Monday, September 15, 2014

"We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity" (Eduardo Galeano)

As I sat on a high speed train, making my way to Paris to return home after nearly 6 months research in the south of France I was out of internet contact, scrabbling to catch up with Dot Com’s ‘Moment of Truth’. But from what I've gathered since then, the meat of this latest dish is the information from Snowden and Greenwald, rather than Dot Com’s somewhat suspect email proof of Govt/Warner Bro corruption (though, to be honest, it sounds totally feasible to me, knowing the kind of dirty games both sides are capable of.)

What is clear, though, from the small amount I have been able to catch up with, is that the main chorus of response from Key, his government, and his acolytes, falls into one of the following categories:

  • 1.       ‘It’s a left-wing conspiracy, made up for political gain, and has no substance (hey, I’m the nice guy in this, how could those meanies say such terrible things?)’

  • 2.       ‘It’s all about making us safer – and our govt. wouldn’t do anything that might impede our right to privacy and freedom of speech – in fact, that nice John Key has been a defender – a downright superhero – stopping that naughty GSCB from overstepping their remit by drawing up plans for mass surveillance (not that there ever was a real plan, you understand, just some Norton-antivirus-type good deeds)’;

  • 3.       ‘And, anyway, who cares? If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t need to worry. And it’s all a storm in a teacup anyway, put about by those pesky lefties (commies you know; latent terrorists); In fact it’s only monetary policy that matters in today’s world and the only people who care are the chattering classes – teachers and artists and other dodgy types, who haven’t worked a decent day’s work, not like the struggle our Dear Leader underwent on the trading floor, after having been raised in shoe-box in the middle of the road in that hellhole that was 1960s Christchurch)’.

Meanwhile, what has been exposed is that our freedom and our privacy have been flushed down the toilet, compromised by a Government that has no qualms about wholesale collection of our metadata or manipulating information, laws and protections for their own political gain (or their Big Boy allies.)
It used to be said that Tony Blair was Bush’s lapdog. If that’s the case then John Key is the suckerfish on the US’s something’s-fishy arse. He is selling us out, literally and figuratively, and he’s smiling all the way to the bank … and ballot box.
Just how can he get away with such blatant cronyism and such infidelity to justice and the truth?
I think the biggest question, and frustration, for those of us who care about democracy and social justice, is how the hell can the majority of NZers seemingly not give a toss, and continue to reward Key’s cynical and deceitful behaviour at the polls?

It’s interesting to ponder this after my time in the south of France. During WWII it seems the well-heeled locals in our environs didn’t exactly rebel as Hitler invaded and then rounded up the local Jews. Many just pulled their heads into their shells and did absolutely nothing, focussing solely on their own survival at the expense of everybody else.

Several years ago the German writer Bernhard Schlink wrote an exceptional novel called ‘The Reader’, raising this same question: how can essentially good people stand by and/or abet in such a morally neutral way? Doris Lessing too, in her masterpiece ‘Memoirs of a Survivor’ wrote about the moral lassitude that smothered populations and lay them open to take-over and chaos. And, of course, Orwell’s terrifying peek at ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ is still so bloody prescient it’s likely to be used as a right-wing primer.

What factors, what kind of societal shift, has to take place to lead people to be as gullible and docile as we Kiwis appear to be today?

What I’ve realised is that many of the same variables that beset pre-WWII are at play here today too: a chilling repeat scenario that is infecting France and Europe as a whole, and now our own back yard. It started with a period of relative prosperity, as we had under the last Labour government (just enough to seduce us into taking our eye off the ball.) Things weren’t perfect, but the majority had enough to take politics off the watch-list. But as the financial situation worsens, as it did pre-WWII and more recently (thanks to the implementation of neo-liberal ideologies, corruption and greed that culminated in the Global Financial Crisis), people start to feel the pinch. Incomes fall and jobs disappear. People start to move towards other perceived opportunity. This mobility leads to local pressures, and this leads to the start of demonisation of certain vulnerable (and easily visible) groups. In France/Europe, right now it’s the poor illegal African immigrants, flooding across the sea to Italy and across France, heading for the UK at the rate of (according to a recent Guardian article) around 2500 per week – a huge issue when over 12% of France’s population already live below the poverty line. Add Eastern Europeans (the English Upper-class’s latest legal slaves), Gypsies and other minorities who are struggling and dispossessed, and things start to get ugly – just as they did back in the 1930s, which enabled the kind of fascist nationalism that gave birth to Hitler’s Nazis.

