From Canterbury to Jerusalem

Alice spoke with author Guy Stagg about his first book.

I first met Guy Stagg quite a few years ago at a drinks party. I had begun with ‘So what are you up to at the moment?’, and to my surprise, the answer, for once, was both unexpected and fascinating.

Guy it turned out, had recently arrived home after walking all the way from Canterbury to Jerusalem, alone.

On hearing this, I cornered the poor man for the rest of the evening, gleaning every detail I could. Just what an amazing thing to have done! There we all were sitting at our desks day in day out in London, justifying our ‘careers’ to ourselves and everyone else, endlessly attending banal drinks parties, or just drinking too much cheap white wine in the pub, and Guy, aged 25 had, instead, decided to make this stupendous trip, and not only that, he had done it alone.

Over the last couple of years I had heard he was writing a book about his walk, and when I got wind it was soon to be published, I decided it was time to get in contact again.

So we met, on one of those abnormally freezing spring mornings, in a Dalston coffee shop, and Guy kindly told me all sorts about his own journey, why he took this pilgrimage and why he decided to write about it.

In June 2012 Guy set out on an impromptu walk from his flat in South West London, with the aim of reaching Canterbury the next day.  He walked in a pair of borrowed hiking boots and his Barbour, and he reached Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of midsummers day, and says, on arrival felt ‘pure exhaustion’.  He said, as he lay in the grass in the shadow of the cathedral bathed in evening sunlight, he felt for the first time in a long time, completely ‘in the present’, the walk had allowed his ‘mind to be cleared out’. 

 Outside Canterbury Cathedral, there is a stone which marks the start of the pilgrim route the ‘Via Francigena’ and on seeing this stone, it was in that moment, that the idea came to him, and he knew that what he would do next.  He knew that he needed to do it soon, to plan quickly and just go, without too much time to think about it.

The part of this that I find amazing is the complete courage, the courage to walk away from your day job, your ‘career’ and to undertake a venture into the unknown, and also to do it completely alone.

Guy studied English at Cambridge, and says at 16 he knew he wanted to be a writer.  After graduating the logical career seemed to be journalism, but the fast-paced journalistic style on the comments desk at a newspaper turned out not to be a path that would make him happy. He says at that time ‘he was not proud of his writing’, indeed writing was actually making him unhappy.  He was for a time on anti-depressants, and was saving money for law-school, with a change of career in mind.

In the spring of 2012 he came off the anti-depressants, and it was at this point that he decided to make the impromptu walk to Canterbury that changed everything.

 Six months later, on new years day 2013, he set out for Jerusalem with the intention of ‘leaving his life behind’. Although he was following a pilgrim route, this wasn’t a religious pilgrimage, at this point Guy ‘wasn’t a believer’ and didn’t believe ‘that ritual could heal’. His only initial deadline was to reach Rome in time for Easter.  He took everything he would need and could carry, planning for the alps in the winter, and far warmer climes further East. He navigated using maps, although of course he did have a phone with him just in case.

On the way he stayed in refuges and monasteries, and started to go to mass, sharing in the worship and practices, mainly out of politeness but also out of an intrigue for these medieval rituals, and the people who performed them, and the desire to know ‘what it felt like to be a believer. ‘

He passed through France, Switzerland, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, to Istanbul where he witnessed the Taxim Square Riots, and on through Turkey, Cypress and Lebanon, and did take one flight to Jordan and then onto Israel, walking around eight hours every day.  He says he rarely felt nervous mainly because he ‘had no prior experience or danger, and hadn’t thought about the risks’. But his ‘perspective on highs and lows shifted’.

He also hadn’t anticipated just how kind people would be, nor how much they would share about their lives and experiences. He says that perhaps they were prepared to share more with him, as he was just a stranger passing through. And that often the personal information and fundamental experiences being shared had a religious strand - marriage, children – the most important times in peoples lives, which he found ‘nourishing’.

The purpose of this trip was never to write a book, but as he went, he kept a diary every day taking notes, initially mostly functional jottings, but as he went on, he started to capture events more closely as they had a ‘deeper emotional effect’.

