A trip from a lifetime ago
I don't know how I feel about writing this. I'm looking back on a trip from a few months ago to one of my favourite places in Europe, a trip that it had its challenges but one that I really enjoyed. And yet right now that place is the epicentre of one of the biggest disasters of the post-war era. Maybe the biggest post-war disaster. Every single place I visited is now being ravaged by coronavirus. A fucking virus in the 21st century. Thousands of people have died and an entire generation is being wiped out. The economy is devastated and the infrastructure is overwhelmed. Even when the disease disappears, the psychological and social legacy of what happened will live for a hell of a long time. We still say "bless you" when someone sneezes because of a plague 400 years ago.
It breaks my heart reading about the stories coming out of Bergamo. And it left me in two minds whether to write this article or not, especially when I am sitting here with the relative privilege of living somewhere that At Least Is Not As Bad As Italy. I'm trying to write about a time that does not exist any more and it makes me wonder if anything I write has any relevance. Not a century ago, not even a generation ago. But just a few months down the line.
It reminds me of Michael Caine's line from The Man Who Would Be King: "three summers and a thousand years ago". It feels like that. A main era, as Hunter S Thompson said, a peak that will never come again. Unreal. Surreal. These are memories that have not aged well.
I flicked through my journal the other night to remind myself of the experience. Reading it makes me sound like a prick in the light of all that has happened, like watching a 1970's comedian trying to do a routine today. Like anywhere, there is good and bad about every town and I recorded what I thought at the time. But the bad seems pretty insignificant right now. I want to be honest but I also don't want to be a little bitch. When 12,000 people have died it's hard to complain that Brescia looked a bit scruffy without sounding like an arsehole.
I went to Bergamo because being there makes me happy. It is, or was, that kind of place. I started in Venice and headed west by train as soon as I could. I stopped in Padova (or Padua, however you want to spell it), Verona and Brescia. Bergamo was a last minute decision because I wasn't feeling great and I knew it would cheer me up. A last autumn day before a winter more harsh than anyone would imagine. I remember being sorry to leave. From here, at this point in time, this is a trip tinged with sadness.