Monthly Archives: November 2011

Marching to Parnassus

parnassus

(to the tune of Marching on with Charlie)
I am marching on Parnassos
I am marching every day
I am marching on Parnassos
Where all the muses play

When I tour India, I always sense that the goddess Saraswathi is with me. In the same capacity, over here in Greece, I wonder’d which of their classical dieties I would call on for assistance. The choice was easy, for as I’m a raging Gemini it just had to be fleet-footed Hermes (or Mercury to the Romans), whom I invoked in a sonnet;

O! God of scholars, travellers & theives,
I pray, lord, watch my labour
& all success & grace which it receives
Offer to thy favour

O keen-eyed giant-slayer, never old,
On sandals mountain-skimming
Vvarnish’d with an untarnishable gold
Heed my mortal hymning

O son of Maia! if one hundred eyes
Yearn to hurt me dearly
Grant me bad weather or a clever guise
& I’ll vanish clearly

Lord! find me antidotes when I ‘m grown ill
Or cloaks & tunics come the winter’s chill

My new god with me, then, I set off from my breezy nest over the sanctuary of Olympia. A couple of hours & a couple of bus rider later I was back in the port-city of Patras. Its a busy place, clean & airy, & somewhere one could imagine living. I paused there awhile in the offices of the big local newspaper… chatting to a middle aged female journalist about my Phorcys story. However, she was more interested in telling me about the great debate that was swinging around Greece about whether Homer’s Ithica was modern day Ithiki or Cephalonia, & being in a hurry she didnt even look at the photos I was trying to show her that basically settles the issue. Still, I got some interesting nuggets of stuff my book, & as for the announcement of my great discovery, I will take consolation from the great Gary Barlow, when he sang, “Have a little patience, my friend!”

I was now heading for Mount Parnassus, the home of the Muses, & some place I’d longed to visit since becoming a poet. Indeed, back in October 1999, in Brighton, the first tryptych I ever composed for my epic poem, Axis & Allies, was an invocation to those nine sisters of inspiration, & set at the foot of an imaginary Mount Parnassus;

There is a glade in an ancyent forest
Where pools lie glitteraund molten azure,
I wade within the one most moonbeam blest
To bathe in blissful dreamtimes gleaming pure;
Attended by
The nine naked maidens
Like a lost lullaby lilting throʹ loveʹs garden.

She harps a song, she summons stars,
She waltzes round the waters,
She treats these tender battlescars,
She paints the floating lotus,
She strums the summergold guitars,
O loxian daughters!
As thro the wood was cast a flood of light,
I pluckʹd & dipp’d reed & ‘gan to write.

The muses weave their tryptych tone,
O rich enchanted chime,
The music of their mystic moan
Inspires my soul to rhyme,
Thus clutching hopes of poetry Parnassus’ slopes we climb.

Since etching those dreamy lines I’ve composed over 1200 tryptychs, of which 800 or so will form the final version of my A&A. Ive also been to Italy 12 times, from Trieste to Scicily; spent 13 months of my life in India from Kannuyakamari to Kanchenzonga; toured through Sweden, Estonia, Holland, Malta, Austria, Germany, Belgium & even accidentally been to France six times – or seven if you count my visit to the Basque country when I crossed the Pyrynees from Spain via the pass of Roncevalles. I’ve toured practically corner of British Isles in that time, from Galway to Cape Wrath & the Tor of Glastonbury – but never, in all my days, have I made it to Greece. Well I’m here now!

I walked through the suburbs of Patras for a few k, before reaching a huge Queensferry style bridge, but more like an Ikea buy, formed from the giant, gleaming white skeletal wings of flesh-stripped birds, spanning the gulf between the Peloponese & the Sterca Hellas. So I began to walk the couple of k across the wide bridge beneath a cloudless sky (it hasnt rained since I got to Greece), the Corinthian Bay curving lucidly to my right, & far out on my left the fading shadows of Cephallonia at the mouth of the gulf. Far below me a series of ferrys were chugging at about my own pace between the shores. On reaching the far side I realised why – it was 20 euros per car, forty for a large lorry & 60 for a coach to cross the bridge!

patras bridge
Patra bridge, Patras, Greece
This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: Day 18: Patra – Nafpaktos – Patra – Bari

A couple of walks & a wee lift later, in the dying of the die, I put my tent up by a massive castle high on a hill over the pretty town of Lepanto. From Patras to Corinth I was presented with a vast panapoly of lights that threatened to usurp the very stars themselves from their podium of illuminating beauty. I also had a mind movie to play out, for it was in the very waters below me that a mighty naval battle took place between a combined force of Venetians, Spanish & the Knights of Saint John from Malta against the Turks. It was a victory for the Christians, as vital as El Alamein was in WW2, the high water mark of the Ottoman Empire.

