The comfort of strange places

It helps that it’s near the sea with a coastal energy fizzing in the atmosphere but it doesn’t matter. So long as these road-signs are alien to me, and their contents the stuff traffic reports are made of, hundreds of tertiary roads and a higher frequency away, I’m as content as I’ll ever be.

We share a common language with the locals but mispronounce the villages, both of us struggling to hitch our respective Northern Rs up around a few that require the native blas for accuracy. And although we haven’t fled the island that harbours us all, the experience feels just as commanding as a foreign holiday.

Their stretch of sea might share a coastline with mine, but it’s not prone to stirring up treacherous storms. Their people came from the same national herd of rural dwellers but mine did not journey along these particular roads with or without a backward glance to a place where their descendants hear the echoes of their regrets and hopes, if they  listen long enough. The more they try not to, the more they try to ignore the genetic ripples in the wind, the more deafening it becomes.

The woman in the record shop slides the CD into a made-to-measure brown paper bag. If it hadn’t been for her, we would never have found the river-side café hidden in the foliage behind the bridge. If it hadn’t been for the local she met while passing through in 1979, she’d probably be somewhere else by now. They married a year later. They wouldn’t be anywhere else.

The streets are teeming with strangers. Work colleagues respectfully studying the pavement as the other relays a yarn requiring concentration. Be-capped men in door-ways leaving their silence to do the talking. Eastern Europeans serving coffee with all the flair and lilt of locals. Robust, newly born buildings with an arm each around delapidated shops holding them up from collapse. I know no-one. Our streetscapes are distant cousins through geography. We have no history, and no future. But a three-night stand with this place makes me feel like I’m firmly in the present. That most exclusive of holiday destinations.