Singing Out the Days

One year ago I entered Greece. In greek-named Saranda (“fourty”: the number of monks who founded the tourist resort), the last city of the Albanian coast, opposite Corfu, I had decided to stay one day longer. I knew that Julius had to be in South Peloponnese just one week later, which was tight. In effect, after spending 3 months together, I was deciding to split up.

It was November 30. We had already caught our first few drizzles – I’d hurt my hand a few days before in Llogara due to a combo of serious downhillness, heavy rain, pea-mash fog, and bad brakes. And another night we’d spent inside a squeaky van parked very close to a cliff, listening anxiously as it was battered by a very windy storm. Yet what depraved, twisted mind would realistically anticipate actual winter weather after 3 outdoor months of a gorgeous, undying summer?

Below the brashness, though, I was feeling sort of worried about the rain. I had left without a tent, which hadn’t been an issue as long as I’d stuck with Julius. But I had decided that I wouldn’t let a tent or the absence of a tent be an issue in any case. I would not follow him around just because I didn’t have a tent, that would be silly. Wouldn’t it? So it was part reckless experiment, part carelessness inexperience.

Anyway here I was without a tent, with a total of max 1 (one) more night to spend at the Hairy Lemon hostel before it closed for the winter. Come hail or high water or both, I would be out on the road the next morning.

My first morning on my own was truly beautiful. I started off at dawn. I took little roads, passed many a charmingly jingling flock of sheep with their shepherd, and crossed the border around noon (which, thanks to the magic of time zones, instantly turned into one o’clock). I reached Igoumenitsa two hours later, and the first Greek I met – discounting the border guards – was a lively young gypsy prostitute who enthusiastically pantomimed the way to the city centre. There I bought a map and rode off southward. Shortly out of the city, though, it started drizzling. I put on my windbreakers and fuelled the flame of my enthusiasm by singing. I found t6yyyy55oppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppvbg43an abandonned house where I spent the night. [NdE: Désolé pour cet impondérable typographique. Un de mes colocs s’est assis sur le clavier]

From the next morning on, the rainy season began. Never all day, but every day. I had decided I was going to Athens, but I didn’t know anyone there and I didn’t have a place to stay (I was planning to couchsurf). Beyond Athens I had as good as zero plans. It was, I realized, the first time ever that I was alone and without a place to sleep. But what would’ve been exciting in the summertime seemed an awful ordeal now. Soon enough, the flame of my enthusiasm was a puddle of doubts.

The next three weeks were strenuous, cold, lonely, wet. I met several great individuals who let me stay at their place, but in a way, I was deceiving them. I posed as an adventurous sportsman with a longing for the high road, but at that time I was really longing for a crackling hearth and some human warmth. The Greeks are emphatic in their generosity, and when someone said, “stay as long as you like”, I fooled myself into believing that they meant it. I could see their kindness only through the prism of my sorry mood, and behaved as though I deserved that kindness, because of the hardships I was going through. I knew I was being egoistic, and that didn’t help to improve my mood or create healthy bonds with those nice enough to give me a chance. Twice I left a house feeling I had overstayed and caused annoyance.

Of course it wasn’t all bad, all the time. And I was often able to laugh off or sing away my episodes of brooding. But on the whole, and until I reached Athens, December 2012 was quite a shitty month.

Of this period, one salient night dominates my memories. An important night, in a way.

I was alone, of course, I had had an unpleasant day on the road (my mood vexingly constrained by the weather), and I was feeling depressed. I was on my way from Patra, on the west coast, to Athens. That night, I found an empty building that used to be a factory some years before, and I laid my inflatable mattress in a cleanish corner. I bought some chocolate, lit some candles, made a sandwich, wrote in my notebook, and lied down to sleep. I couldn’t sleep. I felt so empty and useless, I had to do something about it.

I got up. The place was completely empty – whatever machines or tables once stood there were gone. Snooping around, I did find, oh wonder, a bucket and a mop. I had been saving my spent rubber tubes for precisely this eventuality. I made a hole near the rim of the bucket and fitted the stick of the mop through it, then cut as thin a stripe of as I could from a tube and tied it to both ends of the handle as taut as possible. I wasn’t spontaneously inventing this, but, from vague memories of seeing them being played in the street, was in fact approximating a gutbasin, known in French as “contrebassine”: a proudly DIY single-stringed bass pioneered by the New Orleans jug bands and enthusiastically adopted by many French street folk bands. (wikipedia)

This took quite some time, since I didn’t know really what I was doing and couldn’t afford to waste the bucket.