On reaching Jerusalem 10 months later, he says he was just ‘so glad to have done the walk and ‘is glad for every step, good and bad’.  He also says he has ‘opened up to being changed’, with a ‘broader shift on his own life’,  and he could identify with his experience in a more ‘holistic way’.

On returning to England, he felt almost obliged to write about his journey ‘I have to write about it’, the unusual historical events he had witnessed, along with his shifting understanding of religion, and this unique perspective he had gained.

And so this incredible experience brought him back to writing, it has been an open-ended process, and it has taken him four years ‘for it to be as good as he can make it’. And he is proud for having worked on something consistently for four years.

We spoke a little about travel writers, and Guy says one of his biggest influences has been W.G Sebald, particularly his ‘Rings of Saturn’ in which Sebald intertwines the precise details of a walk in Suffolk with history, crossing space and time.  Other writing influences have been Bruce Chatwin and his ‘In Patagonia’ and Olivia Laing.

I wanted to ask about his religious beliefs since completing the walk, and Guy said that he now attends church twice a month, and the walk has drawn him closer towards Christian traditions, fundamentally mysticism, although he still doesn’t agree with the creed. For him, religious ritual is a valid resource even for non-believers.

He also says ‘his need for walking’, for the moment ‘has been fulfilled’, although he has been for some walks around England since arriving back from Jersualem.

 His finished book, The Crossway, excitingly is now complete, and I can’t wait to read it.

Alice xxx

Guy Stagg

Talking with Writer Katie De Klee

Alice caught up with freelance journalist and writer Katie de Klee.

Where are you at the moment?

As I write this, I am cruising at 40,000 ft somewhere above Maputo. I suppose by the time I finish all the questions I’ll be nearer Morocco air space, but I guess we’ll see as we go.

I am on my way home to Sussex for a short while. For the last year the longest I have been anywhere is 5 weeks. Between Sussex, Northern India, Bali and South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Western Cape (Jeffrey’s Bay, Muizenberg, Kommetjie, Sea Point, Hogsback, Clan William)… It’s been a quite a nomadic year. So the answer I suppose is – I am all over the place! Writing on a plane seems somehow quite meaningful. My life is a bit up in the air.

What are you up to?

All sorts of things. I am editing a book that tackles conservation in Tchad and shares recipes from a tented safari camps. “Cooking For Conservation” is currently on Kickstarter, and I’m in the process or refining and restructuring the text. I also do copywriting, social media and marketing strategy for South African superfood brand Wazoogles (which is going through a major growth spurt). Plus the odd freelance magazine article, bits of creative writing. And I just did a yoga teacher training, so that’s been taking up some time. And I just started learning to surf. So far the shark evasion is going very well… cutting lines down the waves is proving to be more of a challenge. But the sunrises from the water are amazing.

What are you writing about?

Superfoods and breakfasts, African photographers, London grime poetry, the feeling of cold water on bare skin, rebel mice and what it means to get an architectural education.

Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a freelance journalist and writer?

I started out as a freelance journalist in Cape Town in 2013 when I arrived there. I knew very little about the country, so being in a job that demands you ask questions gave me a chance to find out about SA in a way that tourists (and even locals) never do. I worked for a news agency for a year or so, learnt a lot. But writing news is fairy dark and fairly blunt. So after a while I moved to a youth culture magazine and from there to a design/creativity focused platform, Design Indaba. I was the editor of the Design Indaba web magazine for 2.5 years and then decided to go freelance again. In between all of those things I have written for pregnancy websites, advertising, small business, my brothers, myself, and probably a few things I can’t even remember.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I like words. And story telling. I’m better at telling other people’s stories than I am my own, so for now being a journalist/copy writer feels like the perfect job. I enjoy the challenge of communicating in an interesting way. I like the mobility of my work. Even when I worked in-house for publications I have always been able to move between my two homes, north and south. And this last year I’ve worked all over the world.

Who / what is your greatest inspiration?

Difficult conversation. I have many, and they change every day. Some of the people I met through Design Indaba were really amazing. They don’t inspire me to join them on their mission, but they do inspire me by having such a sense of purpose. Christian Benimana, Tea Uglow, Naresh Ramchandani. There are more writers that inspire me than I can list… Roald Dahl, Jeanette Winterson, A A Milne, Philip Pullman, Milan Kundera, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Tom Robbins… I could go on…

What has been your best travel adventure?

