Birth of a Poet

Birth of a Poet 5: Working Livorno

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


Monday 20th April, 1998

Woke up with the sun streaming into my face! Put on a clean t-shirt given to me yesterday, turn’d up the collars like a genuine romantic poet, got 2000 lira off Kaptiano, then went off for a cappucino. En route I saw Ariel the sax-player – who was having a sneaky wash at a street fountain – & captured another stanza as I strode. The pace of the poem is quite slow, actually, with me having to squeeze in moments of inspirations between floods of madness.

After lunch the day took off.  I borrow’d Megadeth’s bycycle, bagg’d some food, a bottle of water, my blanket curtain & a couple of books (my Shelley & my notebook), slipp’d on my shades & shorts, left my bags with Kapitano, & set off on my bike ride. My spirit soar’d as I broke free of the mad Pisan hustle-bustle streets, & took to the open roads. My destination was somewhere in the mountains that loom’d over Pisa, & I literally headed for the hills. As I rode along the right side of the road (wrong to me), the countryside was rather flat. I noticed pretty flocks of wild flowers by the sides oft he road as I pass’d through idyllic villages. At the start of the mountains a tower topp’d a huge cliff – but it was a little off-track & I made a mental note to visit at some later date.

The road started to climb into a sort of loop of mountains, with houses stretching up the sides, & lots of olive groves on level platforms, like steps. I stopp’d for water in a peaceful cemetary. Each grave was well-tended & blooming with flowers, like a garden of graves. I’m sure this image will infiltrate my poem at a later date.

Back in the saddle, the road wound thro’ the loveliest houses, always uphill & very sleepy. The people hardly notic’d me pass them. I eventually could ride no further, & chain’d the bike to a bridge over a gurgling river, from which point I started an ascent of a peak. The sun was blaring down (about time too), so I took my shirt off & bask’d in the Italian sun. I first came across an old barn, then pick’d my way up thro’ a piny forest. It was quite weird, really – all the trees seems burnt, cover’d in black charcoal.

After a while, I climb’d some rocks & got my first serious view. It ran all the way down to the valley. It was great, but I knew there was more to come. I pick’d up quite a firm a stick & made my arduous way to the first ‘peak,’ where to my delight the the mountain sloped onwards to its proper summit. So I carried on, & the view kept getting better. I only had a pair of pumps on, tho’, but apart from standing on a couple of snapp’d off trees, a thistly brush & one rocky bump, I made it thro’ the day quite well.

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Not long after I climb’d up the hardest part of my ascent (scampering up a rocky formation) I was greeted with my prize – the most amazing view I’ve ever seen. I made my camp at the peak & buzz’d off the panorama which stretch’d from Livorno to Le Spezia – my poem’s entire stomping ground. As snakes & lizards, insects & wild flowers all did their thing, to the ringings of church bells echoing thr’o the valley, I fully embraced the view. I could see Pisa & its tower embedded in a completely flat plain, thro’ which the river Arno wound a meandering course lazily to the sea.

Across the valley the mountains were amazing, & I was almost as high as the clouds, which stretched all fluffy & puffified. I bellow’d a great ‘hellloooooo’ to a hang-glider rising on the mountain air currents, then spread out my blanket & tuck’d into my food stash. This consisted of a sandwich, cake, 2 oranges & an apple, curtesy of the nuns. I also worked on a little poetry, but could only manage one stanza; I couldn’t really settle with the place being so cool.

After a while it was time to descend, this time by a different route, following a road that wound through an (unburnt) pine forest. I pass’d by the most picturesque houses, all surrounded by olive groves, & thoroughly enjoying – so it seem’d being sited in the bosom of the mountains. An idela retreat from the follies of mankind.

As I zoom’d downhill I whistl’d Honky-Tonk Woman by the Rolling Stones. I also had a better look at the tower I’d seen earlier. On closer inspection the cliffs were actually quarried slopes, & the tower was full of grafitti. The alternate view of the plain it commanded, however, was extremely relishable.

On my return to Pisa I got a bit lost, via a mad 15th century viaduct, but I eventually managed to give Megadeth his bike back & rejoin the gang. I bought a new string for 3500 lira, leaving me 50,000 lira & £10 sterling left. Ate ravenously at the stazione, then busk’d for an hour before I collaps’d unconscious over my guitar – drunk, ston’d & exhausted.

Kapitano is talking about fruit-picking & drug-selling in the summer; I shan’t be with him, but its interesting to see how he survives. It appears we move to Livorno tomorrow, which is good timing for my poem. Today’s ride really help’d stir things up in my mentalities – the Muse is coming calling – its a wondrous thing!


Tuesday 21st April, 1998

Usual routine in the morning, but woke a little earlier & managed a couple of stanzas. I’m really getting into the swing of things now. It turn’d out that we would be leaving for Livorno in the evening, after stazione pasta, so we spent the day basking in the sun, & for the first time didn’t drink wine! I felt satisfied just to be kicking back tanning my skin into an improved, blackhead-free complexion, while at home everyone’s a bit chilly, like!

