Monday, 19 August 2013

Europe 2013 - Final Notes

The End Of A Three Week Lifetime… Sleeping On A 45 Degree Angle… Pre-Dawn On The Other Side Of The World… Calm Restored After A While…

Pre-dawn. Light beginning to filter through the curtains in the lounge room. Dawn. Birdsong, but silent. Silent for the first time in many weeks. Far away from any city. Far from people and bustle. Quiet and calm restored. Sleep at odd times. Content and happy.

The bar downstairs has closed for two weeks over summer, the owner – a shaggy-haired, wild-eyed man with a thick accent – no longer in town, or at least not where the film students congregate on a Tuesday night, spilling out into the street with little regard for the peace of others piled high in apartment buildings around them. As such, we must find new places to drink, to become one with where we are, in an environment with which we’re more than familiar.

Two days left and we wander in the sun down a dim back street, almost midday but few people around. A small café halfway along to the flea market with no one sitting outside so we get to chairs and order beer, a plate of peanuts, salty with the cold drink, feet propped out in the sun, almost to the edge of the pavement, cars occasionally going by. An old African woman leans out her second story window and regards us with vague curiosity but then is gone.

We move to another small café closer to home, full pavement of tables and Parisians, old and young, lunch and drink, smoking as ever. Inside old men line the bar, smiles and small glasses of cloudy liquid. Cheap beer which we consume with the same languid pace common over here, time meaning little as the sun slides gently across the sky, afternoon, switching to rose and red wine, back to beer, should we eat? Should we stay or move on?

Claire’s ankle is slightly swollen, hurts at certain angles, the result of a trip down dark stairs. Frozen peas have done the trick and so now we sit and watch the world go by, wondering how three weeks could have gone so quickly, from what seemed like an eternity to what now seems like mere seconds… can we do more than we have done? Or was the point to immerse ourselves in somewhere different, to live and act like the people who constantly surround us, not giving us a thought except perhaps if they hear our accent, wonder who we are and what we’re doing in a place where other tourists perhaps don’t often come. This indeed, is the point.

Wandering Parisian Streets
We eventually pack and leave, tidy apartment, down the tiny, rattling lift to street level, a cab to the airport, yet another airport, a small plane across the Channel to London, yet another ancient city, off the plane and down underground, the Tube, a literal tube, in toward the city. Thwarted by track works, off at the wrong station with what seems like thousands of others, another line, another train, emerging into the dark at Westminster, under the living shadow of Big Ben. A London cab, the driver knows where we’re going. A quick stop for cash, delivered unto the Thames, a houseboat on said, under the dominating Tower Bridge on a river as old as the earth itself.

Last Parisian Sunset
At low tide, the boat lists and you sleep, and walk, on a 45 degree angle. At high tide, the river reminds you where you are and you pitch and heave, bumping against the barge next to you, odd sounds in the night keeping you awake. Smoking outside on the top on an old bench that threatens to collapse at any time, the rain begins not long after we get there, but there’s enough sun in which to walk the streets, markets, famous landmarks that everyone has seen in books and on television but which in real life are real and have too much history for you to be able to take in at once.

London is a city of stark contrast – the ancient mixed thoughtlessly in with the new, or perhaps vice versa. They seem to pride themselves on the modernity of their building while keeping the old at point, which works in an odd sort of way. The people walk fast, stepping around yet more tourists. You can understand what they’re saying now, which makes it seem lazy… I can go into a shop and ask a question and know I’ll be able to understand the answer, which takes some of the mystique out of the situation.

We’re tired now, we look forward to coming home. I mention, more than once, that I miss the silence. The city is a fine place to visit, but…

View From The Boat
We find a band on our last night, a three-piece bluegrass ensemble with a friend sitting in on pedal steel. They have another friend come up for a song with a tambourine which he plays New Orleans style and the tiny pub gets sweaty and raucous and the music bounces off the close walls and reverberates in your brain and you forget how wet you are from the rain outside, you forget how hot and steamy it is inside, and you relax and enjoy the first live music you’ve seen in what seems like an age.

We leave the next afternoon, a long haul, two planes, six hours in between, intermittent sleep, food, wandering aisles weary and cramped but on the way Home, which at this point is welcome, so welcome. We land and the sun is out, it’s early morning, the air here is wintery and crisp, it smells like home. I buy more whiskey and cigarettes and we go straight through immigration and customs and are met at the gate and almost instantly, it seems like we were never gone. Home to calm, restored, memories and recollections and a sense of something well done, enjoyed, moved our life halfway around the world for a short time and came home to tell the tale. Indeed.

Samuel J. Fell

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