Most of the posts on this blog are articles previously published in national periodicals. Folks have been asking for these to be collected in one spot...and this is that spot. And, unless otherwise noted, illustrations are by David Gillett as well.



Monday, November 13, 2017

There and Back (Again)


(Globe and Mail TRAVEL,  Saturday November 11th 2017)   There and Back Again GLOBE & MAIL
Nursing both my throbbing feet and a pint of Thatcher’s cider, I eased back into my chair by the smouldering coal fire at the Wasdale Head Inn. Today was a failed attempt at the treacherous summit of Pillar. But a few weeks hence I’d be back home and likely facing the question again:

“Back to England? Again? …Why?”

 “ ‘Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are’ is true enough but I’d know you better if you told me what you re-read,” said the French writer, Francois Muriac.
Francois was onto something, and his theory applies just as tellingly to travel.
Are you a bucket-list location ticker? Or are you, like me, pulled back by some unseen gravitational force time and again to a particular place?
Some places just feel right, like going home. They’re a movie we want to see again, a dog-eared book that never gets old.
For me, it’s Britain, with its ancient culture, mellowed architecture and daily routines that are immediately familiar while still surprisingly novel. Tightening the focus further: the English countryside, Blake’s “green and pleasant land”. If pushed, the epicentre of my longing is the North, with its desolate moors, raw and ever-changing weather, wild coasts and brooding mountains.
Specifically, the Cumbrian mountains in the Lake District, an area which just this year has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, joining the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon in winning one of the highest accolades on the planet.
In addition to the official attribute-speak that comes with such a designation, standard phrases like “natural beauty” and “stunning vistas”, I’d add a host of other things. What’s not to like about a place peppered with weathered villages folded into heathered crevices redolent of coal smoke and sheep dung?  The names are evocative of some other time: Yanwath, Temple Sowerby, Nether Wasdale, Crackenthorpe.
These mountains are a compact, scaled-back Alpine jewel box, chock full of hulking masses whose rugged truths are soon apparent when the actual climbing starts.  Seen through the smoked windows of a tour bus headed for touristy Keswick, they are a picturesque back-drop. Yet these are true mountains with all the inherent mystery and danger such terrain can bring and noble names to match: Blencathra, Skiddaw, Great Gable.
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Beatrix Potter – many writers called these hills home and the Romantic poets haunted these heights for inspiration. John Ruskin wrote of his love/hate relationship with the country he knew so well, “Blind, tormented, unwearied, marvelous England,” he said. And then, under the spell of Lake District beauty, he built his home, Brantwood, on the shores of Coniston Water.
Around 18 million people are likewise enchanted and visit the Lake District each year, spending close to 1.5 billion dollars and employing 18,000 people in the process. They come for a variety of reasons: a lungful of fresh air, a trip to the flowered tea rooms of Grasmere, a pilgrimage to Wordsworths’ grave perhaps.
For me it’s about many things: my grandmother’s ancestral home in Langwathby, the upland sheep-farming culture, the architecture of the villages that take rustic-chic to the next level.
