Tag Archives: People

the particulars of travelling

It’s the details
the minutiae
a long series of challenges and puzzles
all day, every day

Oh, sure, the sights are wondrous
But it is the interactions
the interpreting
the map reading
and the trivial accomplishments

Everything unfamiliar
Nothing can be assumed
All to be deciphered, understood

How do I order coffee?
Do we drink it at the counter?
No, no
That’s only in Italy

Where do we buy the tickets?
Can we get a weekly pass?
No, no
You can’t buy a ticket on the tram

Those are the wrong tickets
Say all the ladies on the bus in French

You’re going the wrong way
Says the man in Italian
As the rental car gets stuck
trying to turn
down a medieval lane
And he makes the traffic behind reverse
while he escorts us out

I am so grateful I would kiss him
But he is gone on his scooter


ancestral journey to croatia

My grandparents were both born on Brač; my grandfather in Novo Selo and my grandmother in Sumartin.  My grandfather left the island with his two brothers when he was a teenager.  He travelled first to South America and then on to New Zealand in the early 1900s.  His cousins had also come to New Zealand around the same time.  Did they travel together?  Who was first to arrive?  Did he come because they were here?  I don’t know.

In New Zealand he met my grandmother who had come here with her mother.  They met and married on the other side of the world from the small island on which they were both born, a couple of miles apart.

I travelled to Croatia for the first time in 2012 with my partner and our son.  The morning of our flight from London to Dubrovnik I wake up in the most hideous mood.  Venom spewing from me.  I feel deranged and possessed.  The boys keep their distance.

We get to the airport and I have an altercation with a stranger while we queue to go through the scanners.  In my fury I round on this man and I see him shrink away from my derangement.  When it is my turn to go through the scanner, the alarm goes and I am pulled aside for a full body pat down.  I have no metal on me to trigger the alarm, but my madness has been observed.  We are allowed through and, still possessed, I leave the boys and take my hideous self to the bathroom.  There is a large mirror the length of the wall and I glance at the poor tortured face in it as I walk past.  I’m already in the cubicle before I realise that it was my own face I was seeing.

I meet the boys in the bookshop and after looking at books for a while I’m suddenly aware I’m back.  I’m me again.  The madness gone.

How do I explain it? I don’t know, but it felt as if a long line of ancestors knew I was coming, and had a lot to say.  A long line holding a lot of pain.  When I was back in NZ, a friend told me that her Croatian husband has a similar extreme reaction when they visit Croatia and is unbearable to be around for the first few days they are there.

Dubrovnik was beautiful; the weather perfect, the hotel luxurious, the coast picturesque, and the ‘old town’ wonderful.  Yet still, intermittently, I was overcome with this horrible state.  I was so revolting that the boys kept away from me and we went separate ways in our sightseeing.  I loved being there even though I felt so disturbed.  The people seemed familiar but separate, making me feel at once an outsider as well as stirring a deep sense of connection.

On the third day we travelled by taxi along the coast to Makarska.  I was not prepared for how beautiful and unspoiled the coast is.  Makarska is a beach town located at the base of the most dramatic mountains, and again the weather was perfect and our hotel was lovely.  Yet still I felt agitated and awful.  Or rather, I felt as if I were being agitated, as if it had nothing to do with me.

The manager of the hotel rang the phone number I had for the relations on Brač, and they invited us to visit them the next day.  We caught the ferry over to the island not knowing if they would speak English, not really sure how distantly we were related, not knowing what to expect at all.  But family is family and we were welcomed with an openness and warmth that made my heart sob.

This was my grandfather’s brother’s grandchildren; ‘cousins’ to me.  My cousin kept holding me and smiling and saying, I’ve met you before?  You have been here before?  She felt as familiar as one of my sisters.  I held and squeezed her back.

It hurts to say goodbye and leave the island.   It hurts again the next morning to say goodbye to the hotel manager.  Hugging her (this woman I’ve only known for 3 days) like I would break and her saying ‘don’t cry’ before I did and me wailing ‘I just don’t want to go’.

I felt so at home there and, as in Rome also, so right in myself somehow.  Even though it’s all so different and we were so different from it and from the people, yet it was on some level so deeply familiar.  Weird really.  No, ‘familiar’ isn’t the right word, and I don’t know what is.  Just a blind sense of connection at a cellular or molecular level perhaps.

p1000813 2012-10-23 15.10.20

conversations with tradesmen 2

Years ago when I worked for a water utility, a female plumber rang requesting that I meet her on a site.  When we had resolved the water situation, we leant up against our vehicles to swap stories.  She had the worst.

She had been working on a big construction site where one of the guys was being really abusive.  After days of this she realised the only way to stop him was to fight him.  So when he next said something degrading to her, she laid into him with her steel capped boots.  All the other men downed tools to watch as she ’kicked the s*** out of him’.

She never had any problem after that.

lunch show

I go to my favourite café for lunch.  It’s busy and I have to queue up at the counter.  It’s a raw food place with two big share tables down the centre.  The tables are full.

As I wait in line a young woman climbs up onto the far end of the first big table and addresses the room.  She tells us we all have the Light and we all have the Power, as she walks the length of the table, through people’s lunches.

I am so happy to have stumbled upon an impromptu performance.  I turn and smile in complicity at the couple behind me in line.  They are not impressed.

A man at the table is not impressed either: Get your boots away from my lunch.

She carries on enthusing and he gets crosser.  She jumps down and starts hugging him.  He’s red and steaming with fury.

By now I’ve reached the front of the queue.  The young guy behind the counter has served me many times before, but he’s always a little aloof.  I smile at him and say what a great show.  His face opens up and for a second he laughs outright. That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, he says.

conversations with tradesmen 1

A man knocks on my front door to borrow my ladder.  Who are you? I ask.
He explains that he’s working on my neighbour’s property.
Somehow it then feels foolish to say: no, you’re a tradesman – get your own.  I don’t even know you. Why are you knocking at my door?

I lend him the ladder.  Months later he’s back.  I know you, I used your ladder.

Yes and this time you’ve let paint seep under the fence and it’s colouring my path.
He comes over to have a look.  We get chatting.

How many children have you got? he asks.  One son, I say, he’s 14.

You should have had more.  Then he looks closely at me.  Really studies me hard.
14? You must have left it really late.

economic cannibalism

An old man in a combat shirt and cap is parked outside my house.  He picks up a piece of wood from the side of the road and loads it into the back of his car.  His car is as old and beat up as him.

On a window he has taped a small hand-written message:
Asset Sales = Economic Cannibalism.

I give him my best smile in support.

He glares.  Cannibalism is nothing to be smiling about.