Family Holiday (vacances en famille)

I find it easy to adapt to unfamiliar conditions, but it takes others to make me duly appreciate and marvel at my surroundings. A little French flavoured family holiday is exactly what is needed. We’ve rented a minibus, including a Sikh driver who sometimes swaps the turban against a Nike cap and drives the nine of us through Rajasthan. This feels appropriate – all the same people who first took me to India when I was 15 are here. And their habit of cultivating joy is healing. We spend the long hours on the road making up a game of bingo, for which we have to spot things like a monkey on a cow (or the other way round) or a woman in a red saree crossing the motorway. Which we have now observed multiple times, unlike a motorbike on which all three passengers are wearing a helmet.

We are also preparing a game of “two right, one wrong”, which we’ll play with friends at home. Is it true that we’ve danced on the back of a truck? Or that we’ve been in a temple dedicated to mice, in which hundreds of rodents walk over the pilgrims’ feet? That Clem has moulded a brick with her own hands, which was then burnt in camel dung?

In the meantime, I am discovering roadside photography, right from the bus’s front seat. Which leaves me with hundreds of poor quality photos of the same setup. But this occupation helps to stay focused on camels, cows, painted trucks, and smouldering looks their owners probably copied from Bollywood.

Or cotton fields in which camel carts are loaded, puppies in the dust, little round huts that could appear in a Star Wars scene, a naked toddler being washed, and finally a sandy scene with no people; a sight in itself.

I wrote this on the way from Bikaner to Jaisalmer, where we slept under the stars of the desert. ⛤

Solution: I cheated; two of the above were wrong. We haven’t (yet) danced on a truck, although that’s definitely on our to-do; and the professional brick-moulder wasn’t satisfied with Clem’s work and redid it.

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Hillside.idyll

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We arrived by train in a town called Jesi. It was a hungry Sunday, since we didn’t realise how serious Italians can be about public holidays. Lina chatted to a woman who brought us to the only open spot in town, doubling as the best gelateria and quasi cultural heritage museum. We ate a sandwich, I had my first Italian cappucino (and couldn’t believe that is was half the price of cappucino in England), all rounded off with copious ice cream and clotted cream (“Foreigners never eat their ice with cream, but you really have to try!”).

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Our next stop was a little village up the hill, Santa Maria Nuova, where we had found a Couchsurfing host, so we walked until the road and stuck out our thumbs (no buses on Sundays anyway). A man just a bit over our age and decorated with Indian pearls stopped, invited us to a drink – Lina had to try milk with mint sirup since she didn’t want coffee – and took us to the village. He was used to travelling and hosting people in his place, also through Couchsurfing, and immediately invited us to stop there next.

Just after he dropped us off at the Santa Maria’s main square, we noticed lots of well-dressed people and so stayed on to wait for the newly married couple, welcomed pompuously with heart-shaped confetti.

In this surrounding of mild hills, small villages, sunshine, and the smell of food in preparation, we exhaled deeply, looked at each other, and realised that this was where the actual Italy started.

We walked out of the village until our hosts’ house and garden. Misericordia and Jeronimo are Catalan in origin and speak just like Lina does when she mixes up her Italian with the Spanish she learnt in her gap year. They are artists, new age musicians, hosts for volunteers who want to work in the garden or help with the house that was still uninhabitable a year ago. They could also be my grandparents, but only if my grandparents were small and skinny and yoga teachers. The calm of the place makes us feel that we finally arrived at our destination. These one and a half days are the summit of our travel – we’ve finally stopped moving more South, and are in an agreeable state of equilibrium.

We’ll be leaving tomorrow (the 16th), which will give us three days to get back to Mannheim, after which Lina will move on to Amsterdam and Denmark on her own. Strange that our journey took up all that time, it seems that we’re now in the spirit of valuing processes, not outcomes. Still, I am pleased by the outcome, very much so. When we left Bielefeld exactly a week ago, Italy seemed really far away. Now, it feels like a dream – it’s the summer that didn’t quite happen throughout my time in Oxford, Edinburgh, France, Amsterdam, or Germany. It will not be easy to head North tomorrow.