The International Writers Magazine:Vacations: Camping in Europe
For the most part they are pleasant; who needs or wants to relive unpleasantness? One such agreeable memory returned to me the other day. It is one that is deeply ingrained and returns quite often, like a gentle rain to wash away the dust on my psyche and clarify my vision. I feel compelled to commit this memory to paper.
A Summer Night
Memories are signposts along the highways, byways, and trails of our mind. We bring them back to relive the moments they conjure up. Sometimes they come apparently unbidden, at other times they are triggered by events around us.
I am an American, who came to Europe more than five years ago, to undertake my own version of the “Grand Tour”. I finally arrived in Italy and like thousands that preceded me fell in love with the scenery, the food, the wine, and the women. I am still here.
I came to the continent with my camping tent, sleeping bag and backpack. My intention was to hike the mountains, camping out for a week or so then a few days in a hostel to clean and rest up. The steepness and inaccessibility of the Appenines caused me to modified my plan to walking the shore and using my sleeping bag on the beach. Most of my hiking has been confined to the western coast line. A few years ago, a warm week in August found me on the Italian Riviera at Ventimiglia, on the French Border, a scant ten miles from Monaco. At midnight the previous day, I had boarded a train in Rome bound for Nice. It was my intention to de-train at Genoa and begin walking to Monaco. As I average about fifteen miles per day I figured to reach my destination in two weeks.
Early on in my odyssey I vowed not to tie myself to hard and fast schedules. All my working life, even back at school, I had lived a slave to the clock and schedules. I would be a slave no longer. I would take what came, and alter my plans accordingly – a “go with the flow” policy. One of those situations arose just outside of Genoa as I began my trek. It began to rain. Not your gentle shower but a downpour. It lasted about two hours, at times it was so heavy that my pants were soaked to the knees through due to the splash-up from the road. Then the sun came out with a vengeance. I boarded a west bound train at the next station, just in time to avoid another downpour. I got off at San Remo and picked up a cliff-side path to Ventimiglia.
Along this stretch of the Italian Riviera there are groomed trails along the cliffs overlooking the sea, there are even some portions that are asphalt paved extending to Nice and beyond. The views are magnificent. Three-masted schooners under full sail on a crystalline azure sea, beneath a sky mimicking the color of the water. Bathers, sunning on the rocks below. There is occasionally a short stretch of sandy beach but mostly it’s sea polished pebbles. A cooling zephyr wafted salt tinged air to my nose. The only sound was the muffled echo of waves crashing against the rocks below.
It was getting on to about six as I arrived in the outskirts of Ventimiglia. It was time to begin looking for a campsite. A high hill loomed in front of me. Very quickly I determined that I would not be staying directly on the beach. It looked like a Depression era hobo village – Washing strung on makeshift lines, hovels of cardboard, and a generally unpleasant odor rose from the place. The trail divided, one branch headed down to the encampment, another on up the hill. I chose the later.
There was no one around as I arrived at the top and walked out to the edge of the cliff. The ruins of a World War II gun emplacement dominated the landscape. A pit that had been the interior of the battery was almost filled with trash, but the surrounding area was fairly clean. Finding a clear level spot I spread out a ground cloth, a thin foam mat, and my sleeping bag. Leaning the pack against the abutment of the gun emplacement, I sat down in the gathering dusk, following my standard procedure, which was to check if any other people appeared, and if there were dogs about. People could be dealt with, hikers seeing a spot occupied will usually move on. Dogs present another problem. Fortunately neither were around. I took a beer and a sandwich from my pack, ate, then decided to lie down for a while. All was quiet, no sound, except that of the surf spending itself against the rocks a few hundred feet below.
A sound, like a shotgun awakened me; it was dark. I checked my watch, it was nine. I had slept for three hours. Suddenly a huge red chrysanthemum blossomed in the western sky, then a green one, followed by a giant silver spangled one. The reports of these night flowers followed. I had a ring side seat to a fireworks display a scant ten miles away in Monte Carlo, which I later learned it was the finale of the annual fireworks competition won that year by the Chinese. I broke out another beer and settled back to enjoy the show. A few minutes later I was startled to see my shadow. I looked over my shoulder to the east. There, just rising above the hills behind the town was the biggest moon I had ever seen. An involuntary ‘wow’ escaped my lips.
It was the color of butter, rising in a cloudless sky, dimming the lights of Ventimiglia and illuminating a silver highway to nowhere, across the calm sea. For the next hour my attention was evenly divided between the fireworks to the west and the new moon in the east. It was a magical moment. I felt that it had been orchestrated for my singular pleasure. A peacefulness and joy overtook me that I had never experienced before or since. The sky to the west erupted in a blaze of color as the show came to an end, signaled by three thunderous reports. I looked at the moon again, it had risen above the dust of the horizon and now rode silver bright, high in the sky but still tracing a shimmering roadway across the sea. A few minutes later I lay down and shortly fell into a dreamless sleep.
As I said my thoughts often return to that special night on the Ligurian Coast. I returned last year to the same spot to discovered the area has been fenced off blocking access to the site. In a way I’m glad because my memories seem safe from despoliation. Yes, it is selfish, but I do not care or want to share it with anyone else.
© Raymond Clement March 2006
Fiction by Raymond Clement
Destinations in Hacktreks