Last time I was in Pisa, I was at the tail-end of teenagehood, on an impulsive little adventure. Here I was, back, a grown-ass man, and I was doing it right. Wheels down a couple of hours ago and here for just one night, so your reporter files this from an outdoor table of a bar, directly opposite Keith Haring’s last mural. A half-gone negroni sits on the little metal table to my side, and as it takes effect, I let my eyes follow around the lines and curves and shapes Mr Haring left on the wall in front of me. I’m in that pleasantly over-emotional sweet spot that a cocktail in the late afternoon can locate you at. Sometimes I fall into a particularly vicious circle at times like this. Fully in love with the moment I’m in, then I start to get maudlin, thinking only of the time when there will be no more moments. Then I beat myself up and feel dumb about ruining this one by thinking those thoughts. Stupid mental health. But this evening I manage to steer clear of that depressive waterslide, and just be in the now, completely.
Once the drink is all gone, I wander up to the obvious place. I mean, it’d be remiss of me not to, right? The snarky hipster equivalent of taking a photo of the leaning tower is smirking at all the people leaning their hands into the air as their partners take photos of them holding it up. That gag looks so much better from the wrong angle.
Couple of days later I have the first of four reasons why I’m here. I’m doing a decent length performance of a new version of old material, if you get what I’m saying. A “best of” show – all tried and tested stuff, but this’ll be the first time it’s been done it this particular configuration. I wasn’t altogether sure on my timings, so although I’m happy with how the first show went, I had one eye on the clock, so wasn’t able to fully lose myself in it. I needn’t have worried – two thirds in I realised I was running long and had to cut some stuff on the fly. Always a nice problem to have, that. By the time the second show rolled around, I’d relaxed. Got my shoulders under the water, as my mum used to say. I felt loose and in the moment, and we all had a fine old time.
A couple of days off followed, which involved sitting at various cafes and bars in the Cote D’Azur reading Adam Savage’s great new book, people watching, taking deep deliberate breaths of warm sea air and reflecting , sometimes out loud, on my dumb luck. Also there was a moment when I walked past a café, and a waitress looked at me and said, out loud to a waiter, “He’s fancy!”, which I very much enjoyed.
Then two more shows, and now my stride was hit. I felt like I’d gained confident momentum. Walking out on stage in front of 1300 people without a gram of nerves doesn’t often happen, and perhaps shouldn’t often happen, but there it was. Thirty years and change of practice and honing and failing and learning and sheer bloody-minded persistence, and it all came together rather perfectly. It doesn’t always, and I’d be a liar if I pretended it did. I’m often nervous. I’m sometimes clumsy. These things less so now, just by dint of repetition, but still, they happen. But not that night. That night, they were on board. They were up for it, and so was I, and in the first few moments of the show, we secretly agreed that we’d have a good time. The 50 minutes or so slide past, easy and smooth, my sails full and fat from their appreciation. Afterwards I have cheese fries and apple pie and feel momentarily like a capable, grown-up.
The next day, my last day before travelling home, I have nothing to do, but a beautiful French seaside town in which to do it. I walk along the seafront until the bars and shops and hotels run out, past the marina, through harbourside paths framed by purple vines hanging onto flaky stone walls. Finally I get to a chainlink fence with a sign telling me that it’s the end of my walk. Just before it, though, is a little outdoor café. Right on the waters edge, a kiosk with a few wobbly tables surrounding it, with wobbly old sailors sat at them. So of course, I find a free one (table, not sailor) and sit. I get a couple of croissants, warm not from the oven but from sitting out in the hot sun, but perfect nonetheless, and a big cup of rough, strong, thick, awful, beautiful coffee. And I sit staring at the sea with a silly contented grin on my face. When it all goes bad, you dwell, right? So here’s to dwelling when it goes good.
Oh, and while you’re here, If you’re going to the Edinburgh fringe, you might want to click on this…