The next day was a real pleasure. Awaking before dswn I was on the road by 7AM. A few shops were open in Lepanto, where I stocked up on what has become my staple fare in the past few days; a large tin of spam (1.25), a loaf of delicious bread (.75), 3 eggs (.60) plus a large fresh tomato & a few bits of veg (.40). This comes to 3.00, & mixed with the oranges that are growing wild everywhere (& are just ripening succulently) I believe I have a decent diet – meat, wheat, fruit & the veg which I curry up on the night with some spices. Thats 21 euros out of my 57 euros a week (on current exchange rate), which leaves me plenty enough for travel, wine & internet. The simplicity of this life is wonderful, I think; no presures of work, consumerism or one’s peers off to a party. Cooking an an open fire & cleaning in rivers, its just me, my poetry & the open road.

And what a road! After a few k of hiking on the Lepanto plain, I began my turn north into the mountains at a town called Efpalio. Not long after Hermes provided me with a lorry full of hay bales & a friendly driver who took me to exactly where I wanted to go. Id picked out a large lake on the map, between Patras & Parnassus, & he was heading to a town on the far side of it called Lidoriki. The drive was immense, higher & higher & twisting & turning, all in a world of autumn-tinted giants. We stopped off for coffee (iced by the way) at this cool hunting lodge, ran by a tiny, chubby old woman who sat beside a roaring hearth underneath rows of salami. All round was a triumph of taxidermy; about a hundred stuffed animals of all kinds with still soft fur & still sharp fangs, including a little yellow chicken-chick!

Lidoriki town

Now then, I have seen some spectaular places on my sojurns round the planet thus far, but the mountains which rise from the deep azurity of the Mornos lake are unparralled in the perfection & composition of scene. Wordsworth would have come in his pants, & I admit I felt the warm dampness of excitable ejecta spreading through my boxers as we drove through its awesomeness. I was dropped off in Lidoriki, a reasonably sized & quite charming mountain village, rolling up & down its slopes with views & air to die for. On the way to put up my tent I asked the last house in town if I could charge up my laptop, & they were very obliging. The son of the family – Niki – was also one of the star players of the village football team, who were kicking off a match aganist another mountain village team not long after I arrived. It was great being part of the small but lively crowd, where insults are flung to ones friends. I also now know my third Greek word – malaka – I was taught to shout it at an opposition player & the laughs of the crowd indicate it must be of a humorous nature. Lidoriki won 7-0 by the way.

Lidoriki

Next morning I saw frost for the first time since last November! Ive got two sleeping bags at the moment – one being my grielfriends 80 quid one, not quite as snug as her loins, buts its doing the trick! So i stumbles out of the tent at dawn & its fuckin there, all white & that, proper frost. Then yer got cold toes & stuff, Id completelt forgotten. Up in the mountains, then, the sun gleaming on teh nearby lake but not yet over the peak between us, I hastily made a lovely wee fire. Eggs for breakfast, then, & a lesson learnt for Parnassus (stay in bed!). Later, after stocking up on water at the house of this friendly one armed retired German, i retired to my tent for the day, the front open & the sun really sizzling. I think the shock of the frost had been too much for me. Besides, it was nice to have a holiday!

This morning my initial fears over the cold were proven when my water bottle was full of ice. Still., the dawn was spectacular & I watched it first skim the highest peaks in the area, then the golden light spread like a forest fire over the facing slopes, their beams hanging in the air just a few meters above me. Then, it seemed like a peak to my east had a glacier of snow, before the sun burst out ibn all its glory & sent my shadow into ecstasy. After buying fresh warm bread from a guy who’d scored saturdays best goal, I set off once more. Hermes was again with me as a friendly guy drove me back to the coast of the Corinthian gulf – the mountains of the Peloponese rising across the white waters. Then, after a hike of 10k & lunch in a beautiful bay, I was picked up by a guy called Jonny in his milk truck. He was a nice guy, a virtuoso classical guitarist/metal head, who has been forced to deliver milk in the wake of the economic crisis. He was a musician in Athens, but the arts, its seems, are the fisrt victim of the vast financial Greek vaccum. Anyhow, by the time he’d driven me all round the coast, pointing out the magic mountain of Parnassus to me as a great bay opened up, I’d blagged a DJ set at the Roadhouse venue in Itea on Saturday night. The bands more seventies rock, so i’m not allowed to do any disco, but it should be fun. Once in Itea, a real cool spot with sunbathers (still) & lemons & oranges hanging from very tree, free for all to pick, Hermes even led me to the bass player of the band (augelos) who are playing on Saturday. He told me the same story, that he was forced out of musician work in Athens, so I hope to cheer them all up come the weekend with some proper Betty Boo!

