One recipe down (as promised), and we’re back again talking about Mission Total Immersion, which from here-on out will be referred to as MTI. Or even MT Ayeeeeee, just to bring back some old school ’99 Ali G shiz.
Life has treated me well since it’s rebirth. I’ve had highs, lows, and new experiences everyday. A high could be the 5 course lunch I ate on top a seaside mountain, a despairing low could be the effort to cycle up that same mountain at noon in 40 degree heat, and a new experience would probably have to be the being hunted for a good long time by 3 stray dogs at two in the morning. Yes, MTI seems to have it all.
Yes it has it all, and a problem with this blog is that I don’t write everything. This then begs the question what things to choose to write. To be honest, and I know this is going to sound really up my own ass, but I’m not even sure what things are interesting anymore. As in to say I have become quite used to situations that once I would’ve written about in a second. Waking up on the hard floor of a port, then later meeting someone who invites me to their house, before spending the evening getting driven around a new town by a family, chatting and eating ice cream… All of this somehow feels pretty normal. So I’m not going to just run through what I’ve been up to, but instead have decided that I’m going to deliver a compilation of observations about things I’ve seen, and deliver you a little highlight reel of MTI. I do the hardwork and now you just get the good stuff. Not a bad deal.
Italian Mamas Feed You Too Well
When an Italian Mama tells you that you must eat something, she means it, and you will end up eating it. I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders sometimes when I sit at a dinner table. ‘But you’re young’, they say, ‘But you’ve been cycling all week’, they continue, ‘Basically you’re a complete pussy and everyone here will look down at you unless you eat this’, they demand in not so many words. While at this point I’ve already eaten four plates of food and two helpings of dessert. ‘No I ca…’ I try to begin, but there’s already another slice of another cake in front of me with the beaming smile of a proud mama just behind it. How many hours I cycled wishing for these kind of feasts, and when they arrived, how much pain they then inflicted on me. It’s like as I said; everything has a price in Italy. The beaches and heat come with the mosquitos, while the cuisine and food comes with the person that cooked it who pulls a Kevin Spacey from se7en and makes you eat until you die.
The Night of the Long Paninis
A few days back, I found myself cycling through the mountains and bumped into a bunch of Italian Nonnas (grandmas). They had the thickest, huskiest accents I’d heard since arriving here and upon hearing them speak I knew I’d got my ass somewhere proper rural. One of the Nonnas never stopped strutting around, and she would lean in whenever she said anything to me so her face was inches from mine, while squinting her eyes and finishing every sentence with a long ‘ehhhhhhhhhhhh?’. Her hands stayed firmly planted on her hips, but with palms facing outwards, her back was always slightly arched forward, and these two elements of posture combined together to make her seem like a big chicken. Now here is something I love about Italy… People shouting out of windows. It happens all the time. I remember in Milan, how the old building I was living in had this big, open courtyard and all the appartments on each floor had windows that faced in towards it. Sometimes you would see two people shouting to each other from opposite sides of the courtyard, and it was always amusing when you’d then hear another window sudden open from another floor and some other shouting person join in the party. While speaking to the Nonnas, a shrill voice from above burst out into the alley, shouting ‘COSSSAAA?’ (which literally translates to ‘thinnggg?’) and I instantly knew we were in for some window conversation action. The woman from the window insisted that I have some coffee and paninis, and then passed them down out of another window to the head chicken nonna, who taking a pause from her regular pose, freed her hands from her hips to carry over the goods. We spoke until the evening cooled down a bit more, and it was actually quite a lively scene as other people from the village heard word and came over to investigate me. The people were always fat, and for some reason they all only ever sat on the size of chairs you’d see at a nursery school. It felt like one of the strangest tea parties I’d attended as us adults all sat in the alley drinking coffee from our tiny mugs on these tiny chairs.
Paninis in bag, and sun beginning to stop it’s daily rape of Italy, I began to move on. My earlier hard work was rewarded and 20km of downhill cycling took me down to another beach. The whole route was lined by a red sunset, and I couldn’t help but smile and say to myself ‘my life is pretty damn real’ as I smoothly glided round another turn in the mountian road, and was greeted below in the distance by an old and large town that was dug into the surrounding mountainside looking over the sea.