Too many again! Moving to Cape Town has been a great adventure! Nearly 7 years of adventure. Mexico for 7 weeks while I was at university with a couple of friends. We travelled barefoot, eating mangoes and hitch hiking and feeling totally free and brave. India and Bali last year with my boyfriend Warren was an amazing, more adult adventure. Even the last month in Jeffrey’s Bay was a calm kind of normality shift, which opens up a door for more adventures that are similar. We have some adventures planned for the end of this year too.

What are you reading?

100 pages on the internet always. Quartz articles (actually sometimes just their email newsletter). Purple Hibiscus, Charles Bukowski poems, and some books from my course still - at the moment one called Anatomy of the Spirit. Which is interesting, but slow.

What are you watching?

Peaky Blinders, Chef’s Table, Surfing documentaries (not always my choice, but a hazard of hanging out with frothers. "Surfwise" reminded me a bit of my own mad family though, and the Laird Hamilton film was pretty wild. He’s a kook).

What are you drinking?

Tea. Lots of it, an old addiction from cold Edinburgh flats. Sometimes coffee, always tongue-scaldingly hot. Cold beer. Leonista tequila on ice, slowly.

What are you eating?

Mostly vegetarian food. A lot of smoothie bowls for breakfast (you’ll need to meet Warren to understand, we even started making hot smooth oat bowls in the SA winter). Falafels, homemade seaweed sushi rolls, eggs on toast for dinner.

What are you growing?

We grew sprouts and wheatgrass for a while. But then we ate them all… I “grow” my own kefir (“care for”? “farm”?). I got into mushroom and kelp/nori foraging this year too. So the world grows that for me. I try to grow herbs sometimes too… And otherwise some hardy little succulents.

What are you listening to?

My Discover Weekly. It’s pretty eclectic. Franc Moody, Lambchop, Quantic, Paul Simon, Felix LaBand, Bongeziwe Mabandla

What are you dancing to?

Some of the above. Native Young in Cape Town, Franc Moody in Sussex.

Who are you following on Instagram?

Mostly food and travel people, and my friends. And Baddie Winkle.

Online or Offline?

Both.

Favourite place in South Africa?

Scarborough beach, and the Karoo.

Favourite place in the UK?

Home at Avins. And the Isle of Mull.

Favourite place in the world?

I haven’t finished looking for that yet..

What is your Escape?

Reading, yoga, swimming in the sea. Listening to music. Cooking. Anything is an escape from something else. What’s your cage?

Katie de Klee

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Navigating Life (and Uber) In Egypt’s Capital

In our next ‘Brits Abroad’ post, roaming world citizen Flo Wollstonecraft, shares her reflections after a year of life in the Egyptian capital.When I announced to friends, family and colleagues, that I, late twenty-something year-old, lost at sea, single female was quitting gainful employment, leaving my comfortable life in a European capital city, packing my bags and heading off to Oum El Donia - reactions were mixed. They ranged from concerns of, “Is Egypt safe? Be careful!”; to bewilderment and incomprehension, “But… why?!” ; to mild envy at my grand plans to learn some Arabic, explore the region and seek out new adventures. Admittedly, Egypt’s capital city wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice to set up home…dirty, noisy, polluted and frenetic - not very inviting! Upon arrival you are greeted by a belching, bellowing, farting behemoth of a city. But dig beneath the layers of dust, cut through the fog of pollution, mute some of the noise and throw yourself head on into the chaos and you’re in for a treat.Egypt has suffered more than its fair share of upheaval and trauma over the centuries, no less in recent years. I’ll leave aside the political analysis and predictions for those far more qualified to speak on such matters; but in the hangover of the Arab Spring, as the population grapples with the realities of a failed revolution, amidst increasing state repression, it is clear that the road ahead for Egypt is by no means smooth. Yet amidst this turmoil and confusion, El Qahirah, literally “the victorious”, remains undefeatable - a city with a tenacious soul, an inextinguishable energy and a remarkable ability to excite, enthral, enchant and infuriate in equal measures.Cairo is a city of stark and disorienting contrasts, with very little offering for those seeking a safe, moderate, middle ground. Ancient vs. ultra modern, opulent wealth vs. extreme poverty, unbearable heat vs. punishing cold (don’t make the same mistake I did and be fooled into thinking it is hot and sunny all year round).Cairo has a pulse, albeit an erratic one that would baffle most cardiologists. It is capable of flitting from languid sluggishness - example: Friday early morning where the empty, dead streets resemble a scene from the zombie apocalypse; to supraventricular tachycardia – example: Friday mid-rush-hour traffic jam, when an altercation between drivers competing for road space can, at the drop of a hat, break out into an aggressive shouting match. Though if I've learned one thing living in Cairo, it is to accept the predictability of unpredictability and embrace it as part of the city's allure. Living here one is never dulled into stagnation and a seemingly banal everyday activity or encounter, can jolt you out of the hum drum "eat-sleep-work" loop modern-life has so many of us trapped in.Take the daily commute to work, which is rather like flipping a coin and waiting to see which way it will fall. Every morning I walk out of my apartment (located in a pleasant but nonetheless fairly chaotic neighbourhood of central Cairo) onto the nearest main street to hail a cab:

Heads - it is a calm, hassle-free, simple, transactional affair: the taxi is mechanically robust and traffic is bearable. The driver agrees to take me to my work location and with the meter running, I pay the appropriate fare upon arrival and hop out of the cab. Job done.Tails - the situation is rather different. We hit one of Cairo’s infamously bad traffic jams with a journey that ordinarily takes 10 minutes lasting 50. Or, I forget I have no change for the fare and spend several minutes arguing with the taxi driver in my rudimentary Arabic, as I insist on us finding change.

In both cases I arrive at work angry and exasperated. Alternatively, I land upon a taxi driver with Formula 1 aspirations, who takes me on a daredevil journey, crossing the bridges of the Nile at breakneck speed, dodging cars, other taxis, microbuses, bicycles, and the occasional horse and cart…an adrenaline-fuelled start to the day, rivalling any theme park rollercoaster…I could of course order an Uber - a service which has taken off rapidly in Egypt and become a lifeline for many in a city, where public transport is scant. However, this can be an equally unpredictable and frustrating ride. The concept of service provision and the customer/provider relationship is rather fluid. On numerous occasions I’ve waited patiently for my Uber, only for the driver to call and tell me to come find him at his location - this generally leads to heated conversations in my pidgin Arabic, “ana fee el GPS BEZOBT!” (“I am at the GPS, EXACTLY!”). On other occasions, as a result of a system failure with the drivers’ navigation system, I, geographically inept at the best of times, end up navigating my own way to my destination with the help of Google maps and creative guesswork. Don’t be fooled either into thinking modern cars result in better driving. Motoring styles of Uber drivers can be equally erratic, albeit with an illusory feeling of safety, in a more mechanically sound vehicle.That said, for every exasperating Uber driver, there have been some redeeming ones. My faith in Uber (and humanity) was restored late one evening, when absent-minded me returning home late one night from Cairo airport, hopped out of my Uber, only to realise an hour later that I had left an entire suitcase, of paternal ownership whilst he was visiting me and the city, in the boot of the car…after a couple of hours of various calls, this time testing the absolute limits of my rudimentary Arabic and resulting in a slight raise in my blood pressure at the thought of losing all of my father's worldly goods, the wonderful Uber driver, having crossed all of Cairo to return my case, arrived at my door. I showered him with “Alf shukran”,("a thousand thanks"), thrust a hefty tip in his hand and we parted ways, both uttering “Alhamdulillah”, (“thanks be to God”) - that standard but oh so useful phrase, which covers any situation of good fortune, regardless of how modest.For a keen ambulator of European cities, this unavoidable reliance on taxis and Ubers took some getting used to. Prior to moving to Cairo, I recall naively spending some time on Google maps to gauge distances and carve out my new territory, thinking to myself that I would be able to navigate the city on foot. Upon arrival my grand plans were quickly scrapped. Walking the streets of Cairo is not for the fainthearted – unpredictable, often non-existent pavements, constant traffic and honking of car horns, and for a Western woman the added challenges of at best constant stares, at worst heckling remarks. Sexual harassment is an unfortunate and often not acknowledged or understood reality of life in Cairo. My own way of dealing with it was to thicken my already relatively thick skin and bat off remarks with either humour or by adopting a resting surly face (friends tell me this is my natural expression…). But this technique has its limitations and the insidious effect means it can reach breaking point, resulting in occasional outbursts of anger - on a bad day I even shocked myself hurling some abuses at a passing persistent harasser. Attitudes are shifting, but change is incremental and this remains an unfortunate