Here’s Jonny in action

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG07zD_-KDk

& heres Augelos’s last band (he’s on bass)

Itea
28/11/11

Olympia at Last

On the Job

On Monday just gone, me & Paul spent our last couple of hours together in Argostoli. Apparently the chill nights & the frugal existence had become less a novelty & more a burden, & so he decided to live it up large in Athens for a week before catching an early flight home. So we sat by the harbour a while, & with a flurry of man-hug-loving said adeiu, as he caught the coach to Athens (via the ferry). I hung on a bit longer in Argostoli, hoping to catch the local newspaper with my Phorcys Cave story – but they must have opened up & closed in about twenty minutes. ‘I’ll just have to go to Athens & find a newspaper there,’ I thought, & set off on my adventures.

I was alone for the first time in weeks, but solitude is the wet-nurse of poetry, & the lines began to flow. It was kinda daunting, to travel about 400 miles to Thessalonika, via loads of mad places, with fuck all money & mostly on foot. Still, Im here now innnit? From Argostoli the road climbed & climbed, & thgo the views were glorious my hitching attempts terrible.. until, that is, a PE teacher in her late 30’s stopped & took me the 20K I was hiking to Sami! That night I camped in a camp site, empty for the winter, & wrote poetry by the harbour drinking beer. Sami itself is a calm, lushness of a place, full of high verdant peaks, as across the silvery waters of the bay the island of Ithica lay.

Next morning I set off studying the topography of the place – Im sure its where Odysseus had his palace – then was picked up by a giddy, young-looking, silver-haired yet middle-aged truck driver who took me 26K down to Poros & as I was with him I got a free 10 euro ferry ride to the mainland! He was a cool chap, a littl;e camp, which was confirmed when after asking his limited english where was cool in Greece, he very exitedly went on about this gay island with a ‘do-you-want-a-blow-job’ glint in his eye. He never got one, but I did help him unload his out of date milk products on to a truck that arrived at Killini a few minutes after on from Cephalonia’s neighbouring island, Zakynthos.

So I’d landed on Greece proper. The Cephalonians take pride in that they were under both Venetian & British control – never the Turks – but here I was in the peloponese surrounded by all thinkgs Greek & those curious Phoencian letters of theres. Its cool though – The greeks seem more laid back than the Italians – & darker skinned -, there’s orange trees full of nicely ripe fruit growing everywhere, & public transport consists mostly of plush coaches. On the down side, the dogs here seem all to be good dogs & bark furiously as you pass them, & being a rural place there are cockerals everywhere. Trust me, the pre-dawn operatics of dog & rooster are not good for a hangover!

So my new best gay mate – Constantinos I think his name was – drops me off at exactly the same stretch of motorway where me & paul got off on the way in to Killini, & a set up camp a coupel of k downstream. Then I was up with the dawn – only 50 k from Olympia, teh main reason for me doing this ‘insane quest (to quote victor pope) in the first place. The idea is that as a british poet with histrionic pretensions Im gonna write some victory odes when the games come to my ‘hood. A little pilgrimage to their home, then, wouldnt go amiss, so after catching a coupel of buses, thro the refined city of Pirgos, I’m here. On arriving, I wwandered round a bit, through a savgely ridged countryside, toward these watchtower things which I presumed overlooked the site. The sun was beating down as I passed a guy hunting wih hound & gin, & little pockets of olive pickers with their nets spread below the trees… & then, I’d made it. Below me I saw the oval track where the idea of competetive sport began. Its a bit like Burnley atheletics club but without the chimneys, with orange rooved museum complexes snaking from the centre. That night I chilled out in my wooden watchtower, a great wind creaking & groaning it all over the place – but I held my nerve & listened to music well into the wild night.

The next morning I was up with the rose-pink dawn, & descended into Olympia itself (via a hop over a fence). Its an absolute wonder of a ruin, from the gogantic coloumns of temple of zeus, which were scattered by an earthquake in the 500s, to the stadion itself, where of course I did a one man running race along the length of (I won). While there I etched a wee sonnet which I rather like, a sort of exhortation to the budding sportsmen of the world;

If the world that you live for is noble
& to do yer damn best is yer dream
You must train through the pain & the rain, son,
Then you might just get in the team.

Then its time to alight on the beaches
For your captain, your country & all
Thats when passion becomes more a duty
& yer name might just hang off a wall

So c’mon, lad, you know yer can do it
Dig down deeper than you’ve dug before
With the grace of the gods in thy favour
You might just win it, no matter how sore

Yes, you might be a true bloody hero,
So what the hell are yer waiting for!?

After an enchanting couple of hours wandering the sanctuary Im now in the lovely town of modern Olympia, shopping for food & doing free wi-fi in a cafe over a cup of thick & tasty Greek coffee. Soon Im gonna retire to my hilltop enclave, gush out some lines & munch on my collection of foodstuffs, herbed up with the wild lavender prospering eagerly around my tent.

