I haven’t written anything for a while because I’ve been confused. Confused about what I wanted to say, about what the hell I’m doing here, and what the hell I want to do here.
Firstly I was going to write a post called ‘Why having money is actually pretty good’. Then a few days later I decided I was going to write a post called ‘Why having money ruins this trip’. And now, well now I’m back living in a Tuscan mansion, attending balls at $50m villas designed my Michael Angelo, and am thinking of accepting another job (and thus more money) in some other villa in the south of Italy. Tough life, I know.
So don’t get me wrong here, I’m not complaining, instead I’m more just in the middle of re-evaluating things.
It all seemed so simple when I arrived here. Do job, get a bit of money, and see how long you can make it last in a grand ol’ tale of the road. Where the adventure I had in mind sort of demanded that I wouldn’t have any money, as it demanded that I wouldn’t have anything except my wits and my bike. I talked about some of the reasons that I wanted to do my trip in this way when I wrote about going hard or going home. I thought I could have this completely new experience, that I could live a different life for a while, and perhaps in that life I would do things that I’d never usually do because it would become necessary to do them.
But then I got offered another job after the first one.
I suddenly had a bit more money. And after this job I cycled off to the lakes, where I had an amazing time, met many new friends, and was enamoured with a local beauty. This whole time at the lakes couldn’t have happened without a bit of money (albeit only 30 euros a day). Although at times in the past not having money has allowed me to get more absorbed into a place, here it was having money that allowed me to stay in this village for 4 days and to be taken around by the people who lived there. Thus came the ‘having money is actually pretty good’ mentality, and when I then recieved another offer to go work in Milan for a week, I decided it would be a good idea and returned.
Then skip a week of Milan, and I’m back on my bike cycling to Florence via Genoa. I mount up again and leave from the front door of the courtyard like I talked about before. It’s not as exciting this time. It feels like I already did the trip, it feels like I’m just going off to do something again, indeed I’d say it even felt normal. The first time I left I felt something a little special, it was finally the beginning of the adventure that I’d dreamed about for a year, and riding this feeling I asked a chef if I could work in his kitchen, scaled an abondoned hotel, approached two beautiful Italian girls in the afternoon and made friends with them. I began to do the new things that perhaps I was hoping this would be about, but after returning to work again and then redeparting, it doesn’t feel the same. it’s as if my body knows there’s no permanence to this adventure now, that it’s likely to stop again, and feels that I’m just going off instead to do a bit off cycling.
I hop back on my saddle and start pedalling nonetheless, except this time in the middle of a heatwave that’s been nicknamed ‘Caronte’. For the less well versed, Caronte is a demon in Dante’s divine comedy who has ‘occhi di brace’ (smouldering coals for eyes) and ferries the boat acoss the river of the dead to hell. It’s approaching 40 degrees as I cycle ascents that last up to, in one case, 17km. I remember people warning me that Italy would be hot before coming here, and could be around 40 degrees. I then remember thinking ah well 40 degrees isn’t that bad. But it is actually really hot. Though nonetheless not hot enough to stop this idiot cycling up mountains at 1 in the afternoon, with the only thing laying between the sun’s rays and my shirtless upper body being a river of sweat that flies off in all directions when I shake my head like I were a wet dog. What, Sun cream? Yea, for some reason I procastronated when it came to putting some on and put the first splodge on at 6 in the evening. By then the damage was done though naturally, and I know now that 7 hours of continual exposure to a 40 degree sun burns you pretty, pretty good.
It was during these few days of cycling that I remembered a reason for why I think I wanted to have no money for this trip. Freedom. But freedom in quite a superficial sense. For the truth is with money you are more free, free to choose where you will eat, where you will stay, where you will go. However, there’s something about just going out into the world with nothing and seeing what you can take, which makes each thing you take so much sweeter. I remember cycling with my cousin through Spain where we had to sleep rough every night, and one night we passed out by some rocks lining the South coast. The sun woke us in the morning, and we got up, put some hot dogs on the cooker and jumped into the sea fom the rocks. The sea was so fresh, the early sun so gentle, and it felt like a little paradise. It didn’t feel like a holiday, it was something different, it felt like just chucking yourself into the world and finding yourself whatever you could, as if the world becomes your house, and the sea your garden. In these journeys I feel like I become a passenger of my surroundings; while I decide which way I go, it’s the way I go that decides what it’s going to do with me. This me being ‘superficial’ part comes in when I stay in a hotel, and then go to the same sea the next day and suddenly it’s nowhere near as special. Somehow the fact that I’ve paid for somewhere the night before, now makes it seem as if I’ve paid for the whole experience. It’s no longer the everyman’s experience, it’s not an adventure, it’s a holiday. And I have stayed at a couple of hotels now because I have money to, and it just seems too stupid not to when you want a shower and a bed, and because I’m cycling and can speak some Italian, everyone always gives me a discount. Unfortunately this creates the holiday feeling, which has probably also been helped in it’s creation by the fact I’ve been in the really touristic areas of Italy for these last days. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a holiday, it’s just not what I came here for. But it’s impossible to live like someone without money when you have money, hence came the ‘why having money is ruining this trip’ mentality, and I was thinking of sending it all home or giving it away.
