When the idea for this journey started to take shape, a television show, ended up dictating its parameters. Given my feelings about he boob tube, either it indicates its overstretching reach or my understretching sense of imagination. Jerry Seinfeld and company built an episode out of a fictitious film a notch below soft-core porn called “Rochelle, Rochelle: A young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk”. It was lucky for me that Mussolini demonstrated a perfect lack of clarity when heathering upon whether or not to get in on the Second World War, for his squandering the Italian hold on the Istrian Peninsula and losing the city of Fuime to the Slavs in 1945 made the geographical alliteration much easier, as no city in Sicily of any significance begins with the letter “F” (I’m even luckier that he lost the war, for had the Axis won all of Dalmatia down to Zadar would have been under the Italian Flag, and where could I go with that?). Trieste was to be the starting city and Trapani its end. As I began researching the trip, mapping out hostels and the cities I wanted to visit, Trapani had seemed so far away and my mind frequently sauntered over the thoughts of how it would be when I enter the city. On my first trip to Italy in 1998, I visited Trapani and took away the memory of gazing out from the island’s westernmost prominatory, over the impossibly blue Roman Lake. As my walk unfolded, halcyon Trapani remained in stasis, even as I was disabused of any lingering stereotypes I had of the country (the most painfully sobering was the most practical though: German conquest via the Euro had made memories of cheap Italy and plentiful Lires so far distant that I was able to speak to younger travelers about the good ol days with generous helpings of nostalgia). It was therefore a range of emotions, most of them canceling each other out, when I first set eyes on the black lettered sign of the city of my final destination. Despite being in a low intensity race against the darkening skies, I promptly sat down and surveyed what was to be my grand entrance.
Rosie Swale-Pope ran around the world a few years prior. She recounted her trip in a book as poorly written as it is impressive. Her journey had a fair amount of press and her finish was almost appeared to be scripted. She had hurt her foot in the last leg of her trip and she entered her hometown to cheers and on crutches. Loved ones ran upto her, newspapers interviewed her and she rode off into a sunset of accolades and a lecture circut. It was worthy of fiction and my version of it, an entrance to the crashing of the waters against the rocks nestled underneath the city’s lighthouse and perhaps a rainbow, was what I wanted. Instead I sat there propped up on my greasy backpack, leaning against a factory long abandoned, sitting on broken asphalt littered with dirt, cigarette butts and ripped newspapers. My imaginary celebratory banner greeting me at the end of my walk was replaced by a sign so thoroughly rusted that unless you knew what it was supposed to say, it was more or less illegible. It was also listing to the right and didn’t look like it had much longer to be of any use. Once it fell, it would remain there for a few months and then after the right people received the right kickbacks, a sign which would cost three times what it was worth would be hatched up a few meters away. My endless Mediterranean was swapped out for unrelentingly flat salt plans.
Realizing at the time that this was one of those moments in life that you’ll look back on, I did my best to manufacture something properly befitting. I couldn’t. I couldn’t distinguish it any differently than any other town I had entered on my trip. Grandiose thoughts settled meekly on the pale of the practical and I wondered where I could (cheaply) replenish my water supplies. Where was the youth hostel? I didn’t even have a map of the city. I was starving and almost all my food had been eaten in Marsala under the curious gaze of schoolkids. John Lennon once said that life was what was happening while you were doing other things. Something in my life was happening and the other things were clearly winning.
After about an hour of suburbs and industrial parks, I came into the city proper. Its a lovely old city and it doesn’t receive nearly enough tourists that it deserves. Its a day trip for most who visit Palermo and compared Rome, Firenze and Venezia, Palermo is a tourist backwater. Still, I find that to my liking and I was happy to see that the modernization did not wreak too much havoc since my last visit. After fighting with an internet cafe owner over a quarter of a Euro, I booked myself a room in a pensione and set out to find my lighthouse. Armed with a can of beans which I bought from a little alimentari and a bottled water, I wandered through the disheveled part of town and found it. It was nearly desolate aside from a couple of teenagers who were intent to be away from the eyes of their parents. As I approached the landing, the wind picked up and a few drops of rain started to fall. Rain is the oddest of things in a trip like this. When tenting out in a farmer’s field, or a roadside, or the beach, rain is the worst, as slogging it out while wet and having to sleep in damp clothes is something I never became comfortable with. But when home is a dry room with a shower, it becomes wonderful, and it doesn’t matter how hard it gets because you know in the end, it will be fine. I made it out to the tip of the lighthouse’s jetty and watched the ocean’s swell. Off in the distance, I imagined others doing the same in Tunisia and Sardenga.
Without a watch to tell the time or people around to measure its passing, I gently traipsed among my mind’s weeds, a year’s worth of tangle knotted about. Was it all worth it? Am I a different person and if so, am I a better one? Did all of this just amount to memories which will diminish over the years? Will something so fabulously important to me peter out to perhaps a small remark at a cocktail party sometime? Did I just go from someone who was doing something they always wanted to do to just another American in Italy? Is the grass greener, or atleast do I perceive it to be so? Will i appreciate the little things in life, or will I fall back into the trap which I struggled to get out of. Is that a trap at all? Was my nervous springboard into the unknown, quitting my steady job and not seeing my family for all this time something worth the adulation my mind gave it? I thought of the moments which would stick with me. Of the cities I visited, the places I camped, the people I met. A lifetime of experiences loosely crammed into a year. They made me smile and made me want to cry, made me want to do it all over again and made me glad that it was all over, but they failed to satiate any of my ponderings. I don’t know how long I was out there, for the clouds forbade me from using the sun as a clock, but eventually I walked away. My trip was now complete.
For over two years, I had left this final writing as a draft, never publishing it. It just never seemed appropriate to do so. It’s cliche to remark, but there is no sunset. I am neither Kleobis nor Biton. I still think of those questions I asked myself on that jetty and still wonder what it is all about. About a month ago I read through some of my old entries in my written journal and came across something which sparked my thoughts on it. I must have had alot of time on my hands that night, because I got around to musing Sophocles, who wrote ”One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been”. I realized my evening was not on that pier in Trapani, but willingly in the far distant future. Hopefully the time in between will prove my trip was not be an apex, but just another part of what has been so far a very splendid day.