Olympia
24/11/2011

Paul’s gone with the camera now, so here’s somebody elese picture of olympia its quite a good wee film actually

Phorcys’ Cove

Phorcys Cave

Hello from Argistoli, the capital of Kephalonia. Its a lively wee place, pastel houses perched on low ground beside a lagoon, like some Norwegian fjordside settlement. There’s 15,000 souls here, & with it being Saturday night the grand piazza is filled with teenagers, while the muterer sort stroll pleasantly round in circles along the clean Ionian streets. My first glimpse of Kephalonia came several dawns ago. I was on the Brindisi-Patras ferry & awoke to see a slim silvery shard capping what appeared to be black hills slightly less inky than the night behind. Then colours started to increase in vividity & before long the whole rugged, mountainous Ionian archipelago was passing our boat on either side. “I’ll see you soon, I muttered into the sea-breeze,” & it is a promise I have kept.

Me & Paul berthed at Patras, a pleasant port city stacked against a mountain, & soon discovered that as the Greeks imported basically everything, the prices of food were proper steep! I Think their current economic crisis must be down to all the plates they smash at weddings! My firsy day in Greece was spent basically sleeping off my lack of sleep on the ferry, plus the hangover from my last 5 litre bottle of cheap Italian red. We’d camped a few k up the road in a lush spot of greenery, & then waking early carried on our walk. After a few more k we came across a bus station which whizzed us toward our first target – Killini. We almost made it, jumping off the bus on a motorway, then hiking a few more k before setting up camp & building a fire just as dusk was surrounding. Next morning, as we strolled toward the port, we were picked up by a friendly port official who patrols the waters finding rafts full of Africans. At the port we discovered we had seven hours to wait til our boat – but this was cool as the beer was cheap & we chilled out in the ruins of medievil Glarantza, just beside the harbour, with wonderful views of Kephalonia rising like a supervolcano from the waves.

The ferry crossing was perfect – the sun set into the waters & cast a pink arm around the shoulders of the Kephalonian mountains, an island which grew ever larger as we steamed to its shores. We docked at Polos, a charming town, & camped on its beach for the night, cooking on an open fire, the sea lulling us into a soft sleep. Then yesterday morning, after stocking up on ater & supplies for a couple of dyas, we set off out on our adventure. I’d told Paul that I was searching for the Cove of Phorcys – the old man of the sea – described in book 13 of the Odyssey. It was the final piece in my jigsaw & finding it would be fucking braw! Paul was more interested in the treasure that Odysseus hid in the back of the cave, & so joined in my enthusiasm!

Pork & Beanz (heinz)

Our walk was delightful, the road sooned turned to an earth-track,pickled with goat herds & the lovely chiming of the bells around their necks. On our right stretched the island-peppered sea, with Ithica ever growing closer, & more detailed, to the north. On our right a long chain of mountains strectched north & below us the road twisted & tunred until, with a flash of spaciousness, I saw the cove itself. It fit the description Homer gave perfectly, which was further enhanced once we pitched camp & scouted out the beach. Haalf-way along was a proper cave, which homer had descibed as the Cave of the Naiads, & all round us every box was ticked; the wild olive tree, the overhanging cliffs, the mountain slopes, the beach big enough for a boat, etc. What amazed me more was the strange petrified dragon of a rock formation that commanded one of the headlands. Phorcys was said to be the father of sea-monsters, including a dragon & the gorgons, who turned things to stone. One can imagine an ancient Greek seeing the curious ‘statue’ & immediately thinking of Phorcys. That night the Milky Way showed her unpolluted face & we gaze on a TV screen of stars, high over the sea, energized by our find.

Sami from Odysseus palace

That brought us to today. Faced with high mountains & impassable coast line, we walked back to Poros, only to find there wouldnt be busses til Monday. So we set off walking, popping in on a Mycynean tholos tomb on the way – a sort of underground brick beehive 3,5000 years old. Then not long after I flagged down a van & we were picked up by overfriendly Kirriokos, a 40-ish year old guy who was intrigued to discover I was on the trail of Homer’s Ithica. Amazingly enough, this very evening in Argostoli there was a series of archeology lectures, one of which covered a Mycynean dig which supported one of my theories. Getting the VIP treatment, he drove us to Sami, where we paused at the monastery of wild olives, high up & tranquil with gorgeous views. Then he took us the classical-era citadel (where I think Odysseus palace is), stopping off to eat some delicous wild red fruits on the way. Then he drove us to the other side of the island through Kephalonia’s hinterland – a true marvel of nature, all lush greenery ringed by mountains – passing a church built over a river (after a miraclulous saving of a young boys life) & dropping down into watery Argostoli. En route he fed us & bought us capuccions in the town while we waited for the lectures tho begin. These were mostly in Greek, & Paul left after one, but I stayed on, working on my book in an academic setting. Behind me were 20 young Canadian archeology students who had been digging on the island, who gave their teacher a rapturous applause when he stepped up to deliver his lecture. On my part, I got a few tit-bits here & there, & am ready to deliver my findings to the local newspaper first thing Monday… wish me luck

Argostoli
19/11/11

The Apartamento at the End of the Rainbow

Wine, Sunshine, Feelin damn Fine

Io Sono Spartico!