Now, let’s be clear: I’m not comparing John Key with Hitler. But many of the same factors that were brewing to facilitate Hitler’s rise are now brewing again globally – and this time they are also brewing at home. Complacency and smugness won’t cut it this time. This time we are right in the thick of it like everybody else.

And, when things are rough, what is needed to divert public anger from the real source? Why scapegoats of course! Enemies to blame. And fear is mongered, a sure-fire way to keep the public compliant and subdued. In our case, the fear du jour is ‘terrorism’, the global catch-cry designed to silence critics and allow an erosion of privacy and civil liberties in the name of safety. I heard John Key use it just today, as justification for surveillance. And it’s such a beauty, isn’t it? Who among us is not scared shitless by the thought of random terrible violence wrought upon our shores? Our loved ones? (Though God help you if you point out greed and militarism has bred this little monster.)   

Little, by incremental little, our democracy is eroded, our fears of the ‘other’, the unknown ‘enemy’ is heightened, dissenting voices silenced, all power siphoned from the masses to the few now in control. And it happens so insidiously and secretly – colonisation of the mind by stealth – that one day we wake up and realise it’s all over and we’re in a prison of our own making.

How the German people must have shuddered as they realised what they’d let loose. How many of us now shudder as we see the glint of long knives behind our blasé politicians’ smiles. I fear most of our fellow Kiwis have been seduced by trivia and the promise of a bauble here or there, enough to blind them to the fact that the fairness clock’s run down.

What we mustn’t do, as the French did in the south of France back in WWII, is retreat into our shells, stick our fingers in our ears and shout out ‘la la la’. We have to emulate those other types of French – the brave resistance fighters who fought valley to bloody valley, hand to hand. Only this time our weapons must be non-violent: we must speak out, must call on all the global justice and human rights agencies, if need be, to shine a light into the grime created by our dirty politics. And we must rally our forces, activate our own watchdogs (the police, the law fraternity, the ethical media outlets, the Ombudsman, the Governor General (though I personally have no faith in him), the decent grass roots people in the National Party – and we must pledge to keep on fighting and speaking up until this shit has stopped. Talking to people, explaining why it matters, shaking them out of their consumer apathy, and in words of (highly respectful) urgency, get them to wake up and help take back our privacy, democracy and power. No less is called for. Get motivated and join me now!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Au revoir Menton et merci beaucoup

It's been a while since I've blogged about my time in France - I must admit I got so fired up over what was happening as a result of my brother Nicky publishing his explosive book Dirty Politics that I created a new page for Occasional Political Rants  and blogged on that instead.

St Patrick at the Hill of Tara, Ireland
But now we are about to leave, and I don't want to go without catching you up on the last few weeks of our time here and a few thoughts to end upon. After our trip to Italy (as per my last post) I settled back down to research, with the only break in the day to go for a swim in the beautiful Mediterranean sea. I am in love with this! The water is silky and warm, and so salty it holds you aloft in its gentle embrace - I have to admit, I am going to miss this perhaps more than anything else!

Hill of Tara, Ireland

 Two weeks ago we went to Ireland, to take my book Dear Vincent home to its fictional roots. After the heat of Menton it was rather a shock (to put it mildly!) but we had a wonderful time, welcomed by my dear friend Louise Anson, who is the person responsible for setting me off on this crazy search for Heloise in the first place. Despite coming down with an appalling virus that left me feeling grossly seasick for three days, we had a wonderful time.

Mural in Belfast, as mentioned in 'Dear Vincent'
Then it was on to Paris, where I had a series of Fellowship-prompted meetings, which were all very interesting (many thanks to the support of the French Embassy in Wellington). I was invited to speak at the France/New Zealand Association, and spent a very pleasant evening meeting a great bunch of kiwi-born Parisians and NZ-friendly French-born Parisians! Lovely people who made both Brian and I feel very welcome. We were also made welcome by Hon Rosemary Banks, our ambassador to France, who it was a pleasure to meet, and we had a fascinating time talking to  Judith Roze, the Directrice adjointe of the Institute Francais - the French equivalent of our arts funding organisation Creative NZ (though the Institute Francais is also responsible for language teaching and translation as well.) Last 'official' duty was to run a two-hour workshop for teenagers at the American Library one evening - mostly transplanted American teens, though I was thrilled to meet a Kiwi and an Australian there as well!
Paris Natural History Museum

Paris was beautiful - settling into a very benign autumn, still pleasantly warm and the leaves just starting to drift off some of the trees, while others were changing colour, and the huge summer tourist crowds we'd battled in our tripping around during August largely gone. It was lovely to be able to wander streets in a quiet, relaxed fashion, and get a feel for the real Paris. It was also a chance to do a last bit of French-based research at the Musee Cluny - a museum that focuses on the medieval period of France's history, which was very helpful, and to locate the actual places Abelard and Heloise lived during their time in (what would eventually become) Paris. Also, since our hotel was right next door, we enjoyed a morning at the Natural History museum, which was quite remarkable. Huge galleries of bones and fossils, on a scale hard to describe. I have a feeling this place will turn up in a book somewhere - as the impact is quite extraordinary!