and unpleasant reality for women living in the city.Cairo is therefore no city for aimless flânerie and on occasion I nostalgically dream of my previous, rather self-indulgent life spent lazily strolling down wide, leafy European boulevards, stopping at terraces for glasses of wine, browsing in chichi boutiques and watching the world go by…But despite the city’s drawbacks and for all I lament no longer being able to enjoy a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc on a terrace, Cairo life is full of joys and pleasures: lazy, languid weekends spent by palm tree lined pools, exhilarating horse rides out at the pyramids and spontaneous boat parties on the Nile dancing until dawn; Incredible sunsets of an intensity I have never seen, that even one year on, still make me stop in my tracks to gaze at in wonder; Wistful, fleeting and priceless moments of solitude within the city, such as the sunset prayer time or wandering around the usually chaotic streets just before iftar, during Ramadan; Early morning, when the sun rises over the towering buildings, casting beautiful shadows on the otherwise monotony of dusty grey-brown; Boozy evenings in time warped hotels of Cairo’s downtown - an enigmatic, grubby yet glorious district, containing relics of a bygone era of Egypt’s belle époque; Evenings spent in rooftop bars overlooking the Nile, drinking Stella beers (the local version, not the Belgian variety), but in Cairo’s blazing summer heat, provided my beer is chilled, I’m not complaining). All of these pleasures make up for some of the city’s frustrations.As for my efforts to learn Arabic in Cairo, these have been as erratic and inconsistent as life in the city itself. After an initial burst of scholarly enthusiasm (I was lucky enough to spend three months in a full-time language study when I first moved here) my gusto for language study gradually petered out when I took on full-time employment. Learning any new language is tough but I also very early on realised that, with its distinction between the notoriously complex classical Arabic (fuhsa) and the vastly differing dialects across the Arab region, study of the Arabic language is a lifelong pursuit, requiring real commitment and perseverance. Not ideal then for an impatient, capricious individual like myself. Inherent stubbornness leads me to persevere nonetheless and my long-suffering tutor listens patiently to me each week as I bulldozer my way through ameya, the rich and playful Egyptian dialect. Unlike my experiences, once learning French, I’ve discovered that a little goes a long way with the warm, friendly, and supportive Egyptian people.Egyptian culture and society are rich and nuanced, with a notoriously complex and layered class system, which, even after a year, still continues to baffle and confuse me. One group I do know well though (namely because I form part of it) is the expat world of Cairo - a weird melting pot, infused with clandestinely imported foreign alcohol and pork products. Amongst them you will find: curious and/or adrenaline junkie journalists, humanitarian do-gooders wanting to save the country, earnest and enthusiastic diplomats at the beginning of their posting, jaded diplomats nearing (or wishing they were nearing) the end of theirs, the occasional Egyptologist (something of a unicorn), international teachers, cynical academics and some other lost souls and misfits (yours truly included), who find themselves washed up on the banks of the Nile. Yet despite being in a city of 25 million people, the probability of running into a fellow expat in an average day, whether physically or virtually (yes dating apps have made it to Cairo…) is near certainty, and remaining incognito is near impossible. Cairo, I quickly discovered, for better or for worse, is the smallest big city in the world.Cairo is a place of chaos and contradictions at every turn. But it is also a place of palpable energy, soul, and beauty, which can make appearances often at the strangest and most unexpected moments. All I can say is, fasten your seatbelt (if you can find one), brace yourself for the chaos, and you’re in for one hell of a ride!