The day pass’d quite dreamlike – I got a couple more stanzas & even managed to sketch the leaning tower of Pisa! Art is always a hit or miss affair with me – mainly a miss – but it turne’d out quite good, I think. Even Kapitano was impress’d.

At about 7 we got the evening’s wine in (4 litres) & watched the sun go down by the Arno. It was very pleasant, my last sunrise in Pisa, the houses silhouetting against a vibrant, violet sky. I even penned an ode, I’d never done one before, but was very pleased with it;

Megadeth’s translation

“You are always writing – writing, writing, writing,” noticed Kapitano every day.
“I am a poet,” I would reply before buring my head once more in my notebook.

Once the sun had set we busk’d up a little cash, then had our food at the stazione, with me stocking up on loads of goodies just in case. It was time for the train to Livorno, a journey that would only take 20 minutes. Kapitano was a natural train jumper (of course) & we had arrived for free. I rang up Ruth, a bit too drunk, & have vowed not to do it again. Plus I can;t afford it, I broke into my 50,000 lira note to do so, & I’m also vowing now not to spend any more non-essential, non-survival money.

Soon I am back in bohemian swing
Musin away, one long mellow daydream.
By the side of the Arno sometime sing
Or bathe in the sun embracin ice-cream
Or busk to the world as a poet-king
Or party hard with Kapitano’s team.
How life is forever tender to me
Now I’ve tasted the breath of Italy.

We trudged thro’ the port city of Livorno, which was a pain as I was weigh’d down by ALL my stuff. Its a lot different to Pisa – wide streets & a heavy atmosphere. Ah well, at least I made it here & I’m up to the right place in my poem to be writing about Livorno, so maybe its just fate!

We found a church to sleep next to, with Kapitano putting out his hat for money in the morning, & I settl’d into sleep in my different, stone-matress’d bed.


Wednesday 22nd April, 1998

Woke early in Livorno, about 08.30, so went for a little stroll to the docks. It was mostly uninteresting, not as pleasanat a vibe as Portsmouth, but I did get a rather fine stanza, & being on the spot really help’d the flow.

When the others awoke, we went to a church, where after registering I got a shower (aaaaahhhh!) & some new clothes (double aaaahhhh!) & a meal ticket for 3 days! Free food, stuff & sunshine – Italy is wicked! We then went to a launderette for an hour to watch some Italian music channel – quite a silly thing to do, but I did manage another stanza.

Next was a park for a chillout by a church, where Kapitano did his normal ritual of pouring out a bit of wine on first opening, for his dead alcoholic pals back home. It was now 6PM, when we trudged back to the first church & got a magnificent meal – sausages, bread, beans, biscuits, coffee, etc! We ate it in a room full of Italian drop-outs – Down & Out in Livorno & Pisa!

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Feeling quite bloated, we went into Livorno’s shopping area to busk (Jesse had wandered off somewhere else), but had little luck. Unlike Pisa, where everyone is chanell’d down one street, Livorno is much larger & more spread out! We did make enough for some more wine, however, which me & Kapitano drank in a friendly little bar while watching the Italy v Paraguay game. Next up was the Cosby show dubb’d in Italian, yet still, if not even more so, funny!

We eventually went back to our original starting point to got some sleep. Kapitano says we go back to Pisa tomorrow & I’m very glad about it. Livorno’s a bit, well, dull!


Thursday 23rd April, 1998

I woke up & found Jesse had rejoined us, sporting his own guitar. Kapitano said, ‘lets go,’ almost straight away, & like a sheep I follow’d, hiding in the train toilets. It felt a little weird coming back to the same stomping grund, a bit poetically restrictive perhaps, but I don’t spend any money in Pisa so I shouldn’t complain.

We spent the day outside a different church, & slowly but surely I got piss’d & began to busk. The best time was after 6PM, when the locals had finish’d their prayers, with Jesse waiting outside the doors while I sang Oasis – what a team!

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Composing while drunk = messy text

 

After all the religiosa had left, I turn’d the notch up via some supervino energy, Jesse jamming eccentrically on lead guitar, Maximillion (i.e. Megadeth) on oooos & aahhs, with Kapitano also getting into the performance stride like a shaman, we turn’d the streets into a massive party! The boys were back in town & it must have looked really wild to the passers-by, especially this middle-aged American couple who pass’d us at our wailing banshee peak.

While the woman whose shop was right next to the door looked on in disbelief, the money began to pour in. Then it was time for food at the stazione, more wine, & even a new pair of shoes from the nuns, before we trundl’d back into town for one last bit of busking. On the way to the centre I met an interesting American girl from Brooklyn who play’d guitar & sang quite well. I also enjoyed speaking English for once – its healthy for the soul.

