Twenty five is not, in itself, a significant birthday. However, it does mean that one has distinctly reached an age where one is no longer considered a youth; I am “an adult”. If I were to commit murder, news sources would describe me not as a “promising young intellectual”, but as a “25-year-old man” who had “sadistically”, “brutally” and “emotionlessly” “butchered” “once close” friends, lovers and/or family members. (I like to think that if I go that way, I’ll go HARD.)
So, yes, today was/is my twenty fifth birthday, and I have spent it split between Paros and Antiparos, two more Greek islands. Charming, beautiful, whatever, the same as other Greek islands, special, I suppose, idyllic, yeah, you know, good to be on. I went into a big cave, I ate some cheese, I drove tens of kilometres on a very ’90s beach buggy. The usual. I also finished reading On The Road, a book which (as a pretentious literary purist) I had only previously consumed in its hyper-long, raw, unedited, Original Scroll form. As much as it pains my automatic writing self to admit it, the first published version (with the influence and control of lawyers, publishers, editors, proof-readers, publicists, journalists, investors, buyers, whatever, evident on every page) is a more compelling and enjoyable read. The crap has been cut and, yes, so has SOME of the sex and drug use, but in terms of readability it is faultless. Paragraphs are never more than a page, chapter breaks come every ten or so – though less Kerouac’s vision of a new literature, it is certainly a BETTER BOOK and a more controlled, distilled, version of his aesthetic than the earlier draft. Which is all the Original Scroll was: an early draft.
Paros is a less high-end destination than Santorini, where I was before. There was roadkill and the husks of two decimated vehicles (one scooter bent out of shape against a wall, one white car upside down in a field, overgrown by weeds) on the byways, there was a strange smell that my Morocco-heightened senses intimated was fresh, growing marijuana in the island’s mountainous centre, and the taxi driver who moved me from the port to the hotel spat out a striking monologue:
“Oh,” he said, “I was in London many, many times. But before you were born. ’83, ’84, ’85, ’86. I had an export business, exporting clothes from Athens to London. Those were the good days, the boom days. You could do anything, everything, whatever you wanted, things worked. Things were alive. But now, these last two years, here, it is death. Death. Two years before this, it is death. The government: thieves and liars, the country is dead. My country is dead. And there is nothing anyone can do.”
On Antiparos this afternoon, three old men, two Americans and a Dane, sat talking at a bar close to the marina where they had all parked their boats. They had met, fresh, all of them white-haired and bearded. Each of them fancying himself a Hemingway. “Women want a nest,” one said, “And I ain’t even been able to nest.” The other two murmured assent. “I could always support a nest, heck, we all can, but I never had the, had the… I’m not the nesting kind.” They clinked beers. “I ain’t the nesting kind.”
Aged men. I am one of them. Bitterness or a roving heart, all I have to look forward to. I’m a young man no longer. Happy birthday.