Flo W xxx

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Genoa More Than This

In our first ‘Brits Abroad’ post, Basil Wedgwick, contemporary Grand Tourist with a penchant for a good Campari and a splendid Italian palazzo (preferably both at the same time), shares his musings on a recent jaunt to Genoa.‘Genoa - More Than This’ is the current tagline used by the Genoese tourist board.  I mean more than what? On asking several of my friends what they thought of when asked about Genoa the most they could come up with was ‘It’s in Italy’. ‘How about Christopher Columbus, Focaccia Italy’s largest port and being one of the great historical maritime powers in Europe?’  ‘I thought Focaccia and Columbus were from Spain or Portugal’ was the response that summed up the collective shrug of indifference, though that follows most things I say when I talk about travelling.I have therefore come up with a new tagline for the Genoese tourist board ‘Genoa - Pesto, Prozzies[1] and Palazzos’.Quite the trifecta, I know.  But before you book your one way flights with nothing but a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Van Dyck’ and a fifty pack of johnnies I want to go some way in to explaining why it actually is even more than this trio of delights.It’s very rare to go somewhere that is genuinely bizarre.  Everywhere is unusual in its way.[2]  But I can count on one hand the amount of places I’ve been to and thought ‘yeah, this reality doesn’t quite match up with my frame of reference’.  It could be something like it being built on stilts in a swamp (Venice) or ethnically segregated (Sittwe in Myanmar) or just a je ne sais qua perhaps born from the weight of history (Berlin).  Of course this is completely subjective but those are the three places my mind goes to (As a fun game, try it! There are no wrong answers, other than Birmingham)  Genoa is most definitely on that list of bizarre places.To start with the geography of it.  On one side you have the Mediterranean, on the other side you have the mountains.  This mountainous landscape looms inescapably behind the city and is more than imposing, it’s wild.  Wild in a way that you don’t seem to get in cultivated and populous Europe.  I’m not talking about anything dramatic like bears and tigers.  It just seems like humans couldn’t and  shouldn’t be stupid enough to try and perch themselves on it.  Looking at it you can’t imagine what grows easily there.  A few things do though, and grow very well, and they are Basil, Garlic, Olives and Pine nuts.These four ingredients are of course the key components of Pesto[3] and the first of the trio of Genoese delights.  Pesto is one of those things that is almost unanimously loved (apart from if you’re allergic to nuts, or a vampire).  Having it in Genoa though is special, it feels like the landscape of Liguria condensed and made edible.  My travelling companion and I couldn’t work out at first whether the Genoese had got lucky that their main ingredients were this good or that they were genius for combining them in such a versatile and delicious way.We realised they were genius when it became apparent that all of their food combined this extraordinary flavour with simplicity for results that are so evocative of the place itself.  Take Focaccia, in Genoa it tastes like the Mediterranean, salty and a little sour with some aromatic dried herbs across it, the crispy flat variety reminding me slightly of crispy seaweed you get in Asian restaurants.  Their chickpea flour chips (kind of like a better Polenta chip) are the moreish snack you can imagine sailors picking at ten at a time whilst they down carafes of wine when they are on shore leave.  Rabbit (a rare mammal that can survive on the hills) with olives tastes fresh and simple like a terraced farmer’s treat, the list can go on.Another mammal that has managed to eke out existence are humans, and against the odds they have managed to build a city of 600,000 people against this wall of wild hills. The necessity of the small area they have to work with has bred the unique cityscape of its old town.  It is, apparently, the largest medieval city centre left in Europe[4], whether it is or not, it’s a bloody maze.   It is also nearly unchanged.  I don’t mean that in the romantic candlelit strolls and quaint restaurants way, I mean that in a ‘Oh shit I’m going to get knifed’ Game of Thrones way.[5] In an effort to complete this magical time travel effect they have decided even to replicate the smell of a medieval city by having their bins all grouped together in open air shop fronts, lit in a blue light that puts the ‘scent’ in ‘aggressive fluorescent light’.  There are no boulevards, few pretty avenues, it is an utter warren of criss-crossing, narrow and almost unnaturally confusing streets.It also is full of the second of the trio of delights, that is sex workers.  It’s a hard subject to broach really without sounding like a voyeuristic gawper, so I will dispense with any pretence that I will be addressing the serious socio-economic or moral concerns and frivolously discuss in the immediate context of the culture of Genoa.My mother at times refers to sex workers in the euphemistic (and slightly vampiric) ‘Ladies of the night’ but it would be a very inaccurate term, ‘Ladies of the day’ would be much more accurate.[6].  When first wandering the streets at 3pm on a Sunday my travelling companion and I found it disconcerting and thought we’d ended up in to the wrong part of town (our colossal hangovers didn’t help). I mean in gentrified London it is something that you no longer really see.  