not a god. I am not a myth. I feel millions of miles away from the allness of it all but I’m about to dissolve into it and this thrills me. Is that a lonely path I walk or is it just deserted. Because it’s late. Because it’s out of season. Because it normally is, around now. Is it too late? This turns into a portentous question all of a sudden. Am I too far along the path, do I circle too slowly; but we know, we know, we are not planets, we are not rivers, we are barely human. We are human. So bare though, so vulnerable, so thoughtful, so cautious, so hesitant, so barely capable. So barely willing to survive. Yet surviving. Thriving, even, yet, against the odds. So gentle. So soft. So curly, the hair. So even the teeth. So tender the lips. So lovely the legs. So quirkily satin the belly button. So elegant the fingers. So delicate the eyelashes. So warm, so warm the chest. So fleeting, so insubstantial as I walk under fir trees and the snow they are clothed in, so bare, so wrapped up in my delusion, my reading the signs that aren’t there, my wanting it all to be and to mean something. Wanting it all. To mean. Something.

I take pictures of the snow so I can send them to him though I don’t even know if he wants to look at the snow through my lens through my eyes through the synapses in my brain that miss him, but I know he has never seen snow for real and I want to show it to him. His mind is not here any more than is his body. What of his soul? It sits right in me. He would love the snow, I know, if he saw it for real. If he were with me now. If we were insubstantial now in the snow together, seeping into the ground. I know these things. I now know them all and they all make sense and they will come to pass and it all just needs time to arrange itself now. I want to be sure. I missed Uranus on my journey, I realise, as I get to Saturn, wondering why that took so long, and I don’t mind. There’s an irony in this, but it is not a metaphor, not even a pun. Not a sign. It’s a coincidence. Sometimes you just miss a planet, that’s all.

I’d decided to surrender, to go with the flow, just to be. I’m calm at the thought, now, at ease. I feel a greater certainty than ever before, but I’m not sure about what. Just about. And I know I don’t need to investigate this, I don’t need to probe. I don’t need to understand, because I already know.

I don’t want to be the one any more who longs. I don’t want to be the one any more who pines and freezes. The one made of ice. And rocks. Enveloped in abundant gases. Who errs on the side of reason, out of sight, out of mind, out of being. I want to thaw and to melt and to meld with the one and to bloom and to lose myself in the all and to be.

And so I walk on, sunward.

32 Sedartis

Sedartis appears out of nowhere and joins me on my train journey from Zürich to the unfortunately named Chur, making his presence felt in the empty seat next to mine, as I glance out of the window. (When I say ‘Zürich’ I mean a small lakeside town some ten minutes along the way outside Zürich, where I boarded the train having spent the night on the other side of the hill with friends and colleagues, talking mainly about things I am only ever half sure I half understand, but which nevertheless never fail to feed my hunger for thought, invigorate my imagination and massage my malleable mind.)

Where did you suddenly come from, I want to ask him, and how is it I know your name, but before I can speak we are already in conversation:

‘So’, says Sedartis, ‘wouldn’t you like a boat on Lake Zürich?’
‘Most certainly not,’ say I in reply, though the question scarcely seems to warrant one.
‘Why not?’ Sedartis insists.
‘Why,’ retort I, ‘what would I with a boat on Lake Zürich?’
‘Whatever you fancy,’ Sedartis enthuses: ‘sail on the water, enjoy it, splash about in it a bit!’
The puppy dog wag of his voice wearies me.
‘I enjoy water much as I enjoy women,’ I say in measured tones, unsure of the ground I’m suddenly treading on: ‘from a distance. To look upon and marvel at their splendour, be it shallow or deep. I have no need to sail upon or splash about in them.’ 

Sedartis seems saddened by my lack of vigour on the matter and produces an apple, far too symbolically. He contemplates it for many a long second and then takes a bite in a manner that could, though perhaps it ought not to, be described as ‘hearty.’ 

He vaguely reminds me of a character in a book I undoubtedly once will have read but I don’t remember the book or the story (not least as I’m unsure I’ve even done so yet) and I feel that now he’s here it would be rude of me to dismiss, blank or reject him or send him away, and so part of my onward journey he simply, unassumingly and, I am inclined to say, innocuously enough, he becomes.