We busk’d for a while, until about 2AM, when we decided to go to the macanera. As we trudg’d there we bump’d into Megadeth, but the place was unfortunately shut. So Kapitano dissapears into some bushes & starts snaoring almost at once – so me & Jesses found teh same place from last week where we slept, & collapsed into a drunken dream.

Birth of a Poet 4: Invoking the Muse

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


THURSDAY 16TH APRIL 1998

OK! My willpower didn’t last long (see later), but today was quite the day! We were woken by an Italian policeman at 9.30 AM, & we began to wander weary-bleary-eyed thro’ a sea of tourists to one of the many identical bars to get some, might I say, very fine cappuccino.

After this we found a very nice spot by a mad bridge to chill & eat a fine breakfast. I then turned the Englishman gentleman & gave Eva a pair of my dry socks as hers were soaked through. She was happy & proceeded to lay out loads of gypsy beads & necklaces in an effort to make some money – none sold unfortunately, but we did have a few reefers & got nicely stoned. It was a splendid feeling, actually, for marijuana is an excellent can-opener for the creativity tinned up in one’s soul.

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Being in such a stony haze led me to realize that I was meant to be writing a poem, a moment which broke our spell & compelled us all towards the stazione. My train was due to leave at any moment, so the farewells were swift & away I went, with a certain sadness of soul so beautiful was our time together.

The train journey to Pisa was uneventful, except for the fact that I got caught again! I was far too slack, & my punishment was 1750 lira! But I had arrived at my ultimate destination extremely cheaply, lets be honest.

Once in Pisa I realised the first thing I had to do was to check out the tower – as did the two dizzy Americans at the stazione asking, ‘hey, is this the place where the tower is?‘ I thus turn’d into the cheezy tourist & began to walk through the old city; not as pretty as Venice or Florence, but extremely Italian, & rather noble. On the way I passed a troupe of rough looking buskers, then finally reached the tower.

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How romantic it is to be abroad,
Free from the chains of a workin mans day,’
Think I whilst walkin the main Pisan road
Passin a troupe of buskers on the way
& with guitar, pens & notebook my load
I’ve arrived & all my dreams seem OK
Then see the leanin tower – am I drunk?
On further inspection one side has sunk.

It was fenced off & looked very unstable. When I first saw it, I thought I was quite drunk! I fished out my fish & sausage & reclined on some level grass, composed a little poetry, & dined within sight of that most iconic of buildings.

It was time to go, & I was heading for Livorno – where Shelley’s feet last touched soil – when my crazy life took a typically random turn. Stopping to chill with the buskers a moment, they offer’d me wine, & I pull’d out my weed. Before you know it I was too fuck’d to move from the streets of Pisa, & decided to spend the night in the environs.

Lucky for me I was with the right crew. My new buddies were excellent. There was a Somalian acoustic guitarist called Licenzo, who had a cool guitar & amp. He just went on jamming all day while his two ‘hatboys’ collected money from passers-by. Kapitano was a half-Chilean 46-year old who’d been on the road for 20 years, & basically went up to everyone asking for money & cigarettes – they smoke about a hundred fags a day between them – & usually getting it. He was very well-manner’d & quite elegant, with his baseball cap & long, Indian hair. The other guy was so funny, I just couldn’t stop laughing at him – a completely crazy dread-lock’d Brazilian call’d Jesse!

Later we moved to a new busking spot – I was now a part of the gang! We were soon joined by a guy call’d Aeriel – a smooth Italian sax-player. His music was so gutsy, very avant-garde street jazz, & I even join’d in by playing some psychedelic patterns on bass.

As the night drew to a close, & I accepted the fact that Pisa is really cool. The people are sound – I’ve begun studying them from the side of the road, & the place is full of students. With the busking over, we hit a couple of bars, ate & drank well off the day’s proceeds. We even strumm’d a little more in one of the café bars, which led to me finally breaking one of my guitar tuning pegs- ouch!

Returnin’ from the tower I do meet
The buskers troupe in musical mid-flow
There is an old black bluesman with bare feet,
A dark Chilean named Kapitano
And cool saxman who sultrifies the street.
They offer me wine, I add mine oestro,
You’ve never heard a more raunchier noise –
And just like that! I am one of the boys.

A football match was playing in the background, & after a while I realised it was Chelsea v Vicenza. It was the European Cup Winners Cup semi-final, second leg, & at one point Chelsea were 2-0 down on aggregate, including an away goal. Eventually, after a Mark Hughes wonder goal, Chelsea won 3-1 & the Italians around me weren’t happy at all. I kept my mouth shut just to be safe. They were pissed off & I was proper pissed off all the wine.

Leaving the bar, we traips’d about a bit in the rain, then found a shelter’d spot & settl’d down to sleep. Life on the streets, eh? My holiday has definitively shifted from hostels to pavements, but its good for the soul & you do get used it – its fun!


