Just a metter of inches


Wingless jet lag (or The birch)

The birch is an explorer tree. When the wood starts conquering uncultivated lands, it sends the birches first. They adapt quickly and grow fast: if they can do it, the wood advances quietly. This wonderful thing has been told me in Santhià and since then I’ve been willing to make a metaphore out of it, without succeding.

To all those people who in the last three months noticed me backpacking on their lands, to all the drivees, the passers-by, the farmers, people in the shops and in the houses, on tractors and on bikes, to all those that might have wondered who I was, where was I from and where was I going, well to all those people – who will not read this post either – I say:

It’s pretty simple. My name is Paolo De Guidi, I come from Terni and I was going to Cambridge where I arrived on March the 17th 2010 after 97 days of march and 2036 kilometres. Of course, I’m not the same person anymore.

Three days after my arrival I’m still in mental confusion; the strain is mental rather than physical, the head is light, concentration vain, time perception is altered, springtime in blunt. Hours fly away and I feel inadequte to the situation. Shaved, scented, I wear a shirt with the same goofy amazement as if it was a space suit. I will need some time to fully realize where I am, what I accomplished, what to do now. I walked from Italy to England. I did it myself. But still, when I say it it sounds to me like someone else is saying it. What’s in between the me sitting at my desk in Terni writing the first posts and the me at the english desk trying to take a stock, well I just can’t say. I remember every single details of the adventure, I could walk back the same exact route without  a map, but the image of the travel, its concept, remain stranger to me. “Wo, you are the one who walked here from Italy, aren’t you? Awesome, how was it?”. What do you want me to answer? It’s like asking someone who just survived an earthquake “how are you?”.

In the last two weeks my mood and my priorities had changed: legs acquired a constant rythm and resistance; trip surprises were fading out being me so used to new; future dreams started overcoming daily reality. Apart from the breathtaking northern cliffs, France ran out of thing to offer. The project had just to be completed, the story had to be completed. Narrative needs mostly. It was time to accelerate, to arrive: most of all, the burning desire to hug her, the one that I could not stand anymore to greet on the phone before going to bed alone.

fearful, anxious, hypocondriac, always unsatisfied, super-critical, prejudiced, cinical and selfish: I found a girl who loves me regardless of all those faults, you see why it was worth the effort and speed up to meet her before loosing control. When they say me “you are great” it make me laugh: I’m very smal; I just ran out of envy and I concentrate the few courage I had in one single moment: the one when I decided that I was actually going to do it. Once you step out of your house with your backpack there’s not much to do but going on. The problem is that you risk to catch the travel virus. If you really esteem me so much, don’t say that I’m great. Go out and walk instead, walk where you usually drive. You’ll see that no greatness is required. You’ll find wonderful things, you’ll be fine. Trust me, I’m not great, may be a small explorer. Like a birch…

Now, I don’t know what will I do with this blog, if it will remain as a journal for memory or if it will evolve. We’ll see. For sure I’m not going back in Italy. In a few days mt team from Terni will join me (with traditional means), bringing me a couple of bags with clothes, laptop and other tools: from that moment I’ll be able to edit the other video and photographic materials I collected during the trip; to those who are interested I ask for a bit of patience, the final product will come soon. In the meanwhile, here is some highlights:

Aperitive award: Papà Marcel (Aosta), Le Bout du Monde (Vevey), Chou Chou (Champlitte), L’equinoxe (Arras).

I Want To Live Here award: Bagno Vignoni (Toscana), Cassio (Emilia), Vercelli (Piemonte), Cully (Vaud), Mouthier Hautepierre (Franche-Comtè), Escalles (Nord-Pas-De-Calais), Barham (Kent).

Duly Noted award: “There’s no such thing as bad weather. There’s only bad gears” (Michele),  “My ambition is to get Clint Eastwood’s wrinkles and Gandhi’s wisdom” (Maurizio), “My neighbor crossed the Atlantic in his car” (Luca), “To make cheese, just put flowers into cows” (Daniel), “Mola nen e bùgia!” (battaglione alpini susa 133° mortai).

p.s.: among the other reading instrument, my travel can now also be read through my Couchsurfing profile, rich in the opinions I left to my hosts and they left me (down on the left) after surfing their couches. A good register indeed, just as I anticipated.

