Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Alone! Alone!

The "Alone Alone!" that echoed through the house, rustled down the stairs, whispered from the walls, and confronted me, like a material presence.
Alice James

I like going to the cinema alone, sitting in cafes alone, walking alone, shutting out the world that tries to slither under my door and sitting at home...alone. But living in Paris, because of the boyz in the street so ready to become boyz in the bar, sitting in cafes or bars alone, even walking alone, sometimes isn't an enticing option. The cities I lived in before were more welcoming in this respect. In both Sydney and London I found less eyes straying quizzically towards me, less loose nods beckoning in my direction whenever I sat alone, reading or puzzling in a bar or cafe.

One vivid memory of aloneness gone awry was a trip I took to the south of Spain six years ago. I'd gone to Seville tanked up with adventure but within a couple of hours every heavy orange about to fall from its tree, every grain of dust on the road, every trickle of the Guadalquivir river, confronted me and reminded me of my solitude. Seville was not a city made for the solo traveller. People moved in large groups or families, laughing together, loving together, trying to die together. I saw only one other person alone in the few days I was there, a worn out guy, who looked away.

I sat in a cafe marvelling at the juxtaposition of slabs of meat and coffee, but odd stares, possibly hostile stares, pushed me out on to the street, like my solitude was too loud for them. Instead of sitting I walked in parks, discreetly scoffing churros. I walked a lot in an attempt to escape my aloneness. The more alone I was the more I felt people were together. The sky was too blue and the air too fresh. A woman pressed a palm leaf in to my hand and told me I will one day have two bambinis.

I tried to call British Airways but I got cut off. I took a cab to the airport but BA was closed: "Come back tomorrow" the sign said.

Hungry, I was too afraid to face the crowds again so I bought a can of spaghetti and ate it cold in the windowless room of my one star pensione. On my way back two French guys with leering, yeasty smiles had invited me for beer in their room next door. They tapped on my wall to tempt me over. I took pain killers and slept but I awoke garnished with ice. The spring day had become an icy desert night and I had no warm clothes, no warm body.

The next day in the glare without sunglasses I took another cab to the airport: "Get me out of here!" The first flight out of there was in two days. So I took a bus to Granada, anything but Seville. On the bus people in twos chatted together about the Alhambra, everything that they planned to see. The distant Sierra Nevada and the beaten up earth disappearing under the wheels of the bus made me feel calmer.

But once off the bus, aloneness beckoned to me from the nearby snow-tipped mountains.
I headed in the direction of the Alhambra but faltered - I'd have to let it rot. I ate something with tomato in it and twenty minutes after my arrival I got directly back on the bus to return to Seville, which I'd now promoted to home.

Back in Seville I hid in my room, read, imagined a hostile world beyond the doors, waited, and left.