After a quick stop at home last Wednesday, I was back on the train on Thursday with P travelling to Avignon, France. We’d be spending the night there before catching another onward train to Barcelona on Friday. I’d wanted to take a train all the way to Barcelona for years. The idea seemed so romantic. The stop in Avignon was a good idea: it’s a lovely town. The weather that day was gorgeous, and we got to enjoy the famous medieval stone bridge in the afternoon with the beautiful blue backdrop of the Rhone river. That evening, after a delicious pizza in the town square we followed Tripadvisor’s recommendation by going to see the light show in the old Pope’s Palace.
In the Middle Ages Avignon was home to a succession of popes, when the centre of Christianity was not in Rome. Much of the stone centre of Avignon is as it was in those days, and the imposing Pope’s Palace is the grand, rather breathtaking centrepiece that people come to Avignon for. Every night the interior walls are lit up with images and cartoons that tell the story of its history. I’d expected to be impressed, but I was blown away. The walls literally changed in front of your eyes; faces, backdrops, windows doors and words moved around and linked up with each other, bringing vividly to life the history of the palace and the surrounding town. All the narration was in French, so I only understood about half of it while Phil understood none. But we were extremely happy that we’d gone, nonetheless. It was a magical experience.
The train for Barcelona would be leaving early the next morning, which was a bit of a worry, given that the mainline station is a ten minute journey by car outside of Avignon’s old walls. But we made it in plenty of time, thanks to our usual forward planning. P had got a deal on first class tickets, so we journeyed to Barcelona in some style. When we arrived there in the afternoon, P was excited and acting like a big kid. I had been excited too until he started doing this. He kept asking “aren’t you excited to be here?” which just annoyed me no end. I began to worry about the next eight days that I was going to have to share a room with him. Then I realised I was listening to the disease talk; I resolved there and then to carry on with my nightly meditations. I’d lock myself and do it in the bathroom if I had to. I needed to keep sane on this holiday.
The first couple of days in Spain were great. We did our best to explore parts of Barcelona we hadn’t seen before, including the stunning Montjuic Park, which came as a real surprise. I found myself falling in love with Barcelona all over again, and I thought about how nice it would be to retire there.
With P you can’t go to a European city and not spend every night in its gay scene, it’s just not allowed. Saturday we started off in one of our old favourites – a classy cocktail bar in the middle of Barcelona’s unofficial gay area that caters to, shall we say, a more mature clientele. I like it because they play good music (showtunes, 70’s disco, modern electronica, nothing that could be considered as hard house or crap 21st century pop that seems to fill every other gay bar in the world); there’s no attitude in the crowd or in the staff; they have comfortable sofas; it’s always a friendly atmosphere. I never go there expecting to pull – I’ve never pulled in Barcelona, come to think if it – and so usually I don’t mind when I leave without pulling, because it’s not something I want to spoil the experience with any more. On Saturday as soon as we arrived there was a handsome bearded guy in shorts at the bar, staring at me. I wanted to ignore him and forget that he was there – it’s always less threatening that way – but for some reason I couldn’t.
He kept staring, even after we’d moved away from the bar and found a sofa on the other side. I could see him leaning over the bar to get a good look at me; at one point he even walked around the bar, eyes fixed on me as he came quickly towards me, then, just when I thought he was going to stop and say something, he carried on with his circuit until he was back on the other side with his friend.
I must have looked really embarrassed and uncomfortable – one side of me was. On that side I was vulnerable and under threat, expected to reciprocate the attention and become this sexual being that I’ve never liked being. On the other side I really, really wished he’d have stopped to talk to me. I could barely listen to what P was saying; all the while he was still talking to me, oblivious to what was going on.
Much later on, after much mental agony, my heart fluttered when the guy and his friend returned to our side of the bar, picking a free spot on the sofa right next to ours. There he was, within reaching distance, clearly interested in interacting with me – and I couldn’t even turn to look at him. I’ve never wanted to turn and say something to someone so much before in my life. He stayed there for ten minutes, then he got up and left. And that was the last I saw of him. In the space of a few seconds my heart was broken by a stranger whose name I’ll never know.
How can my heart be broken by someone whose face I didn’t even see properly? Whose name I don’t know? It’s not enough to say that I felt extremely attracted to him, nor is it enough to say I’m just this needy person who gets hurt easily. There’s much more to this, going back years. It’s the same experience as every other heartache I’ve been through. It comes from the same place. I’d love to think I can avoid it happening again by swearing off men and cruising forever, but if it can just take the smallest thing to crack it open, I don’t think I’ll be able to avoid it forever.
I told P about it the next day and he was his usual bright optimistic self. There are plenty more fish in the sea! Cheer up, it might never happen! It’s his loss, not yours! Yep, all the clichés came out because P didn’t know what else to say, how else to be. He is just someone who always has to look on the bright side, it’s not really his fault. Having someone like that around in London is great, when you can leave them again and be alone after a few hours. When you’re stuck with them for a week in Spain, it’s another matter.
