It was a bleak, cold, damp grey overcast January day in the heart of London. Surrounded by the usual cacophony of traffic in all it's varied forms. The neighbours and pedestrians outside and the vast array of music from all our continents converging in my ears. I sat up from meditation and looked towards the laptop with it's dimming light in sleep mode.
I began reluctantly slowly scrolling through the vast quantity of emails and noted one from Paulo Coelho's literary agent regretting to inform me that Mr Coelho was not granting interviews..
I wrote back to them and 3 days later they replied "glad to inform me that Mr Coelho had agreed to grant me an interview in his home" in Switzerland in 10 days time. What to do, firstly meditate, then exercise, eat and take a long leisurely walk wrapped up warm against the cold biting temperatures outside.
This was an interesting and welcomed development, my first love and passion is and always will be film but radio can be rewarding knowing the outreach is vast covering the world and potentially millions of listeners.
The ferry was booked and the car was good to go but quite a road trip lay ahead with no stopovers scheduled until arriving some 12 hours down the road and across the english channel. I had overestimated the usefulness of the sat nav on the phone and was left to monitor the little blue dot that represented my movements across mainland Europe. The first hiccup arrived in the form of road toll booths in Reims, France where they want 22 Euros which I did not have. I had a £20 stirling note and a fake million dollar bill which they enjoyed playing with. However, this had left me less money than I needed to get to my destination which was a concern given the plummeting temperatures outside.
I watched the fuel gauge slowly going into the red and approaching empty. I still had the Swiss alps to tackle and a fair milage still to cover to arrive at my destination. I finally pulled into a service station, it was dark and wet outside as I parked the car. I got in the back of the car lying across the back seats and slept fitfully for a few hours. On waking it was freezing outside but quiet in comparison to my usual surroundings in London. I started the car and turned the heating fully up and watched as we began to thaw out together. Ice began melting from the windows and was swept aside by the wiper blades on the windscreen and rear window heater panel.
Onwards we travelled stopping shortly after dawn in a service station. I parked and went to speak to them about paying for my fuel in pounds sterling. Not the norm in this part of Europe with a variable exchange rate ever changing on a daily basis. Thankfully they accepted my predicament and made an allowance taking the great british pounds and allowing me to use the fuel from their pumps in Euros. They also warned that I had quite a distance to travel and they were not convinced I had enough fuel to get me to my destination.
It was with great joy that I approached the Swiss Border, the sun was shining and reflecting from the snow bound surrounding alps and countryside. Just when I began to relax knowing I would make it into Switzerland with the car without running out of fuel another row of road toll booths appeared on the horizon. I certainly had no more money to offer them and was directed to a car park and doorway up some stone steps. They tried debiting my charge card which repeatedly failed. They then asked for my passport and vehicle documents to photocopy and gave me some bank details to transfer 57 Euros to within 7 days..
Back on the road I called my hosts, a beautiful Sri Lankan family based in a traditional house not far from the vast lake which dominated the surrounding city. I found my way there and was treated to an incredible cup of tea and a hearty meal. I explained my predicament a little having already paid for my stay there online before I left. I took a warm bath and slept like a baby having looked at the snow covered surroundings from the window of the bath room. It was comforting to wake up to silence and sit in meditation feeling cocooned by cotton wool and silence all around. There was no rush as I was not due at Mr Coelho's home until 2pm later that day.
The food was beyond anything I have ever tasted before or since, and the tea was like nectar to my taste buds! I was kindly given 20 swiss francs to put fuel in the car. I put this in a safe place and forgot all about it.. All packed I set off with the sat nav on the phone finally restored and working. I stopped at the first garage I came to but could not find the 20 swiss francs. I went through my bag, I had a number of books for him to sign and recording equipment but could not find the 20 Swiss franc note anywhere. By this time the car had very little fuel left with all the warning lights flashing at me like a mobile discotheque.
I located the road and apartment block without too much trouble and was relieved to park the car. The actual block and apartment numbers presented a further conundrum. I asked a couple of people who smiled, asked where I was from and shrugged their shoulders.. I began walking back to the car and a lady I had spoken to earlier started waving at me. A good sign I thought as her english was better than my own. She kindly guided me to the correct address and having passed the builders in the lobby I pressed the intercom which was answered immediately by an assistant in a heavy french accent. Someone was coming down, they appeared and advised to bring the car in to park inside the complex which I did.
On stepping out of the lift on the top floor and going through a doorway I was struck by the light and panoramic views of the alps all around us. It was breathtaking in it's beauty and vastness. I was greeted by Christina the incredible Brazilian artist who is married to Paulo Coelho. She suggested we look upstairs for a suitable place to record the interview and up a spiral staircase we ascending to even more breathtaking views. Coffee was prepared and smelt delightful and a gentleman on a computer was incredibly helpful whilst I was trying to compute if I would make it back to where I was staying with the little fuel I had left in the car..
Mr Coelho appeared at the top of the staircase and was very warm in his greeting, intrigued as to why I wrote back having initially been told no interviews were being granted. Why not accept this you ask ? Why would I ever accept this, the worst scenario is no interview is granted but I'd consider it rude and defeatist not to at least ask again. After all it could be false modesty not granting the interview at that time.. The coffee arrived and we sat at a round table with a bow and arrows lent against the glass wall behind me. This is a form of Japanese archery called Kyudo which Mr Coelho practices diligently. He stated it was better than sex and he treats it as a meditative practice for himself.
We covered a lot of ground in our interview which we both thoroughly enjoyed. As he began to kindly sign the books on the table in front of us it began to snow quite heavily outside and he suggested I leave in case the snow became worse on the roads outside. I had chosen a book called "life" which is a selection of quotations from Mr Coelho's many books to ask him to sign for me. As the book was opened the 20 Swiss franc note fell to the table to my delight and relief. He wrote "Phil, be always a warrior of light" ~ Paulo Coelho. It struck me that we should all carry this universal message with us each and every day. Knowing when not to accept a "No" for an answer especially when it can be to the benefit of others..
He left me with 2 suggestions, the first to walk the Camino de Santiago as featured in his book the Pilgrim. Also known as the Way of St James and is a pilgrimage of some 500 miles (780 mms) which converges at the tomb of St James in Santiago, Spain. I intend to set off from France on the 25th August to tackle this and have allowed 3 weeks to complete it. (I will keep you posted!) The other was to take up Kyudo the japanese archery and he showed me how to use the bow for this which is not as simple as it looks.. It requires quite some strength just to stretch the bow.It's my belief he made these suggestions to take me out of my comfort zone, to challenge me. To finally become that warrior of light perhaps... one day..
The snow was descending rapidly and the light disappearing as I returned to the car. I had descended into a deep place of relaxation and the journey to the garage to refuel and to where I was staying were very easy, almost surreal with the snow falling all around. The hospitality I was greeted with where I was staying was a joy and deeply appreciated. I slept so deeply feeling completely replenished when I went down to breakfast the following day. I left with an incredible packed lunch and a long journey ahead of me back to the ferry, avoiding the road tolls this time.. The views were sublime driving around the lake and up ever higher into the Swiss alps with the fresh snow on the ground.