Yesterday I was 44 years old. I don’t know what to think. Birthdays nowadays are just a number. This was demonstrated by me waking up with my family: mum, dad, R, R, W and G, N and her friend, Coco, but then saying goodbye to them 2 hours later as they boarded a flight to go back to the UK. A ‘Happy Birthday’ and then goodbyes. It’s how I like it. Here I am on Paxos. Tomorrow Igmounitsa, then boarding an overnight ferry to Brindisi and then ending up in Naples next weekend. Keep moving. Find the novelty. The experience. Before I find ‘the one’.
I still feel that ‘oneness’ that I’ve always had with the world, heightened by sunlight, wind, sea, swims, the feel of cool water, wildness and endless possibilities but I can’t deny that something’s changed.
I suppose I once had belief.
I used to trust in God and when that belief waned I still believed in something beyond the normal or the obvious. I remember the sense of wonder and excitement I would get from looking at the moon and stars wondering about some force out there and the vastness and how there was so much more to discover. Now even the yearning to discover lacks the thrill, that wide-eyed lust to see the light that we have in our youth. Oh, age and time.
Last night I went out and got truly wrecked. It was my birthday or that was my excuse. Being on my own didn’t seem to affect this decision. Does it ever? Here is what I wrote in a port side bar halfway through the evening.
- In Gaios. Half cut. Again, the joy of the unexpected. Travels always seem to veer between extremes: of emotions, sure, but also situations because I am both so accident prone but also dying to be as open as I can to newness. The experience.
- There’s always a situation. I lost a car hire key 2 days ago. I was so hungover I don’t know where I left it. A toilet? Probably but might also have gone swimming with it in my trunks so now 150 Euros worth of miniature plastic and metal lies with the sponges and white stones and silver and blue fishes of the Ionian Sea off Avlaki. Nothing big. For once I didn’t have that strongest emotion of all. The rage which rises from within me and makes me shout rhetorical questions (normally in public) “how do you manage it every fucking time?!” “How do you manage to be the person who fucks it up so fucking royally every fucking time?” And so on. No, not this time. I managed to be calm. Stoic. Or trying.
- But, also the small situations which are redolent with meaning/pleasure. I can’t distinguish between the two. A crazy moped ride veering through the olive groves of paxos to my room in the hills only just holding on literally for my life, my backpack pulling me off to one side, the quiet of the ruined church in the tiny hamlet around my room. An arch perfect in its geometry, 2 bells still hanging in an arch above the arch and the main arch leading to.. what? Soft sunlight and the grove. 10 seconds. Probably worth the whole 2 weeks in intensity.
That bit about extremes was a prediction of what would come today. Hungover and lonely. Look at that photo. I AM NOT COMPLAINING. But the darkness can creep in at any time and shroud me.
Enough. There’s too much self sympathy already here and I’m in one of the most beautiful places imaginable.
Let’s talk about the sea. Always my solace. My longest, strongest relationship! As beautiful Antipaxos is in that photo that’s not my Grecian idyll.
The more common Greek Island beach is the more poetic. White, sun bleached rocks, pine fronds blowing gently this way and that in the Northerly wind, the Mistral. And of course there, like a whisper, like a dream, my lover, dancing and glittering in the light, beckoning me, hypnotising me with the slow repetitive whoosh and wish of her voice. Right beside me. Telling me everything will be all right. In Ermones, Corfu last week I fell in love again.
And now i’m drinking again at the port side next to a giant inflatable pink flamingo but, no, I am not going to kick the arse out of it tonight. No way. Rules of travel this year: don’t be hungover on a travel day.
Everyone’s so fucking chilled here. They walk slower, eat slower, do everything at half the pace of your everyday Londoner. People sit about. Cats lie about everywhere and life carries on. Slowly.
It’s even wearing off on me. Most of the last week I have been utterly in the present. No frustrating or fearing about small stuff that lies in the immediate future. I know I’m stating the obvious – I’m on holiday for God’s sake. Just something of a revelation that’s all.
I did genuinely fall in love earlier (remember what a reliable narrator I am?). It was a real throwback to me being a younger man on holiday. The hopelessness of the English public schoolboy attempting to get with a girl. Think Hugh Grant. It’s strange because i’m much more confident of late but she struck me dumb.
I think her name was Maria. Italian. Too young. 27? Perfect smooth, dark skin. Lips like rose petals resting on each other and the hair, the hair. I sound like the farmer in ‘The Farmer’s Bride’ but that’s probably how I felt. Obsessed. So many looks to and fro before we got on the ferry back from AntiPaxos (AntiClimaxus) and then sitting next to each other at the back of the boat getting rocked and drenched by the water coming off the prow all I could think of was “I think we’ve chosen the worst place to sit”
Her. “Yes, but at least you have the bar to hold onto’”
Me: “Why don’t you sit here? I can move up.”
Her: “Thhhank you.”
And that was it. God, it hurts thinking about it.
There we sat for an agonising 20 minutes inches apart, her arm next to mine, her looking straight ahead, her black hair in layers and lines and curves being blown behind her and me, stultified. Frozen.
Let’s return to reality shall we? How old was I yesterday? How old was she? Hey, but so what? Carpe Diem and my confidence has been at an all time high these last few months but you’re not the young man you once were, R. ‘There’s only one thing worse than a fool and that’s an old fool’. All right, a middle aged fool.