So that’s two phases down, and that leaves us now with the living in Tuscan mansions and going to balls at Villas designed by Michael Angelo era that I face now. I’ve been so obsessed with having this certain type of adventure that I think I’ve completely failed to notice what I’ve been up to in the meantime. There was a realisation two days ago where I sudden had to pinch myself and say, wait a minute… this is actually pretty cool, the thing I’m doing right now. It came while I was sitting in the middle of piazza, having an apperitivo, staring out across the hills and the beautiful medieval Tuscan village, waiting for a ride to this ball at Micky A’s old place. Perhaps a problem is I’ve been quite spoilt in my life with travel. And not just travel, but strange experiences in new places. I’ve lived with families in Poland, been thown a picnic by teenagers in a village in Germany, had my head shaved in a house in Catalonia, I lived with some farmer’s kids for a weekend in Stratford Upon Aven. Recently when I’ve gone travelling, I haven’t done it in a normal way, and I’ve become ‘abituato’ to situations that used to make me go ‘wow, this is pretty fucking random’. Maybe I was hoping this time that I’d raise the stakes even more, and find situations that I could be in awe of again. And in doing so, I’ve not cared for some of the cool things that are already going on now. Being in a square in a tiny vilage at 1 in the morning and not knowing where you’re staying, cycling down a Tuscan mountain to go get some milk for a Ukrainian woman, being forced to take vodka shots with a Romanian alcoholic, having a guy called Federico help you carry all your stuff up 2km of Genovan mountain stairs. All these things are actually pretty interesting, perhaps it’s time to start appreciating the stuff that’s already happening, perhaps it’s time for a perspective shift.
Back in the mansion
So to give a summary of the life I face now:
After working in Milan, since we’d got on so well, the mother of the boy I tutored invited me to a big ball in a famous villa in Tuscany (this family is proper aristocracy). I asked Simone, another aristocrat, if I could stay at his villa during the party, and he said yes as we’d also got on well when I was tutoring his son there earlier. Now everywhere I go, I keep meeting more Italian aristocrats who have kids at international schools and want my help teaching science. You could say I’ve been very lucky like this, but also I feel it has quite a lot to do with me, like Harvey Dent, I make my own luck (ref 1: The Dark Knight). I move around a lot here and get chatting, while word of mouth moves quickly and with force here, and carries high praises of me (for now) after some great results and relationships with the families. These Italians like me because; I’m proper English with the right accent, I’m cycling round Italy and thus showing an interest in their culture, they’re always impressed by how much Italian I can speak after just two months here since everyone thinks their own language is a lot harder than it is, and finally because I’m super handsome. So I’m now staring at two more jobs, in two more beautiful villas, in two more beautiful parts of Italy. The choice is do I take them, or do I go for the original plan and the adventure? I don’t know, part of the reason I’m writing this is to figure it out. Taking the jobs means accepting that I’m now doing a completely different thing, while not taking the jobs means, well, I don’t go to the villas and get paid doing a job I love.
So it’s time for an evaluation of objectives, and a pros and cons sort of thing.
If I’d have to list all objectives and best outcomes that could exist when concocting the idea for the trip, they’d probably look something like this:
1. Learn Italian
2. Learn Italian cooking and food culture
3. Get welcomed into Italian homes
4. Experience Italy (vague, I know)
5. Find beautiful Italian (woman)
6. Make a story
Learning Italian will happen either way. So let’s move onto the rest…
The thing is with the job I have, is I do get invited into people’s homes. I live with families in a very informal way and I become a part of their life. Tutoring in itself can be a real experience like this, I’ve even thought that back in the UK. While also here when I tell the mothers or fathers why I came to Italy, they’re always eager to show me all the best places for food and to tell me about the place I’m in and where I should go. For example last night, Simone saw me reading some Dante, and so called and booked me into the best Steak restauant in Tuscany (Steak is the speciality of this region), where the owner is also famous for his knowledge of Dante and knows every page off by heart. In this way, I went to a restaurant that I probably wouldn’t have known about (or been able to ever afford) and was given the whole works, as in a 900g steak, and also a lesson about Dante for the evening by a charismatic and old Tuscan. If there’s such thing as an Italian experience, that’s about as authentic a one you’re likely to find here. Additionally I’ve been taken to some of the most incredible villas in Italy, and am getting to experience a very select circle of this country that would otherwise be completely inpenetrable. While finally, these families always have chefs or cooks, who I talk to all day and get to see and learn a lot about cooking from them. In these ways, my job actually fulfills a lot of the objectives above better than the cycling ever could.
But it doesn’t make a story. It doesn’t have much surprise value to it, and it’s just hanging out with rich people. And although I don’t really work very hard at all, I’m still at work and I still have to be vaguely proffessional. Where vaguely professional in this sense still allows me to walk around everywhere in only my short shorts (otherwise I wouldn’t accept the job), but doesn’t allow me to come home at 3 in the morn, drunk and vommin everywhere, which is a shame. A damn shame.
While also rich people are sort of the same everywhere in every country, in summary, they’re polite and throw dinner parties. Sure like any family (particularly in Italy) they argue lots and it’s not all rosie, but at work I’m still not going to find the gesture throwing proper Italianos that I came across back at the lakes.
The above option though naturally seems the easier, just to go live a life of luxury. While the cycling adventure option is is tougher, and also has no certainty to it. It’s not necessarily true that I will find people who will help me out here with what I want to do, while if I just continue working, I will. I don’t know if I’m avoiding the second option out of fear of going for it, or if I just think the first option is something I’d rather do. As in a new lifestyle has presented itself and I like it better than the original plan.
I’m starting to wonder if the answer lies somewhere in between. Perhaps cycling round Italy from job to job, and bringing the spirit of the former journey with me wherever I go and arrive. It might not be the adventure it was originally going to be, but it will still be a lot of fun and very interesting, where I achieve all the objectives in the above list. Maybe I just need to start appreciating the job I’m doing now for the journey it is, just because it’s work, doesn’t mean I should view it as less of an experience.
And again, I’m not complaining, I’m very happy here, just as I said, I’m confused.
So I’m going to end things for now on that note, though I don’t think this discussion is over… As in I’m sure there will be many more twists in what I end up doing here.
Oh and of course, some pictures of Micky A’s place