I write you from the kitchen of my house in Lake Garda, two months after the conclusion of the by now past pilgrimage along the Francingena’s Way.
A crumbling memory survived the thousand times it has been told throughout the various Xmas parties and yearly family reunions, with moralities subtracted to their respective experiences, fading like the flash in torpid fog. And at the end of the loud pronunciation, even its eco vanishes within the gentle breeze, untouched and welcoming. A breeze that continues to learn and rejoice along its path, connecting with the tedious cloud, listening to the bursting Spring lightning. A breeze that stumbles onto the moving tornado, which doesn’t forgive but merely wishes for an understanding. The wind as inseparable companion, in all its calm and irruption. As remedy. As philosophy. As metaphor. As example. Why the wind left such a deep mark onto the journey, I couldn’t say. I do know, though, the reasons pushing me to start such experience, as a lightning, have merged into the pilgrim breeze. Today, the reasons, the needs I would adopt to justify any decision would be different to the ones two months ago.
I am a student of Contemporary Media Studies at University of Westminster, London. I’m attending the third and last year, with the final dissertation like a footprint in the university path. It’s the seventh year I’ve spent abroad: in 2010, I accepted to cut short my school year at the ‘liceo scientifico’, at the age of 17, in the oppressive Salò, following my parents’ offer to finish my studies abroad. So…England I’m coming.
It was a jump in the void that, if I think about it again, cannot be anything but an energy in moments of troubles. Without realizing, it was 2012 and the threatening word liceo faded into what I felt to be unreachable. I hiked and I succeeded. Ready to infinity and beyond, now.
The desire, or better, a magic potion between desire and need for breaking the so adored and usurped (from the reality of facts) duties, was flirting with the fantasy of having experiences of the fourth, or even fifth kind – experiences that on the long run would have been considered irrational. And, maybe, this last one is true.
Well-defined steps, guidelines ready to blur and circumscribe a field of vision offering a pletora of obstacles and possibilities, beauties and horrors, colors and chess games, which we might win or lose at, but always with something earned at the end. So…click! And with that click you have decided what kind of obstacles and possibilities you want in your picture, the beauties and the horrors to be cowardly abused and buried in oceans of bullshits.
You can still choose how to color the chessboard: be careful, though, black and white are not admitted. Obvious enough but better tell it out loud again: you have to choose who you want to play as. You’d never want to end up in the position of the pawn eaten by the horse: wrong move, no fresh start.
Anyway, that was the vision I had some years ago. Kind of ‘do the opposite – or at least the different- to what is suggested you do’. And with some adjustments, I believe that idea has remained…’Do what makes you feel well with yourself and the others’. Who knows what this exactly meant? After all, I am just an aspiring globetrotter fresh from the school. The idea to know what I’d do for the next years, having to cope with the unsettled need for freedom, meaning: to experience anything with no initial prejudice, or clear idea, on what it would actually mean without having it experienced firsthand, well, you know it’s such an inviting and motivating task to abandon to something insinuating, even in the slightest of nuances, an essence of linearity and socially accepted ethics. My field of vision doesn’t shrink, and especially doesn’t restrain me. On the contrary, a new chapter debuts and, day by day, broadens and enriches me. The idea to enroll to university is at the end of the (black) list. Right, I fill out a few application forms and scrutinize a couple of courses which may interest me in a far future: my conscience is at peace. Now, the back then hard moments were limited to choosing what king of reality I wished to nurture that restless inner voice. The brain does not think, the body reacts, the soul leads. And all is well.
So I started a path in the world of hospitality where, between firings and very poor debates with a series of managers and other loud voices, I wandered between London and Australia, where I choose to spend my second Year out. I’m still waiting on those university responses… well, by now just the one as the others have turned it down. Happy this way. I would only have found out months later that this last course would have accepted me with an unconditional offer.. not too bad. Little did it matter, by then I was already in Down Under, aka Australia, when the news reached out and, for that year, university wasn’t on my radar.
There and back. A year flies by… As does everything. My return to Europe is shadowed by a great deal of experiences and encounters. My OZ dream is fulfilled. Fulfilled through endless lifting up, shifting, freezing, pulling out and, at last, loading lamb and sheep carcasses, with occasional deers’ to break up the routine. Five months. Working in family-run industry size refrigerators (only 2000-2400 pieces per day compared to the 7000 in the other local abattoir); five months of endless lifting up, shifting, pulling out and, at last, loading. No trauma, nothing too macabre: I survived the famous Killer Room… shit the Killer Room…. by covering my eyes when toured about with the other colleagues… You gotta break the ice somehow.
