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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Crossing


We were finally crossing the Romanian Danube on a flat-bottomed car ferry.

As we we made our way across the water we spread the maps out on the bonnet of the car and looked carefully for the crossing point. Once we were over we would have to find our way to the Black Sea and we had already been lost that day amongst unpaved roads and two-street villages. These were small communities, each home a family centre with its vine and carefully tended onion plots and we – good naturedly - had been held up behind a wedding procession, the hems of the beaming bride’s dress coloured by the dust on the roads.  But now the river, delivering a cool breeze, was suddenly there as a welcome marker, a flowing point of reference. It was finally possible to rest ourselves after the long, hot and dusty summer drive during which we’d passed whip snakes basking on the roads and, in a verge of long grass, the body of a dead man.

In glorious contrast to the lazy summer drone of the farmlands the crossing point was active with travellers going backward and forward to the coastal resorts for seasonal work or pleasure: gamblers, dancers, sun seekers, bar staff, casual labour, musicians, people bathing in the river and itinerant farm workers all of them creating a cloud of dust down by the edge of the water. It was wonderfully noisy. I had walked over to the slipway while we waited to board just to get some peace and respite from the crippling heat and looked downstream. Down there somewhere the river would eventually unwind and fray out into its own fertile delta.

We drove over the knocking board ramp and while the boat thump-thumped across the river we got talking to a Russian family who had driven down through Moldova and down the coast to see their family in Bulgaria. “It’s long but good” he had said with both resignation and a happy weariness. I got the sense that this river crossroads was an important marker point in their journey south.  After that, we passed the rest of the crossing in silence, enjoying the space between drives.

That was over a decade ago.

Now, on reflection, I’ve passed over a million border crossings like this: Places where one point in my journey meets another.  In this case it was a literal crossing point but in other cases it’s been standing on the liminal ribbon between land and water; walking a ridge between grass and space; the velvet hour between night and day; the hard edge between bright sun and the dark of the pine plantations; floating face down just before a slow dive into water. These are good places to cross. Always outside, always nothing between me and the earth, these are the spaces in which I feel I can finally meet myself properly. I can tick off those moments where my defences are let down and there is an easy necessity of silence, a seeming surplus of time. I like these moments. They are the reminders that I’m still travelling.

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