16. Daylight Saving

IN TRIESTE, WHERE WE had sat through yet another Interpol conference on tracking international organised crime networks, we parted ways until the next such conference. We knew it would not be long until we saw each other again, as the conferences were rarely more than a few months apart, and we were always obliged to attend by our respective agencies, even though no real progress ever seemed to be made. The night before we separated, we ate a meal at a local Mexican restaurant. At the end of the meal, Olivier reminded us to wind our watches back an hour that weekend because daylight saving was at an end. This led me to recall how depressed I always felt in the weeks after the end of daylight saving, and I realised that this year it would be even more depressing than usual because I had not taken a swim in the sea all summer. I didn't mention this train of thought to the group, out of consideration for them - I didn't want to drag the mood down even lower than where it was. Those of us whose employers wouldn't pay for an extra night left directly after the meal, while the rest of us left the following morning. Olivier boarded a flight to London, Renata boarded a bus bound for Sarajevo, and I took a train - or rather the first of a series of trains - to Lyon. The journey began unremarkably enough, but somewhere between Genoa and the Italian border the train stopped suddenly and for no apparent reason. I had a window seat and tried to make out the cause of our stop, but without success. On my left were a series of glasshouses fallen into repair, and behind the glass houses was the sea; on my right the foothills of the Piedmont. The afternoon sun was warm, the breeze was gentle, and something about the bedraggled glasshouses beside the train tracks must have triggered something secret in me, because I was suddenly possessed by a single, immovable desire: I had to swim in the sea before the end of daylight saving. Although I knew there were people waiting for me at home, that I had a wife and children and parents, that I had a house and a mortgage and a job, I took my bag and jacket and simply jumped off the train and started walking in the direction of the sea. I soon came to a neighborhood cafe where I ordered a coffee and bread, as I must have been hungry and thirsty, or not thirsty exactly but tired. This light meal had the desired effect, for within minutes I was even more determined to swim in that sea. The woman who served me looked at me curiously but said nothing. I left and kept walking towards the sea. Even though it was October the weather was mild in the shade and warm in the sunshine. I remember it was muggy too. I stripped down to my boxers and entered the water. The feel of it as it lapped ever higher at my skin left me gasping for breath, but I had swum in colder water even as late as July in previous years. Just as the sea takes a long time to heat up, it also takes a long time to cool down, and so it was that even though daylight saving was about to end, within minutes my body had adjusted to the temperature, and the water felt pleasantly cool against my skin. Walking further and deeper into the sea, I noticed two old women seated on a bench at some distance from me, waving in my direction, but I paid them no mind, assuming they were waving to someone else. It didn't occur to me that I was the only one in the water. I concluded that this had been a very good idea, that every time I swam in the sea I enjoyed it more, and that it would have been a real shame to let a whole year go by without once swimming in the sea. Soon enough, however, I had had enough of the sea and I swam back to shore. When I returned to where I'd let my wallet and clothes, I saw that they had been stolen (although for a second or two beforehand I wondered if I had exited the water in a different place to where I had entered it, as sometimes happens when there is a current). Thankfully, as a precaution, I had buried my credit card and my cash in the sand nearby before my swim, so I could buy myself some new clothes. Dressed only in my wet underwear, I walked to the road and waited for a bus or a taxi. I put out my thumb to passing cars and trucks but to no avail. Soon a local bus arrived, almost empty as always. I had to convince the driver, in broken Italian, to let me ride, even though I was dressed only in my underpants. She refused to let me ride at first, but eventually she relented, even though I doubt that I had made myself understood, as my Italian isn't just broken, it's irreparable. At the nearest town, I alighted and found a clothing store, where I bought myself a suit, mostly because I needed a new suit, and I was in Italy, after all, and nearly naked, what's more. I then found a store that sold scooters, but when I saw how much they cost I decided to steal one instead, which wasn't really a problem, as I had learned how to steal scooters as an adolescent, and perfected the art in the timeless way, with practise. So it was that I rode to Ventimiglia, or Vintimille, as the French call it. Once I had crossed the border, leaving the scooter in an obvious place so it could be located by police and returned to its owner, I boarded the next train to Lyon.