Random jokes about animals’ behadings and oversize weights were not for me, I have a sensitive personality, what can I do. The worst scenario was with the trucks we would have loaded that afternoon, docked in and full with the poor animals. Trembling legs, unable to sit or to turn. Cries of help; laying upon one another to be of support, either physical or moral, was not an option. And even less was it to get furious about the just finished, tortuous journey. Whining glances of why? impressed on them…Sorry, they forgot to assign seats. What am I complaining about? My sympathizing glance did certainly not alleviate them from the 800kms journey. Either way, money earned and ready to be injected again into the flourishing Australian economy, mainly recycled in oil, mechanics’ high salaries and beers. I have to play my role in the healthy Aboriginal segregation. 1-0 to the Australian Government, they didn’t even have to wipe them all out. In the following months, I would have driven around 20.000 km, from the village Esperance in Southwestern Australia, all the way around the coastline to Darwin, popping into the centre in the world-renowned Alice Springs, a few hundreds kilometers away from Ayers Rock, aka Uluru, to then drive back out onto the East coast and down to where it all started a year ago, Melbourne (the very short and descriptive discourse I’d prepared, more or less). So, in a journey that lasted little longer than two months, with encounters of God knows what kind, I popped my cherry in the first of solitary adventures. And if you are thinking the start of an inner journey….Well, right assumption. But, again, how did I know?
I did not have any strange or existential or revealing vision. Being completely by yourself, days where you do nothing but drive and be sat in the car, the glance like with a book scours across landscapes of all natures; the reification of every reason I’d begun such a road trip. Alone, as I wished. And just like as though the doors of the sky opened and those seeds, that were unconsciously planted – explode. Not the simple Beanstalk. We are talking about a deep and complete shuffle of all the cards. A new game with bluffs, hazards, dangers and pauses of suspense. Some seed bloom, some others wait for an eloquent equinox. Some others wait for the right moon or for another turn of mother Earth. Where does it all come from? Why now? And why does it come? What should I have to decipher or understand? Who I am? I am who I am….what a question is this. I have always reckoned you are who you are. Period.
I would so abandon a sense of lightness and joy, a spontaneity which kept me on the edge until that time and took me to travel solo in Australia. But not the same spontaneity that led me to start the pilgrimage. As I wrote before, some seeds only await for the right moment. Some rest, some others need that light. A reconciliation with the biggest taboos.
The pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was a true and real walk of life. The main reason for it was the need for change. As you would farly think, everything derives from the need for change. Or, at least, all the important decisions. I was tired of London, oppressed by its lifestyle, with too many questions and too many answers which became too obvious. And the obvious tires. It’s of no use I believe. I didn’t fit in anymore, I wasn’t able to relate to the others; I wasn’t able to listen to them; I wasn’t able to be part of a conversation. Constantly searching, or better, chasing something. A sense of acceptance?
A sentence echoes in my mind, it comes from Susan Sontag’s book On Photography: ‘Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still revealing, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth’. I am slowly peeling through to its real meaning. The original starting idea was ‘I start this way’ and ‘I finish less loaded’. To stop trying to comprehend or give a meaning to all that is unnecessary or out of my reach. To try to understand the so many why-s of people. Why such a big division between what is in and what is out? We’re constantly taken from ourselves without real questions. The fault is always someone’s else, we’ll never lower beneath our mistakes; superficiality shadows us. We read, we watch, we talk, we think, we observe, we deduct, we try and, fortunately, we make mistakes. But we also forget. Who minds their business lives long and happy, isn’t it so? But how do we live? Scrutinizing, criticizing, judging and teaching ourselves to live one by the other, though unable to see and accept the others’ differences and opinions. We restrain ourselves, basking in our own sauce of sermons. Bullshit.
So the journey ends and the camino starts. I was listening to a radio program a few weeks ago, unexpectedly based in London, about these rehab centers dedicated to those falling in a kind of depression, impeding to recognize themselves in anything and willing to emotionally – and physically- be run over and devastated; people like the liquid reflection of a mosaic. Mankind becoming part of a social nullification, of a group of outcasts englobed as commodity. Some of them more, some less. right?! No.
The goal and triggering reason for the pilgrimage was to get rid of the sensation to always be under deadlines and given timings. With an ever present background noise that had me fill my spare time with something, anything. The change I was needing dictated the loss of time frame as perceived today.
I hope this is not too much.
Yours, Gabriele Simonini
All the pictures in the gallery are by Gabriele Simonini