When we realised it was every part of town we stopped being as worried, but were confused.  We also took our lead from the local Genoese, who seemed utterly unconcerned and unjudgmental .  From the locals there wasn’t a second glance, a tightening of a handbag to the chest, a hand put protectively in a pocket over a wallet.  Indeed in one case I saw a young family with a pram have their photo taken by one of the ladies of the day.This commendable ‘let people get on with what they want to get on with’ seemed to stretch to every aspect of Genoese life.  In one of the most bizarre moments of my life I was sat at a bar at the end of the jetty that was hosting a tango night for young professionals, 50 yards behind us a big band concert was going on, 50 yards behind that about a hundred African migrants were playing drums and dancing.  With no warning a 10 minute firework display went off out at sea, all three groups didn’t look up from the entertainment they were engaged in, and though all three were audible to each other nobody seemed to care.  I have since read and was unsurprised that it was one of the only places that the police and locals tolerate the enterprise of migrants (for example selling handbags on the street). Without engaging in shakedowns and arbitrary cruelty.  It also has one of the lowest crime rates of any major city in Italy.This oddity may make it sound unappealing, but it isn’t.  The atmosphere and peculiar streets, or Vicolo, brings out a sense of genuine discovery and vibrancy to the city.  The Vicolo, too narrow for cars, are intimate and quiet, and you never know when they will open out in to a small buzzing piazza, which almost unanimously have chairs and tables laid out for a busy local bar.The Tardis like churches and Palazzi are seemingly plonked at random through the city, jostling for space with medieval high rise buildings.  Most had the majority of their façade covered by other buildings, maybe a lady of the day or two leaning against it.  There is a famous street that has at least 6 Palazzi on it called Via Garibaldi, if you were to look it up on google though one wouldn’t see what the fuss was about, so uncaring of photogenic boulevards or the needs of voracious Instagrammers.This may contribute to the lack of tourists, which for a large Italian city in the middle of July is amazing.  In a personal pilgrimage to the church of the Doria family and the burial site of Andrea Doria (hero of Lepanto, scourge of Tunisia and Eponym of SampDoria F.C) we were the only people inside.  The custodian of the church showed us the art and decided (after a garbled question by me about football) that he would unlock Andrea Doria’s crypt for us and show us his tomb, designed by Montosorli.The interiors of the Palazzi themselves are as finely decorated and maintained as any in Italy.  Unable to boast any famous ‘home-grown’ artists like Venice or Florence it became a meeting ground of artists from around Europe.[7] I lost count of the Van Dyck’s and Reubens, and saw one of the most peculiar and impressive Brueghels I’ve seen.Even if one were to take the paintings off the walls of the Palazzei they would be worth visiting.  The murals and frescoes were so extraordinary.  In one room in a Palazzo I visited I was so dumbstruck by the majesty I managed to achieve peak middle class and dropped my Campari Spritz on the floor, narrowly avoiding a beautiful Turkish carpet.I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the amazing and bizarre things I saw- like one of Europe’s largest cemeteries, which also contains the best and largest collection of 19th century sculpture in the world.  Or the seafront prison where Marco Polo composed his memoir, which in a normal city would be the focal point, in Genoa it’s façade obscured (like the rest of the sea front) by a raised motorway, a museum to Genoa F.C tucked behind it, day trips to beautiful Ligurian beach towns, where you can have takeaway pesto whilst watching the sea attack 800 year old forts.If all of this doesn’t drag you in though I can only say one thing, there was ‘more than this’.[1] I apologise for using this insensitive terms - sex workers, sea views and cemeteries didn’t quite have the same ring to it.  For a serious discussion on the term this is a good, sensitive article that I slightly disagree with:  http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/why-we-shouldnt-rebrand-prostitution-sex-work[2] Bucharest for example falls squarely in to that category, it is a city of unfinished buildings built in to the side of other unfinished buildings.[3] Missing, of course, is Parmesan which is from the inland region of Emilia-Romagna.[4] I struggle to believe this though, for a start Venice is bigger and is nearly unchanged from 1700.  Prague I suspect too is considerably larger, as is Krakow, Naples, Valencia and Seville.  It is likely though it has the largest pedestrian pavement area, but that isn’t as catchy.[5] People have asked me when I said this whether it was like the Assassin’s Creed games, to which I had to say no, because being an assassin there would be boringly easy).[6] There are a couple of large tourist destinations where prostitution is so common it has become part of the ‘attraction’ (Bangkok and Amsterdam) but in Bangkok it is very much a ‘when the sun goes down’ situation, and Amsterdam there is a clearly delineated area. [7] That is not to say it didn’t produce any artists, their was some objectively decent renaissance art produced by the Genoese school, subjectively though it wasn’t to my taste as it seemed slightly too posed. 

