9:30 pm, all set. Or maybe not, maybe you’re forgetting something. Every time you pack your suitcase, it’s like that. Even though you’ve checked your mental list a thousand times, there’ s always that feeling: “yet I’m about to forget something fundamental and I don’t know what now”. Then it will come to your mind as soon as you get on the bus to the station, but you can’t go back, because even if you left an hour early, you can’t make it, with Rome’s public transport.
In the end, then, nothing was missing. The one who forgets things is Laura. She’s forgotten all the documents, she’ll come back to retrieve them and take the train later. We agreed to meet at Ancona station: me, from Rome, her, from Venice, with a few minutes difference. Not bad, I’ll take a look at the city while I wait. Never seen it before. And we’ll be able to catch the ferry in time. I hope.
Rome – Ancona, Intercity, place corridor. A little boy, elegant dressed, blocks the entrance of the passengers looking for his place. At a certain point, feeling the pressure, he decides to sit next to me and tell me the story of his life, asking me the favor to wake him up before Fabriano, if he falls asleep: he has an important job interview, the only one he managed to get after months he was looking for it, in fact.
In the meantime, the railway approaches the sea, touches the coast, it almost seems to be already on the boat. There’s nothing to do: when you grew up on the Po delta and until you were twenty years old you saw only brownish and murky water, the color blue of the sea is an explosive emotion, every time. Emotion which doubles, now, with the adrenaline of the journey that is about to begin.
I eat in some seconds a very spicy mega kebab in one of the squalid bars in front of every holy station in every holy city. Inside there is only one gypsy family, indifferent and busy, devouring sandwiches and slices of greasy pizza. I ask the guy in the restaurant for directions to a supermarket, but he helps me very little, stammering and looking down. Backpack and suitcase weigh on me, but an oxygenated lady full of wrinkles and with reddish and smiling lips, the only soul at this crazy time of summer, finally shows me a giant Coop supermarket along a tree-lined avenue lined with anonymous buildings, and I can buy something (too little) to eat during the crossing.
I’ll visit Ancona another time: in the meantime Laura has arrived, I haven’t seen her in three months, my joy, cosmic embrace to my tested trip companion, real and mental.
The port is a concrete casting, the queue begins to form to get on the ferry, composed mostly of screaming and very excited groups of young people leaving for the trendy holidays in Corfu, and some Greek family, elegant and posed, returning home. Couples and lonely travelers silently blend into the noise of the departure.
After an endless half hour of waiting under the sun, we are finally on board. Red carpet, super kitsch, we don’t have the “cabin ticket”, so straight on to the deck. The turquoise floor is wet and slimy, the chairs sticky, the air heavy. It doesn’t look very promising, but it’s precisely to live the whole crossing that we chose to have our first ferry trip, and not to take the plane. So, let’s enjoy it. We dry out two beers and devour the sandwiches I bought at the supermarket – what was supposed to be dinner becomes an afternoon snack – when the ship sets sail. The Conero mount fades slowly.
Here we go. Time now stands still. The vibration of the engines, at first intrusive, is already a habit for ears and feet, almost to the point of not being noticed. People are scattered on the deck, some people have dinner (or lunch? – I’ll understand later that Greek meals have no time), the powerful smell of pita gyros and souvlaki, and Laura and I move to the upper deck and sit down on the ground to chat and doodle on our notebooks.
Blue. I can’t get my eyes off the waves, and I would take a dive, here, now. The sky begins to blush; everyone leaning against the parapet to admire this great ball of light that is slowly swallowed by the sea, bathing the floor, clothes, skin, faces in contemplation with hot reflections until puf! See you tomorrow at dawn. And this is another of those moments of splendor that every time enchant me.
We enter in search of a dinner, in a huge hall used as a self-service. Usual red carpet, golden tables and chairs. For an unbelievable price that I prefer not to remember, they serve us a salad full of pink sauce and a woody stew. Disappearance appeased only by the idea that in a short time, yes, that we will eat real Greek meals.
We are tired, dead, but the discotheque is in the middle of the dances, with impossible volumes and with unplayable songs. We wait at the bar with a hot tea, speechless, in front of two televisions that broadcast two different channels, and try to familiarize ourselves with the Greek alphabet by studying the price list.
I go out on deck to smoke my last cigarette. Some brave people have camped with sleeping bags: despite an exaggerated humidity some are already stuffed in some corner of the bridge. All black, the line between the sea and the sky is gone, I look for some stars as usual. The first travelers were orienting themselves in this way, I don’t know how to do it, but I enjoy the stars the same way, always.
It’s time to look for a place where we can go to sleep, I find a secluded and quiet one, but at that moment a steward arrives and shows me the sleeping area for those who don’t have a cabin: he takes us to a room that looks like a cinema, blue velvet seats all facing a TV that passes football matches, all taken. Even on the ground, to pass, you have to climb over the sleeping bags. Laura slips into a shelf for luggage, me behind the last row of armchairs, near a door that will open a thousand times waking me up, a light pointed straight into the eyes and the air conditioning nozzle above the head. I have to use all my concentration and self-control skills to be able to close my eyes, and at six in the morning I’m already pretty perky and hungry.
Enea, the bartender, the same one who was there yesterday until late at night, is already at his place to serve breakfast, with an air of sad resignation to a job that seems to taste like captivity. But I rejoice in cheering him up, when I ask him, unaware, to try the Greek coffee without sugar. “Are you sure?” he asks me, at least five times. Yes, I’m sure, I’ll have to try it ‘this coffee! And while he’s making it, he laughs at me. The taste of coffee is very strange, unpleasant, metallic, but I finish it, almost out of pride now, and Enea gives me a brioche when I go to ask for an encore, probably out of pity.
I decide that, up until Patras, I will stay on the deckchair and sunbathe on the deck, while Laura does not hold it for more than ten minutes and goes to sit in the shade. I sink into the sleep that I had missed the night before, with the ipod in random, waking up sometimes, when the ship stops at Corfu and Gomenizza. All confused, I do not distinguish the dimension of time, the eyes open to take blurred photographs. I can’t wait to touch the ground, but at the same time the torpor crushes me, while the passengers, even if reduced after the stopovers, start again to speak and eat pita gyros.
A voice announces that in a few minutes we will arrive to our destination. We rush towards the exit, and while waiting, we meet the most singular character of the whole ferry: Michal, a vagabond-artist-artisan, born in Israel but based in India, who weighs much less than her suitcase and travels around the world selling photos of insects and T-shirts on which she prints them. We help her carry her luggage down and she asks me for tobacco even though ten minutes before she had said she didn’t smoke, and while she chases a taxi driver to negotiate on the price, we find ourselves in the middle of another concrete casting, the port of Patras.
Thanos, our friend who is to pick us up, has not yet arrived. We wait for him while we drink a beer sitting on the sidewalk. When we hear him scream, together with Nikos, for a moment it’s like coming home: he speaks Italian and in Italy he lived many years. Welcome hugs. The journey has not yet begun, even if we have been traveling for a whole day, twenty-two and a half hours, to be precise.
One day to the sea, twenty-two and a half hours in his honor, given to it, in an indolent and hypnotic wait. Some find it boring. But all that is needed is to let go and enjoy the journey… I am already ecstatic with this. Just imagine what awaits me.