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!
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.
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.
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.
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