FRIDAY 17TH APRIL 1998

Last night I was so drunk, I’d forgotten I’d given my bag to Jesse to carry, & he’d completely dissapear’d. Bu lo & behold. he found us in the morning & woke us up – apparently he’d gone off dancing.

Going to chill out in a nearby park, I was fuck’d within 5 minutes, off the beer Jesse gave me & the spliff given us by a couple of passing Italian smack-heads. I was then taken to the equivalent of a seamen’s mission call’d a Mensa. Now, I’m not unfamiliar with free church food – I used to avail of the service in Portsmouth during my poetical studies – but OMG, here was pasta, fruit, veg & meat, an extremely clean place to eat it in & on the whole a far better class of beggar.

We all ate together, even drinking wine, & I found that Byron was correct when he noticed how the Italian language flowed like a river. I also realised that how struck dumb I’d become travelling in a foreign land. I’m quite a smart cookie, really, but none of these guys knew it. Perhaps one day I’ll invent an international language for moments such as these.

We spent the afternoon just bumbling about, getting wasted & making money. Jesse was the best, he could actually sing a few songs, some of which were love songs which he’d sing to passing girls, right in their faces.

There was more of the same in the evening, until it was time to go the ‘makinera.’ All day Jesse had been saying, ‘makinera,’ ‘drink,’ ‘smoke’ – the latter two words about all his English stretch’d to, expecting of course, ‘hey man, & ‘no speakee de Inglees!’

Inbetween the two ‘concerts’ was a free feed outside the stazione; including pasta from a food van, from which I slipp’d a load of apples for later. After this me & Kapitano had a nice wine drinking session by the river, which wasn’t as nice a spot, actually, loads of smack needles!

So off to the party we went; me, Jesse & a cool guy call’d Megadeth (according to his jacket). We had no money, but set off anyway, arriving twenty minutes later at a big, old building with an inner-city garden & caravans. Like a London squat, & the party vibe was very similar. It was wall’d off, & we couldn’t afford the 5000 lira, nor did my Enlish charm work.

However, eventually they stopp’d manning the gate & moved to the building, allowing us to stroll into the garden, where we sat with some punks & got pretty stoned. There was no conversation on my part, but it was just so cool to be there, so different, so street.

The sounds of a not that good a band stream’d out into the clear Italian night, most pleasant & mild. I was just about to make a bed for the night (I can sleep anywhere now, I reckon), when Jesse comes back with a couple of beers & said he’d blagg’d us in. The place wasn’t too pack’d, but you could see it had potential; quite dark, daub’d with psychedelic decor, florescent wall art, old chairs, beer cans on the floor & a rather well used toilet. In total contrast, the women were well hot.

The band grew on me in the end. Thirty-something rockers from Sardinia, whose songs were – I was told – sung in the Sardinian dialect. Jesse never stops begging for a second & kept turning up with beers, God bless him, & we were soon boogieing away to some impressively funky tunes.

Eventually the party stopp’d – at 4AM, like every night – & the place emptied & we were kick’d out. So we made our beds on a slab in the garden, play’d a bit of guitar & drifted off to a happy sleep. En route to slumberland, all I could hear was Jesse mumbling to himself – very funny, & not scary at all.

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SATURDAY 18TH APRIL 1998

index.gifIMG_20190306_074753923.jpgindex.gifWoke up a bit rough & walk’d to the Mensa again for another delicious lunch. The rest of the day was spent kinda meandering, drinking & eating & not really making any money. Jesse play’d all day, however, & found the most amazing instrument… a fuckin’ tyre inflator! It was so cool hearing him play it like a wah-wah & squeaking to the beat.

Two incidents of note happen’d during the day. The smackheads from a couple of mornings ago stole the purse of the newspaper stand lady near where we were – I got accused by the way! There was also the not so minor fact that I started to compose The Death of Shelley at last. I got two stanzas, which both roll’d so fluidly I almost had to weep. The line ‘Tween the mellow, rippling fire-fields as they unfold,‘ is one of the best I’ve ever written, etch’d in literary stone forever by the River Arno.

I’m amazed, really, to have found time during the day’s crazy, lazy madness to get the energy together to write. Even so, it was a very special moment when, after traversing half the continent, I invoked. the muse in an ornate piazza neath a glorious sun.

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O muse! arise from slumber, forsake sleep,
Awake on the winds with the wings of song,
Sing blissful waves which lap as they weep
‘Gainst a cluster of embraces, graceful throng,
An eternal island amongst the vasty deep
Imperial sea of the English tongue –
Come fly! bring Apollo’s crown girdled in leaf,
Unshielded mine eyes, this sword I unsheath!

Whether the muse exists or not is open to discussion, but I believe that if the poet feels heady enough to acknowledge her existence & summon her to his psyche with the prayer-like incantations of an invocation, then she exists at least in the imagination, & as poetry springs from this recess of the mind, the surely she must be real.