And the Walking, capital ‘W’. In Cumbria, it’s a term that covers a whole dictionary of movement: including rambling, scrambling and climbing. Our first trip to Cumbria almost 30 years ago introduced us gently to this pursuit, a half-day hike as part of an old uncle’s car tour.  Subsequent return visits have helped us discover the nuance, refine our approach and extend our journeys, walking, as Hillarie Belloc said so eloquently “Across the great wave tops and rolls of the hills.”
This in itself is reason enough to re-visit a favourite place.
Recently I found myself yet again in a favourite part of The Lakes, the Wasdale Valley, often called the home of British Climbing. In Wasdale are England’s deepest lake (Wastwater) and highest mountain (Scafel), and arguably favourite view (from Great Gable). It’s an isolated place high in the dark, Western fells, a deep valley of scree slides and jagged cliffs, ancient sheepfolds and thick cloud. Difficult to get to, difficult to leave.
It’s a place of sheep farming and mountain climbing: little else matters. A night in its silent, dark embrace re-sets your expectations and your preconceptions of what really matters.
Could it be that some of us are pre-wired to eat porridge, climb fells, endure hurricane winds and end up by the fire at snug pubs at sunset? Life distills neatly into this simple pattern.
Along the narrow path between our B&B at Burnthwaite farm and the Wasdale Head Inn, sits tiny St.Olaf’s church, built, so they say, from Viking ship timbers. In its tiny churchyard enclosed by ancient stone walls and wind-twisted yews, the tilting grave markers tell a story of mountain climbing tragedy. This was a tiny detail I’d missed on previous visits. Re-visiting gave me the chance to delve deeper. Records of deaths on nearby fells, often of more than one climber at a time, are common, speaking both to the inherent dangers of the area and the love that people have had for these hills over the years.
Alfred Wainwright, king of the fell-walkers and guide book writer extraordinaire, once said: “The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body.”
Edmund Hilary’s team used the ‘exhilarating summits’ to train for their Everest conquest, and the lobby of the Wasdale Head Inn is a makeshift museum of hob-nailed boots, climbing axes and frayed ropes. Faded photos show jaunty Victorians posing on impossible pinnacles like Napes Needle, tweeds and all. And later, eating in the inn’s pub with climbers from Holland and Australia, Billy, the wired-haired terrier who regularly goes ‘down the pub’ on his own, visits our table in search of a handout, unimpressed by whatever feat of endurance we’d performed that day.
We’d seen Billy before of course, on previous trips. But on this return visit, we were starting to feel as through we knew him, just as we were coming to know the hills. One visit would have never done it for us. Two even, would not have been nearly enough to start the process of unlocking the mysteries of Wasdale, of the Cumbrian Mountains’, of northern England, of Billy the wire-haired terrier.
For some, the travel experience is ten thousand miles wide and one inch deep, a shopping list accomplished, another day…another flag. I’d argue for a narrower focus and a deeper, more local experience.
Returning to a familiar spot is less about comfort-zones and familiarity than you might expect. In fact, taking your exploration to that next level, past that introductory tour-guide stage and really jumping into the deep end of intimate, vulnerable contact – that can be the risky sort of travel that is asks more of you – and ultimately gives more in return.
To paraphrase Muriac: “ ‘Tell me where you travel and I’ll tell you who you are’. That is true enough but I’d know you better if you told me where you return to time and time again,”.
And no matter how my aching feet might protest, I know I’ll be back in a remote pocket of England’s north again, squinting up at the so far evasive summit of Pillar, reading the clouds, getting to know a beloved place better and better with each visit.