Twiddling and fiddling, I obtained a decent-sounding little contrebassine and, with the aid of my faithful tape recorder and no less faithful harmonica put together, layer after layer, soaked with the sinister reverb of a naked warehouse, blunted by the dull rumble of trucks, frequently off-key and off-beat, a minute of music:

Puny as my efforts were, laughable as the product may be, this was a priceless moment. I kept on experimenting into the night, and when I was too exhausted to continue I wasn’t feeling lonely or empty any more.


10 thoughts on “Singing Out the Days

  1. Merci pour cet article, ca fait du bien de t’entendre, et de partager ces moments sonore savec toi ! (et j’aime bien ton “experiment” avec la contrebassine et harmonica !)

    • Merci Adelitokokote :)
      je suis heureux que ça te plaise, pour moi c’est un truc un peu particulier, un souvenir, une curiosité.
      je suis pas sûr si je le trouve bien, mais ça m’a plu de le faire

  2. Yes thanks Matthieu for this pleasant post about a not so pleasant moment of a year ago… Pretty bleak, in fact! Well, I suppose now you can look back on it and “reminuise” happily Question: do you have enough crackling hearth and human warmth where you are now??

    • Hello Papa, thank you for your comment.
      Yes, no worries, this is a distant time now, I just thought it was interesting to share? there’s also the “one year ago” thing, makes me wish I’d started earlier and followed the whole route down from today’s perspective. but after all, it doesn’t matter. maybe i’ll post more of these reminuisances (if i’m not boring everybody out, as the excellently punned category title suggests haha)

      To me it’s also important to go back to the less happy times in a journey. Even though i find travelling to be usually more fun than not travelling, there are some downers of course… and it’s a good idea to think back on them and get wiser ;)

      actually, though i’ve got plenty of warmth here I do miss a certain hearth…! I hope you enjoy it!

    • ;-)
      ah au fait désolé je viens de virer la transformation automatique des smileys en têtes jaunes sans nez, ils m’embêtent avec leur jauneur et leur absence de nez! je les trouve plus fringants et malicieux sous forme typographique. SERAI-JE DEVENU VIEUX JEU??? oh non je suis vieux jeu oh non

  3. Ich höre die Geräusche und erinnere mich an den blauen rostigen Van. Das Wasser tropft von der Decke und der Wind schaukelt uns am Rande der Klippe hin und her. An diesem Abend wie ein 5 Sterne Luxushotel.
    Danke für diesen schönen und ehrlichen Beitrag. The rainy days ist ein kleines Meisterwerk des Alleinreisenden… irgendwie melancholisch und doch voller Hoffnung.

    • Efcharisto, altes Meerschweinchen!!! Es freut mich endlos dass es dir gefällt hat. Ich glaub nicht dass ich dir den Track bis jetzt lassen hören hatte, oder? Scheint die Hoffnung wirklich? Ich find es ganz dunkel. Aber denn es mich eigentlich mit Hoffnung gefüllt hat, kann es wohl so zu merksamen Ohren auffallen

      Ja, der Van war richtig traumhafter! Aber warte Mal. seien wir nun ein bisschen ernsthaft. Hast du je in ein 5 sterne Hotel geschlafen? Ich kann mich nicht vorstellen, wie es eigentlich ein schönes Erlebnis kann sein :) haha ich bins mir sicher dass du einverstehts

      Allez sivouplé j’avais pas révisé allez soyez pas bâtard msieur :P

  4. ça fait plaisir d’avoir des nouvelles, d’entendre ta voix, de t’imaginer acoudé à ton vélo à enregistrer le troupeau de mouton qui passe et essayer de baragouiner une conversation avec un otoctone.
    En espérant te voir très vite, plein de bises à toi

    • héhé :)
      j’ai pas fait beaucoup d’enregistrements pendant ce voyage. Mais sur la poignée de trucs que j’ai chopé il y en a encore moins à garder. Celui là est vraiment chouette. Bon c’est peut-être mes souvenirs qui mixent mais j’ai l’impression que la clarté du son évoque en elle-même une sorte de “clarté” de l’air… le soleil, la fraîcheur.

      Sinon si tu vas voir le morceau sur soundcloud j’ai traduit (bon certes en anglais) le “dialogue”. Les seuls mots reconnaissables du berger sont les noms de deux villages et le mot “là” prononcé en tendant le bras vers la frontière. Un vrai homme des collines quoi! L’absence de toute réaction après que je lui apprenne que “eh haha t’as vu je voyage en vélo! c’est rigolo non? hahaha” est particulièrement sonore :)

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