This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.
It was time to move on from Amalfi to Ravello. From across the road I watched as a bus signed RAVELLO pulled away. I walked to the schedule board. There had been something online about the bus leaving every 10 minutes so I didn’t put a lot of effort into it but it was indecipherable anyway.
A tall pensioner dressed for a safari was also trying to make sense of the timetable. After a few minutes we gave up and started to chat.
“I haven’t got much time left,” he sighed, “to see all the places I want to see.” This made me uncomfortable. Did he have cancer? I had just met him and I didn’t want to but I felt compelled to ask, “I hope you’re not ill?”
“Oh no,” he laughed as though this were a silly question. “My GP says I’m healthy. I’m just old. One of these days there will be a fall, or a burst blood vessel, and then I’ll be bundled off to a home. Sometimes I think I should just jump off a cliff and get it over with.” And here we were, surrounded by cliffs. I didn’t ask if he was widowed or had children; they had probably been killed in a tragic accident.
He eyed me and said wistfully, “You’re just a child.” This made me feel more awkward. Was he just a nice old man, or a lecher trying to flatter me?
Based on his accent, I made the mistake of saying something about tough English people who were independent well into their centennial year.
“I’m not English,” he exclaimed. “I’m from Jersey. Have you heard of Jersey?”
He proceeded to inform me about the history of Jersey, the relationship between the UK and Jersey, and Jersey cows. “You have heard of Jersey cows?” Ye-es. I don’t think he was patronizing me. I think he was depressed and lonely—at home and everywhere. He was one of those people who badly wants friendships but isn’t good at them. He never asked me about myself, but launched into monologues about Italian history and his favorite country, Morocco.
He was one of those men who is a walking encyclopedia, with a library of books at home on history, geography, world religions, warfare, anthropology, and politics. They have seen every war film and documentary, have visited Normandy and Pearl Harbor and spent days in the Churchill War Rooms at the Imperial War Museum. They can name every regiment and what kind of tanks or planes were deployed and how many men died in the Battle of Nanjing and the siege of Leningrad and the Bataan Death March. And now that these men have Google, it’s like they’re on steroids.
I sometimes worry that I have this tendency. I am always conscious of not spewing people with verbal diarrhea, especially if I’ve been traveling solo for a while.
Of course there are men, and women, like this in every land, but the British and their cousins seem to produce more, maybe because of their national fixation on World War II. That’s not a criticism—they had the #@$% bombed out of them and then my country forced them to pay war reparations, which prevented them from rebuilding as quickly as they could have. We Americans would do well to emulate their habit of reflection.
Forty-five minutes passed and people were crowding onto the platform. A young guy who turned out to be honeymooner from St. Louis asked if we thought they should go to Venice. He was a stereotypical super friendly American. A nice guy, to another American.
My new Jersey friend and I endorsed Venice. “It’s dark and decaying, in a lovely way,” I offered. “Don’t miss the cemetery island.” Me and my cemeteries.
“Oh, I give up! I’m going back to Sorrento,” Jersey declared and walked off.
Five minutes later the bus arrived. As we pulled away I could hear St. Louis behind me saying, “That old English guy is one of those people who knows something about everything. Thank god he went back or he’d be talkin’ our ears off.”