One thousand 800 miles. Driving. I began this adventure a little ways outside of Turin in a drowsy hamlet called Cinaglio, an ancient place clinging to the side of a steep hill. During this haphazard journey I planned to revisit old friends. Old friends and familiar locations.
I’ve already written how I left the USA, visiting my sister in Canada. I’ve written about arriving in Paris and staying with Mary in Sevres, I touched upon my time in Chamonix and driving under Mont Blanc but I haven’t published any of that. I’m sure it answers questions some want answering. I’ll publish when I feel comfortable.
Cinaglio, I stayed in a magnificent 17th Century farm-house set in the glorious Piedmont countryside. The house belongs to my friend Maria. We are all about the same age. We have lines on our faces and odd blemishes. I met Maria 20 years ago with her cousin Xavier. I was on the jury of the Turin film festival. They invited the jurors to her house and even though we spent only a few hours there, both Maria and her house stayed vibrant in my memory. She latterly visited my home in Whitstable and ate crab.
We arrived… nothing had changed. Not in 20 years. It was just as I had remembered it. The unused, dusty chapel, the tumbledown brick barn. The views over vineyards and sweeping lawns. It was formerly Maria’s mother’s house and really hasn’t been touched for 50 or so years. There is no internet or little else to prove the 21st Century was 17 years in. The Little Dog and Dude immediately set to exploring the gardens, digging under fallen trees and hunting lizards. Maria left the house for us and stayed else where, she filled the fridge with local delicacies. Ham and apricots, hazelnut cake and coffee. The night we arrived Maria and her fiance very kindly treated us to dinner. We ate in the waiting room of an abandoned railway station. There were endless courses, pasta, raw meat with truffles and braised donkey. I looked at them enviously drinking red wine and wanted to join in… but didn’t. Yet, I’ve never been more curious.
Did I mention I stopped going to AA meetings? Several months ago? The problem with AA? AA claims all your successes and blames you for all your failings. ‘I stopped going to meetings,’ is the number one excuse people give who start drinking after long-term sobriety. But why did they stop going to meetings? After 20 years I can tell you. I was bored. Bored with the same stories, the same faces, the 12 steps, the bumptious newcomers and… the ghastly old timers trapped between their arrogance and their low self-esteem. Of course not all of them were like that. But mostly they were. And what’s more? I hated who I was becoming. I loathed the fights and the resentment only AA afforded me.
Leaving a cult after so many years is bloody hard. A good cult will own your life then blame you for turning your back on it.
I stayed with Maria in Cinaglio for 4 wonderful nights. The second night she threw a lavish dinner at the house for 12 of her friends. They drank desert wine. It smelled delicious. We ate chicken and pork.
The following day we had lunch in Turin. Turin is a magical city and scores high on the list of places I would consider for my next home. I’m sure if the Romans who planned the city of Turin returned at any time they would still recognize it. The snowy alps in the distance, the River Po and the Beverly type hills overlooking Turin’s orderly grid would have perfectly oriented a time traveling Roman. The apartments I saw for sale on-line are lavish and well priced. The streets are crammed with interesting people and after lunch we were entertained with a boisterous ‘decriminalize cannabis’ march headed by a charismatic drum major who filled the street with a vibrant drum display that cracked through us like thunder.
I discovered Zara Home. My dirty little secret. I love this store.
The little dog is less wobbly but not as confident. He thinks twice before jumping into the car or onto the bed. His face is still squiffy. He can’t close his eye, he has solutions… ingeniously wedging his face between two pillows forcing the droopy lid to cover his exposed eye. The week before last he was a young dog and today he is an old dog. It comes on quite suddenly… old age. I suppose I thought he would be the same until the end. Just himself. But he’s not himself. That’s a painful thing to see. We seem just one step ahead of death.
My US phone ceased functioning after my first few days in France. Rather than call AT&T I decided not to have a phone… or rather I would wait for text messages and emails whenever I could log onto the internet. It forced me to look at the landscape, I listened to music. Massive Attack reminded me of Gulshan and Bournemouth Film School and the beach. It reminded me that I hadn’t smoked weed for nearly 21 years.
The road from Turin to Monaco was empty and the tolls were expensive. The Italian Riviera looked very interesting and certainly worth a closer inspection.
In Monaco I struggled onto a train with my luggage and two dogs. The train to Nice was easy. I found a delightful hotel in the old quarter where I spent the next four nights. From Nice it was convenient to catch up with old friends and revisit the Cannes film festival. The last train from Cannes to Nice leaves at 10.41pm so I had no option but to leave the festivities and do dog duties. In Nice I had lunch with Tim Fountain and saw Cassian Elwes, meeting his new girlfriend. I hung out with a bunch or errant Brits and Irishmen. We found a comfortable lounge and drank grapefruit cocktails and I met actor Laurie Calvert who is very sexy indeed.
The final day was a little frustrating as the credit card company decided to block my credit card. I had failed to tell them I was going to France. It took 8 hours to unblock. I finally picked up my rental car a day later than expected and started my drive to Carmona.
A few miles outside of Cannes I stopped at a service station and standing outside were M and S, a pair of German engineering students hitch hiking from Munich to Barcelona for charity. They had to perform certain stunts along the way for which they were compensated.
I’m sure we all remember the moment Aschenbach lays eyes on Tadsio in the film Death in Venice and is immediately consumed by the young man’s beauty. Well, I have to tell you when I first saw M and they asked for a lift and I said yes… I rather hoped they might have found a better ride whilst I was in the service station buying provisions. I knew having him sitting beside me for 4 hours was going to be excruciating. What’s more… one of their stunts was to drive without pants in the car. So, I had a semi naked German god sitting next to me pantless in the car. He was very well aware of his exquisite beauty and how he was affecting his driver… me.
Then, at his behest, we started telling each other our stories. I told mine. Then he started his. His father had recently committed suicide… his father was my age. A theme was emerging. My sister and I had discussed our enigmatic dead father. The boy’s story… and I was on my way to see a friend whose father had recently died. I was overwhelmed not only with his beauty but his wit, sincerity and strength.
I left the boys in Barcelona. They had to swim and dance and take picture. There was a moment when he was totally naked in front of me, shamelessly changing out of his swim costume. Looking at me, his piercing green eyes. He was gifting me a lifetime of memories. A beautiful 24-year-old with golden hair and heart… a thousand tears he needs to cry.
That night I found a small hotel in Valencia. I lay thinking about the boy and how fathers can deliberately and cruelly leave their loving sons. “Nobody expected it,” he said. I was exhausted. I slept soundly with the dogs and woke refreshed, I ate a hearty breakfast, chiros and thick dark chocolate. Spain lay before me. Soon the industrial North gave way to red earth and olive trees, vineyards and moorish architecture. I sped toward Madrid, Cordoba and Seville.