“At the age of twenty I was working as a maître in a four-stars restaurant in Terni, Astrolabio. I lived in comfort, whereas people around me were pursuing their dreams”. This how begins the story, which seems to be the plot of a successful novel, of my fellow train travel during a short trip to the heart of Italy, from Falconara to Rome. His life journey is much longer, and special. He spends most of the year alone, walking along the streets of existence; mostly without human company, in the ice desert of the Svalbard Islands, at the North Pole. Geographers call it “the cold coast” of the world. Cold and frost are for Maxiimilian, “The Golden Compass” from the fantastic novel by Philip Pullman. With him, in the isolated hut in the midst of perpetual snow, at the arctic circle for about five months a year, there is only his faithful four-legged friend, a Siberian breed, whose name is Buck, as the medium wolf protagonist of “Call of the forest”, children’s classic literature, together with “White Fang”, by the same American writer, Jack London.
The gold Maximilian was looking for in his adventurous “ice” life is serenity. Today, books are his closest friends, and it is because of his “parents”, he says. He has grown thanks to them. The father got separated from his “natural” mother – says – when he was little more than one year old, and took him away together with his brother, older than two years. His sister went to live with his grandparents. He saw his mother again only as teenager. During all those years, his father, an alcoholics, beat them with violence. During the first seven years, their father’s partner shielded them and taught them “what a mother is”. Until, “having to choose between total sacrifice and salvation, she decided to leave”, with the brother she had had with his Father.
“For years, I had much anger simmering inside. When I was with the others, I was apparently calm, a good guy. But it did not take anything to enrage me. Until I accepted this anger. Then I decided to practice the only virtue that Hermann Hesse declares to be authentic, because self-powered: tenacity, ‘The every-day courage’, to be themselves, without conventions”, this gold-digger in the North, remembers pain and resentment.
He took the decision to leave and to “aim higher” when he was 21 years old, when his bosom friend decided to move to Cambridge, England, to study. It happened in July 2010. “I chose Copenhagen as my point of destination, just to have one, otherwise it would have been an escape. It was not, it was a choice. I wanted to live alone, without ties; I wanted to defeat my fears. And I have had a passion for cold landscapes, snow, ice, and the north since always. Going to the north means going upwards, going ahead”, he says.
He begins his journey walking. The first stop is Cupramontana, in the Marche region, where a young bailiff offers him hospitality. “Francis has been a springboard for my life immersed in nature. I learned many things from him in a week, about plants, animals, even how to pitch a tent,” he recalls. But behold, the call of the ice grows stronger. He continue his journey, with 40 euros in his pocket, immediately spent on cigarettes, a straw hat, a couple of meals, a train ticket to Pesaro, where he had contacted a pharmacist who offered free accommodation on Couchsurfing sites, to those who travel alone and without money. “He has taken me to the restaurant and with him I had my first swim in a river”, Maximilian continues his story. Then he arrives to Milan, where he met a Czech young man, Rostlav. With his new friend, still walking, he heads towards La Spezia. In Genoa, however, he meets a young man who was to become his “Guide” for two months, Lorenzo, who convinces him to divert towards Belgium, then, to Paris, where he sleeps in a sleeping bag in the streets, as a tramp. “It was the happiest time of my life. Lorenzo’s generosity of spirit, was something new to me. He gave everything he had to help the needy. He taught me to make juggling, to earn my living. ‘Do not worry about money. This is the secret of happiness’, he used to tell me”. These are the angels you meet on the streets, masters of everyday life, for those who have the “cold” courage to travel alone, exploring the forest of their conscience.
Then, the destination Denmark was abandoned and the journey diverted towards the south. This time it was Portugal, to participate in the Rainbow Gathering, the annual gathering of those who live “ecologically”, with low environmental impact and high existential quality, in peace with nature and people.
“It was an extraordinary experience, an actual trauma,” our excited “every-day brave man” recalls. He is the seeker of himself, feet on the ground, with a haversack on his shoulder and a book in his pocket. “Eighty people who lived freely, in a light-hearted way, in harmony with nature, eating vegan twice a day. They contributed to produce their food with a system of healthy living. Give back what you receive. This is the most important lesson I have learned so far. It is the only law that works”.
Maximilian is a hippie now. He comes back to Italy changed. He decides to begin his journey towards the north again, towards purifying and healthy cold. “I traveled in hitchhiking, this time, learning to know the wonderful world of lorry drivers. And finally I arrived in Norway, to Spitzbergen, where I live most of the time. In a hut in the frozen desert. The closest living beings are polar bears, approximately 30km away from me”. I am alone and happy. In the company of his beloved books, heated by the faithful affection and devotion to Buck, sprightly and cheerful like a puppy, despite being eight year old and having arthrosis. “When he will be old and sick, I shall take care of him as he has always done with me,” Maximilian says with simplicity. He smiles, and announces his next adventure. “Me and a friend of mine have decided to travel around the world on horseback”. His entire life is a cold slap in the face of fear of living which freezes the blood. But it is also a caress, perhaps, to the fear of love.