Caution: This is probably spilt ink. It must have got caught up in the lid of my pen after a new cartridge was inserted.
The past week has broken - a concluded break, that is - up two stints back on Chios, Greece, and I flew to Italy to find an opportunity to think on the directions and destinations that we take and arrive to in our lives.
By the miraculous machinations of some greater power, many threads of my life are blissfully entwined and, over these few days, I pulled on a fila somewhere out of Cretan or Latin myth that brought me back to a region that made such an indelible impression on me around 6 years ago. That was when I was still at school, when I was nurtured by the most wonderful of traits: the ability to become unadulteratedly passionate for something someone else was always passionate about, to mirror it, and to present it to the world as if my own, without the blush of impropriety, piracy or plagiarism.
That’s what Italy has always been: more than a country or a language or a gastronomic awakening, it is a symbol of the illogical - and wholly childish - force of puerile impressionism. We lose this in adult life, and mirror others only with the guilt of inauthenticity.
So it is that living in Greece has always, for me, been a bit of a Mediterranean irony. What fault in the stars decreed I should be there rather than Italy? Imagine intimately touching the wrong person’s leg under the dinner table, or stroking the right person’s leg to find it’s their wooden one; or to be a Wellington who landed in Morocco rather than the Iberian peninsula; like Atkinson in his eponymous Johnny English role, I sometimes look across and wonder: should I be there?
But more and more, I believe the choice (or happenstance) was 100% fortuitous. Like the tourist who gets lost and ends up in a provincial bar outside the city walls, he enters, not paying attention to much other than his immediate appetite, but that being sated, he looks up to find that the view afforded by the suburbial distance of this café onto his imagined destination is much better.
I returned this week to the Val d’Orcia, an area in southern Tuscany. Or does that express too much intent? I accidentally returned this week to the Val d’Orcia, to see Elena, friend and revered teacher who taught on Chios late last year and Edward, long-standing friend and fellow character if I ever were to write a series of dialogues on a topic catalogued under something beginning psy- or philo-.
A holiday. But not one taken from home? Indeed, it struck me that this holiday was the first I’d taken whilst not being based in the UK. At what point does one begin to take holidays between Mediterranean countries? What is the intra-Mediterranean holiday for a Brit? One currently without passport restrictions is an answer. So I flew Athens to Rome.
I was looking, you could say, for headspace. To deal with the emotional and laborious questions that had of late acquired too much of an adhesive quality in my head, getting me awkwardly stuck and having the annoying habit of picking up the kinds of unwanted scraps of litter that require the concerted attention of a two feet and a devoted brain to be rid of, and even then, maybe the help of a third party.
The third party came in the shape of cypress trees, Edward, and Elena. The white roads of Tuscany meant I could watch my footing, and, unfed, the sticky gum of my mind lost appetite and must have dissolved, dried, or peeled off. I’m not sure where or onto whom. Edward—Elena, let me know if you find it.
Those same white roads burnt me, as the sun burnt the haze from the valley each and every morning I awoke. And underneath, just as I found those green fields, trees and verdant quilt of the Val d’Orcia - a shadow theatre for the clouds - I found under my own emotional and laborious fog those same creative and energetic companions that I’ve always felt delighted to be gifted with on my vital journey.
Who or what are these companions? They are the sun-spilt yearnings for human connection and azure love. For levity, frivolity not unlike that fleeting sensation of pins and needles that arrives when one slips wearing sock on polished floor and bathetically experiences the fear one might fall and bump ones bottom.
That’s all been brought back to me, and brings me now back to Chios. So, let this be a short programma for the coming months. As I return from a holiday away from home: here’s to returning home after a holiday.