Tonight there will be a parting of the ways. My erstwhile, & long suffering travelling pal, Victor Pope, will be heading home to Auld Reekie, where he’s gonna gorge on indian takeaways while playing his x-box non-stop for at least a week. Tomorrow morning he’ll be catching the 6AM flight to London Stanstead from Brindisi, just as me & Paul should be watching the sun rise up over the Ionian islands, off the western shores of the Greek mainland. In honour of his services to companionship, I would like to present his version of recent events;

THE APPARTAMENTO AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW

Cioa mi amica,
From our sewer we made our way to Leche, still itching slightly from all the mosquito bites. In Leche we found a library for internet, similar simplistic south American / African style buildings surrounding us. Then we decided it was time to hit the beach for one of the towns circled on the map by a guy we met in Calcata as a nice place to go. It was pleasent enough. Kind of another dead seaside resort, all modern but pretty enough little apartements and bars. Kind of a little Italian Costa del shite. Damo went in search of a cheap place for a few nights but once again bore no fruit. However there was a little uninhabited Island just off the coast and thoughts of a romantic Robinson Cruso type excursion excited Paul and Damo. So who was I to poop the party (dubious as I was)? However, doubts arose in Paul’s mind when a number of the locals gave him worried looks, bringing up the caboniari and the predicted nasty weather. After some deliberation we felt it wiser to set up camp on the mainland. After a brief walk up the coast we found a quiet patch of beach and pitched the tent. But it wasn’t quiet for long. Pretty soon the heavens opened and we were bombarded by a torrent of tiny wet fists beating away at us and Damo’s attempt to make pasta on a fire fueled entirely by a grass skirt type thing (decent wood being in short suply). Miraculously he pulled off a reasonably edible dish and we retreated to the tent to scoff it down in relative comfort. But pretty soon the fear of God and nature was on us once again as sky splitting roars blasted from the brooding clouds, accumpanied by fork lightning, the very spears of Zeus striking barely off shore in all directions (including, bizarely enough, horizontally). This was too much for Paul to resist and he rushed into the torrent to tempt fate and admire the wrath of the Gods in all its glory. He didn’t have long to wait. Barely a few yards from him a lightning bolt struck a tree and he nearly fell back into the tent pale as a sheet with eyes as wide as saucers. Was this the end? The next bolt was so close it shone bright red and I swore I could feel the heat from it. We quaked in the tent with the reapers sythe swiping barely inches from our heads until finally, after the longest half hour of our lives, the storm swept over. But what a rush! I was almost jealous of poor Paul.
In the morning we decided to walk the twenty K to the next town. It was all going swimmingly until, just as we hit some beautiful, pixyland forestry the heavens opened once again. Shivering briefly under a tree we managed to blag a lift of a kindly woodsman who took us a k or so down the track. But it was out of the frying pan into the fire as a desperate scramble up some wet rocks was required to get back to the road. Nature may be beautiful but it’s also the most indiscrimanate and merciless killer on the planet. But finally we arrived in Santa Maria al Bagro, wet, exhausted and badly in need of a B and B. Although it seemed as though our luck was finally turning. One of the first buildings we came to was an estate agent with apartements available. Damo worked his dubious magic and pretty soon we had a whole villa for 225 euros for five days. I say villa, the place is a fucking mansion. Massive kitchen, three bedrooms, Bathroom, two showers, living room with TV, garden, washing machine…..WASHING MACHINE!!! Finally we had struck the gold at the end of the rainbow. Damo had finally delivered on his promise, and the previso for me joining him on this insain quest in the first place, with days to spare. All was, for the time being at least, forgiven. I would end my “Holiday” in style with an actual Holiday. But hey, as Bill HIcks once said, life is just a ride.
Today has been luxurously spent sunbathing, reading, cooking (full English of course) and chatting with a delightful local Hippy who sent Damo and Paul on a whitey and told us all about Belesconi finally being uosted a couple of days ago. So it seems we had arrived at quite a historical time. And the madness isn’t over. Our estate agent has apparently sorted us out a gig for Saturday night with a local musician in the nearby town of Nardo. One last date on the Saraswathi grand tour of Italy and hopefully the fuel for one last blog. But until then,
Cioa per addesso,
Steve.