Back in Menton, our days are now firmly filled with organising ourselves for the trip back home - and trying to rationalise the ridiculous amount of 'stuff' we have amassed in our 5 1/2 months here. It's also time to say goodbye to new friends, who have made us feel very welcome, and who we hope will stay in touch in the years ahead. It feels very strange - like being pulled in two directions, wanting to be home to see family and to embark on the adventure of grandparent-hood (!), and feeling like the time here has rushed past so fast it doesn't seem possible that it's about to end.
Book promotion/ protest - too good an opportunity to miss!
 By, the by, yesterday, with one of our new friends, writer Merryn Corocoran, we drove through to Antibes for a little book promotion/protest against the imprisonment of captive orcas at a marine park there - very related to my new book. It was a little scary, not knowing what might happen if the French authorities took exception to our stunt - but thankfully we got away unscathed!  

Work-wise, since I've been here I've:
  • edited my book Singing Home the Whale (which was released on the 5th Sept) and dealt with proofs, publicity material and interviews;
  • checked proofs for the second and third books of my trilogy, released in the US;
  • attended the London Book Fair;
  • participated in the Aus/NZ Literary Festival in London;
  • hosted a group from Tawa and St Patricks Colleges at the KM Memorial room;
  • read and taken extensive annotated notes on over a dozen books related to my project, including, fiction, academic essays/papers, religious philosophy, biography and poetry, as well as numerous internet based papers and websites;
  • visited all significant sites to my research within France;
  • signed with a UK literary agent (ye hah!);
  • clocked up over 14,000 in our car, in both research and exploratory trips throughout France and Italy;
  • written one commissioned literary short story;
  • written one commissioned article;
  • written one commissioned non-fiction book article;
  • spoken in Paris and run a workshop as mentioned above;
  • written several blog posts and political rants (!);
  • keep up an obsessive participation in Twitter;
  • hosted 8 groups/visitors, including one family of 6 for a week (which was most enjoyable!)
There's probably more but that's all that springs to mind right now. Have I succeeded in what I hoped to achieve in my time here, with regards to my project? Absolutely! I now have a very clear idea of how to proceed with the writing, how to take this well known story and make it my own, and how to fill the gaps with credible suggestions that are new and add value to the known information. It's exciting! I still have probably about three months of reading/note taking to go, but I would hope that by March next year I am hunkering down to do some serious writing!

I can't adequately express how incredibly grateful I am to the trustees of the KM Menton Fellowship (and Creative NZ and the other generous sponsors) for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It has been such a gift to be able to put everything else aside and direct all my concentration into the project at hand. I think it will pay of huge dividends as I move forward  - and I know that there is still much writing that will blossom out of this extraordinary experience. 

I've learnt a lot about myself over this time as well. It's really brought home to me how important my family and friends are - without Brian here to hold my hand I think I would have given up and scurried home. I found it incredibly hard to be so inaccessible to the people I love - and the times that our internet went down and I couldn't theoretically be there if someone needed me I totally fell to pieces! It makes me realise what a quiet, insular life I generally lead, working away at home, on hand should one of my loved ones need my help. Coming here was a big push for me, small town girl and all that, and yet I also discovered I could survive it, and enjoy it, and cope far better (internet melt-downs aside) than I expected.

I haven't picked up as much French language as I thought I would - partly because I've spent the majority of my time with my nose stuck in a book, making notes, with my interactions mainly over buying stuff or negotiating travel, rather than socialising (in fact, ironically, most of our socialising has ended up being with English speakers - something I wasn't expecting and certainly wasn't designed that way.) But I can understand the gist of French much more easily, either hearing it or reading it, and I now know enough to at least get my point across (even if it is just to say I'm really sorry I don't speak French well!) However, I don't think I'll ever feel the level of anxiety at going to a country where English is not the predominant language again, and I have to say that I have found the French to be helpful, pleasant and very kind - and incredibly patient of our efforts.

