Russia and Ukraine pass in a blur through the now scratched and dirty windscreen of our truck. We have a limited visa and little time to explore, but the rare moments of reprise are spent blinking confusedly and unbelievingly at the new face of reality. We passed along the exact same route in 1998 whilst on our way to Mongolia, and the transformation is incredible. Where before the cities seemed dull and uninviting, as depressed as the inhabitants in a moment of great insecurity, they are now somehow full of life and colour. Many of the huge heating pipes that vomited strange masses of insulation material, have been removed, the front of buildings have been retiled, repainted and modernised, whilst all around there are well kept parks, playgrounds and flowers lining the edge of the road. Couples kiss unashamedly on benches, and the traditionally or perhaps culturally ‘unsmiling’ population….is smiling. The roads too are smooth and I somehow feel like my route has been reversed, here business is booming and there is an optimism in the air like the 70’s in Europe……the unsmiling faces will perhaps come to me further west in the ‘old’ Europe, along with the holes in the roads!!
In Ukraine we spend two languid days with our good friends from Morpheus….we are again sad to part and find excuses to prolong just a little longer the moment before we must say our goodbyes. Our times together and dreams for the future are sealed in a token Thai lantern that is freed in the clear evening sky with the children’s’ names solemnly written on the thin rice paper, they for their part, jump excitedly, run recklessly and attempt to take flight after it. Good bye good friends.
Bulgaria- high hills, sweet scented woods full of wild strawberries, trekkers, friendliness and….broken tyres. The truck is on its last feet and each day a small piece gives way, oil seals leak, and for some reason tyres are breaking at an alarming rate. We change two in one morning and now no longer posses a spare. As we work on the truck the children play their games in the sweltering, dusty surroundings and return victoriously with two bags full of fruit and vegetables donated by a kind blonde lady…. I do suspect she thinks we are gypsies..but actually we are a little and I accept the gift in good spirit. All along the way since we have entered the ‘Stans’ fruit sellers have been our friends….somehow small dirty kids inspire fruity presents. As we get closer to Europe our status as exotic travellers has slowly been transformed, first to circus performers and now to ‘Tzigoiner’.
As we enter Greece I feel a certain emotion, the Mediterranean landscape with its olive trees, loud crickets and pungent scent of dry herbs feels like home and I embrace it all like a long lost friend. It is here that we close our imaginary circle, and our last few days are spent reminiscing. We track our steps back first to Giorgo who welcomes us warmly and takes us out on a day trip in his small self built sail boat, with promises of fishing and cold beers. Business is bad and he can easily take a day off…around him restaurants are closing and there is an uncomfortable feeling of implosion. Tourists have somehow chosen different destinations this year and there is a certain amount of anger at the bad publicity the media has given Greece….business is desperately needed this year.
We return to ’ Peters’ beach near the port of Igoumenitsa, where twenty months ago we met up with our good travelling friend at the start of our trip. Like territorial animals we park in exactly the same place and I’m tempted to dress the kids in the exact same clothing (now of course much too small reaching knees and elbows..) and take a photo, but I’m dissuaded by the 40 degrees temperature that would melt them in their down jackets…anyway the woolly hats have long been given away and the camera batteries are low….a sign of my apathy towards taking photos, yet another indication that our trip has come to an end. I close another strange circle by loosing yet another silver ring in the Greek sea, the same three layered ring this time from my toe….is it a strange cosmic message that I’m unable to decipher?
I again contemplate the mysteries of the planet where all animals big and small have approximately the same number of heart beat during their life cycle….some beating short and fast others long and slow. There are obviously many things I don’t understand or do not have the sensitivity to decipher…..does travelling necessarily make you a little mystical and superstitious? Maybe…today Friday the thirteenth and we have already changed three tyres….hmmm.
Today we board our ship, across the sea and home. I watch the horizon waiting patiently for its silhouette and feel somehow heroic and misplaced… in the wrong century… ’ANEK Lines’ doesn’t have quite the right romantic ring to it, but it nevertheless arrives in glory, puffing smoke against the backdrop of a mottled orange sky. I hear snippets of conversation in Italian, excite holiday makers chattering about fashion… images of far off lands, momentary emotions ,and unorganised and undisciplined thoughts come flooding all together in to my mind, heightening my sense of alienation.
