Let it be, or twenty years ago
Sometimes you happen to arrive in a city and feel at ease immediately, even if you have never been there before. It happens where you least expect it, in places that could not be more different from your daily roads and your whereabouts. And yet, it happens: this feeling of familiarity sort of leans on you, and you wonder how it could have happened, right here among all the places you have visited.
In Liverpool, this sensation of travel wellbeing which makes me smile automatically first appears at the city airport, which is dedicated to John Lennon (https://www.liverpoolairport.com/): at the arrivals, after a two-hour very cheap Ryanair flight from Malpensa, I exchanged a few words with an 18-year-old girl from Bergamo. She was on her first great adventure “in the world of the English language”. I was the same age when twenty years ago, I left for a similar experience towards Ireland. I think the serenity I feel is brought on by the fact that I know her joy, her unconscious joy. I know that freedom is about to arrive for her as fast as it arrived for me, in the summer of ’98. Time elapses.
She asks me if I would like to be 18 again, and I say no, I tell her that these years that separate us have been necessary, have been dark and bright, but above all, they have been intertwined with travels that I could not even imagine on that August day in 1998. For these roads, for these adventures, I would not change the 20 years that separate us.
We say goodbye in front of the bus heading towards Liverpool city centre, (Liverpool One Station: https://www.liverpool-one.com/plan-your-visit/getting-here/journey-planner/).
However, while hugging me, she asks her last blunt question: “Do you have any advice for me?”. It’s something I never get asked because I can barely give directions to myself. I would tell her I am still the one looking for answers; that things are always uncertain; that the more you travel in the world, the less you understand the world. I would like to tell her that maybe you will have a horrible life or a splendid one, who the fuck knows, how do you give advice with a bus waiting for you?
The only epic thing that comes out of my mouth is: “Try to make mistakes, make a fool of yourself”. She looks at me as if I were retarded, greets me and leaves. With those words, I wanted to tell her that the most memorable things in life, but also in the study of another language and in travel, come out of errors and miscalculations. You always get lost at least once in every holiday, but then you find yourself again. You might confuse two terms in the language you are learning, but no one will ever forget you in your class if, for instance, you say gummi (which in German can also mean condom) instead of radiergummi (which means eraser).
All you need is love
The accent and ways of speaking of the residents of Liverpool were two other reasons that immediately made me feel happy: their English (which, for all you linguistic nerds out there is called English Scouse – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_C4PDSfQJA), obviously made my heart beat as it reminded me the typical Beatles inflexion, whose songs have inhabited most of my life, for better or for worse.
In addition, English Scouse continuously uses nicknames such as “love” and “pet” and “babe” and could only bring me back to my second home, which is the Irish way of talking. Languages are also mirrors of their speakers, and as it happened 9 years on the other side of the channel, even here the residents have been as welcoming as their idiom: from those Liverpool fans who greeted me in front of my (cool) hostel (Sleep Eat Love hostel), to the bouncer who let me go into the Cavern Pub (https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavern_Club), to the pastor who stopped for a chat inside the immense Anglican cathedral (http://www.liverpoolcathedral.org.uk/) – everybody called me “love”.
And … love is all you need, no? (Https://vimeo.com/214047758).
Here comes the sun
We tend to identify this shaky United Kingdom on the verge of Brexit with grey skies and low temperatures. The Irish years will come again to help me, but honestly, in my travels, I stopped worrying too much about the weather: I cannot change it, I can only curse against it if it rains or snows.
Obviously, I did not sweat in Liverpool, but I did not even die frozen or washed away by a monsoon, typical of these parts of England between January and May (#speakingsarcasm). Quite the contrary, actually: the sun was there for most of my visit. The seagulls rose to a blue-like sky every morning when I opened the hostel door to go out into a new adventure; the fog disappeared when I saw the ferries leaving for the Isle of Man (so close to me, here, but not so close allow a proper visit on this trip); I had to wear sunglasses when I left the Beatles Story, the museum completely dedicated to the Fab Four (Https://www.beatlesstory.com/).
But perhaps the brightest moment of these Beatles days happened … inside! Inside the Liverpool Central Library! Every once in a while, on travel magazines, there are rankings that talk about incredible libraries and bookshops and where to find them. However, they are never dedicated to some “minor” ones, such as this one or the one I visited in Bucharest (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/carture-ti-carusel-bookstore). Why? Why does travel press always – often – describe the very same places?
Inside the library located on William Brown Street, I automatically raised my eyes upwards: the light enters through almost infinite structures made of glass and steel, in an enormous spiral in which geometrical stairs meet. There is a living silence, people are writing and reading, and coming and going, some holding books in their hands, while others place them in their backpacks: those who are there, as in every library in the world, are free to look up towards something they did not know, to understand it, to use it in the future, to become even freer, because your education cannot be taken away from you.
I go up and down the structure, three, four, five times, and I feel a sort of reassurance while I look at all those books: the madness that inhabits the world out there, in here seems under control. Then I get to the Picton Reading Room, which is a circular room where there are around ten dividers occupied by as many desks: thousands of rare editions, medieval manuscripts, unique books dedicated to travel and natural history and much more are all here. In this circle, it looks like they are hugging those who learn at those tables.
I sit and watch them for a while and I feel that all these people, of all ages, of all social backgrounds and hailing from countries that are geographically light-years apart, are looking for some solution in these volumes. I breathe. There is hope in here.
Thank you for your insightful commentary on my city. You managed to get some of its essence and I hope you return to dig deeper. Re the question you struggled to answer, I would suggest, “talk to the person next to you”. ..on the bus, in the street, at the next table in the cafe, and if you find a local you’ll always get a response. Our cuture is “kind”. This is an old fashioned word that means, helpful, friendly, generous, receptive and sadly it is in short supply in many metropolitian areas. We are of Celtic stock, with the hedonistic streak of the Irish, and 300 years being a port, has conditioned us to welcome vistors.
Come back soon.
Thank you, Jim. You are absolutely right: your culture is KIND. I felt so much at home while I was in Liverpool. Everybody was gentle and funny (a good way of funny). Everybody was generous and receptive. I hope I will come back soon to visit more!