Birth of a Poet 6: San Guilliano

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The poet in Pisa, 2017

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

Friday 24th April, 1998

Another hot & pleasant day. Woke up at the Macanera, where Jesse spent half an hour searching for titbits. He found 2200 lira, 2 joints & about 3 joints worth of solid. Unfortunately he was so pissed last night that he lost his new guitar. Easy come, easy go!

We wander’d along the riverbank shouting ‘Kaptiano‘, until we found him asleep in some bushes. We quickly got a session going – vino & weed, while Kapitano made some cool South American style fires using an impossibly small amount of wood. We talked about shamanism & the Chilean mountains & peyote, Kapitano sure has traveled a lot, ain’t that the truth. He then blew my mind by having a whistling conversation with some nearby birds – amazing stuff!

Kapitano then split last night’s money 3 ways – I ended up with 6000 lira which felt wrong – but he’s the boss. We went to a different place for dinner – lots of seconds, it was quite empty. Over the plates Kapitano gave me my first formal lesson in Italians. It is as very noble language & it would be an honour to learn it. To be honest I’ve never had a faculty for foreign languages, but its worth giving it a go. I’d love to come back & spend more time in Italy. Maybe write some sonnets or something. Living among the Italians is a brilliant way to learn, but the only drawback is that my teacher is Chilean. I am sure I’ll be sounding rather unusual to the locals – a mixture of Burnley & Andes Chilean.

Managed a few more stanzas in a day which simply flew by.  I had a cappucino & stuff, but the rest of the day was a blur. I dozed on a train platform for a bit – interspersed with having a jam with a cool Italian lad in transit – then at 10PM we moved from the stazione back into town.

Pisan Spring

I walk amidst the decadence
Fading from vain magnificence
Under an April Tuscan shower
& May’s sunny majestic sunny flower
& sometimes I startle the doves
From statues the wanderer loves
& the streets antique
Lend the days a certain, sensual mystique
Oft of the glorious Pisan sunset softly I shall speak

Tomorrow I think will be my last full day with Kapitano – I’m heading off to where my poem takes me.
I did a bit of busking, but not enough for any surplus cash – just enough for vino & fags, Went to sleep o the platform again for the night.

Saturday 25th April

Got moved from our sleeping spot in the early hours by a copper – so went & grabbed a few more zzzs at the normal spot. Had lunch, then found a nice shady spot to chillax all day. Gained some y-fronts & a new t-shirt, plus my 3rd new pair of Italian shoes! Spent the day musing & composing more odes. Didn’t do any Shelley stuff as I’m having a day off. I will travel to Le Spezia tomorrow for solitude & focus. 10 days have just flown by here in Pisa, but a guy must move on eventually. I saw some pictures in a magazine of La Spezia – it looks beautiful.

The River Arno is a gentle thing
As it makes his way from the Florentine Hills,
& is clean & as fresh as Spring,
Being bless’d with a music soft, serene,
Like the chorus of church bells that ring
Out over an evening Pisan scene,

At about 6, we headed back into the centre, where a concert was just finishing. Its Liberation Day. They were playing Pomp & Circumstance by Elgar (Land of Hope & Glory) just as I arrived. I got bored after a bit, so went off to skethc the sunset. It was more or less the same one that Shelley spoke of when Byron said he thought Venetian sunsets were incomparable. Shelley retorted;

Stand on the marble bridge, cast your eye if you are not dazzled on its river glowing as with fire, then followed the graceful curve of the palaces on the Lung Arno till the arch is naved by the massy dungeon tower, forming in dark relief, & tell me if anything can surpass a sunset at Pisa

As night fell, we began to busk again – with an Italian lass collecting instead of Kapitano – but a string snapped quite early on. I got a bit stroppy I felt a little wierded out & ended up taking my guitar to the riverside where I strummed an EEGA chord sequence, watching a bat fly about & fish leap from the Arno – all quite spooky & I was clad head to toe in black.

Kapitano worked like a madman without me – I’d had the cheek to call him lazy, so take that back. He is a fucking excellent guy, & my time with him has been an experience to say the least. With the wine flowing freely, for once I just sat & watched him at work – it was more comedy than anything. Everyone who handed over money was laughing. His play was my old pair of shoes, placed in the middle of the road, priced at 1000 lira (30p). He kept saying they were Leonardo di Caprio’s shoes & by the end of the night he had made 50,000 lira & he’d even picked up a woman.Her name was Sonja -she was a a bit rough like. He even borrowed my new sleeping bag to make the maternal bed!

I am not setting off tomorrow – it will be Monday after stocking up an my food store. I’ll find something else to do tomorrow, no problemo!

Sunday 26th April

Quite an interesting day, perhaps a monumental one. The day began by waking up to see Jesse had got into bed with Kapitano’s new woman! Kapitano kept calling him ‘mother fucker’ all morning. I ate & made up a little lunch, then set off for a day in the Tuscan countryside. I wasn’t sure exactly where, but I read that Shelley had once lived in San Guilliano, & when I saw it was only 10 minutes away by train, I knew I had to go.

