I'm home again, back in Montana. My sleep pattern is disturbed and that's why I'm up typing at 4:00 in the morning. I got tired late afternoon yesterday, slept soundly through the evening, then again 'til 3:00 a.m. Now, alone in front of my computer screen, and the orange glow of the fire, I let myself wander back into my recent past and along the path I took from latitude forty-one to sixty-four, longitude 10 degrees east, 20 degrees west. I can look on a map, locate precisely where I was, give accurate coordinates and feel fairly certain that I know where I was, but....in between the coordinates, the maps, the numbers, roads, bridges, buildings, modes of transportation, the lines; there were also people, trees, running waters, mountains, wind, fire, feelings, warmth, dampness and the unknown. I felt love, frustration, sick, guilt, shame, wonder, curious, tired and grateful and less certain of where I was.
The trip began and ended in Montana, but came full circle in Iceland. On my hikes out onto and in between the dry, winter hills of Central Idaho, I always considered my hike's end to be where my tracks left in the snow earlier in the day met those I made on my return. Keflavik is Iceland's international airport and it's the only part of Iceland I've seen, the only part of the country where my feet have hit the ground. Being in the space its walls create felt like being on a ship caught in the ice. The light emanated from within the terminal both on the outbound and incoming; it was dark outside. The darkness accentuated the sleek and angular lines, the tall, silent, business types gliding down the concourses; the hungry, happy trolls, bellied up to the bar laughing heartily at themselves and the bartender taking their pictures before leaving. Goods for sale and consumption, highlighted and underlined, blocked the way. Like salmon migrating upstream, making their way around and over rocks, logs and ledges, we travelers maneuvered our way around the duty free goods, food courts, and fellow travellers until we found the planes to take us elsewhere.
Rising up and through a bank of clouds, the plane burst through to sunshine on the eastern horizon. Descending down, the plane slid back through the clouds and into the bustle of Brussels, Belgium, Europe's capital, my outbound destination and the home of Christine, a longtime friend. The cityscape was dominated by a cloud and smog covered sky. Cars, trains, trams, busses and planes noised their way along, amid streams of people. I managed to retrieve my checked backpack and with a day pack in front and the multi-day pack on my back I trudged my way through to the south train station and Christine's office building. There, I waited.
Traveling is punctuated with waiting. Sometimes it's an active wait, a long haul from a public transport station to a night's accommodation, or an inactive one. This wait was of the latter variety. Christine was in a meeting she couldn't miss and I waited. Travelling takes us out of our routine, our comfort zone, and travelling on a meager budget takes us further out of our comfort zone. At first I resisted, but as with everything I got better with practice. I was tired, so after a long look from out of the floor to ceiling window of Christine's 5th floor office, I took off my boots, layed down on the floor and fell asleep. One of the office secretaries woke me and offered me a coffee and suggested I make myself at home in Christine's desk chair. I did and in no time Christine made her appearance.
Christine and I have known each other for almost 30 years. We first met in Challis, Id, where I lived and she came to visit as an international exchange student. Over the years we have made trips to visit each other and over time I have got to know and feel connected to her family and friends. It's always a pleasure to see her parents, Willy, her daughter Sarah and now Stephan, her significant other. We shared good food, reminisced old times and created some new ones. Lily, Christine's mother, prepared rabbit; it's become a culinary tradition of sorts.
Europe attracts and repels me. It draws me like a mother draws her child to her breast. I feel the warmth of her ancient heart and the stench of her sour breath. I had a day to wander the city centre and outlying districts, camera in hand. An eagerness to capture a sense of the maelstrom that enveloped me drove me on and on and on, until my tiredness overcame me and I made my way back to Christine's apartment. I couldn't get the key she'd given me to access her apartment to work; so I went to the back of her apartment, rearranged the patio furniture and fell asleep on the patio, protected from the drizzle of rain by an overhanging eave. I enjoyed lying there, semi-exposed. There was a patch of green lawn I could look out onto and in the distance a grove of trees. Christine had recently moved to a new area of the city from another where there was little evidence left of the natural world. Here in her new apartment she is surrounded by trees and more open spaces. I approve.