Cheers man! Since he wrote the above blog, I spent a day wandering the coast & woods of Portoselvaggio, a small national park just to the north of Santa Caterina, where we were staying. It was saved from hotel developments by the martyrdom of a local politician about 20 years ago, who got a mafia bullet to the head for her troubles. It a beautiful place, from the rocky shores to the hoary woods, including grottos where Neanderthal man etched crude heiroglyphics into the rock 10,000 years ago. On the walk, & my first real solitude for a month, I got stuck into Axis & Allies, writing this little stanzetta which I am rather fond of.

Our destines are as the sun
Which rises at the dawning
Unstoppable, once we’ve begun
Our progress through life’s morning
Until, when half our day is done,
Sudden, without warning,
We find our brightest face begin to fade
For the death-mask of midnight’s masquerade!

Just as our timing at Calcata could not have been more perfect, so was our arrival in this part of the world. It was the festival of Santa Maria over the weekend, which is essentially a celebration of new wine. On friday we noised up some noisy young neighbours, who were having a wee party a few villas up from us, then Saturday we played our second gig in two weeks. This time we were driven by cool-as-fuck Antonio, the sassy middle-aged boss of the estate agents, up to the nearby town of Nardo. En route we popped into a wine shop, for nbbles & a spot of wine tasting, then arrived in the central piazza. There he opened up a small-ish room stuffed with instruments, for us to have a wee practice. The place is dedicated to Luigi Stifini, a famous local musician who invented Pizziche – a mesmeric, foot-tapping traditional acoustic music with gypsy undertones. Here’s a sample

During our jam the daughter of Mr Stifini – perhaps 65 years old – turns up & starts jamming along with us on a ukelele. Funny as fuck! Then we wandered thro the beautiful narrow, baroque streest of Old Nardo to a local bar ran by some cool young ‘uns, where the Pizziche music was in full flow. This was enhanced by two very cute, young Italian birds who were dancing a wild, spontaneous, sensual & elegant whirl of movements & hand gestures – total quality. Not long after we played a few numbers, with the crowd loving it & the musicians joining in. Then the table of covered plates was uncovered to reveal a veritable banquet – the highlight of which was horse-meat stew, which had been cooked for a full nine hours by our ukelele playing madame, sending my palette into the realms of culinary heaven.

Yesterday was a quiet one – watching the grand prix & a dubbed Spartacus among other things, washing clothes & generally mentally preparing for our movements on. I really cant wait… for several months through the summer I was researching Homer in the national library of scotland in Edinburgh, & for the past month have been assembling the information & turning it to cohesive & readable prose. In the next few days I shall be in Cephalonia, where I have good reasons to suspect houses the site of the palace of Odysseus, in a place nobody has ever conjectured before. My month in Italy has been more of warm-up… practcing my Italian, enjoying the sunshine, preparing notes, tossing of a few sonnets & tryptychs, seeing a few new places, etc. But Greece is a different prospect altogether, a quest in the real sense of the word, beginning soon with a voyage across ancient waters. Interestingly enough, Spartacus was also once in Brindisi with his slave-nation. He’d paid some Phoenician sailors to ferry them all to safety, but they had reneged on the deal. Im just hoping the same thing wont happen to us with our ferry company!

Brindisi
14 11 11

From Heart to Heel

During the long course of my poethood
I have prepared my song for this moment
At last! to Grecia by my Muses sent
& in my heart I knew they always would!
Upon Italic plateauxs I have stood
Hoping to glimpse her shores through mountains bent
Between the mists, that shuffle innocent
From peak to peak, as only phantoms could!

Last night me Vic & Paul arrived in Brindisi, a charming port city, full of white buildings & polished streets that glimmer in the street lights. The waters of the harbour are a crfeamy affair & the place is a rare idyll on this often soul-sapping Adriatic coast. Yet my feet were still moving, & with Greece only a boat ride away I urged the boys to head for Hellas, Unfortunately Vic was having none of it. He flies out of Brindisi next week & didnt want to risk any fuck-ups & would prefer a nice comfy apartment by the sea than fannying about up Greek mountains. So we’re staying, & are heading down to Lecce in an hour or so to find a nice spot on Italy’s heel.

It took 5 days to get here from Frosinone. Our first port of call was Cassino, & theabbey of Monte cassion that towers over the town like a drunken headmaster hovering over your homework. You can catch a bus up to the top which rewards you withj the most amazing views of the mountainous country all round. Indeeed, in the second world war, the germans held this vital strategic point for six months against all the might the Allies could throw at them, leading to the inevitable bombing of the 1000 year old abbey. This only served to provide the Germans with more cover, & despite the Italians rebuilding the monastery to spec, the barbaric act still sticks in a cultured man’s throat.