IF YOU GO

When To Go: The Lake District is beautiful in its peak season which runs from late April to early September, and everyone knows it. So consider visiting outside this period if you can. Prices drop and the crowds thin in October, just as the best colours come out on the hills, and the trails are drier underfoot than in spring. The average temperature in October is 9C, making a pub fire at day’s end just that much more inviting. There are some quiet lakeside paths in this area, but for the most part, Wasdale is for people with good hiking boots, all-weather gear and good map-reading skills.
Sleep:   Burnthwaite B&B is a farmhouse bed & breakfast on a working National Trust farm at the foot of the best mountains run by Georgina & Andrew (and Billy the wire-haired terrier). Accommodations, in the 17th C. farmhouse, are simple and comfortable – geared to walkers and mountain climbers. The breakfasts are hearty and legendary.
B&B from £33 per person per night, £38 per person per night en-suite.
bookings@burnthwaitefarm.co.uk
Getting there:    A car is essential. There is a good selection of rentals at Manchester Airport ( we used www.Europcar.com) and then there is a 3 hr drive to Wasdale. The M6 motorway makes the first 1.5 hrs an easy drive, then the roads quickly get progressively narrower and twisting as you wind your way up the western coast of Cumbria and into the mountains.

Eat:     Burnthwaite farm is just a ten minute walk from the local pub food and drink served fireside at Ritson's Bar at the Wasdale Head Inn, the self-proclaimed “Birthplace of British climbing”. The bar, open all day year-round, is named after the first landlord, Will Ritson - huntsman, wrestler, farmer, fellsman, guide, raconteur, and the first "World's Biggest Liar". The Inn also rents rooms in its atmospheric old building at the foot of Kirk Fell. 
reception@wasdale.com
www.wasdale.com
For the original article, go to:

Friday, September 15, 2017

Two Sides of Me - The Jane Austen Motocross Club


MONDAY SEPTEMBER 18th, 2017
The Globe and Mail




Read it online at:

https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/im-the-lone-member-of-the-jane-austen-motocross-club-and-proud-of-it/article36261919/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

Or read it here:

THE JANE AUSTEN MOTOCROSS CLUB



Full disclosure: the Club is not large.  At this point, it has but one member that I know of.

Me.

But since this year is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, now seemed like the time to come out of the Georgian wardrobe, so to speak. Time to ‘fess up.

I made a Faustian deal with the diabolical powers of Georgian literature and motorcycle racing in my romantic youth: If I’d not deny my affection for Miss Austen’s stories, in return I’d live a long life filled with a lot of good dirt bike riding.

So far I’ve had the long life and the (sometimes painful) good motocross riding, but I’m having a devil of a time dovetailing it with the world of 18th century English romance.

Its as if I’m afflicted with a strange sort of schizophrenia, a double life. I’m all Mr.Darcy one day, planting out roses with my daughter, chuckling at Mr.Collins, watching a re-run of Emma with biscuits and tea.

And then the buttons pop off my silk waistcoat and another me bursts out, a motocross dark side to the genteel side of light-filled parlours and country dancing. Motocross, to the uneducated, has nothing at all to do with Austen’s world of provincial Georgian towns and comedies of manners. Hers is a world of trivial incidents finely written, quiet conversations in libraries, heart-to-hearts in dappled orchards.

The motocross world, in apparent contrast, is a high-revving universe of endurance, fueled by adrenalin, testosterone and speed. Its a sport on the edge of the extreme sports column, peopled largely by males preoccupied with flying higher, farther, and faster  on the knife edge of control, one bad move away from an ambulance trip.

Inside my steaming helmet, there is no internal dialogue on gooseberries, local vicars or matters of the heart. On the racetrack, things tend to be dog-eat-dog, and as I gain on a Yamaha rider heading for that double-jump, I find myself paraphrasing Jane as I reel in my opponent: “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I want to pass you in a hail of rocks and mud.”

Jane’s world is a gentle one of polite ladies and rich young suitors. But its also a study in sexual politics, class and the human heart. Not unlike motocross. (Okay, maybe not the sexual politics part.) Riding torturous terrain in an adrenalin-fueled rush is to look into your soul and ask: “What on earth am I doing, at my age, with a family to support?”

Motocross can hurt. It can lead to intimate acquaintance with unsympathetic chiropractors. It can place one in a social category far-removed from the finer class of vicars and local gentry-folk. Emma Woodhouse’s anxious father would never have approved. And yet, after a good day of near misses, long jumps and bruising laps, I again hear an echo of Pride and Prejudice as I stand back and admire my mud-caked Honda 450. “You have bewitched me, body and soul and I love you. And wish from this day forth never to be parted from you or ever play golf again.”

My wife rolls her eyes at this sort of thing. But she understands. She has come to realize that it should be a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a Honda CRF450 must be in want of a good BBC period drama.

Bruce Fierstein’s 1982 book “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” was published to great acclaim, selling over 1.6 million copies. It poked fun at the sensitive new-age man, living an insipid life marked by an interest in things perceived to be anti-masculine. But Fierstein missed the mark. Real men eat anything they want (quiche included.) They also read what they want: books about motocross racing, books about Elizabeth Bennett’s love life.

