I saw Jared Leto in Krakow
A missive from a polish gutter.
It’s a tasteful place, Bazaar. Men wear white, pressed shirts and their dates - half their age, it seems - are going along with it all, sipping from wine glasses larger than their heads.
Candles flicker in the recesses of the sprawling restaurant; neon lights flood the alfresco diners and nearby streetscape, brightening the concrete stoop where I was sitting.
It’s as close as I’d get to such fine dining on this warm Krakow night.
I may not have a seat, but I do have a kebab.
Three euros I’d invested in chicken and sauce and pickles and lettuce and tomatoes and cucumber.
It had been a typically long day on this 23,000 kilometer road. I’d begun in the pristine Tatra hilltown of Zdiar, but ended up here - on a stoop in a dirty, bustling city I was in no mood for, my feet sitting in gutter-oil, a homeless grump behind me, prostitutes vainly attempting to solicit my services despite my sole focus on what was between my two, greasy hands.
Tuning out the bedlam, I enthusiastically took a bite. Soon, I was terribly embarrassed, as my beard was flowing with a pale-orange sauce I cannot identify that burst through the wrap like a broken water main.
It started to dribble through every hair, so I take remedial action in the form of a kleenex. It’s an uphill battle. Each wipe seems to only make that vile dressing sink deeper, my hair acting as a sponge.
I hear a nearby group of girls - dolled up, perhaps looking for a future date to Bazaar - giggling, justifiably, at my expense.
I’m tired. It’s 8 months on the road now. I’m hungry. I’m broke. And now I’m the rightful subject of ridicule of wandering passers by.
But I plough ahead, relishing my anonymity and content that my uncivilised feasting can at least put a smile on someone’s face.
I bite, I wipe. Rinse, repeat. And then I look up.
Something catches my eye. Well, it’s a pair of eyes, actually, that catch mine.
Through the darkness they float forward, like a crocodile’s stare. Soon, the are paired with a human body, moving purposefully and at a pace that seems out of step with the laissez-faire debauchery of the surrounding revellers.
It’s a man. I can tell that much. And as he comes closer, I notice he’s utilising a bluetooth headset, yelling in that typically obnoxious way that only an American traveller can. He’s walking towards me, barking instructions at some poor aide perhaps half a world away.
But it was still the eyes that made me curious. Not just because they were deeply set and almost amphibian - they were ones I’d recognised.
I’d just taken another bite - another torrent of stodgy sauce running humiliatingly down my face. And then he stepped straight by my stoop: it was Jared Leto.
I don’t really know much about Jared Leto. But I know he’s famous - and he looks it, walking with the sort of confidence only a man with six million Facebook devotees can.
His celebrity was almost visible - a forcefield enveloping his frame, protecting it from the real world that he seemed to float above. His posture was robotic, his dress simple but expensive-looking. His instructions to his aide - concert arrangements - were clearly, sternly delivered, hands free, as he marched powerfully towards me. Then, his eyes darted downwards and connected with mine.
What would Jared Leto have seen in I, as he stared at me, briefly, with those oscar-winning eyes?
At first, it would have been the sauce. A sloppy dribble down an untamed face.
But if he looked closer, he’d realise the cheap sauce and the beard through which it flowed were just symptoms of a journey in its final stanza.
I’m in Poland - 30-odd countries and more than 20,000 kilometers from where I began almost 8 months ago.
I’m worn out. My clothes are tattered and my hair is long. My shoes are haggard. I’m out of zeal.
Entering Europe was truly bittersweet. It signalled the end was near - that home was drawing closer. But it also felt unnecessarily indulgent.
The truth is, I don’t even know what to do in Europe. The easy-life of cafe and bar hopping is quickly rendered dull - particularly when you’re alone.
To travel alone in much of the world is a blessing. It seems middle Asia is tailor-made for a vagabond, not impenetrable cliques of lads.
That dynamic flips north of the Danube.
There are fewer vagrants in these continental midlands. They’ve been replaced by boisterous British bachelors - their wallets well-endowed - extracting every ounce of debauchery they can before their Isle is cast adrift.
You meet friendly people. But it’s not the same. We’re not the same. The story of my journey was not unique in the guest-houses of Tajikistan or Armenia or Mongolia - it’s rare to find a two-weeker in the heartland. Here, back in a place approximating my own, my story is rarer, and so is it rarely told by me.
As I sat on the stoop, sauced and staring into celebrity eyes, I tried to imagine what the scene must have looked like from Jared Leto’s lofty perch.
Behind me sat a disgruntled homeless man who in truth looked no less kept than me. His beard was stained and his shirt was ruffled as he sat, ignoble, on the concrete.
Could Jared have even noticed the difference between me and this poor Pole down on his luck? Perhaps not.
My blue shirt, which I’ve worn for over 100 days this year, is tattered and stained. I’m sitting in a gutter.
It felt absurd and indulgent and a little indecent.
In that moment my lifestyle may have resembled those around me, but it was one of choice not circumstance. I could leave it any moment I wished - and in that moment, it was what I wished. It was time to come home■