After a night’s camping we walked back down the hill, so high up it seemed we were human gliders, with teh views changing awesomely as we twisted & turned our way down the serpentine road. At the bottom we carried on our journey, crossing the Appenine spine of the country, pausing at Venafro for lunch under great gargants of rock, before racing through Campobasso to get to Termoli. We were now back on the Adriatic, not far down the coast from Pescara, on a lovely beach beneath the castle & walls of old Termoli, which jut into the sea like the QE2. The rest of the place is funky as fuck – lots of coolbars & a lovely gentle slope down to the sea.

Waking to the waves we continued our journey – but the train jumping gods were against us. Its not easy when theres three of you / with big bags / setting off from starter stations – & we had to wait three hours at first stop out of Termoli – a ghostly place where I spent a couple of hours trying to hitch a ride for us, which though unsuccessful I enjoyed immensely thanks to the copius amounts of wine id been drinking.

Swallowing my pride I relented to the lads wish toby a ticket – which at a fiver equalled everything id spent up to this date on travel – a greivous blow! This got us to Foggia, an uninteresting city, & somewhere we had to getout of to find a decent camp-site. So getting on the next train, we were kicked off at the next stop again – which was essentially a big industrial estate. As we trudged past the gloomy buildings & along the motorway Paul wasn’t happy, but cheered later on when I led him to where the karmic gods had brought us. About 2 k from the station lay the small village of Incoronata, & two k after that the sanctuary of Incoronata. Lo &behold, on arriving we were offered genuine Catholic hospitality & given a room with hot showers for a couple of nights. Albeit we had to shae it with Antonio, a wee, balding funny middle-aged Italian man, who was so adorable I wanted to take home with me!

Ther gods really were working in our favour, for the sunday was a miserable day of rain, wind & thunderstorm as a weather front came racing over Italy. The boys rode it out in a bar – part of the commercial bullshit that lay outside the sanctuary. It was like being in Puttu-pathi all over again, where a place of great spirituality is surrounded by tat-sellers trying to make a fast buck. Still, the lads were happy, & spent the day drinking like Brits abroad – in the meantime I found a quiet chapel to write my book on the homeric question – quiet that is until a a load of school kids poured in to do mass. It was funny watching them watching me watching them & I quite enjoyed the mass – lots of praying, singing & handshaking & the solemn tones of a priest who probably doesn’t believ in god.

From Incoronata we headed south on the trains once more, passing through a massively flat plain & the city of Bari before arriving in Brindisi, where this blog began. Then an early start got us down to Lecce, the gateway to the coastal beaches of the heel, where I’m now writing this in the salubrious city library.

Here’s a poem I wrote last night while enjoying a walk around the city;

My language is English & many words there be
With two or three meanings when heard sonic’ly
To see could mean the sea or a Catholic see
& vein could be weather vane or pure vanity
So to plane – does it fly, is it flat, believe me
This one’s flat & spreads out uninterestingly
As we trundle thro Bari, pass Monopoli,
I wonder where is she Lioness Italy
With your days doubl’d up either side of my tea
& thy fashion carved fountains glow so gracefully
Where streets shine like marble beneath a palm tree…

O me! of a sudden, whether fortunately
Or driven by karma, with thy sea-air salty
At the gateway to Greece, angel-white Brindisi!

Fino a prossima volta

8/11/11

Ciao Calcata

Calcata

Lazing through days of Italy,
O life of lovely hours!
The soft wine & festivity,
The sunshine & tranquility,
Where street cats speak, eloquently,
The Language of the Flowers.

There is a place where you must go
To hear the street-cat patter,
Where sweet Rondini swoop & show,
The river glistens far below
A maze of streets, then you will know
The magic of Calcata.

The cyclic nature of the world is not in question, its how it works that is the mystery. Scientists say that every seven years, a quarter circuit of Saturn round the sun, we have completely changed our atoms, thus seven years ago it was a different me who first arrived in Calcata! Now this place is something else, the most beautifully preserved medievil town in Europe, capping a great crop of volcanic rock, surrounded by thickly forested ravines where the birds swoop & swirl across the great space of air betwyx town & valley-side. It is famous in Catholic circles for being the home of the foreskin of Jesus, hidden in the nearby caves by a knight fleeing the seige of Rome. I came here back in 2004 & wrote a beautiful poem called the Language of Flowers (LINK). As I was 27, peaking I guess with the ladies, I’d flown one girlfriend into Rome, took her to Calcata, then dropping her off at their airport met another lady off the next plane in. Those days are over now, I’ve met a lovely girl & being in my mid-thirties all that kinda nonsense is over. A case of sewing your wild oats, I guess, & a poet playing with his muses.