There is much here to love - the richness of French (and Italian) culture, the beauty of the landscapes, the antiquity and magnificence of the architecture (in fact, of everything), the food and wine (it's not just my luggage that is coming home heavier!!), the humour and kindness of the people, the warmth, the sea... and there is also much to ponder: the obscene gap between rich and poor (vast wealth, jaw dropping in its excesses), the rise of the National Front and similar racist behaviour, the cat and mouse games played out between illegal African immigrants and the police, and ponderous French bureaucracy (which is enough to make you pull your hair out!) But even the challenges are wonderful fodder for a writer. I am coming home with my head filled with so much potential material that it will nourish my writing for years to come.

Evening in Menton from our balcony - going to miss this!

Thank you. A beintot!

PS Don't forget to vote - and, for goodness sake, vote to make a change! Ethics do matter to our democracy!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Italy, Italy, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways I do… (and don’t!)

Abruzzo National Park, Italy
This is a big bruiser of a post, sorry - with lots of photos as well. We’ve just arrived back in Menton after a twelve day hurtle around Italy – in part to give my daughter Rose a little ‘taster’ of the place, and also because it’s right there and why the hell wouldn’t we? Well, not altogether true: I find that stories pop up in the most unexpected places, so it’s good to set forth and see what eventuates… and, yes, in the middle of an interminable drive from the Abruzzo National Park (more on that wonderful place soon) to Venice, a whole new book idea downloaded into my head from that secret story stash in the sky – complete with characters, scenes, themes, jokes and title… I spent an hour and a half frantically scribbling down notes on the back of scrap paper as it came to me. Except now I have to put it aside to concentrate on Heloise before I can get back to it. Frustrating? Yes, in a way, because I like it very much and it’s funny[1], so it’ll be a nice change from my usual gloom and doom. But I’m also still incredibly excited and am well on track to reawaken Heloise, so what could be nicer than to have two new projects to occupy my over-active mind[2]?
Now to the Italian trip, first stop Pisa. It was a treat to drive there this time (instead of by bus last time) and to discover that the actual town itself, away from all the circus of the leaning tower, has a really lovely medieval heart with river running right through it. We started my little Twitter game there – placing my book Dear Vincent in improbable places and tweeting about it. A bit of fun, which caused us much hilarity as we discussed possibilities over dinner one night (and took things waaay too far!) My personal favourite is this photo taken in San Gimignano , a real honey of a medieval hilltop village tucked in the paradise that is Tuscany, so perfect it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’ve posted the other photos on my Facebook author page if you’d like a chuckle.  

NB: WE INTERRUPT THIS BLOGCAST WITH AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Just to spice life up, if you post your wackiest picture of Dear Vincent in an unusual place with a great caption to my author facebook page, you will go into the draw to win a signed copy (and great kudos, of course!) of my soon to be released book Singing Home the Whale.  This competition will run until the beginning of October (to give me time to return home to send out this AMAZING personalised prize!!!) So get your copy of Dear Vincent out and take it for a walk somewhere….

Shesh… enough of the self promotion already… So, from Pisa we headed to Florence, which truly is a beautiful place.  We stayed slightly outside the centre in order to accommodate the car and took a bus into the heart of the old town. With my immaculate planning and spot-on natural sense of timing, I managed to organise for us to be touring Italy just as the summer hordes started to descend and the place was awash with tourists just like us. And hot. Humid, thunderstorm hot. We had a quick wander around the area then plonked ourselves in an outdoor bar, where we were accosted by an enthusiastic young English woman who ‘LOVED’ NZ, had visited there and wanted to share all her stories and learnt lingo with us, aye mate! Loud-voiced and high-fiving (so not me), she certainly held our attention (and the dozen or so people around us) as we downed a welcome drink. 

Brian surrounded by sticky drips of gelato
By now, truth be told, it was getting late and we were more than a little travel weary, and, as some of you will know, I’m a very cheap drunk – in fact, in situations such as this, when I’m tired and haven’t eaten much, one glass of wine has the same metabolic affect on me as three or four dozen beers do on your average good kiwi bloke (hmm, actually, maybe more!) In my sozzled state we then traipsed around the gorgeous medieval streets of Florence as I convinced Brian and Rose that we didn’t need dinner as such (since we’d hoovered up our own portion of peanuts and olives, and then Loud English High-fiver’s as well), so therefore the most appropriate evening meal just HAD to be the delicious-smelling waffles smothered with gelato from the street vendor 
we just passed. They, too, must have been more than a little tired because they acquiesced, and we ended up standing on a street corner as the gelato dripped down our arms onto our clothes and then onto our feet to form a moat of dripped caramel around us. We valiantly tried to eat the waffles, we really did, but despite being ten bloody euros each (don’t tell the others) they were totally inedible once the first few enthusiastic mouthfuls had time to register on the taste buds. 