Peter Vaughan - All Over the Shop

Today I am veering from the path slightly, and will give you a detailed update of my weekend activities tomorrow.And instead, I am going back to Peter, musician and writer, who I met up with on Wednesday and to me, in my unemployed status is a breath of fresh air - I think he only asked me once how my job search is going, and instead very kindly allowed me to ask him all sorts of questions about what he gets up to.  For the record, he is completely not 'all over the shop' but he does love to use the expression 😉..So as I am writing this I am listening to Peter Charles Franklin Vaughan’s album 'The Road that leads to Love leads back out again', which is incredibly heart warming.Peter creates his own music - always melody first, lyrics second, and describes his music as 'traditionally folk'. He has recently written a song about the Thames and I really enjoyed listening to his explanation of this process. The song evolved first by creating a melody on the guitar, playing with chords and rhythm, trying to recall the sound of an English river - a recent reading of Jerome K. Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat' was part of this inspiration. This led to further research on the Thames, and the incorporation of place names along 'The Devil's Highway' a Roman Road that ran from the bridgehead of the Thames. To Peter it is important that his music will 'translate infinitely' - it can be understood by everyone, and he always incorporates metaphors and adds an element of humour to his lyrics.I am not a particularly musical person, although I do enjoy listening (and dancing!) to music a lot, and it was really wonderful to hear Peter speak so eloquently about his process.Peter sings and plays guitar and has started performing his own music with a band - he is thinking of calling it 'Peter Vaughan & sons'. He also currently plays bass for both Lou E and Dregas. For Peter, performing live is an adrenaline rush, a chance to show off, and to make people listen to him - because if you can't say it in a song, when can you say it. I think it is incredibly exciting that he has spent the time teaching himself to create, write, and perform his own music. He only took up guitar aged 16 after hearing a friend play 'House of the Rising Sun'.Peter also writes, and recently won a prize for a short story 'Real Love' which I have just read.  It is incredibly poignant, a love letter to friends, and has a Kerouac-esque feel to it.  To me it is a quiet, but powerful homage to a new generation of artists, musicians and writers, united by a a deep, abiding friendship and mutual respect for each others endeavours.  He himself is very well read, Hemingway, Nabokov and Orwell were mentioned as people who have inspired him, along with the Albert Camus quote ' A novel is never anything, but a philosophy put into images'. We also spoke about Orwell's six rules on writing - I learnt rather a lot!We spoke about a few other things including dressing up - Peter likes to be able to laugh at his own appearance and is often changing his hair style, narcissism - he sees himself as a narcissist; his first tattoo - a memento for being part of the shoot for the band Formation's new single 'Love'. He really enjoys hosting and cooking for people (he is a vegan) and finally that he would like Daniel Day-Lewis to play him in a film about his life.Peter is one of these people who is entirely himself, and does not make any compromises. He speaks very eloquently about things that absorb him, and he is always interested in your point of view. For me it is really exciting to speak to someone who is wholeheartedly pursuing their passion, has veered from the unconventional career path, completely taken it in their stride and I am very excited for what is to come next 😊IMG_0716IMG_0715IMG_009812341547_10153601613585845_5361957211499214468_n