We’re on the road.
We are 25 people with five caravans and one truck.
We are Companhia Erva Daninha, Point View Association, and Bilan.
Today is a particularly tough day.
When we arrive late – hungry, weary, exhausted and frustrated – at the French service station Aire de Toulouse-Sud, 10 kilometres away from Toulouse on A61, I am too tired to rest, and too worried to eat. My caravan mates say I think too much, and that I should relax. I know they’re right. I also know it’s easier said than done and there are always individual differences in the ways we deal with unpleasant situations.
The SPERA MUNDI caravan journey’s setting-out ceremony took place on Thursday the 13th of September, 2012, at Campo de S. Mamede in Guimaraes. Seven large, white vehicles were soon on their wobbling way to connect the world from Guimaraes to Maribor, the two European Capitals of Culture. In total, we are to go 2,546 kilometres on the road. We did roughly 500 on the first day.
Today is the second day on the road. Last night we said to go a thousand, but when it gets dark in the evening, we are only a little over 600 further east. From the beginning of day, at around 8:30, everyone feels the stress to go, on the move, rush, hurry… Apart from the occasional petroleum stops, we almost never get a break. Yet we’re terribly behind schedule and we’re losing time. Exactly how we’re losing it, though, I don’t think anyone knows for sure.
It just is what it is.
It’s early autumn. The sun is a passionate warmth during the day, and we have long days. But as soon as the sun goes down, the chill of the evening drops in. When the weather changes, just as suddenly do the group dynamics shift. At night, with the darkness and the cold, one is easily prone to feel depressed and repressed, disheartened or detached. And sometimes it’ll take a real effort to be civil and pleasant. Tonight, in the cold of the night, there is the unspoken complaint; there is spoken discontent. Where language fails, the sense senses.
At the end of the day when I return to my lodging caravan, I find that my “roommates” have, in the long stretch of the day, started a money-pooling game, a fantastic silly game to keep everyone in the group alert and mentally responsive, with the promise of a hot-pot feast. Instead of English names and nicknames commonly used for work and other social settings, we are now to call each other by our proper Chinese names, and the fine for any, even the slightest, ‘slip of tongue,’ will cost the speaker one Euro, which then goes into the giant feast fund, accumulating as we go.
In the dead of the night, after a tough struggle with the fatigue from lack of sleep, travelling and waiting, I finally get myself up to take a shower. At this service station, a hot shower costs 1.5 Euros. While walking alone through the narrow spaces left open between gigantic lorries arrayed in the service station back to the caravan, I look up at the stars and think of Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Thank god for the stars and thank god for literature’s consolation. Sometimes, when everything on the outside seems hopeless, thoughts can protect us from falling too far down.
I don’t want to wake up in the morning, because we’re waiting a lot today.
No one has said but I don’t expect otherwise. There is nothing we can do about the situation. It’s no fault of anyone, but we’re stalled.
Our producer, Kuong Wafun (Beware, calling ‘Erik’ will cost you one Euro) gets up early to have a meeting with the others, and I get up roughly when he returns to resume sleeping.
So, my day starts late. Just as the previous one ends.
It is decided in the meeting that we will wait here for project managers for Spera Mundi, Ana Moraes and Jorge Rui Martins, and journalists Venessa Rodrigues and Antonio Morais, to meet up with us here before we resume our rush caravan journey to Maribor. Their caravan broke down yesterday afternoon, and they are trying to come as soon as they can. Clearly, Aire de Toulouse-Sud is hardly anyone’s favourite place to stay overnight, let alone spend time with one’s travel mates. But here we are, and we make do with what we end up with the best we can.
Late morning, I slowly move myself out of the caravan, go about the business of washing and eating and greetings, and then slowly settle myself on a plastic chair in the shade of the caravan, just to stare into the air and think of nothing.
But then, as I sit listlessly in the sun, I look around me and see beautiful pictures.
I look at everyone with admiration for a while.
Perhaps I am remembering this line from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel because I need this thought to help me hang on; perhaps the positive energies amongst ourselves remind me of the positive, fairy-tale ending note of that film, which I saw on the plane to Portugal at the start of this European tour:
“Everything will be all right in the end, so if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
Perhaps we ought to celebrate ourselves, because we're stalled with good spirits.