October 1988 and I’m on a train heading out of Palermo, bound for Rome. The whole summer had been spent wandering slowly south on trains and zig zagging through Europe.
There had never been a plan or a route. There wasn’t even a timetable. Just head south and stay away as long as the money lasts.
Sicily was to have been just a stop on the journey but in the end it became the final destination.
Five weeks passed by there, in the town of Isola Delle Femine on the outskirts of Palermo. Five weeks of sunbathing, hanging out, dancing, eating and making friends. Five weeks in one place just letting the summer pass.
I don’t think my life has ever really felt that simple again.
And then that day when it finally came time to head home. When reality kicked in and we realised that the party was over, that the world we’d left behind, the world we had managed to forget so easily, was still there after all and it was beckoning.
I got on the train with Giuseppe and we spent most of the journey through the night watching the towns slip by us. Watching the summer disappear behind us.
There was nothing to say. The sadness seemed to be looming on the horizon for both of us. The sense that carefree summers were never going to come again seemed palpable, seemed horribly real, so we both just stared out the window.
“L’estate e finito”
At some point in the journey Giuseppe looked at me and said that.
“The summer is over.”
And so it was.
Pulling into Rome that morning, into the early October chill it was as if nothing remained of those lost weeks spent dreaming on that island.
“L’estate e finito”
I’ve heard those words many a time since, the memory of that summer, that moment made infinite by the repetition of those words.
And now October looms again and another summer is over. And if Giuseppe has a story to tell of the summers that have passed since, then I have never heard them.
He walked me through the station in Rome and I never did see him again …