I’m sure there are other men out there, settling down to a night of Sense and Sensibility and eating quiche while they Instagram photos of the muddy crash they had last Saturday. Masculine and feminine  don’t have to be slotted so quickly into time worn pigeon-holes. At the local track last week, a young woman laid waste to the field of wannabe male racers who could only admire her skill and speed. She crushed it. I only hope that she pulled off the track and picked up her copy of Northanger Abbey between motos.

Such men and women can send in their applications for club membership. The world needs more extreme sports types who wear waistcoats (or petticoats) and read gentle books about sensitive people. The broader implications are heartening indeed, especially in this world where bluster and conflict runs rampant. Imagine a world, for a moment, where riot police contemplate Fordyce’s sermons on their breaks, where rodeo riders take harpsichord lessons, where jet fighter pilots practice needlepoint between sorties. Where’s the downside, dear reader?

As Jane herself once said (and I paraphrase): “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good lap on the motocross track, or a good Jane Austen novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

###

David Gillett

September 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ireland’s remote Donegal is the coolest place to visit this summer


DONEGAL

Driving the twisting ribbon of asphalt that is Donegal’s section of the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route, we had a “Cool Moment”, the first of many in this coolest corner of the coolest place on earth. The Irish language RTE radio was playing and another heart-stopping vista swung into view before us, all crashing waves, misted sea stacks  and foaming surf.  Amongst the Irish chatter, the phrase “Yodel Funk” popped out and, on cue, a funky Gaelic yodeler, backed by a manic tin whistle, gave us a soundtrack to a day of superlatives.


We were on a father-daughter road trip, starting in Belfast where Molly-Claire was living, looping north along the rugged shore of Northern Ireland and then into the wild west of Donegal, the place that National Geographic Traveller anointed number one on its “Coolest Places to Visit 2017” list.

But even before reaching Donegal, we’d compiled our own list of superlatives.  “Hotel Receptionist of the Year”, “Medium Sized Town of the Year” and the lovely “Loo of the Year” (really?) to name a few.  Before leaving Belfast, we’d taken in Titanic Belfast, voted “World’s Leading Tourist Attraction of the Year”.

Good as it was, you have to wonder: who exactly does this voting anyway? But there was no dispute in our mind about the National Geographic’s choice of Donegal as the coolest of the cool, once we got there.

The sun arrived as we did, glinting off the tempestuous Atlantic which is never far away. The roads narrowed, the traffic dried up and the sheep multiplied. The road signs were in Irish, this being the main Gaeltachct, (Irish speaking area) with almost 25%  of the Irish speakers in the country. A point called the Bloody Foreland or Cnoc Fola (the Hill of Blood) figures prominently on the map. This is country with a past.

Donegal has that faded glory feel to it, and the cottage we rented near Ardara was a good metaphor for the county itself. Abandoned and a near ruin, it was found  by architectural historian Dr.Greg Stevenson’s organization, Under The Thatch, which rescues traditional buildings at risk then rents them out to keep them alive and thriving. In his book “Traditional Cottages of County Donegal”, he cites the alarming fact that in 1950 there were 4000 traditional thatched cottages in Northern Ireland alone, but only 150 in 2005.

This cottage could have suffered a similar fate. But it survived and, thankfully, it was also too remote to be tarted up and ruined by amateur renovators. So when it was discovered by Greg, it was the real deal, only in want of a roof, some plumbing , a kitchen and tender loving care. It is minimalist chic in a 17th century sort-of-way, and populated by a careful selection of folk art antiques. Unsurprisingly, it was named “Best Holiday Cottage in Ireland” by the Sunday Times. We were seeing a trend.