I didn't have long to explore Brussels, just one day really, a Friday. Christine and Stephan drove me sixty kilometers south to Charle-Le-Roi Airport on Saturday, where I caught another flight to my ultimate destination, South Corsica. Ryan Air, an Irish, low budget, no frills, air service offers flights throughout Europe and in Belgium it operates out of Charle-Le-Roi. My departure coincided with the beginning of fall break for school children. The airport was filled with giddy children and preoccupied parents. A gray mass of clouds and steady drizzle of rain contrasted sharply with the terminal's flashy interior. As I waited amid a mass of slow moving humanity, (we were being steered slowly towards the departure gates), I felt like an animal being led to a slaughter. A dense sense of doom overcame me as I slouched towards the plane and seat. The drone of the jet's engines as they propelled us up and beyond the cloud cover heightened an interior mood. I stared blankly out the wind-o. The expanse of condensed water reflected the sunshine with an intensity that forced me to look back into myself. It wasn't until we reached the Alps that the clouds gave way to the mountains and I could venture out onto a landscape.
The day before I left Montana for Corsica I had "cold feet". I didn't want to go. For the first time in my life the prospect of foreign travel failed to excite me. Looking back now I wonder if somehow I knew my travel plans were not going to work out the way I thought they would? I'd only spoken briefly with my soon-to-be hosts. If I had purchased refundable tickets I might very well have cancelled them, but I didn't and I wouldn't.
As the plane approached the Mediterranean coast the clouds dissipated and a wide expanse of blue sea spread southward. Towering cumulus reached up and grew ever more impressive as the plane began its descent over Corsica and I could look up to the clouds. It seemed a struggle was underway between the ambient heat and water vapor. And sunshine, there was abundant sunshine! Figari airport in South Corsica is a terminal with a design not unlike many airports in this day and age. The design features a massive, curved roof and glass walls. The airport's salient feature however, is not its design, but rather its position. In stark contrast to a dry plain it sits upon the terminal appears out of place-a mirage. At each end of the runway stand huge, solar array panels. Their placement and purpose add to the impression the facility gives.
It was a pleasure getting off the plane and walking to the terminal. A playful breeze lessened the heat from a full sun; the passengers gleefully embraced their new environment. Even the workers unloading the baggage and refueling the plane seemed happy to be there. Inside and under the massive roof held up by arched tubes of gray steel I walked on slabs of blue/gray granite. The interior was cool and light-filled. Ah, springtime. It felt as if I'd left a golden, still warm fall and found a fresh spring-a new beginning. I drank it all in.
I made my way to the baggage carrousel all the time scanning the crowd for my would-be hosts. An elderly couple seemed to be waiting for someone. Could it be them? I had imagined my hosts to be ageing hippies who had found Corsica in the early 70's, purchased land when it was still inexpensive and who had settled into the routine of a simple life in a mild climate. The bags were making their appearance and I turned my attention from the crowd to finding my backpack. Backpacks in place and still no sign of any ageing hippies, I made my way just outside the front of the terminal, where I sat down on a stone bench. Three rental car facilities stood opposite the terminal and just on the other side of a main road. It seemed travel in this part of Europe is geared towards those with enough foresight and cash to rent a car. As I was soon to find out this part of France has an under developed public transport system.
It soon became apparent no one had come to pick me up. I couldn't find a pay phone to call my host. Now days, with the advent and quick spread of cell phones, there's no need for them. So...there I sat, reluctant to pay for a taxi, even though there wasn't one to be had. After some internal deliberation I decided to find a way to locate "the farm". I'd come this far and it seemed stupid not to try at least to make contact. Finally, a taxi appeared. I approached the taxi driver. I told him I didn't know where I needed to go. He laughed. I asked if he knew of any folks who lived in caves near the village of Caldarello-Pianattoli. He hadn't, but he had a friend who just might know the people I was looking for. As it turned out, his friend did indeed know the location of the farm. We were off. The taxi driver asked me how well I knew the people who lived at the farm and I told him that I really didn't know them at all. He then looked at my boots and complimented me for having wore sturdy shoes. I would need them, he said. I gave him 40 euros, (52 dollars), for taking me about 4 miles. When you're traveling on a tight budget you avoid taxis. They are convenient, but very expensive. I was learning, the hard way, that when you travel in the outlying areas of Europe be prepared to do some walking.