Whether the muse exists or not is open to discussion, but I believe that if the poet feels heady enough to acknowledge her existence & summon her to his psyche with the prayer-like incantations of an invocation, then she exists at least in the imagination, & as poetry springs from this recess of the mind, the surely she must be real.

Night came, & we began tapping tourists & locals of loads of money. Kapitano says its all for tomorrow so we don’t have to work, a beach-rest apparently. A sudden change came over us a& we used some busker magic to take over the street. My voice ran raw with cigarettes, wine & singing; a few from my set plus some mad jams with Megadeth on harmonica & Jesse on his inflator. It was really, really cool, & I got to know a mad Italian bird & a few of the locals.

Return’d to our sleeping place with a guy call’d Vincent, where someone had left an extra sleeping bag. Being from the northern climes I claim’d it & had a really good sleep!

I settle with this best of holidays;
Each one begins with pasta from a nun,
Then idle hours spent musin neath the rays
Of an English Summer-like Spring Time sun
Then in the warm evenin I do amaze
The Pisan public with song-craft sweet spun,
& blitzed on six bottles of Tuscan red
Outside a church we make our cardboard bed.

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SUNDAY 19TH APRIL 1998

Today was a day off! We ate at Mensa, where religious folk seem to walk about in a trance, then set off for the beach. All of a sudden Megadeth appears in a classy Italian car. It was quite a surprise & i’m not sure where he get it from – hey, even the bums are stylish in Italy, right!

We drove to the beach – Terraza del Tirrenia – pass’d an American army base. Now I understand the source of all the ‘Yankees Go Home’ graffiti scrawl’d about Pisa. It wasn’t too far to the beach, where I got my first taste of the long sought after – Mediterranean. It was windy as fuck! I thought Italy was meant to be a sunny paradise – its been pretty poor so far, but I suppose its only April. So we stroll about for a bit, taking it in turns to blast away on Megadeth’s cool bongo. Unfortunately a legion of metal poles had emerged from the sands, spraying water everywhere.

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Megadeth also gave me a cool lesson in Italian, which is improving at the rate of about one word a day. I’ve never had a large capacity for anything other than English, unfortunately. But I am enjoying the vibe of learning & speaking street Italian.

We eventually stumbl’d on an abandon’d holiday complex of beach huts & heavy rowing boats. Its not far until Summer at all, but the place is in a state of quasi-disrepair. Id its ready for June I’ll be very much surprised. I began to explore anyway, & soon found a cool spot & loads of paraphenilia to make a shelter – proper Robinson Crueso fun. I must find solitude, I feel, to cleanse my spirit & compose. This abandoned stretch of coast definitely has potential.

We then headed back to a spot near the car, which slowly fill’d with tourists. We kick’d a ball around, ate & play’d a little music. Well, not all of us, Jesse was asleep all the time in a sleeping bag. We definitely had a beachy time, but it was cold & the wind kept blowing the water from the sprayers hard into our faces.

Composed another stanza today – very happy with it! I think the Muse is coming with a vengeance. There is an arcane power deep in the underlying belly of versemaking, & I hope to be able to tap it to the fullest.

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We set off back at about 6, by which time I was feeling ill. Perhaps its all the food I’m eating (I’m actually putting on weight on the road) or lack of cleanliness (I’m getting grubbier), or maybe it was just Megadeth’s driving! Whatever it was, as soon as the wine came out I began to feel a lot better – I do hope I’m not becoming an alcoholic!

Our evening meal came via the religious folks outside the stazione. Afterwards I had reefers & a reasonable conversation in English with one of the helpers, telling me the names of the outlying places about Pisa I can use in my poem. This was a rare moment of naturality for me, & I think the lack of English stimuli will actually help my poem – when only Shelley’s poems &Y my own internal dialogue being the source of words & & phrases & thoughts.

Return’d to our ‘home sweet home’ & stay’d up writing for a while, then hit this glorious, wonderful snoozeland… zzzzzzzzzzzz


THE BIRTH OF A POET

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Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse

Birth of a Poet 3: Florence Nightingales

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


TUESDAY 14TH APRIL 1998

So I woke up, a little shivery, but otherwise excellent for a good ten hour sleep (a rare thing on the road), pack’d up & stepp’d out of the train. An old Italian guy gave me a funny look & a smile – to be honest, I must look a little strange to people. I appear a sort of noble scruff, my guitar being carried in a stretchy jumper, & my sleeping bag sticking out of my pack. This is even after halving it in bulk with some wire I found in Villach.
Bought some bread rolls & milk, then caught a train that would take me near to Ravenna – the place of Dante & Byron, two of my favorite poets. The ride was pleasant (easily jump’d) & went thro’ the flat Italian lowlands. These constitute acres of farms & seem quite slow. A more rural pace of life, dotted with young boys or shawl’d women tending the land. Even the stations I pass’d thro’ had chickens by the side.