Our stay the baths of San Giuliano was shortened by an accident. At the foot of our garden ran the canal that communicated between the Serchio & the Arno. The Serchio overflowed its banks, &, breaking its bounds, this canal also overflowed; all this part of the country is below the level of its rivers, & the consequence was that itvwas speedily flooded. The rising waters filled the Square of the Baths, in the lower part of which our house was situated.The canal overflowed in the garden behind; the rising waters o either side at last burst ope the doors, & , meeting in the house, rose to the height of six feet. It was a picturesque sight at night to see the peasants driving the cattle from the plains below to the hills above the Baths. A fire was kept up to guide them across the ford; & the forms of the men & the animals showed in dark relief against the red glare of the flame, which was reflected again in the waters that filled the Square. Mary Shelley

So I got on the train, & like all trains in Italy it was covered in graffiti. They look cool, actually, & its definitely a smart way to got your artwork noticed. I hid in the toilet for all the wee way, & soon found myself walking into small yet stylish San Gulliano. It was flanked by beautifully flowing mountains & so, so quiet. It might have been because it was a Sunday, but it was peaceful as fuck!

With a ta-da moment I discovered that the main, arcing street was called Via P.Shelley, & a wall bust, inscribed in Italian, indicated where his house is/was. I just chilled awhile in front of it, sending my mind back to the Romantic days. I could picture him wandering about, musing away. It was here that he wrote Adonais.

I went for a cappuccino, & started to walk thro’ the town in the direction of the mountains which I intended to climb. En route I came across a place called OPERA SA GUILLIANO. There was an old guy outside drinking wine at a table with a flower on it. I asked him if I could look inside – & he said yes! To my disappointment that was no opera, just a pretty smelly set of flats. Turns out the word opera also means ‘communal house.’ On stepping outside, however,  teh old guy nabb’d me, sat me down & started feeding me. He was called Franco, a 60 year old retired chef, & the food he laid on was fantastic – which also means I can save my sandwich until tomorrow. I was given a hearty meal of bread, beans, liver. kidneys & onions – all soaked in oil He even brought our a whole pig’s leg’s worth of ham.

So I spent a good 5 hours with him, dining at his mini-restaurant, quaffing litres of fine Tuscan vino rosso, watching six street cats laze in the shade. It was fun, & Franco also enjoyed the experience – he was quite lonely I think. He babbled in to me in Italian, while I kept nodding & going ‘si’ in the right places. – we smoked loads of fags & even talked about the war!

I jump a train to San Guilliano
To walk on Shelley’s mountains, but instead
I’ll sit in the street with old man Franco,
He ploughs me with red, risotto & bread,
Plus a whole sow’s leg – my stomach doth blow,
Tho’ we hardly understand a word said,
We converse about the war, England, life,
Italy, poetry & his dead wife.

I picked up a few more words of Italian – I’m determined even more to learn the language – & loved basking in the sun! I spent a lot of moey today – well 6000 lira, but it was cool. We said farewell after more wine in a bar, where he tried to sell my last tenner to a coupel of guys as a souvenier – by which time I realised the guy was a bit crazy actually. But the fella even gave me food to take away with – a great day!

I was back at the station for my last night in Pisa by 7pm. I left a bit of graffiti there, reading ‘Burnley Football Club ‘ – plus a map of England & an appropriate arrow pointing to East Lancashire. The inscription continued

Up The Clarets 
R.I.P. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

As I was composing a cool ode, to the Modern Day Gentlemen, Kapitano turns up all panicky! wherevere ye go, walk with nobility. He had nearly called the police because I was missing!? We ate at the stazione – where I stacked up on a sandwich & fruit for my trip. We then returned to our spot by the river to busk.

This time Kapitano & Megadeth’s play was a piece of street art in the road – fruit & veg arranged very neatly in a circle. It worked a treat. For me, I was busy running plans through my mind for about an hour. It caused me a little consternation, but I eventually settled in at least going to La Spezia tomorrow. So i snapped out of it & started to jam with Max – only 4 strings on the guitar – it was fuckin’ class. There’s no better place to jam than in the streets & I came up with a funk-ass bass line.

Kapitano & Jesse have fallen out big time, & he kept calling him a mother fuck at sporadic intervals during our talk about vampyres & the like. Slept on the platform again & had a a few moments like when I wrote the Rock & Roll Wars – ie thinking of things constantly then rushing out of bed to write them down. It drove me a little crazy in Portsmouth (you should have seen the worksheets) – but this time I’m injecting more control.



Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse

Chapter 5: Working Livorno

Chapter 6: San Guilliano

Chapter 7: Gulf of Poets

Chapter 8: Rome, then Home

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