I'm enjoying this routine of rising early morning and writing-recreating a recent past. I realize that the reconstruction of past events can never be completely done; my understanding and awareness are too limited for that, yet the act of writing itself engenders another understanding that enhances the one experienced in three dimensional, dynamic reality. It allows my playful self the license to speculate.
I walked slowly up the dirt road towards the farm, "le lieu dit Francescu", ( the place called Francescu). Someone had placed a handmade sign above the letter box. It was painted in such a fashion that I thought perhaps a child had made it. Thorny brambles, weeds and rock walls flanked the road and beyond stretched dry fields of grass and plants my eye automatically compared to plants I already knew. One of these plants looked very much like the invasive, yellow star thistle. The breeze I'd felt at the airport had ceased. I could feel sweat running down my arms, forehead and legs. I couldn't take clothes off, because I would have no place to put them; my bags were already full. Scrub oak lined the road up ahead; I was looking forward to the shade they would provide. I passed three ram sheep in a field to my left and near the first gate I opened to further access the property. They seemed not the least interested in my passing. I did my best sheep impersonation to let them know I was there. It comforts me to reach out to other beings by imitating the sounds they make. The act of acknowledging their presence reassures me that I'm not alone and that perhaps they will recognize me as a human being willing to coexist, communicate. I reached the shade and the first of many ramshackle structures. These first buildings were completely made of recycled materials. The first was a barn, then an "atelier", machine shop, then a bicycle shed and finally a caged pond with ducks. The sound of water running into the pond and the shade prompted me to unload my packs and rest a while. I could hear or see no one. I began to wonder if anyone lived there.
I picked up my packs and continued my search for an other. I walked through several other gates, gardens, by tree houses, a couple of dwellings under construction and some that looked more permanent. There were wood piles, compost piles, granite boulders, banana trees, fig trees and tomato plants. Near a makeshift greenhouse a boulder was covered in sheep skins. It looked as if someone had just left the spot. Clothes were draped over the top of the rock. I began wondering if some apocalyptic event had occurred and I was the only human left. How much further need I go? Just how big is this place? The uncertainty and otherness of the place heightened my senses. I became aware of the birds in the trees, the cats-there were cats crouching here and there-watching. Through the trunks and branches of a stand of scrub oak I could see a two story shack with a long, open living space and there, stark naked sat Reynard/Reinhard.
Reynard was half asleep sitting on a chair covered in sheep skins. I don't think he realized I was there until I'd taken off my pack and clothes. I was so relieved that Reynard wasn't wearing anything. The hike I'd just taken made me sweaty and hot and I could think of no better relief than being naked in the sun. When he did recognize my presence he looked at me with one eye closed. I later found out that the closed eye was hurting him and it felt better not to open it. At the time of our first meeting though I felt as if I were being scrutinized. I had read once that when you look at other people with just one or the other eye, and not both simultaneously, your perception of what you're looking at changes. You are able to perceive more, not necessarily less. The figure Reynard presented me with was one that completely resonated with my idea of the wise, old sage. (Reynard has long dishwater blond hair, leathery skin and stands six feet, six inches tall. He's slender and walks deliberately with a slight shuffle.) When he did finally speak, he spoke in French with a slight German accent, German being his mother tongue. If he were surprised that I'd found him and "the place called Francescu", he didn't indicate so. He didn't apologize that no one was at the airport to pick me up. He did give excuses though. Someone had lost the information I'd given them on my arrival time and date, etc. I was too busy at the time taking in what I saw to focus on any grievance I might harbor for not having been picked up at the airport. The fact that no one had come, however, did not go unnoticed.
The open living space where we sat consisted of a long table with chairs on the outside and an "L" shaped bench on the inside. The table was covered with magazines, baskets filled with fruit, trinkets, bolts, papers, etc. To the back and left of the table was a loft/crawl space filled with sheep skins and pillows. I later learned it was Reynard's bed. To my back was the open kitchen. There was a three tiered shelving unit in the kitchen that contained the sinks, drying racks and storage area for plates, pots, pans, cups, utensils and all the other kitchen wares. The black pvc pipe that provided water to the kitchen spanned the space between the roof of the living space and the shelves. It leaked in one spot and there was a wet spot in the dirt. Between the table space and loft, a storage area for dry foods and a screened in cabinet for bread, leftovers and condiments completed the outdoor kitchen and living room. Attached to this inside/outside area was a two story structure. On the first level was the breakfast room with wood stove and library. The books, stoves and shelves were covered in dust. Flies were everywhere. We ate breakfast there. In the mornings the heat from the stove felt good. The second story was another sleeping area.
