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.