Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A crash course in joy

Our home is being turned upside down and inside out as we sort. The kitchen table is littered with lists. We're scribbling over itineraries and covering slips of paper in sums, because in less than three weeks, we'll shove everything into bags, sit on the bags, zip them up, and leave for a trip around the world.

Clearly, we are completely mad. We have three young children, and we are going to spend nine weeks visiting four countries, many friends, and several exquisite dumpling shops. Or lugging sleeping children and snow gear through airport lines, if you prefer to think of it that way.

It all started because friends of ours asked me to facilitate a marriage ritual for them in Berlin, where they live. We linked it in with my husband's long holiday leave, a couple of months every five years, during which time he has to go away (or he doesn't stop working). We are interested in ideas of home and landscape, so we thought that from Berlin we would visit the UK and see where our ancestors came from. And we have many dear friends in the US, and once one has an air ticket from Australia to Europe it is no more expensive to keep going round the world. So we're travelling there too.

I am acutely aware of our inconsistency. I am passionately committed to the idea of home, to putting down roots wherever one is and learning to love it. I believe in living simply and slowly, finding life in depth rather than breadth of experience. I hate many aspects of travel; it is so often just another form of consumption. It's hideously expensive and an environmental disaster - and it's terrible for my garden: the tomatoes and corn will fruit while we're away; the salads will get all buggy, then wither; the young trees will probably die in the February heat. It's hard on our little church to have a family of five away, and our kids will miss the first month of school and kinder. Travel is an ethically grey area, to say the least. I try not to think about it too much.

Because on the other hand, travel can be so life-giving. Five years ago, on our last long holiday, we spent some months with our first baby girl in Italy. We stayed on a small farm, and friends came for a week or two at a time to visit with us and roam the area. Our hosts grew, baked, cured and preserved most of their food, and lived and ate according to the season. They gave us tomatoes and eggs and squash, bread and soup and salami, and taught me to make focaccia. Watching and learning from them had an enormous impact on us. We now grow a proportion of our own food, and make many of our jams and canned tomatoes and other preserves; our eating is much more seasonal than it ever was before.

There, I had my first visceral experience of belonging to a landscape. I'm not Italian, but even so the European light, the fields, the woods, the hills, the churches, the villages, made me feel deeply relaxed. The patterns of seed time and harvest, roads and valleys, sun and rain, the spreading trees and the food growing by the wayside, resonated somewhere deep in my guts. Everything smelled of home.

I was very moved by the constant presence of people of all ages in the squares and playgrounds. People used public space to chat, shell peas, jog, play ball, skip, read - and even hang out washing. Greetings flowed constantly, and children were supervised by many adults. I felt a great sense of neighbourhood and public life there, something that our empty Australian suburbs often seem to lack.

My daughter was pinched and kissed and feted and fed by a hundred security guards, shopkeepers and people at bus stops; and held and photographed again and again. I learned so much about enjoying children, and life, from the way others delighted in her.

Catching up, too, with precious friends from all over the world was wonderful. I lived overseas as a teenager and young adult; friends have since moved internationally; and if we are to continue the relationships, we have to travel from time to time to see each other. And these relationships are important. I can't discard them just because people have moved away, and I can't maintain them solely via email and Skype.

During that trip, for the first time I wrote an essay which was not for a class, sent it off, and had it accepted for publication. Somehow there I found the space and courage to try something new. All my subsequent writing has been a slow, very slow, growth out of that quiet space I first found sitting in a garden in Italy.

I'm aware of the ethical problems with travel, but I'm so grateful for the experience I had. It changed me in so many areas of life - in gardening, food production, child rearing, writing, listening to the quiet voice, thinking about home. I may have been on those paths already, but Italy accelerated the learning no end. I think of it now as a crash course in joy.

So we're off on another trip, and I'm wondering what will grow out of this one. A hundred stories to knit the family together; a dozen friendships renewed. And what else? I wait. I look for the quiet spaces. I know only that out of them something new will emerge, some mystery yet to unfold. I wait.

1 comment:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...