Sunday, 11 November 2007

STEPH Tirane 10/11/07

My pilgrimage is done.

I sit in the Tirane International Hotel, alone, having just walked Ben to the edge of town. In my mind I am walking him to the foot of the mountains.

Our journey will continue, just not in the form it has taken till now.

We're both a bit shell-shocked, unprepared for such a sudden change in our easygoing roll across the eastern Europe landscape. It's sad - and the truth of the moment.

Yesterday, as the rain bucketed down through those big black clouds, a voice in my heart said 'it's done, you are not prepared for those mountains'. And I sat with this into the evening, knowing that no matter which way I turned the dial, the information was the same. My tent pegs have no capacity for hard ground. I can barely keep out the cold here in Tirane. We are too late for me to cross the alps. I will not be walking with Ben into the mountains.

And more.

It is time to go to Istanbul.

The old city calls. The history of the world calls. Something . . . else, calls.

It is time to go to Istanbul.

I fly tomorrow.

I will have six weeks to explore the city, and Turkey, and its corresponding inner plane, before my pilgrimage proper is done and I fly to Holland to join my husband for Christmas.

I will catch the train to Thessoloniki and meet Ben when he emerges from the snow country of Macedonia. We're figuring about two weeks. That's unless he turns up in Istanbul . . . we laugh, even though we know it's a possibility that the snow may yet drive him back to Tirane.

When Ben and I head into town this morning there's snow on the mountains at the city's shoulder. And dark clouds above. As he leaves late in the afternoon, after a farewell round of backgammon over lunch at the Tirane International, the dark clouds gather again, lit in the centre by the prettiest patch of blue.

There's not a cell in my body that's undecided, uncertain or unclear about this decision. Indeed, it is not a decision - to walk with him would have been a decision.

Yet . . . and yet, I already miss being outside in the wilderness, the beauty of the mountains, the warm sunshine, our steady companionship and, yes, even the rain. The romance of pilgrimage has already begun to play with my heart . . .

So Ben - till Thessoloniki!

May beauty and sunshine follow you all the way!

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