Pescara. I am still struck by the presence of the Adriatic. Adriatica. Green and cold and still and beckoning, a thin blue line marking deeper waters on the horizon. I wonder about a city that rises and falls and rises again with the tides of time and man. I wonder what it is to be descended from the risen and the fallen. This is a city sacked hard and often over centuries by myriad exotic namesakes, most recently the none-too-exotic British in World War II. Consequently, it is presently a city built all at once, its buildings uniform and functional and pleasing to neither heart nor eye.
I wonder about the towns we have passed through, about the people of Popoli, the old ones who would have been children when the British, being the most recent of the invaders, dropped a bomb on the town hall the day the women and children of Popoli were queuing for their bread.
I wonder about forgiveness.; about the human capacity for moving on . . . and not moving on . . . and who and what wins accordingly in the end . . . and who moves on and why.
Spoils of war.
And I wonder about the small towns, the ones whose homes are the same colour of the earth and in various states of returning to source. I wonder about the merchants and crusaders who have left no trace of their passing . . . their footsteps erased by the passage of time, at least to the ignorant like myself.
I am waiting for Ben. I wander around the great big space between Pescara’s cityscape and the sea. I sit by the sand that leads to the seashore and watch again for the shadows of gods and beasts on the sea. Old Italian men stroll by, arm in arm. From Rome to Pescara, the old men gather, they push prams, they smoke like chimneys – the whole country smokes like chimneys – and they walk arm in arm, young, old, men, women, arm in arm.
I am struck by a neon yellow Carlton sign on a rooftop. In Australia that would mean beer. Here it looks incongruent. I think about Ben’s conversations with people who ask what he is up to. He tells them he is walking from Rome to Pescara. At first I wondered about this, why he does not tell them he has walked from Canterbury and he is on his way to Jerusalem. Now I understand. It is nigh impossible for people to grasp that he is walking from Rome to Pescara . . . the whole story would be so stunningly and ridiculously improbable that kindness dictates sparing them the mental assault.
Ben pulls in at the station at lunchtime. We drop his pack at my hotel. We eat. He sleeps on the esplanade beside the sea. We catch a bus to the port to find out what time the ferries go to Split, our first port of call in Croatia. No ferries. They’re seasonal, they stopped last week. No ferries. We ask again to make sure. No ferries. Other boats? No boats. No boats at all till March.
The news doesn’t bother me. I haven’t committed myself to walking all the way to Istanbul. Or Jerusalem for that matter. North, south, train, feet, I’m just along for the ride. Ben takes the news well, considering. I know him well enough to know when he’s digesting information and right now he’s digesting. Personally, I don’t mind the thought of walking further south along the coast of Italy, to catch a ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik . . . in truth I’m a little wary about the Balkans . . . it’s a landmine thing. I’m counting on being pleasantly surprised, on being shamed by my narrowminded ideas about the east, where neighbours so recently turned on neighbours. It may well be blossoming . . . while its children get around with half-limbs . . . as I said, I’m counting on having my stereotypes shattered . . . uh-oh, poor choice of words . . . I think again of the children.
We decide to train it north to Ancona, catch the ferry to the old old city of Zadar and walk south from there to Split. We find ourselves the best B&B in Pescara. We decide to stay an extra night . . . it has a bath. It is a riot of artwork. An old house, privately owned; the old couple who live here renting out their spare rooms. It has gardens. It has animals. It has great breakfast.