I have surprised myself.
By becoming enamoured with our Tito-era campsite and the bombed-out Adriatic coastal resort nearby, I have learned to settle down for a while and experience the Mediterranean feel emanating from this part of southern Croatia. And in so doing, have broken the habit of a lifetime.
Let me explain.
This time last year I had gathered together all my novels and issued them on Valley Independent Publishing. The effort nearly killed me. I can barely recall the succeeding summer. Off to teach in the mornings before coming back and vanishing for the remainder of the day. Around autumn my symptoms included a diminished appetite, nausea and a metallic taste affecting the mouth. Blood tests showed that nothing horrible was growing inside me but that I had become anaemic while an overload of iron was contaminating the liver. Haemochromatosis was mentioned for the first time. Usually an hereditary condition, often known as the ‘Irish disease’, the most effective treatment involves the medieval-sounding practice of blood-letting; about a pint a time for an extended intensive season, until enough new blood with a lower iron content starts flowing around the body. A truly enervating procedure.
That didn’t sound right to me, so I cut out alcohol and began taking turmeric and milk thistle capsules. Then I initiated a short course of acupuncture with a local practitioner. Best of all, my good old mum treated me to a week-long holiday in Gran Canaria as an xmas present. So that by early spring of this year I was beginning to feel normal again. Also, I had cut out the teaching and taken on a role with the social activities programme at my school instead. This created time and space for me to relax and think. As a result, I was able to publish SOUL JOURNEY, a politico-mystical thriller far more radical than anything by Dan Brown, which I’d been working on throughout this period of time.
The Essenes in their desert hideaway more than two centuries ago evinced through their writings a contempt for the ‘lovers of smooth things’ and I have for a long time imposed this teaching in application to myself. And, indeed, there is a lot to be said for a willingness to embrace hardship and experience denial in one’s daily habits. Especially if such procedures are aimed at achieving particular ends. As a matter of fact, certain results are only made possible in this manner. Those of a spiritual nature, for example. Similarly, the acquisition of long-term goals invariably requires some kind of personal sacrifice.
That said, simplicity really is a wonderful virtue in itself and needn’t incorporate any type of suffering. In regard to writing, Solzhenitsyn, in his auto-biographical ‘The Calf and the Oak’, recounts the time he spent living in a little riverside hut which regularly part-flooded and froze on early autumn mornings, and provided only elementary accommodation, but which generated within him such a freshness of being after his incarceration within the Soviet gulag system, that it helped fortify him for the task of completing his most important writings. Once again, following exile from his beloved Russia, he set up his new life in a spartan compound in chilly Vermont. No Florida excesses for him. Incidentally, you get a similar feeling concerning poor old Ernest Hemingway in his ‘Big Two-hearted River’ stories, whereby it seems a simplified existence would fit him perfectly, if only he could truly adopt it and not be frightened by what lies on ‘the other side’. And if only the burned-out Jack Kerouac could have attained this feeling of serenity achieved through self-denial during his failed attempt at Big Sur, who knows how he might have turned out. Mind you, expecting such a transformation from the author of ‘Desolation Angels’ was always going to be bit of an ask. Still, this is the kind of simplicity Gee Ward yearns and strives for after his release from prison in ON RELEASE, despite all the setbacks which seem to make such an outcome beyond reach.
When Anne and began to wonder how we might go about re-shaping our extant lives we knew that some form of simplicity had to be factored in. Our lives weren’t terribly complicated or our living conditions especially sophisticated. Nevertheless, a further paring down seemed preferable. For a start, we would use our van for the initial getaway. This little fourteen-year old Fiat Doblo high-top is about as basic a form of travelling around as you can imagine, with some cooking facilities and fold-down double bed it is essentially a form of glamping on wheels. By fitting curtains and removing the rear seat for this trip we have added storage space and made bedding down even simpler. So far, so good. Touch wood.
While we are away we will be looking at the possibility of acquiring some sort of old dwelling we can occupy with a parcel of land to beautify and produce our own food. Who knows, that may or may not happen. But, certainly, you gotta get out there to see if it’s possible – or, in fact, even suitable. Time and miles covered will tell. Certainly, from now on in we seek to make the trip easier rather than more difficult, mainly by better forward-planning. Normally, when we embark on a project or a journey of some kind, we are straight out the traps and then up-and-running until after the finishing line has been crossed. This time round things really need to be a little different if we are to achieve what we currently can only imagine in the abstract. Some kind of adjustment will be required in our outlook. Already, some ideas are brewing…
But right now, just to be here on the campsite surrounded by cloud-topped mountains and shaded among the pines, palms, planes and oleander, alongside the bombed-out ex-Yugoslav army resort complex by the sea at Kupari, I, at least, am able to start feeling the slowly unfolding impact of not being driven almost entirely from the waves of anxiety released by my earlier undertakings. That’s some surprise.
Posted from Kupari campsite, near Dubrovnik