As Reynard and I spoke to each other, I surveyed the space and Reynard rolled himself another cigarette. We drank a coffee/chicory brew. I learned from Reynard that he'd been living on the farm for 32 years and that he, and the many others who'd made the farm their home over the years, used to live in caves higher up on the hill in the granite boulders, until one day 40 policemen came and evicted them. The farm now sits on property owned by a local Corsican. As Reynard and I got to know each other people began to appear out of the twilight. I met Elise and Roman first; two young people from Poitiers, France. They were recent new comers. They had lived on the farm for 8 months and were building themselves a round, straw-lime structure. Roman said that their first attempt to build themselves a shelter failed and they had had to start over. They too rolled themselves cigarettes and poured themselves some brew. Next came Andy. He had been living on the farm for six years. He was German, lively and outspoken. He had a twinkle in his eye. Geoff, a Netherlander, arrived later. He had been working off farm harvesting chestnuts for some income. He had only been on the farm for a month. He had visited three other intentional communities and believed this place to be the best community he had found. The only other person who lived on the farm, and who failed to magically appear from the darkness, was Jula. She wasn't feeling well. Besides the two-legged creatures there were innumerable cats and one dog. The cats kept their distance, except when we were seated at the dinner table. Mia, the dog, was shy at first, but soon became approachable.
Later that night, Roman showed me to my cabin and showed me the location of the pit toilet. He was an obliging sort. The type who takes charge. He told me that he and Elise decided that this was the place. He seemed determined to make this place home. He also told me, in French, that he often hides the truth, but he doesn't lie. Then, just before he left me to the night, he asked/said, how do you say it in English, to not be against someone/something? He then added; I'm not against you being here. That gave me food for thought.
Over the next couple of days I made my way around the farm, down to the sea, into the gardens and explored the surrounding area. I met Jula, the gardener, her son and several others loosely associated with the farm. I enjoyed speaking foreign tongues. French was mostly spoken, but I did speak some German and since Geoff spoke only English, I spoke English with him. Many birds in Corsica migrate from the high mountains in winter. I enjoyed hearing, seeing and speaking to them.
It was a quiet place, except for the jet planes making their final approach to Figari airport. You could hear the roar of the plane in the distance, then see the heavy, underbelly of the jet as it drifted loudly over the oak trees and eastwards. There were four or five regular fly-overs.
I came to the farm thinking that I would stay until April. I wanted to stay in a mild climate-to cheat winter one more time. I could have stayed, sunned myself as I did work and habituated myself to life with a new group of people, routines, etc., but I decided not to.
The longer I live the more I become aware of myself: what motivates me, what repels me, what draws me in closer. It didn't take me long to decide that the place called Francescu wasn't for me. In fact, I enjoyed saying "no" to the farm and the people who lived there. I left the farm without saying goodbye to anyone and I enjoyed leaving that way. It seemed appropriate. Reynard made it clear to me that he didn't like being the organizer, finding work to be done. He had his established routine and he didn't need help with that. He was so laid back and comfortable. I didn't want to disturb him. Jula, the gardener, also loved what she did. You could tell by the way she did her work and the result of her labor that she too loved the place, but she didn't want help. I understood them both very well. I could see myself in themselves. The farm was set up to host others who came and spent time with the permanent residents. The visitors contributed what they could and for the most part they contributed money. They were given a place to stay and in return they paid rent. One of the last of these visitors spent some of her time making willow baskets. She was a true craftswoman.
The farm wasn't organized to host workers. Geoff asked me at the dinner table one night, when all the residents were present, about working on other wwoof farms. He asked me how many hours a worker commonly worked; how many days off a worker got. I told him that it depended on the farm but that as a rule workers worked four hours per day with the weekends off. When I asked Reynard and Andy how it would be here they looked at the broken clock on the wall and said that since they didn't keep time, workers would be expected to do likewise. I like knowing what's expected of me. I like free time. When I know how much time I'm expected to work and can look forward to time of my own, then I thrive.