I love doing my cycling at night, I feel so lost, while the lights become so magical and I feel like I’m venturing in another world. The sea glitters under the moon, the air feels so still, the world becomes placid, and I begin to feel more alone and more somewhere else with every hour that deepens into the evening. And this is a feeling I like, feeling removed from everything, feeling like I’m somewhere completely different and mystical. A feeling that enveloped me as I stood on the ledge of an empty road, high upon the cliffs, looking over the vastness of the black ocean below, hearing the light shrills of the bats that flew overhead. Though no matter how new the sensations, I’m never too far from reality, where in particular issues of sleep take primary concern. The clock strikes 1 in the morning and I don’t know where I’m staying. I see hotels that are open and go in to make negotiations, but really I know I’m never going to pay, and sometimes I think I go in just to pactice a bit of Italian and have a conversation. I see some chairs outside a seemingly empty building and sit in them to eat a panini, but a door opens after 5 minutes and an old man tells me to ‘shoo’ in Italian. He talked to me in the exact way you would to a dog (if you were italian), and in my tired state I couldn’t help but just find the situation too surreal and funny to do anything but gently chuckle and keep eating my panini, as I watched the man in the distant doorway keep trying to ‘shoo’ me, saying ‘Go!’ ‘Go street!’ ‘street go!’. But get treated like a dog, maybe it’s because you’re like a dog, and it seems that night I was indeed destined to join the dogs. Cycling along another empty lane in the darkness, it was now 2 in the morning. A stray dog leaped out from behind a car with a bark so loud that the shock nearly flung me off my bike. Then another, and another, there were now three dogs, one small, two big, no collars between them all. A regular motley crew of carniverous canines, the barking got louder and louder as they sprinted after me on my bike. I took a quick right, they zipped round the corner with me. They were inches from my feet, saliva flinging from their mouths, barking relentlessly. I took another left, again they stuck with me. I’ve always been slightly afraid of dogs, and I have to say this chase scene is easily the most frightened I’ve felt since I got to Italy. However I have a biology degree and I know the animals will tire from a chase if the prey doesn’t slip up. So I continued to now sprint in a straight line and eventually after about a kilometre of this they stopped, and after another 500m I rounded a corner, sat down and waited for my heart rate to decrease from it’s ridiculous pulsing. I took some deep breaths, and a man seeing that I was visibly distressed, asked me if there was a problem as he walked past. ‘i cani’ I muttered and pointed in the direction I’d come from, to which he gave no reply, except a wry smile that suggested to me he knew exactly what I was talking about. Sitting on that same corner I then got out my other panini, it was now 2:30, and staring out into the night with aubergine in mouth, couldn’t help but wonder to myself ‘what the fuck are you doing here?’.
The Casual Mexican
I actually half enjoy sleeping rough. At least in a hot country like Italy, since here you don’t need a sleeping bag or a tent to see you through the night, but instead barely more than a pair of shorts and a vest. I’ve found it to be quite a nice feeling just sitting down, with my back propped up against a wall, and then passing out in the midst of the night air, under the stars. Spending the night sleeping in the kind of pose you’d immagine when thinking of a sombrero’d mexican lazing on the side of the street.
I could see how many people wouldn’t feel very safe doing this, but I’m not that paranoid about people who see someone asleep and would try and mug them. I honestly don’t think they are particularly common. For a little extra security I then also ask people in the town if they think it’s safe to go sleep on a bench and if they say that there won’t be any problems, I believe them. After a day of cycling and a bellyful of spaghetti, I’m always completely pooped and the bench makes an ample bed. I feel so casual on my bench in the middle of the city, I feel so free, I feel like the guy who just decided to go outdoors and make the world his home. I then wake up in the morning and cycle 15km to an isolated beach, I enter the clear turqouise water and swim to a small island about a km away before falling asleep again on the rocks out there in the shade, lulled by the gentle clap of small waves against my island’s sides. I feel so active and healthy, I feel like mr. outdoors.
Though also I’ll understand that to many people this mr. outdoors just sounds like a tramp. But then to these many people I’d ask them to remember who’s the person in rainy ol London right now, and who’s the guy bathing on Italian beaches everyday without spending a penny. Yes, that’s right, it’s mr. outdoors who’s on the beach. The tramp wins.
Unless one of these people thinking this is from some sunny place and living in a house. Then I guess that person wins.
Final Note: Not Always so Happy
Completely clueless. This is what I feel quite often here. Now I realise that clueless is kind of like the word mental, as in a word that people just use to describe themselves to try and seem quirky, but I implore you to believe me that when I say that I am clueless here, I really bloody mean it and it stresses me out a lot sometimes. There is a complete lack of specific objectives on this trip and it’s fucking me round. You spend 2 hours cycling up a mountain in 40 degree heat, but you have no why idea why you’re going up it. You then have no idea where you are going afterwards.
The rest of this post has made it sound like it’s all been sort of happy days, which yes it often has been, but it’s also equally often been almost the complete opposite. Yes that’s right, the opposite of happy days… sad days. And I have been sad, sad because there’s no plan. Sure there are objectives like those made in the MTI mission statement, but they’re vague and they all slightly contradict each other. I’ve learnt a lot from this trip, in particular about my ability to multiobjective and about the flaws in trying to do a food and language-learning cycle tour. There’s a rock, paper, scissors kind of relationship between the food, the language, and the cycling and I’m going to discuss this a lot more in depth later. In fact this trip has taught me a lot about what I want from these journeys… Just as the cycle from Auschwitz to London with 40 euros was the precursor to this trip, I feel like this trip might be the precursor to another, and this here is my first little tip off to the fact that I may be planning something bigger and badder for this winter.
A plus side of being clueless however is that sometimes things just completely work out. You spend half your day doubting why you’re doing what your doing, and then the other rediscovering the reasons. Rediscovering those reasons, it’s like rediscovering your faith, and there are few better feelings than having your doubts answered.