The authorities don’t really have a protocol for people like us returning to their country after such a long period spent abroad. Our M.O.T expired last year , as did Luca’s driving licence, but our good friends Rodolfo and Felicia come to our rescue and meet up with us to help us slip back, incognito to the safety of our home. After a Hawaiian style welcoming with serenades and flower necklaces, we drive the two hours that it takes to reach our home with Rodolfo scouting the road ahead to avoid any long and uncomfortable discussions justifying our outlawish behaviour. As in the past our cat ‘Sukki’ magically meets us at the gate (seventh sense …or is it nine lives) greeting us with load meows.
Its midnight and the kids are fast asleep in the truck, our curiosity is too great and we tentatively open the front door of our house, around us a strange moonlit garden with yellow-blue grass up to our shoulders. Inside we switch on the light and walk delicately across the floor like two burglars not wanting to disturb the rightful owners. I catch Lucas’ eye and start to laugh, we are strangers in our own house. For a few rare moments I have the chance to look at my house objectively with the cool eye of a stranger, no longer linked to the objects by any memories or emotional ties….it all seems very beautiful….but why so much?? I find a small list of ‘things to load into the truck’ scribbled hurriedly and stuck on the fridge with a colourful magnet, a small time capsule. Many things have changed inside me, but here all has remained static, in hibernation, waiting for our return to be reanimated. It is the load clicking of crickets that brings me back to the present, the only evidence of life invading the privacy and stillness of our house in our absence…..a small village of them have congregated in our living room adding to the surrealness of the situation and my sense of displacement ……we will need a little time.
In the morning Lusira wakes first “We’re home Giulio, look we’re home!!” – “Ah, is it snowing?” he asks (it’s full summer and already 35degrees Celsius, but the last photos he saw of the house was with snow!)
I decide to call Giulio’s bluff; he is the guide and will lead us down the path to our house. He walks confidently, swinging his arms. He arrives at a door.. “Here” (it’s not our s door) “Ah…Sukki !” he exclaims at a cat (it’s not our cat) “Ah yes here’s our car..” (it’s not our car) At this stage I feel a little mean and lead him back to our home, he runs around trying to find his bedroom “Where’s that wooden thing for going down?” he obviously has small snippets of memories independent of space.
The next three days we see very little of our children. Giulio exclaims “Are these all ours?!” looking at a neat stack of toys. The next days are spent going up and down the stairs with books under his arms talking to himself in a low mumble. Lusira tells me “it’s like staying for a long time at a beautiful campsite…but in a house instead of a truck!” and Giulio after some time finally concludes “Mummy, now we will stay, I like my house”
As for me…I am busy emptying cupboards of useless objects and streamlining our house. At times I still feel a volcano of energy and optimism pulsing in my chest which I dearly hope to preserve. The world after all is a fascinating place…..
Remember your projects and keep magic in your life. Do useless, enjoyable things that make you feel good, and fill your house with colour. Celebrate everyday with childish things and don’t get hassled by dust and washing! Don’t work for your objects or possessions. Keep your children close and give them your exclusive time. Let them fly!
Build an Elf house in the woods. Make a hat of leaves and flowers for Lusira. Go on the back roads with your Vespa, all four together and free!
Build a chicken house of mud and sticks, up in the trees like in Ethiopia, and a Nepali stove in the shade for summer cooking .Plant fruit and vines that change colour in autumn. Plant marigolds, hibiscus and hollihops in your garden, wild asparagus under the olive trees and capers in the cracks of the stone walls.
Knit, knit, knit. ..And knit with love. Crochet anything, any shape and colour that comes to mind and gives you inner peace.
Go away, keep moving, and do things for yourself..don’t worry about things you can’t change and don’t worry about the world, it will carry on long after you have gone! Make love to your husband and stay united….don’t let any sourness slip in. Stay light and say sorry. Be healthy and don’t get stuck on the net!!