I chang’d trains at Ferrara, where I bought a beer & cadg’d more fags (like I’d been doing all day) & realised the Italians don’t speak much English. The ride to Ravenna was another jump, & when I arrived I did a quick walk around the streets, saw Dante’s tomb (quite impressive but his bones are in Florence) & a glorious exhibition of metalworks in a beautiful column’d garden. Each piece was based on a section of the Paradisio, & some had come from as far as Australia. The detail was amazing, but I didn’t have time to soak it in properly as I felt fluster’d. I didn’t want to spend any money on a hostel, so decided to head to Florence instead.

Distant Riviera di Levante
My heart’s destination, mine art’s true call,
But first, the mausoleum of Dante,
To tap into a predecessor soul,
Overgrown with moss & creeping ivy,
My man, you were the wildest of us all!
Ravenna, this may be a swift sojurn,
But one day, with my wife, I shall return.

I had a couple of hours to kill, so I went searching for more bread. I found a supermarket, got a big roll & some orange juice – & lifted some sausages & fish. I know stealing is morally bad – but my poetry is all-important right now. I may be a rogue at times, but have a good heart.

I ate a hearty meal, then caught the train to Bologna, but disaster struck! I got caught (too slack!) & paid 15,000 lira (tho’ it could have been worse)! However, it cannot be too bad to pay just over a fiver for a journey around Europe. Chang’d trains again (by now its 9-30 in the evening) at Bologna. I didn’t have time to see the city, so stay’d on the station, sharing some food with a tramp & being quite impress’d by the uniforms, all shiny, of some Italian policemen.

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Bologna Station

My ‘instinct’ help’d me get pass’d the police on the intercity to Florence, which was full of slick young Italian guys, well dress’d & wearing shades – we even had a little strum together on my guitar. Then we arrived in Florence, & after dashing back on the train for my journal just in time, I entered the capital of Tuscany.

So I stash my bags in some bushes & start to look around Florence. I have an hour or so before the train to Pisa. I saw the main cathedral, which was breathtaking at first, then as I walked around the building it began to remind me of one of those cardboard cut-outs you build yourself with glue. Very surreal.

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So I was just about to return to the station when I came across an Italian busker singing a Verve song (The Drugs Don’t Work) to some young Germans, accompanied by an old looking North African on harmonica. Of course I sang a song, then decided to fuck Pisa off & go get a pizza with my new mates instead. They all had sleeping bags & whatnot, so I would spend the night with them.

We had a beer & pizza in a bar, where I got offer’d some hashish off an Arab, who kept talking to me in Arabic & would not understand that I didn’t speak any Arabic. Just as I was about to buy it, the Germans decided to leave – they were mostly 14-16 year old girls (with a young 12-year-old lad & a mid-twenties German guy) as they were being hit upon. I follow’d, passing the house where Shelley had written Prometheus Unbound & Ode to the West Wind – the Palazzo Marini – & we chill’d at the station, where Louisa, a 16-year-old, began to take a rather uncomfortable shine to me.

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Two more German girls then arrived, in the same situation, & wearing flares! Cool – some hippy brethren! One was half-Turk, half-Yugoslavian, & look’d like a full-on gypsy – Romany hair, beads, head-scarf & string features. Her name was Eva & I took an instant shine. The other girl was a red-headed German, quite nice & calm. She was call’d Mia, & they both spoke quite good English.

We all found a park & huddl’d up in our sleeping bags, broke out the food & had a small shindig. Me & the German guy play’d guitar, I read some poetry & so on. Eventually they all left, just leaving me & my new friends – Mia & Eva. I manag’d to sleep in the middle (I can’t wait to get a harem one day) & we went to sleep after chatting about life, magic & fairies. I told a story (Fairy Exodus), then we all had sweet dreams & morning birdsong.

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The poet in Florence, 2013

WEDNESDAY 15TH APRIL 1998

Woke up feeling quite nice at about 10-30. We slowly got ourselves together, play’d a little in the park, then went for cappucinos. As I sipped mine in the street outside the cafe, I saw how Italy is so very stylish, but the people have somehow lost their sense of dignity.

Afterwards we meander’d about town, dodging the occasional rainstorm (we got gradually wetter), seeing more nice buildings & doing some shopping! We all got on very well as we carted our stuff round the streets like a mini-hippy tribe, with Florence gaining a definite sense of romantic character in the daytime. Full of Americans, but old & calm.

We bought some food – our plan was to find a place to cook some veggies – lots of fruit & veg, a huge loaf, some water & a big bottle of dry Italian white. I also bougth a new string for my guitar & tried haggling down a hat on the market, which only cost 5000 Lira. Then it started to rain so I bought it to replace the one I lost in Belgium.

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Then, in a beautiful stationary store, with amazing azure blue pens & ink, I bought a bound book for my poem, The Death of Shelley. It is going to be excellent, & Mia did the front title page as we sat in the street.

We then wander’d to the other side of the river, over a bridge where jewelers shops lined the road, climbed a hill & made camp near the top. I then made a fire thanks to last year’s woodsman’s summer in Bournemouth.