The paradox with P is that he can look on the bright side when it comes to the big important stuff, such as love, work, sex, money, but he can’t when it comes to small, rather unimportant things. I’m talking air conditioning in restaurants, overcooked eggs, people pushing into queues, expensive metro tickets. When anything gets in the way of him having a convenient day he will always do the exact same thing: tut, sigh, moan for a bit, then not talk about it again. Every single time it’s that same tut and sigh. I can predict when I’ll hear it: they come like clockwork many times a day.
I meanwhile can get through life’s daily inconveniences without tutting and sighing, most of the time. Something like a person seeming to push in front of a queue barely bothers me nowadays. P doesn’t get it, he can’t see why complaining about things that will just happen anyway, because they’re part of life, makes life harder. Having to listen to him complain when someone stands near him smoking, when someone is walking slowly up an escalator in front of him, etc. gets really draining after a while.
Especially when, five minutes later, he’ll remind me of why I shouldn’t get upset about my dead sex life because it’s bound to perk up soon, I’m still young after all! When I try and explain some of the realities of the situation, such as the fact that I don’t go out and I don’t drink and it’s nearly impossible to meet other gay men in our city when you don’t do those two things, it just passes by him, like he hasn’t heard. It’s as if he’s deaf to anything that goes against his own opinion.
We’re staying near the beach, in a hotel surrounded by single gay men, with a pool that is occupied morning to night with our kind, all looking for a bit of fun and relaxation. It’s the first time we’ve stayed here. At first I was bit weary of it – normally we’ve always stayed in a cheap traveller’s hostel type place down the road – we’ve stayed there so many times it’s become almost a tradition, and I instantly missed it when we got here. This place is, whilst still not exactly luxurious, erring much more towards posh. It is in fact much more of a resort hotel, with its pool and its large canteen like breakfast room where all the gays gather for gossip in the mornings.
After a couple of days I’m starting to warm to it, thankfully. Having never really done a resort hotel before, by which I mean the type of hotel you could just stay in all day because it has all the amenities you need, it’s an interesting experience.
Most evenings I’ve been up late booking hotels and apartments for my European odyssey online. Most of it’s booked now. The itinerary is already impressive. On the 13th October I’ll be travelling to Lisbon for a few days, then Porto, then onto Madrid, Seville, Valencia, and then across the Mediterranean to Rome and Venice. There I will end up on the 4th November; I haven’t decided yet what to do next. At the moment I’m thinking about getting a train to Nice and spending the rest of November there; but part of me is now thinking of skipping France altogether and spending the time up North here, looking for work. It’s already mostly decided that I’ll be moving to the northern city in the new year, so I’m becoming attracted to the idea of starting the search for work there early.
What’s true is that I’m not in any rush to decide. I’m on holiday at the moment, there’s no urgency. I can think about it properly when I get home. The bits of the trip I’ve booked so far make me feel very excited, as well as nervous. I’ve never done so much travelling in one trip before. I’ll be on my own through all of it, which is the scary part. I already know I’m going to have to use AA meetings out there to get me through it. I just hope they’re friendly. I won’t see anyone I know for at least three weeks. I question whether I’m really ready for this. Now that I’ve booked most of it I guess I’ll have to be ready. Life sure is about to get very interesting. It’s what I’ve wanted for years – I can’t chicken out of this now.
P and I walked a few miles down the coast to the secluded gay nudist beach that we discovered last year. This was the part of the trip I’d been looking forward to the most. The walk is breathtaking in parts, as it takes you over mountains and beside railway lines, through forests and rocky shorelines. When we got to the beach I had no intention of stripping off to get in the sea, even though I was sweating madly. It’s been a year since I last did skinny dipping – my confidence levels in my body have taken a drop in that time. Meanwhile P couldn’t wait to take everything off and run into the warm Mediterranean sea.
I got us some sun loungers and settled in with some classic pop music, as I watched P wade further and further into the turquoise water. After ten minutes I was shocked to see him score; a cute looking beary type walked straight up to him and started talking to him. Within minutes they were embracing in the middle of the sea. I almost couldn’t believe it; but then I could, because he’s done it before. P says he’s an introvert like me but he always manages to find people when it’s the right moment. If I’d gone into the sea, I knew I wouldn’t have met someone just like that. Guys never just come up to me on beaches or in bars! I’m not depressed about it or anything, at least not any more, it’s just a bit perplexing when P’s ability to attract men is so on display.
I’m sure his positive attitude towards sex and dating is a key factor here. I’d love to have the same positive attitude, tell myself I have a great body and that guys will love me no matter what, but I just can’t and there’s no point in trying. I have to try not to get irritated by P when he comes out of the sea after half an hour telling me all about what just happened.