Roll on seven years & I’m here again with Victor & Paul. We got here from Rome on a train & a bus (paying a euro each in total) & they both immediately fell in love with the place. There is a certain magic to the wee town & its citizens, & our arrival couldnt have been timed better. Twenty years ago the town was practically deserted, but suddenly a bunch of hippies & artists moved in, opened galleries & restaurants & the place is now thriving. I’d met an American here last time, the dance teacher of Greta Garbo among other Hollywood dignitaries, who I was sad to hear had passed away last year at the age of 88. Im not surprised, tho, he was smoking & drinking wine like crazy when I met him. I got the news by popping round to his house to borrow the same guitar that I used to, from another American, Pancho. Being American he’d instigated some Halloween festivities in the town a few years ago, a festival not normally celebrated by the Italians, but one they have taken to like crazy in this wee pocket of the world.

Pancho told me to see Bruno, the long-haired owner of the only bar in town, where we were intercepted by an English photographer called Stephen, who took charge of the situation & led me off through a world slowly Halloweening up with ghoulish decorations. At Bruno’s the magic of Calcata kicked in, & an hour or so later, being passed around from house to house & person to person, we had a fuckin’ gig for Halloween in the piazza! The Saraswathi reunion was on! Our main help came from Terril, a thirty-ish New Yorker who’d shacked up with an older Italian guy called Oswaldo. She found us guitars & a place to practice in this Dutch ladies theatre-cum-gallery with a beautiful grand piano on the stage. Waiting for the gig we spent our days lazing outside the 2,500 year old Etruscan caves we were camped by. I’d even found a bed & moved into one of them, while a much larger affair had been turned into something like a Hobbit-house, where we cooked on an open fire, the smoke billowing from a chimney someone had hewn from the rock.

Dinner Etruscan Style

Then to the gig itself. The warm up was cool, watching the kids in fancy dress trick or treating while I consumed copious amounts of red wine – you can get a litre of the stuff, thats a bottle & a third, for 65p. After blagging guitars off the main band – a cover-chomping rockathon all in English – we went on stage to about 3000 people, who were all wandering through the narrow streets or bustling in the main piazza. Somehow we pulled it off, with Victor dancing about like a hippy-Bez, blowing wild notes through his melodica. Up front Paul rattled confidently through a great set which had the piazza jumping, driven on by a drummer – allessandro – who’d joined us half way through the set. It was there that I felt another of those cycle grow to a close. I guess I began my singing career on the streets of Burnley when I was about 8, plucking up the courage to knock on some old grannys door to sing a rendition of ‘Halloweens coming.’ Roll on twenty odd years & I had to do the same again, only this time the crowd was 3,000 rowdy & random Italians.

At the end of the gig a few folk even gave us cash – which as I write today is proving hard to spend. Its All Souls day, y’see, & Halloween derives from All Hallows Eve. To the Protestant traveller that means all the shops are shut & the restaurants are charging £30 for a seven course meal. Not expecting this, after we raved it up last night including a wicked djembe session where I tamborined myself into wine-soaked bliss, we came back to our caves & gorged all the food, except for a bag of pasta & an apple. Improvising, however, in a proper Bear Gryls style, I cooked us some nettle-pasta, beefed up with the apple. Honestly, it was pretty tasty, spiced up with pepper & oregano it went down a treat. It was at this moment that Victor showed his middle-class roots, & had already made his mind up that anything with nettles in just had to be awful. I dont think he realised that up until about 100 years ago, nettles were an important part of the British diet. Anyhow, he sampled one pasta tube, declared the whole thing tasteless & plumped for a ten pound chicken dish later in the day… which was so meagre & unsatisfying for him I even gave him a quarter of my pizza to fill him up! He should have had the pasta methinks!

After a lazy night by the fire, listening to Vivaldi & the rustling of wild boar, we set off yesterday morning on our mission to get to Brindisi. Travelling like this is a bit like playing Monopoly, rolling the dice & seeing where you end up. Our first few rolls were quite low. We had three hours to wait for a bus out of the rural district which Calcata studs like a ruby-stone, so I took the chaps on a walk through an old stomping ground to Mazanna Romana. The journey is a lovely, yet at times quite steep, 4 kilometers through the greenest forest, past the ruins of an etruscan temple, across a swirling river & up into a delightful piazza where we bought our lunch. A wee siesta in the sun later we rolled another low number & got dropped off by the motorway. From there, however, we rolled four doubles in a row – a bus to Saxa Ruba, a train to Rome, a metro under Rome, & then a bus ride 60 k or so south to Frosinole, where we took a hotel (with a hot shower – bliss!) for the night. The whole journey cost us a euro each – the Romans have this rule that a one euro ticket lasts you 75 minutes, which got us from Saxa Ruba all the way onto the Frosinole bus. Cool stuff.

Woke up this morning to the sun shining for seventh day in a row. After catching a cable car thing to the the old town of Frosinoned, perched invariably on a hill, complete with magnificent views of mountains & plains, we are in a bar doing with free wi-fi uploading our blogs. Later today we’re heading to Cassino, for another trip, for me, down memory lane…

Frosinole
3/11/11