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Altho’ we were next to a road, only one police car pass’d by, saying ‘no fire’ & threatening us with imaginary handcuffs. I pretended to put it out, then Eva went full steam ahead with the cooking.

The view of Florence at sunset was beautiful – no highrises, a sea of red rooves – & after dark we eventually had some home-cooked vegetable soup, assisted by my very own Knorr spice cubes. We then drank the wine & I sang some songs – new string sounds good – a special moment indeed on a Florentine hillside at dusk.

We wake in arms, after cappuccinos
Wander moped streets, O sacred city
Where argent-sheen’d Arno ardently flows;
I buy a book to fill with poetry,
On the title page Maya draws a rose,
Then buy fresh foods & climb a hill where we
Build a fire, cook dinner, watching sunshine
Fade over Florence with a sweet red wine.

After, at about 11PM, we wander’d thro’ drizzle to the fabulous city square, with statues of famous Italians every where. I could sense Shelley & Byron, who must have walk’d in these very streets. Indeed, Florence seems to have hardly changed in those two centuries.

Then, a kindly Tunisian call’d Karmel found us, scored us some cannabis from dodgy North Africans in the street, & we all proceeded to get stoned. It blew us all away, & the girls began singing, the acoustics in our coloumn’d corridor being amazing. Unfortunately, as I was playing along I snapp’d my brand new string!

Karmel’s French was worse than mine, but we still had a great life, him just babbling in Italian & me giggling along stoned off mi nut. Eventually, after 3 or 4 reefers, Karmel left & the girls huddl’d into me to get to sleep. Our clothes were quite damp, but it wasn’t too bad. It rain’d all night, & we were lucky to have shelter.

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I now have 100,000 Lira (10,000 a day) & £10 sterling. The tests of my virtues & willpower begin tomorrow.


THE BIRTH OF A POET

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Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse

Birth of a Poet 2: The Grand Canal

Posted on Updated on


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

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse

Birth of a Poet 1: The Orient Express

Posted on Updated on

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The poet in 1998

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


It is 20 years ago this week that I returned from the Continent as a poet. I had just been deported from Switzerland for apparent vagrancy, but unbeknownst to the Swiss I was trying to get home anyway. I have always put my lucky break down to the ways of the Muses, who had recently taken me under their wing. Landing safely at Heathrow, in my possession was what I call my first proper poem, 100 stanzas of Ottava Rima upon the Death of Shelley. After two weeks of touring Europe as far as Hungary, I then headed to Italy, Shelley’s own ‘Paradise of Exiles’ where I began my composition period in Pisa on the 16th April; concluding the poem by Shelley’s tomb a month later, at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. In between was the the great moment of validation in my life, sat on a clifftop over Portovenere, composing to the gulls & the sunset. Like a young Wordsworth over Helvellyn, I too knew I was a poet & parley to the especial feelings of universal inclusiveness which being a true poet entails.

 

Those six & a half weeks of travel was my very own Grand Tour. I was no aristocrat, far from it, a little half-caste drop-out from the back streets of Burnley with sudden pretensions of poethood. I should have been better off in a factory like the one in Rawtenstall I’d worked at for 3 months or so in 1996 – the shoemakers Lambert Howarths. But I was, of course, a poet, for a poet is born… & then made of course. Having realized this was my fate in early 1997, a year later I embarked for Europe where I hoped to experience for myself just a sliver of the literary domicile in Italy which Byron & Shelley had set up in exile. Just what kind of poet I would turn out to be would be heavily influenced and nourished by the experience. My only source of income, however, would be the rent money I neglected to pay in London, & whatever I could whip together in the Italian streets thro’ my guitar.

Tis the end of March & my rent is due,
But two life options lie open to me;
Break with a lover, lose friendship, split thro
Or chain myself to the servility
Of capitalism; a poet true
I yearn to be, so young, so sure, so free –
Romancing my mind with poetry’s flow,
So be it, with sure brave heart, I shall go.

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Busking in Chichester, 1998

“What the fuck am I doing in Hungary!?”
Think I as I search for somewhere to rest
In the dirty, bustling, car-choked, friendly
Bullet-hole-wall-lined streets of Budapest;
Architecture touched clearly by Turkey,
But laced with the consumeristic West;
I find the Mellow Mood Hostel – what luck!
For four pounds a night it’s as cheap as fuck.

My retrospective adventure begins on the 11th April 1998. I awoke in a hostel upon my last morning in Budapest, set later that day to attempt to evade fares, or trainjump, to Slovenia, from where I would head for Venice. To tell the story I shall be recreating my journal from the period day-by-day & placing this alongside any actual compositions of the Shelley poem on those corresponding days. The latter have gone through a revision process over the years, & I hope to administer them through the powers of the 41 year old poet. Pictorially, I have included a smattering of sketches from my notebook made during my time in Italy, plus a number of photographs taken in my visits to the scenes of my youthful endeavor in the two decades since. My final piece of ‘evidence’ comes from 1999, & another poem in more precise Ottava Rima concerning my trip to Europe, entitled The Grand Tour. Despite misplacing the original manuscript, this poem too has undergone several revisions & now takes pride of place at the commencement of my Silver Rose sequence.