The wild pigs were attracted to the water in the garden. Corsica gets most of its precipitation in fall and spring and this had been the first fall in some twenty years that the fall rains had't come; so for several days I worked clearing over grown brambles, trees and shrubs on the rock wall that protected the garden. Reynard then tied wooden crates atop the wall to keep the pigs out. I worked in full sun most of the day. It felt good having the sun on my back. The birds were attracted to the recently raked ground. I stirred up insects. After a morning of this work, lunch, and a siesta most community members take, I found a sunny spot where the cats were. I read and enjoyed the light and heat. It was during one of these sun-filled breaks that I decided I would go to the nearest bar with wifi access and plan my departure.
Having access to the internet while travelling made the journey easier and more enjoyable. It allowed time to upload photos to the internet; time to gather information on future destinations; and time to learn more about the history of the places I visited. Accessing the internet in public places also gave me access to contemporary culture. It was at the bar near the farm that I heard Corsican. I could understand some of what was being said, but very little. The locals spoke and gesticulated like Italians do. In fact, the owners were training a new barista, a young Italian girl from Sardegna.
It was at this bar in the nearby village of Caldarello-Pianottoli that I not only made plans to leave the farm, but from where I made my plans (purchased my airline tickets) to return to Montana. I had given some thought to finding another farm, but decided otherwise. I would travel north visiting family and friends and leave for Montana from Amsterdam via Iceland. With my plans made I walked back to the farm in the dark. Next morning I woke early, packed my gear and started walking.
The owner of the wifi bar, the "American Bar", had told me the day before that she could call me a cab; so I headed back to the village that early morning. Tiny birds flew and chirped around me. The sun was slowly appearing on the eastern horizon. There were few cars on the roadway. As I approached the town construction workers were setting out road work ahead signs. They seemed oblivious to my passing. The way to town was a steady uphill climb. The back packs seemed heavy. and awkward. I stopped periodically to shift the weight of the packs, to cinch down the straps. The bar had opened at 0530 and there were already men coming in and out for their espressos. One by one the men would order their coffee, share a few words with the bartender and the other men at the bar, then after a tilt of their heads and a quick gulp, they were off. I had a cafe latte and a croissant. The bar tender called several cab drivers, but none of them wanted to come pick me up. She even went outside and tried to thumb down a ride. I thanked her for all her trouble, but said that I'd hitchhike my way. We said our goodbyes and I started walking the way I came. My trip was beginning to feel like a real adventure. The simple act of sticking out my thumb to passing cars exposed me to a sense of vulnerability I rarely feel. I was publicly admitting to having a need. I began asking myself whether I thought I could walk the 35 kilometers to Porto Vecchio without a lift. I realized that I didn't have any water or food. I felt shame and doubt and yet as the sun's light exposed the landscape I felt an exhilaration and strength to carry on. I would take off my packs now and again to take a closer look at the trees, mountains, plants and villages The simple act of photography, focusing on the beauty of the place, gave purpose to a trek that seemed more and more unlikely to succeed. It soon became apparent that I'd taken the wrong road. Since leaving the bar I'd thought I could probably and eventually find a cab at the airport. I was walking past the airport on the northern side without access. The realization that I would be walking most, if not all of the day, became increasingly apparent.
I had rounded the northeastern edge of the airport heading in the direction of Porto Vecchio. I was glad the road seemed to be taking me in the "right" direction. No cars had stopped to give me a lift. I passed a bed and breakfast and the thought of stopping for the night ran through my head, but the thought of spending more money than I wanted for a room in the hopes of being able to call a cab in the morning was not appealing; so I kept on walking.
The roadway became ever more picturesque. The road I walked made me think of a road on the Big Island of Hawai'I. Finally, a car stopped. The driver asked where I was going. He told me that I was on the wrong road, but that there was an intersection up ahead and I needed to take the road to the left. I thanked him and he left. The driver encouraged me to carry on. At the same time I saw the most beautiful orange and yellow butterfly. When I came to the intersection I oscillated between turning left and turning right, back towards the airport. Then, having walked several hundred feet towards the airport, I turned around and headed back towards the intersection. I wouldn't give in to the desire to have it easy; I'd keep walking. Just as I reached the intersection a car stopped, the driver asked me where I was going, and he offered to give me a lift to the road I needed to be on.
The driver who gave me a lift was a baker. Lucien had just finished delivering bread and was on his way home for lunch. He was friendly and open. I searched for some obvious indication this man was better than all the other drivers who had passed me by. What made him stop and give me a lift? I should have asked him.
The right road, the one heading for Porto Vecchio, was busy and wider. I hanged out my thumb, but the cars sped by. I began to think that sleeping somewhere along the road tonight might be a distinct possibility. Although I'd only done that once before in my life, the prospect somehow excited me.
I could do it again. As I trudged along feeling the weight of the packs and accepting my current situation, I saw a turnout up ahead and at the same time I heard an approaching car. I knew this car would stop and it did. It pulled off the roadway and onto the turnout.
The driver hopped out of the car, helped me stow my packs in the back and off we went. Heavy metal music was playing, but not for long. Gael changed the music and put on something more universally appealing. We talked. Gael asked where I was going. I told him I was heading to a private campground. He wondered if the place was still open. I knew it was, but didn't contradict him. Gael worked on a boat taking tourists out onto the sea during the summer and as a woodworker during the winter. My packs were sitting on top his tools and lumber. Gael drove me right to the campground. I offered him some money, but he refused.
The campground was only open for a couple of weeks. The busy summer season was over. I had the place practically to myself. I felt real satisfaction in having arrived at my destination without a taxi. I had saved money and here I was at a campground with pool, hot showers in a natural setting and I was spending only 10 euros a night. I went to the pool, took a quick dip, (the water wasn't heated), and sunned myself. There wasn't anyone else around. In fact, I hadn't been able to pay since no one would be in the campground office until after 2:00 p.m. I saw and talked to an employee and she told me to go ahead and pitch my tent and pay later. It all seemed so relaxed.
After my water and sun bath I walked into town. Porto Vecchio is a tourist destination with many summer/retirement homes, North African workers, an old city perched high atop a hill and a lower, newer city made up of box stores and super markets. There were many photo opportunities.
I made my way back to the campground before nightfall. There was an employee in the office; so I paid for the night, took a shower then got into my tent early in the evening. I was tired. The walk and excitement of new surroundings created an interesting state of body/mind. As soon as I crawled into my sleeping bag, relaxed and closed my eyes, I saw the color purple. It's not the first time this has happened. I have meditated and the color purple has appeared. The color usually appears as a small dot, then grows larger as I focus on it. This time, though, the purple dot was larger and more spread out. As I focused on it, I could discern a background of mottled browns and with increased focus, small white figures appeared. Then, suddenly, I felt a presence above me. It felt as if my consciousness had grown larger and wider, as if mySelf had expanded to include a larger space around me. I felt at ease.
I stayed another day in Porto Vecchio, then headed north to Bastia, Nice, Monza, Colico, Chiavenna and finally Basel, Switzerland and of course all parts in passing, in between. I walked, took pictures, day dreamed, visited family and friends. I met, and struck up conversations with others. I watched as opportunity seekers from North Africa interacted with Italian authority figures. My lack of money allowed me the opportunity to witness social reality as it played itself out. I couldn't afford to rent a car and isolate myself. I took the bus and rode the train. I witnessed the anger, desperation, hatred and resignation the human players felt, in light of a less than ideal "reality". In sum, I en-joyed and en-dured the expanded awareness solo, public travel allows. I enjoy my own company. Travelling to new and less familiar places heightens my solitude, draws me in and enables me to explore both the inner and the outer and... an invigorating juxtaposition of the two.
Before leaving for Corsica I became cyber friends with Waitari. I knew from the first time I read one of his posts that I was attracted to him. He lives in Freiburg, Germany, where I once spent part of a winter studying German. Our shared search for community and self prompted me to contact him and ask if there were a chance of our meeting. In retrospect I wonder now if my traveling to Corsica was just a reason for meeting Waitari? My solitude would be broken.
I soon found out after contacting Waitari that a train stike was underway in Germany. If the trains weren't running, then how would I make it to Freiburg? I told Waitari about the strike and when I would be in Basel and as it turned out Waitari would be in Basel visiting a friend. He said that he could meet me on Sunday and drive me to Freiburg. Synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence?
I'd travelled to Europe, Corsica, to find the sun and live within a community of people who lived apart from mainstream society and in a natural setting. It didn't work out. I knew before I left that it wouldn't, but I let myself go despite my misgivings. I had planned to meet Waitari before I left Montana; I just didn't think it would happen until spring.
I waited for Waitari at the youth hostel in Basel. He said he'd be there to pick me up at 1000. I checked out at around 0900 and settled into the lobby and eventually into a good book.
Basel's youth hostel is housed in a masterpiece of modern design. Modern architecture appeals to my eye, especially when natural elements are incorporated, and at this youth hostel the architects responsible for the design did so by making visible a stream of water running in front of the building and neighboring trees and shrubs through the use of large, floor to ceiling windows. The windows frame nearby medieval buildings as well. Over sized, rectangular. orange, leather ottomans and an enormous, leather upholstered window seat with an equally large window to peer out of, soften the concrete and plywood interior. The sun shone through. Long shafts of light slid along the polished concrete floor, then up the walls as they flared out and into the space and eventually into my eye. I was reading a book on the archeological history of Basel and the surrounding area. I kept checking my watch. 1000 came and went. Where was Waitari? At 1100 he still hadn't showed up. I began to make contingency plans. I could always stay another night and have another day to explore the city. Basel is well known for its many museums. I had been on the road for several weeks now. I had become used to waiting and able to make use of the extra time. I re-entered the ancient world of Basel and its surroundings. I let my mind's eye fly over the dense forests, wide river. I was sitting with my left shoulder against the thick window; a much appreciated coolness entered there as did a sudden flash of blue. Waitari!
The place called Francescu, the farm/intentional community in Corsica, repelled me, despite its sunny clime and justifiable ethos. I like and appreciate the company of gay men and there weren't any there. Roman, the young Frenchman, was open to me on a deeper level. I could feel it, but his significant other, Elise, made it clear from the start that he and she were a couple. I took no offense to Elise. She described her relationship with Roman clearly and forthrightly. I doubt very much though that she understood the role attraction can play in a community. I long for a community like Francescu, but one where there's a diverse humanity and where the opportunity for animal attraction is not only allowed, but honored. There is a definite sexual component to the sense of belonging. In fact, the word be-longing, when broken down into its constituent parts, seems to suggest that a true sense of togetherness requires, as a prerequisite for viable community, a deeper urge that binds, a sexual tension/longing that holds.
Waitari stands taller than I. His energy is apparent and flows freely. He has blue eyes, blond hair and the day we met he was wearing an admiral blue sweater. It hadn't been easy for him to find the youth hostel. He was using his global positioning device to navigate and ended up parking along the river and walking the rest of the way. The gps unit kept leading him astray. I felt immediately at ease with him. It was a pleasure talking with him as we made our way out of the city and on the road through the German countryside. He was generous and accommodating. I hadn't planned on staying with him. I had planned to stay at the youth hostel in Freiburg, or find other, affordable accommodation. He insisted though, in an unassuming way, that I stay with him and his roommates.
As we became acquainted I found myself listening more and speaking less. As I listened to Waitari speak of his self-his joys, sorrows, cares, goals and trials, I found it easy to commiserate, in fact I found myself recognizing myself in Waitari. The fog, a cold and the absence of contrasting light
added to this sense of sameness and a dream-scape, where the lines that normally separate, blurred, and a sense that Waitari and I were no longer separate individuals intensified. It were as if I had stepped out of ordinary reality and into another realm-a reverie. I felt an urge of recognition in Waitari, his voice and his message. In exploring how reverie evokes the realm of "written love", the philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, reflects:
"Written love...is going out of fashion, but the benefits remain There are still souls for whom love is the contact of two poetries, the fusion of two reveries...To tell a love, one must write...Love is never finished expressing itself, and it expresses itself better the more poetically it is dreamed. The reveries of two solitary souls prepare the sweetness of loving...The reality of love is mutilated when it is detached from all its unrealness."