Greg had mentioned in his page of directions that it would be rude not to drop by for tea with  neighbour Mary Molloy, the cottage house-keeper. So, as we squeezed past the sheep and made our way to the cottage at the dead end of a road the width of a hiking path, we stopped in.

“ A lovely girl, you are, Molly-Claire!” she gushed, bear-hugging my middle child and  speaking in exclamation marks. “A credit to you, David! Oh what a sweet girl!” Mary and Molly-Claire hit it off like a house on fire, while her husband, the grandly named Columba, sat unmoved at the kitchen table with a wry expression,  unenthused about our intrusion into his world of big skies and lonely winds.

Mary advised us on how to make a turf fire: “Give it air! Give it time! Be patient and it will warm you nicely!”

Thankfully, Molly-Claire didn’t have my Canadian woodsman pride and actually listened to Mary’s advice. Soon, a night of heavy darkness, the smell of turf smoke and the sound of gentle rain lulled us into a deep sleep inside the thick stone walls, our table strewn with maps and books.

The morning took us back down the track, through the majestic Glengesh Pass and into a sea-side world of postcard beauty, the north Atlantic sunlight throwing a golden glow across a landscape little changed for eons.

Maghera beach was our first surprise. Cresting huge dunes of sea-grass, we found ourselves totally alone on a pristine white sand beach that stretched unbroken for a mile along gnarly rock cliffs riddled with caves. “Take care with the tides! Dear me, they can run in so fast! The caves, oh, frightening!”, Mary had warned. With one eye on the advancing surf, we ducked low and explored a deep cave, perhaps the very one that had hidden one hundred of Cromwell’s men many years ago. (They lit a fire and were soon discovered by their pursuers and duly slaughtered, save one who hid in a high crevice.)

Not many miles away as the crow flies, but a good hour as the winding road goes, we pulled into the tiny carpark at Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Rising right out of the crashing surf to a height greater than the CN tower, the cliffs with their colouring of amber, red and white deserve all the superlatives that can be hurled at them. The rolling waves arriving from Newfoundland exploded into mist at the bottom and the clifftops were shrouded in clouds, heightening the majestic mystery of the whole thing.

It is said that one-third of all Ireland can be seen from the cliff’s summit on a clear day. It is in those other southerly two-thirds that the biggest tourist contingents congregate, drinking green beer and loading up on shamrock tea towels. County Kerry is more famous and much busier, with conga lines of tour buses in summer. County Clare’s Cliffs of Moher are tiny compared to Slieve League, but much more famous. Dublin, of course,  is the go-to cultural bull’s eye. Even Northern Ireland, with its world-renowned Giant’s Causeway  (and more recently the World’s Best Tourist Attraction, Titanic Belfast), siphons the crowds off before they can reach lonely, remote Donegal.

And therein lies a big part of the county’s charm:  true European wilderness with a feeling of the undiscovered. For now.

A closer look shows that changes are coming to Donegal. Killybegs harbor is the centre of a booming and expanding fishing trade, the Aran sweater factory in Ardara  is gearing up for a record-breaking season, and the tea shops are starting to make excellent flat whites now. Scenes for Star Wars: Episode VIII, were filmed on the Inishowen Pennisula.  Brexit has brought a dark cloud of questions about a possible return to the hassle of border crossings between the Republic and Northern Island. The wider world is inserting itself into this wild paradise.

And yet Mary Molloy isn’t fazed by these changes, they seem a  world away from her pristine valley. My daughter, after surviving a teary Donegal goodbye, observed:  “ Mary  doesn’t realize how cool she really  is.”  Should be named “Coolest Cottage Housekeeper of The Year”?

She has to be. She lives in a tiny cottage in the coolest corner of the coolest place to visit in 2017. She can build a proper turf fire, and she has Yodel Funk on her Irish radio.
- March 2017



Read the original article on the newspaper's website at :

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/travel/irelands-remote-donegal-is-the-coolest-place-to-visit-thissummer/article34433230/

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why I Prefer To Travel With A Sketchbook


My son Harry and I had weaseled our way into the cloistered beauty of Oxford’s Magdalen College on May Morning, a few hours after gathering with 20,000 other revelers to greet the sunrise with a hymn sung from the medieval tower, a tradition dating back 500 years. The college had sponsored a jolly day of artistic expression and laid out a banquet of tools for our use: oil pastels, Staedtler pencils, Winsor and Newton watercolour sets.



We sat on the striped lawn and sketched the arcaded front of the New Building (c.1733), adding to the plump sketch books we carried everywhere on this father and son tour of England. Increasingly, our pens and black books were our go-to recording devices, cameras staying more often in the backpacks.



A window on the second floor had once been C.S. Lewis’s room. I made a point of detailing the graceful Georgian sash. “You should flog your sketches to the college,” suggested one observer. But we didn’t: it wasn’t about that. It was about imprinting the day on our minds and hearts, capturing the moment with a physical act. Even now, five years later, I can flip open to those pages and smell the clematis that wound around the solid columns, hear laughter and the crack of a croquet ball on the lawn behind us, see the radius of the Palladian arches, feel the warmth of the May morning sun as it fluttered through the dappled leaves of Oxford. One look at the sketch and it all comes back to life.



Sketching allows all this. Drawing is to photography what walking is to driving: it’s more work, it’s slower, it demands patience and it’s something we’ve increasingly forgotten how to do. And yet, it pays dividends: The work is a rewarding pleasure, the pace allows a scene to sink in and be appreciated, concentration breeds a patient contemplative mind-set … and it’s something that can be relearned.



And it’s not all about great art, or skill. Drawing is something everyone can do. I don’t use an eraser or straight edge when I sketch: misplaced lines, side doodles, quirky shapes are all part of it.



A Princeton study in 2014 demonstrated the advantages of taking notes long-hand, versus typing them into a laptop: more self-editing and more emphasis on certain words rather than just a verbatim recording. With sketching, these same things seem to hold true, and there is more. To sketch a scene is to truly observe it. As Sherlock said to Dr.Watson: “You see but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”



That, and the physicality of putting pen to paper. There is a visceral muscle-and-nerve connection to the scene in front of you when your mind observes a shape and tells your hand how to bring it to a blank page. There’s a pleasure in it that gives the intellectual imprint depth and substance. The wide net of digital point-and-shoot is fine for a quick pass, but it’s largely a glancing surface treatment and the real work is left to the camera. To sketch a scene challenges our notions of what really matters as we move through a new city or react to the beauty of a great, windswept plain.



It’s heartening to see that sketching is gaining the respect it deserves. At the Rijksmuseum, an important arts and history museum in the heart of Amsterdam, visitors are encouraged to put down their selfie-sticks and cameras and use a sketchbook when they visit the museum’s displays, making small drawings of sculptures and paintings rather than snapping a photo and moving along quickly. “In our busy lives we don’t always realize how beautiful something can be,” Wim Pijbes, the general director of the Rijksmuseum, told the art blog Colossal. “We forget how to look really closely. Drawing helps because you see more when you draw.” The story ran with photos from this experiment showing wide-eyed children gazing at display cases with determined intensity, pencils poised above sketchpads, fully engaged.



To our three kids, travelling with a sketchbook is not a new concept: in cafés, museums, parks, sitting on a bus or on the brink of a gorge. Not only do they seem to gain a bigger appreciation of beauty, they see detail and nuance, entering into the experience of the place. They’ve been able to be truly in the moment, rather than living in some strange parallel world of constant screen time.



If this sounds like a Luddite fantasy, then yes, that’s part of it: a yearning for a pared-down mode of travel, a rejection of the superficial and instant. Sketching is, by nature, an old-fashioned way of seeing. Kids seem to understand instinctively.



Recently, in Rome, I set myself a challenge: no cappuccino without at least a full page in the sketchbook. I haunted the streets of Trastevere and made a painfully slow progression through the ancient Forum, taking increasing pleasure in the small moments afforded by sketching little pieces of antiquity, Ducati motorcycles and crowded markets. On Via Merluna I sat at a red café table, the foamy cappuccino disappearing from my glass at the same pace that a sketch of the street scene appeared on my page. The scene was actually pretty banal; just another street. But as I sketched, it became so much more.



A little crowd, including my excited waiter, gathered around, judging my vision against what they saw and curious about my approach. They wouldn’t have stopped for a selfie-stick. I had enough Italian to know that they approved.



Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Fiction edition  Spring 2016 
  http://davidgillettwrites.blogspot.ca/2016/05/roman-sketchbook.html

Roman Sketchbook

http://davidgillettwrites.blogspot.ca/2016/05/roman-sketchbook.html

" Each page was site-specific, a loosely rendered line drawing of a place and a moment. He thought often of her as he drew. “The historian in her will love these drawings” he thought and the thought kept him going as he walked the darkening streets alone. “She has to love them.”  "

Roman Sketchbook


PERSPECTIVES Magazine    Spring 2016

Leaves slopped into the gutters and crunched underfoot on the uneven streets of Trastavere. Night was coming on and the lights of Rome with it. Still no sign of her.



His sketchbook was filling in nicely. It would be a treasure for him, for his family. An heirloom for future grandchildren: a Roman Sketchbook. In his mind, he worked out the graphics for the cover of the published version.

Each page was site-specific, a loosely rendered line drawing of a place and a moment. He thought often of her as he drew. “The historian in her will love these drawings” he thought and the thought kept him going as he walked the darkening streets alone. “She has to love them.”

Still no sign of her. “Pick any ancient ruin and I’ll be there,” he’d said.  She’d been silent.  “Just look for the guy with the sketchbook, getting all Etruscan,” he’d joked. But maybe she hadn’t looked and maybe she never would. He didn’t know that she drew a blank on Etruscans. On Romans for that matter. It wasn’t her era.

He tried to remember where they had parted. It had been while sipping prosecco in Pizza di Santa Maria, hadn’t it? Or maybe it was long before that. He couldn’t remember. “Let’s split up for a bit and explore,” he’d said, his eye on an architrave.

She’d looked tired and hadn’t enjoyed the prosecco, the day or the view, but he hadn’t noticed that. Her hands were empty and she had a certain look on her face. She’d walked off without glancing back, down via Della Lungaretta, towards the Tiber. But his mind’s eye was on a broken pediment, something from 160 BC the guidebook said.

His phone was not ringing. The problem with smart phones is that they tie you to other people, to deadlines, to hassles, to the office. You can’t be in the moment, you can’t be really present. But he’d take those problems if it meant being tied to her at this particular moment. She’d stashed her phone because one between them (just for emergencies and airline check-in) would be enough. His sat like lead in his pocket, lifeless and refusing to vibrate.

He took a tiny street-side table; maybe he could think and try to remember what they’d agreed upon. “Vino rosso,” he told the waiter who looked impatient and queried him further: “Red wine?

 “Yes, si,” he said. “That’s what I was trying to say. Grazie.”

He wasn’t doing well with his Italian. Or, he thought further, with anything much. His sketches were actually crap. They were stilted and controlled, scratches on a page. They were all the same: frozen upper bits of ruined classical architecture. There was no life in them.

Still no sign of her.

It had been hours now. He couldn’t remember how many. Months really, he mused. Years. He sipped his wine, thought of the endless pediments he had drawn and how he now hated them all. They were heavy lumps of stone, burdening him by a gravity older than Rome.

He watched the Trastavere night fold in on itself, and with it his world.


Published in PERSPECTIVES magazine
Spring 2016       see:   http://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/OAAQ/OAAQ0116/index.php