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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: A MEDITERRANEAN SUMMER OVER FORTY YEARS AGO

Guy Sprung

Timon and Lavendelle

Tschivap, Paella

Wild chamomile tea

Orange blossom high

A 1964 red Berlin Fire Department Volkswagen mini-bus

was our mobile home that summer

We bought it second-hand at an auction

with money you had earned waitressing

in the canteen of the British Army of Occupation

As we autobahned to the Mediterranean

a 1971 Spring

the emergency red colour of our van

veered other cars to the curb,

mis-thinking we were an ambulance on call

granting us an open road of false assumptions

You, Tzigan, you

with your hennaed Hungarian hair

fuelled us with paprikash chicken

each night

cooked on our makeshift burner

Paris, too brief

our tight cash making

time

more tense than

transforming,

we headed south into summer

the rest of Europe ahead of us

Those Brittany huitres

eaten raw

straight out of the mud

stayed alive playing oyster rugby

inside me

all down the coast of France

I have not been able to eat any since

Descending through the Spanish valleys of blossoming groves

ingesting the orange essence

seeking a perfect cliff-side camping spot

with a view of tomorrow’s sun

rising out of the cyan blue

to grace our morning’s meagre fast

At noon

the rock of Calpe hovers like

a mythical Spanish castle

over the sea

Cloaked in a halo of shimmering air

it casts no shadow

El Cordoves skewered bulls

on our landlady’s TV

as she taught us how to fry

the little fish,

los picenios.

We lunch-tested her tortilla recipe

with the aroma of hot olive oil

rising in the streets and squares around us

and I wrote my first play

Every night hoarding our coins

to afford one glass of wine at the bar

and me a one purito

because that is all there was

Madrid

chased from our nighttime park

parking spot by the Milicia

we fled to Italy

just as the kilometers-long convoys of south-bound Parisians

invaded Iberia

Rome

taste-testing Italian honeys in the luxury flat

of a chance-encountered Mafioso couple

too hot for comfort

They evicted their two Canadian hippies summarily

when the patronizing milk of human kindness turned sour.

Those coloured plastic tubes

singing harmonics swinging around your head

were all the rage in the square near the Coliseum

On to Austria to pick up your mother

and give her a spin down to Yugoslavia

as it was called then

in our red cocoon.


The ancient Dalmatian crone, black-clothed,

wrinkled face, back hunched

from scrubbing her steps to a sterile white,

bowed, pleading, hoping

with the state tourist hotels overflowing in high season

she too might see some dinars, liras, pesetas

if the supposed-rich tourists from Amerika

would deign to stay

in her Pension third class (no bath no separate toilet).

In the kitchen

Tito’s aged, one-armed partisan listened

whether that night would afford his slivovitz,

mouth watering

as when the Nazis had surrounded his hideout

We, with little

could little afford the little she asked

for the privilege of usurping her bed

Mother with wounds from a Lager had to and could

Mother would have slept well

except

next door a neighbour had opened a discotheque

with money earned as a “Gastarbeiter”

in the same factory

which thirty years earlier

had forged the metal

that cost the Partisan his arm

Enjoyment without responsibility

Transported in a

luxurious Canuck innocent ignorance.

discovering

a Europe seasoned with a past of wars and recent wars and wars yet to come.

devouring our present

to reach a future we presumed without frontiers

Now the wrinkles of the forty intervening years feed off

the exhausted pallor of our faces

We can still think ourselves friends

a tiny victory against the opportunism of time,

we lick the melting memories

as they drip slowly through our fingers

like run-off from an Italian gelato

bought with Lires turned over three times in our palms before spending them.

Long ago we sold that VW van illegally

on a street in London

Long ago we each found other partners to partner our journeys

fall victim to our little betrayals and little jealousies

our insecurities and unjust deserts

The pain of still knowing each other

of tracing the roads travelled

our tempers shortening even as our life-lines

grow longer and more crooked

phone calls undialed

leave messages

And we brunch rarely in some favourite Montreal café

letting weeks go by with no contact

secure in the proximate absence

a mere few blocks from each other

in our Plateau’d existence

Memories, those questions

Replayed images

Moments of incomprehension

Little puzzles in time

Little tortures

scalding the tongues of our mind

Go to the time bank at the corner

see if you still have any credit

Punch in your secret user’s code

Withdraw the past forty years

How would we, could we, spend them over

if we had known then what we know now?

Would the credit of hindsight

buy us comprehension

of the precariousness of time

or inhibit the enjoyment of our ignorant innocence

Why did you never learn to drive

you wondered once

It was a gentle accusation

Did I not want to teach you?

Or did you not want to learn?

Why did we choose not to have kids?

The forks on our journey not taken

Hard questions we

don’t want to answer

Now we hear the walls of time inching in

How many years will still be granted us?

What are we doing which we should be doing differently

What battles should we be fighting

if we only knew now what we will know when time runs out

Memories, opportunities to second chance ourselves

to decipher what was missed once before

enjoy the re-humiliation

re-tripping on pain re-injected

Memories, wishful thinking hindsight

that vacuum the now out of today.

Piazza San Marco in Venice

is covered in tourists’ kernels of corn.

Heads jerking from side to side,

Nervous, scrawny, suspicious

pigeons die of starvation

They never have peace to eat.


For Juditka














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3 Comments


judit kenyeres
judit kenyeres
Dec 02, 2023

Dearest Guy, I'm most grateful for all that we were, are and will yet be!! Some questions will always remain unanswered but I hope we will not stop asking them and searching. Your friend in the quest, Juditka

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The memories are beautiful and vivid. But, you were even uglier than I was back then.

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Beauty walks a razor’s edge. Wonderful.

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