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What I took with me to Europe – notice how I didn’t even know what itinerary meant…

Saturday 11th April 1998

My last day in Hungary began quite pedestrian paced, then ended in the most bizarre circumstances.
I cooked up a few eggs, mushrooms & a bit of bacon for brekky, then began to meander. I changed some money, bought a load of fags & food for my journey (I’d better watch my cash now, only got £90 left), then found some Hungarians playing chess in a square. I had a few games with a big fella who fluster’d me into losing!! I lost 400 florins altogether, but had a grand time in the sunshine.
Then I met Megan one last time & we had a few beers through the afternoon til my 5.30 train to Slovenia. After donning my electric blue sunglasses I gave an impromptu performance of songs; Hymn to Apollo, Tumbleweed & Groovy Little Sunshine – laid back in the sun at the top of an international hostel, kinda tunes – with Fools Gold as an encore.

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I then packed & headed for the station. Now Geminis are known for their indecisiveness & sudden changes of plan, & as soon as I saw the ‘Orient Express’ to Paris listed, I had to get on it. That train is second only to the Trans-Siberian railway for legendary routes, & if I jumped it I would be very happy indeed. But a big conductor actually opened the toilet door, took my passport & kicked me off at Gyor (giving my passport back).
But this wasn’t too bad – I quickly got on a slower Hungarian train to the border town of Hegyeshalom. Although the toilets (& the graffiti-splattered, full of weird Hungarians carriage) were disgusting, the bay-like window was wide open & I had a wonderful, snail-paced view of the Hungarian plains, which were pretty dull, but the evenly spaced houses & churches were quite pretty.

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So I arrive in the border town (its too long a word to write out every time, accurately) & lo & behold, who’s waiting but the conductor from the Orient Express. He waves his arms for a bit, gets a bit kerfuffled, so I slip the station, having two hours to wait for the next train outta Hungary.
I bought a soft drink & sat outside a mad Hungarian pub, their weird babble drifting to my ears & adding to the surreality of the situation.
Here I planned ahead! I will travel to Italy & Ravenna to see Dante’s grave, then over to Le Spazia to write poetry & chill by the beach for a couple of weeks. Then I’ll hit the Riviera, do some busking & slowly make my way up through France – walking, busking – to arrive home for my birthday (June 11th). Perhaps I can get a ferry ticket for my present!
I returned to the station, but that same conductor (& the one from the other) accosted me, demanded money & took my passport. They sat me down & waited for the Vienna train to come. Two of their cronies arrived & they began making fun of me, pretending to be soldiers & going ‘English very bad, rat-a-tat-a-tat’ Nobs! The Vienna train came & as it pulled away they all began to laugh. So I slipped on my shades, whistled Rule Britannia & high-tailed it on outta town.
I was like a soldier marching along the road to the border, my backpack heavy & my guitar like a gun. I felt so funky, tho,’ that I decided to strum by the roadside, only a few hundred metres from the border. After a while I saw a car coming & thought I might hitch outta Hungary. So I leapt to the road, stuck out my thumb, & to my surprise the car screeched to a halt & two guys in camouflage & holstered revolvers quickly leapt out. I thought at first I was gonna be mugged, but was quite relieved to be in the company of some border patrollers. They had a quick look at my passport, then bundled me into the car & drove me back to the fucking train station again.

There were about ten guards in all, proper dumb-looking & pretending to be hard, so I made the chambers feel like home. I ate, had a fag, then bought out mah geetah, & whistled & played til they gave me back my passport. I played some weird shit & spooked them – & they wouldn’t even give me a stamp as a souvenir.

I gaze on familiar boyhood star
While I walk a few K to the border,
As just by the line I thumb a police car,
They bundle me in, “Silence!” the order,
So as they check the passport my guitar
Rings out in bizarre tuning & coda,
Bemused they release me at the train station
“Gizza lift” “No!” my tour’s first frustration!

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So I had to retrace my steps, & soon was making my way though the border zone. The Hungarians guards were asleep so I had to wake them! I passed some lads younger than me, wielding rifles & a big Austrian at customs. The actual area had a real sort of abandoned feel. The legacy of the Cold War – it was the East-West border – where only kids & old men inhabit. It was quite eerie walking through it into Austria.

In Austria I was manhandled by some guys who thought we were still in the war, then another guy on a bike, but all-in-all it wasn’t too bad… just 7 passport checks & ten or so kilometres of hiking.

I found the station at Nicklesdorf & bedded down behind it. Luckily it was a very pleasant night & I fell asleep to birdsong…

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Nicklesdorf Station

THE BIRTH OF A POET

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

Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse