Birth of a Poet 2: The Grand Canal

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Continuing Damian Beeson Bullen’s retrospective adventure through the journey that made him a poet…


EASTER SUNDAY 12TH APRIL 1998

***

Woke up at 7:00 as the first drops of morning rain splash’d my weary brow. Fortunately the station was open, & I caught a dry 40 winks before getting on the move again.

The two trains to Vienna were eventful. One guard ignored me, the other let me go, & soon I was back at the (very uninteresting) Vienna Sudbahnhoff. My train to Italy wasn’t ‘til 12:55 (it was now 10:00) so I ate a little & blagg’d some coins off an Austrian to make a call.

My sister replied, ‘do you know what bloody time it is,’ as I had woken her up. She then wish’d me to be careful just as the money ran out.

Felt a little lost, so started to chat to a young Czech couple. This pass’d a little time & as they left I had a look at the departures board. I noticed (God knows how) a separate train was leaving for the Italian border in a few minutes. I quickly pack’d & made it to the train just in time – a woman kindly opening the door for me the seconds before it left.

I stach’d my stuff, hid in the toilets & quietly waited for the result of my spontaneity to settle. As it turn’d out, the jump was simple. I sat down in a seat after twenty minutes, & the guard never check’d me again, which allow’d me the privilege of the most spectacular train journey I’ve had to date – all for free, including the hot water for the tea-bags I intelligently brought along. I was sat in the comfort of a nice inter-city, complete with psychedelic patterns on the wall, & a nice Austrian chick next to me.

The Austrian Alps were beautiful; huge rocky formations bursting from the earth. The train wound its way thro’ the valleys, sometimes climbing, sometimes descending (my ears popp’d) & sometimes thro’ tunnels. The towns were so idyllic, especially in the narrower valleys, where even the football pitches were narrow.

After a while, the non-stop mountains, the pine forests (although magnificent) & the snow-capp’d misty peaks grew a little monotonous. It was perpetually green & splendid, but I was on the train til 16:00, some 350K.

Yet, each new mountain still spark’d a warm glow within – it must be the poet in me. I reckon I’ll climb one one day, & if you read this as an old man, Damian (& are still able) – & have the money, time & freedom – bag some Sherpas & go hit the mountains of Ostreich!

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Just before the border a series of mountains all in a row loom’d before me, with a beautiful clear lake at their base. I had arrived at Villach. I had two hours to kill, so I stash’d my stuff beside a rail-line & had a wander around the town. It was quite dull, but the scenery was amazing, a ring of mountains!

I take the greatest train jump of my tour
From Vienna to Villach, on a sleek
Inter-City, as each Alp towers o’er
My little carriage, each volcanic peak
Thrust from the fertile, verdant valley floor
With breathtakin’ beauty – I could not speak,
Until dinnertime by a mountain stream…
Villach’s heap’d watchers echo to my scream.

I took out my bread, mustard, cheese, raisons, an orange & a tin of meat – & settl’d down to a meal. I follow’d with a quick strum on my guitar, then headed back to the station, to catch the train to Italy.

At the station, before getting on the train, I met some mad Brazilian bloke. I then found my carriage was home to a beautiful Italian girl. Roll on the wine, women & pasta!

Jumping the train was easy – there was an empty carriage at the back & I got to watch the Italian mountains disappear, & if anything, they were more beautiful than the Austrian ones; brilliant white tops illuminated by the sun & fantastic deep, azure blue skies.

Eventually the carriage emptied, & I turn’d off the light for a few moments sleep – which was lucky as a conductor came, but chose not to wake me.

How glad am I to enter Italy,
For the call of the muse grows ever strong,
Like some wild animal trapp’d inside me,
To find a form in my juvenile song;
Snowy mountains shrink into flat country,
Thro’ fields of lazy green we zoom along,
To Venice; as Italy greets my feet
I see a canal sparkling,’ where’s the street?

So I am in Italy, but no-one can prepare you for your first real look of the place as you leave Venice station. The Grand Canal is bang! right in front of you, & you immediately know the place is something special.

The Grand Canal from Venice Train Station

I follow’d my travellers instinct & found an empty carriage near the station to hide my stuff & sleep tonight, then set off out to explore the city. On the way, however, the start of perhaps the most bizarre incident of my trip began.

I bump’d into Edson, the Brazilian, & we began to walk about. He was trying to find a hotel (no luck), so we went to share a margarita pizza. He paid for most of it, then we went to meet his work-mate Kristina, who he’d just left at the station.

Now it turns out that they are here in Venice to get a visa, & then return back to Austria tomorrow. So they left their bags in a luggage depot at the station, except for a mysterious suitcase, which Kristina began to wheel about the town.

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God knows what mission we were on, but my first stroll around Venice involved following Edson around at breakneck speed, asking every Italian the way to a mythical place. Apparently the Italians are an ‘uneducated bunch’ & we were sent in the wrong direction.

However Venice was beautiful! There are no roads (& no pollution) just beautiful streets & canals, still the same as in Byron’s day. The buildings were quite crumbly & decadent, but his added to the timelessness – or should I say onetimeness – of the place.

In the middle of being distracted by all things Venetian, I suddenly received the suitcase (voluntarily), & became intrigued by the whole affair. Could it contain drugs, money, gems (Edson said he was a gem-seller)? I was tempted to do a runner like in some dodgy Britflick – but of course didn’t. I am here to write poetry.

The evening ended at 2AM, after a few glasses of wine, some mad pidgeon English conversations, & my offer to share my sleeping bag with the fella. We left Kristina bobbing on one of the canal taxi berths, & settl’d down in my train carriage. It was a bit weird, sharing such a small space with a stranger, but hey! that’s life!


EASTER MONDAY 13TH APRIL

***

I woke up at 8:30 next to Edson who’d decided to share my carriage. We met up with Kristina (who had been in the station most of night), had coffee & rolls for breakfast, then went to get their visa. I thought I’d tag along because they were paying & it seem’d like fun.

There were more mindless meanderings a la last night. This time in the pleasant ‘new’ city of Venice on the mainland. Eventually we found the place, & all they received was a slip of paper for their troubles – no visa.

I finally managed to find out what was in the suitcase – photos of Kristina’s Jewish family, some choclates & a few documents.

So I bid adieu to my new-found friends &, at about 12:00, I found myself alone in a beautiful city, ready to explore. First I bought some bread & made up a pack’d lunch, & then set off to look for a place to eat it, strolling about quite happily until, by the docks, I look’d out to the sea & the skies were stormy & black.

This was excellent, as I need to ‘feel’ an Italian storm for my poem, The Death of Shelley. I watch’d it for a while, the occasional flash & rumble, then when the rain came hurtling down I started running thro’ the streets, seeking shelter. Passing the occasional other set of people doing the same.

I found a nice alleyway, & a nice Italian guy gave me some mineral water for free from his restaurant. When the rain had almost stopp’d I stepp’d out onto the near deserted streets & returned to my ‘den.’

I strumm’d for a while by the canal, watching the boats full of people watching me, then it began to pour again. I ate a couple of bananas, tehn got chang’d for the night’s activities. I plann’d to do some busking (to keep an eye on my money). It will be the first time since last year & I feel a little nervous. So I bought some wine for 2000 lira (75p) – some carton’d Italian white.

I also chang’d a £50 note, giving me 140,000 lira. Sounds a lot, dunnit? I aim to arrive in Shelleyland with 100,000 – this giving me 10,000 a day (for 10 days) to write my poem.

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I did the big sight-seeing tour, hopping on a boat (not paid for) which took me round the edges of the city & to the Plaz de St Marco. This was a very big & beautiful place, with lots of museums. However, they were all mann’d by gruff Italians & so I couldn’t sneak in.

I did manage to have a look in the cathedral – which was glorious. I think it was from the 15th century, & was cover’d in paintings of Biblical times. These were quite faded, & I wonder’d how cool they would have been when the Church was all-powerful. The Church can be likened, I think, to an old painting.

Took a boat back thro’ the heart of the city, along the Grand Canal, just gazing at the amazing houses. I saw the Union Jack waving outside one – the consulate – hurrah!

When it grew dark, I slung my geetah over my back & wander’d thro’ the city, looking for a place to play. The best spot was took by some gondaliers, so I bought an ice-cream, then headed for St Marco Square.

I began to busk under a statue of Casanova & two bare-breasted harpies. Only once did I receive some cash, off a young Italian couple, but the real fun started when I heard some Italian bongo players who I’d met in the afternoon.

The night then proceeded at full pelt, I gradually got piss’d & had a most amazing time. It felt like Bournemouth once again. Some mad old Buddhist play’d my guitar & we all got down nice & funky.

Thro’ Venice I, the poetic rover,
Roam streets by night, guitar oer broad back slung,
Under a statue of Casanova,
Ditties composed near Chichester are sung,
Eldritch voice attracts coins for each number,
Those tuneful tayles melodiously wrung,
& after playing for an hour or so
Buzzy black bongo bangers join my flow.

Caught a river-bus back home (it was very cold) & crawled into bed. My mattress was plastic bags, my pillow my rucksack, my bedding a sleeping bag & a curtain, & it was all nice & comfy, so I went to sleep.


THE BIRTH OF A POET

************************

Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

One thought on “Birth of a Poet 2: The Grand Canal

    […] Chapter 2: The Grand Canal […]

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