Once again, Waitari and I were in his car/care, driving along the autobahn in the fog. At one point the sun shined, but then again we were under the fog. We made our way out of the Rhein Valley and up onto a plateau, then down into the Kocher River Valley. We had arrived in Dottingen where Johannes lives.
The road that led to Dottingen from atop the plateau wound down through forested hillsides cloaked in reds, oranges, yellows and greens. As we descended Waitari informed me that we would soon be there. Dottingen is a hamlet situated next to the Kocher River. Half timbered barns and houses snuggle close to each other as if in need of comfort and warmth. Johannes and his parents, retired music professors, live in a former school house. Johannes's father was there to greet us as we drove up. His mother was conducting a music class. As we entered the building, a long, rectangular structure, three stories high, we could hear the soft tinkling notes of the psaltries. The psaltry is a medieval musical instrument. a wooden box with strings that are plucked. Johannes led us into a darkened, apartment adjacent to the music room from where we could see the women sitting semi-circle plucking their psaltries.
Johannes lives in the third floor apartment of the building. The apartment stretches three-quarters the length of the structure and under the roof. Exposed beams, dormers, a harpsichord, wood stove and a balcony that looks out onto an orchard, cows, a meadow and in the distance the river, became the stage upon which Johannes, Waitari and I ate, conversed, shelled walnuts, and where we sought warmth and rest after jaunts into the nearby woods. In winter, the ambient, outside temperature remains at around forty degrees Fahrenheit. Johannes uses the balcony as a refrigerator. It was a pleasure to open the door of this refrigerator and be greeted by the sound of the river.
A thick fog, like a down comforter, lay heavy over Dottingen. At night there was a darkness and stillness I hadn't experienced for a long time. During the day a muted light softened the edges and smoothed out the wrinkles in the fabric of this place. We made several forays into the neighboring woods in search of mushrooms. The forests near Dottingen hang on to the steep hillsides. Fields swoop upwards to greet them.
On our first mushroom hunt the fog hid the trees. The vegetation was wet. In order not to lose ourselves as we drifted apart, our eyes downcast, scanning the debris littered, forest floor, Waitari devised a system of communication. The system he devised, or better yet improvised, appeared like the farthest trees did, slowly, shyly, as if almost afraid of us they remained hidden until they knew for sure we came as friends. And so like the trees, when I first heard Waitari's whistle I hesitated to respond. Had he heard a bird and was he talking to it as I'm apt to do? I looked up and couldn't see either Waitari or Johannes. I instinctively whistled back. And so we carried on searching for mushrooms without seeing each other, moving soundlessly through the damp, muted beech and oak forest.
I can't see Waitari now. There's a fog of time and distance that separate us. The last time I saw him he was standing on a sidewalk near the bus I had boarded for Amsterdam. I turned to take one last look and he had vanished, then the bus pulled away. I turned my attention inward. I slept. I'd wake and stare blankly out the window at the passing cars and countryside. I felt pulled forwards and backwards. I felt like I'd left part of myself behind. The bus made its first scheduled stop at a truck stop along the autobahn, then another in Frankfurt and Cologne. People came and went. It turned dark. The fog obscured the lights. As we drove through the industrial heart of Germany, the Ruhrgebiet, massive factories with bright lights and smokestacks lined both sides of the autobahn for as far as the eye could see. I shut my eyes and crouched lower into my seat. I wondered just how much longer it would take to reach Amsterdam.
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It is also one of the most tolerant. The Dutch, like the citizens of other countries, cope with "vice", yet unlike most other countries, if not all of them, the Dutch have adopted a more humane way of dealing with drugs, prostitution and homosexuality. Instead of resisting "vice", they flow with it. Maybe the Dutch respond to "vice" more humanely, sensibly, because of their long standing relationship with water?
Water defines Amsterdam. It's everywhere. The Amstel River flows into a series of canals that form half circles. The canals fan out and end on the IJ, a lake, which was formerly the northern, right arm of the Rhein delta. I thought the bus would take me to Central Station, Amsterdam's main train station that sits on the IJ, but instead, the bus took me to Amstel Station, just south of the city and the central station. This meant I would have to carry my packs farther.
;to be continued