Three months and one week (I’m arrived)

Terni, December 10th 2009 - Cambridge, March 17th 2010

Three months and one day

Terni, December 10th 2009 - Canterbury, March 11th 2010

Three months

Terni December 10th 2009 - Calais March 10th 2010

7,3 km/h

Will to arrive. Strain, english curiosity, greed. By now feet (or whatever those lumpy potatoes attached to my ankles had become) and legs are insensitive to strain and beauty (or uglyness, it depends). I keep on straightening the route, I go faster and skip some stops. If everything goes fine THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW I’m in Calais and leave France and the continent. It’s been four/five days now since not even the places I visit spur me to slow down (except for the Arras’ gang): insignificant fields, poor and ugly villages peopled by the unemployed miners’ grandsons, Commonwealth soldiers war cemeteries every ten km. On the other hand the weather is glorious: few white clouds, dry cold, wind blowing from the back. Headphones on, play and go, few photos, few chats; not even tea break, ’cause France costed me twice Italy (I tried to explain italian politics to Frenchs. They are astonished, find it hard to believe and, for solidarity, they complain about Sarkozy).

Apart from that I just followed that nice headless dog: he told me about an old fight in Prague, about his life which is a jumper, about that time he interviewed Dario Fo playing an three strings ukulele and counting to ten bullets; he also performed in hendecasyllabic, interrupted by Drugo’s laughter (a quantità infinite), by CSI, De Gregori, Capossela, an unusually out-of-tune Mozart who sings Summertime and by many other wonderful  discordant voices. In one word, radiocontromano. Thank You.

Top pet

Melancoly was brought by rivers.
I did not know it, but the hardest point so far has been the one where rivers stop flowing to the Mediterranean Sea. They explained me that I passed over the ridge where rivers start flowing to the Seine, that goes quenching the thirst of the Atlantic, and not to the Rhone anymore, that caresses Marseille and plonge into the war mediterranean waters. So, after the Alps, one more symbolic and geographical obstacle keeps me apart from the italic sea; the funny thing is that that sea is so much missed by an inhabitant of the only region of the peninsula without costs.

I had to fill my ears with music, something I hadn’t done for 1300km, to overcome the monotony and indifference of the rectilinear spaces I stepped on.Only today I had the chance to dowload the fantastic tracks from Radiocontromano, but it’s better like this, ’cause tomorrow they say it’s gonna rain and I will desperately need them (a special thanks to Patrick, a surfer that deserves a statue, that, among thousands other things, provided me with two days of computer to recover all the informatic burocracy: walking has never been so digital)

Weather changed. It’s not cold anymore; this means that if bars are closed, I’m still disappointed but at least I can seat in front of them and eat my sandwich outdoor without risking to freeze. And sky is grey, which is an improvement: it is not anymore that dirty-white low dome always identical and hopeless. Now it’s grey, many different greys, clouds shapes to guess and moving cumulus; plus, sometimes, a shread tears and Modugno starts to sing.

So, taken a run-up on the Chaumont viaduct, I stepped by to say Hi to De Gaulle and from there I mounted on a cork of champagne slightly sparkling which hit the cathedral; from up there you can see clearly: landscape is still mostly agricultural but fields are greener (maybe they were green under the snow as well), villages more frequent and roads easier.
My shoes keep destroying, but I just can’t abandon them, they deserve to arrive at the destination and gloriously die on english land. The land where my destination went back doing the destination indeed, after a short french visit which, on one hand completely restored me but on the other hand made me feel all the absurdity of keep being far from her; this, and strain and winter and cornichons convinced me to revise the trail, prune it, extends some legs, in short, to accelerate the pace and shorten the path in order to arrive in Calais as soon as possible, give the five to Chauser, jump over the Thames and run till Cambridge to eat fudge till I explode. Here they don’t even know what the Francigena is anyway, I say something like Saint Jacques and they nod satisfied and say bon courage (which by the way is a beautiful and untranslateble greeting). And now I can program less, I always find a solution for the night, days get longer and my legs solid.

Yeah, what the hell, tomorrow Picardie, thirteenth european region crossed. Not bad, not bad at all.