I would like it to be sunny there. Sun gives you vitamin … some-letter-or-other. But not too much, hey! Some sun — good; too much — bad! Wear a hat. Sunglasses. Factor some-high-number sun block. But yes, sun. Apart from the vitamin intake, there’s the sense of wellbeing. Apparently, the further north you are, like here, where skies are grey, days shorter, rain aplenty, the suicide rate is appalling. I’m not ready to go yet. Give me sunshine.
I would like it to have a cuisine. Nothing too fancy, mind you. As long as it’s better than old Mrs Wilson’s efforts, like this evening’s bangers and mash; I’m still chewing a piece of one of her sausages three hours later! It doesn’t have to be Michelin five-star gourmet, the cuisine — you know, a flake of fish, a spud, two beans and a special sauce trickled into an artistic design on the side of the plate; I’m a simple bloke, with simple tastes. But there has to be something typical you can get your teeth into, and not just stuff you can find on any high street from Wales to New South Wales and all points east and west. Some fresh sardines, for instance, charcoal-grilled, with roast peppers on the side. That kind of thing. Lovely!
I would like it to have people, naturally. I’m fond of people. No, really. I mean, they’re okay. Depending. I’d rather not meet my compatriots there, though — at least not the ones that think pouring whole barrels of beer down their gullets then consigning it to the gutter soon afterwards, from either end, is their idea of cultural exchange. Local people — friendly, welcoming, with an exotic language I can’t understand and we have to use gestures to communicate and that makes us laugh and get on like a house on fire. That kind of people.
I would like it to have forms of transport that set it apart. A funicular maybe, which costs you a couple of quid for a two-minute climb you could have walked, but that’s okay because it’s different. Old trams, too — the comforting (somehow) clunk-clank-clunk of iron wheels on iron tracks, and the dull bell to get people out of the way, and all the locals moaning when some idiot parks on the tracks and we have to wait while he comes out of the shop and raises an apologetic hand and we all swear at him. And spotting the pickpockets and warning fellow travellers, but getting dirty, threatening looks from the thieves because you’ve ruined their business until the next tram they catch. But it’s worth the danger because you feel a bit of a hero. Me, a hero? Yes, why not?
I would like it to have interesting things to see. Museums with odd exhibits in them — I don’t know, mammoth tusks, or fully-formed trees the size of a teapot, or a minor, obscure Picasso found in a shed, or the gun that killed the country’s president in 1933, stuff like that. And views over the city — nothing like a belvedere to take in the exquisite higgledy-piggeldyness of terracotta rooftops, baking in the sun.
I would like it to be old, my destination, at least in parts. Not just the same dusty cathedrals and bits of Roman wall, long since collapsed and little more than rubble now. No, I mean old and decaying. There’s a certain beauty in decay, in crumbling masonry, flaky paintwork, half-rotting doors. I wouldn’t want to spend my life surrounded by mould and dust and cockroaches, mind you (I spent three weeks in the east wing, and that was enough). But passing through, and from a safe distance … yes, decay beats modern any day.
I would like it to have quiet squares. You’ve been walking all day, seeing the sights, and you get off the main street and into a bit of shade, and at the end of the side street you see a sunny space, and you walk towards it, and it opens up into a lovely little square, no cars, with maybe fragrant jacaranda trees in bloom and a quaint kiosk selling coffee. You buy one — a tiny cup, very bitter, that you don’t really like but when in Rome … though you’re not actually in Rome — and you sit on the terrace, sip your coffee, grimace, take out your book, read a few pages in between watching the world pass sedately by.
I would like it to be a place where I could fall in love, even if it’s a Mr-Bernstein-from-Citizen-Kane kind of love. An elegant young woman dressed in white (white parasol optional), possibly drifting past the terrace where I’m sitting, and she doesn’t see me, but there’s not a week goes by after that day that I don’t think of her. And years later I’m still thinking of her, and still in stupid, impossible, unrequited love.
I would like to dream of her tonight. That would be a nice dream. Beauty and warmth together, like my destination. Until I wake up, and I’m still here.
Well, maybe that’s a good point to end. My bunk-mate Miller’s been looking daggers at me for ages; he wants to use the pen and I have been hogging it a bit. But this should be enough for us to go on in the next session, Doctor Moletta, don’t you think?
And anyway, it’ll be lights-out soon.