Wednesday 1 December 2010

The Hotel Continental, Thessaloniki, 1st December, 1989

It was 21 years ago today that I came to Greece to 'be a writer', whatever I thought that meant. I was twenty four years old. I thought I knew it all. Of course, I knew nothing. My ticket was the cheapest I could find, from a dingy office in Oxford Street. It was one way.

The Hotel Continental, Thessaloniki, 1st December, 1989

The first night
of a new life.
The street is called 'Komninon',
if I have deciphered correctly;
it's a while since I did Greek at school.
Is it a flower? I wonder.
Or a mountain?
I have no idea, but
Komninon is here,
and so is the Hotel Continental.

We ascend in silence,
the concierge and I.
The lift is vintage,
a concertina door,
not a creak as we rise, slowly,
hoisted by elastic bands nearing their last.

We splash through puddles of second floor Domestos,
or the local equivalent.
At least the place is clean.

Then alone in this small, cold room.
The bed, the table, the chair.
Through closed windows, a partial view of old men playing billiards,
the angle of shoulder, elbow and cue,
and laughter I can only see.

I find (despite the bleach) what I knew would be there.
I knew it all along.
My cliche: the squashed bug on the wall.
On closer inspection, two bugs,
still wet.
The previous guest,
reviled by their twitching copulations,
has recently voted with his shoe.

I sit at the table.
This is why I came.
The first words of my new life.
Full of insight.

My God,
what have I done?

I look to the window,
but the billiard room is dark.
No more silent laughter.
I stare back at myself,
my pencil poised
in a hand that isn't mine.

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