The next day we accompanied Rose on a guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery, and it was such a joy to see her well up with the same emotions as I experienced when I first went. To see those magnificent paintings in the flesh after loving them since childhood – Botticelli, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, da Vinci, on and on (far too many geniuses to name them all) – and to be lucky enough to have someone articulate, with superb background knowledge, talking about them – oh, it’s a truly magical thing. 

Looking down over Florence
Later that night we drove up into the hills behind Florence and looked down on it from afar, across the vineyards and the soaring cypress trees – one of those ‘pinch me’ moments that is a reminder of how incredibly lucky we are to be able to have such a privileged experience together. A gift.

We drove the ‘ecological’ route to Rome from Florence, exploring the Tuscan countryside in order to gorge our senses on the wild flowers, neat rows of grapevines, undulating hills, beautiful buildings and, of course, field upon field of sunflowers! Nothing says ‘happiness’ more than those glowing fields of vibrant yellow – Van Gogh yellow. Just as well. We needed such a respite before the roller-coaster that was Rome.

Taking Dear Vincent to Rome for the day
People had said that driving in Rome was challenging – and I’m not going to deny it! No rules, no warning – Brian deserves a medal! Our hotel was close to the Vatican, with a little outside terrace from which we could see the dome of St Peter’s glowing at night beside a full moon (which seemed a lovely mix of pagan/Christian symbolism!) None of us had been to Rome before so, with only one and a half days there, we opted to take a couple of guided tours in order to catch some of the highlights. We spent the morning learning about the Colosseum and amazing Forum complex from a lovely young guy who was a qualified archaeologist/PhD student – sweet and knowledgeable and I’m sure his unique perspective was a little different from the usual tourist banter[3]. He took us to the places he loved at each of these sites, then told us why he did. Both sites are gobsmacking. I’m not even going to try and comment further – I feel like I still need time to get my head around the age, scale and sheer brilliance of vision and engineering.

As we made our way from one tour site to the other on the very easy-to-use Rome metro, our day turned sour as Brian had his mobile phone pick-pocketed and Rose just managed to hang onto her wallet in the same brazen act. It was a sobering experience – and really disappointing to lose four months of photos literally from one minute to the next. Yes, we’d been warned – but I think it’s a measure of our luck in living in such a relatively crime-free, affluent country that we didn’t really take in the warnings as a concrete possibility (and it was primarily Naples we’d been warned about!) A bummer. But we spent the afternoon on a walking tour taking in some of Rome’s majestic squares and buildings (including the seat of government, where banners were protesting the ban on stem-cell treatment for the dying – interesting) before heading back to our hotel sadder and wiser as the heavens opened and lightning ripped the sky apart before our eyes.

Pope blessing Dear Vincent
The next morning we made our way to the Vatican – no self-respecting tourist to Rome could possibly ignore it – and as I walked around I found I had very mixed feelings. (Spoiler alert: if you’re a devout Catholic you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph so we don’t end our lovely
Idol worship
friendship here!) It is a truly magnificent place – and the artwork and treasures inside are overwhelming in their beauty and abundance – and I’m grateful that the church supported such talented artists through the ages and protected their work so that we can still see it today (I really, truly, genuinely am) but… what is held there (particularly the Middle Eastern and Eastern artefacts) are the treasures of other countries and other peoples – and they were essentially pillaged from those cultures and purloined for Rome. And it might be lovely that it’s held there in a pristine museum-like setting so people can see it – but people have to PAY to see it (except for one half day a month) – and this means the people whose country’s riches are represented there have no access to their cultural heritage and treasure unless they go there and fork out the dosh (this is not merely a critique of the Vatican museum – I feel this way about places such as the British Museum too – think Elgin Marbles!) It also seemed bizarre that for a religion that condemns the worship of any other gods or idols, they sure had a shit load of them represented in their collections! What makes them exempt from these so-called evil influences and not the rest of us? And the wealth of the bootie there – well, I’m sorry but I find it kind of obscene that this place holds so much wealth while, outside its gates, people are begging and struggling and picking bloody pockets just to make ends meet. I applaud the genuinely good moves that Pope Frances has made towards the poor, and a more open engagement on the myriad serious issues faced by the Catholic church – but, given that Christ railed against the money lenders and the accumulators of wealth, I find the riches in the Vatican (and in most of these astonishing churches in general) hard to swallow. I’ve never seen so much gold as I have during the last twelve days in Italy’s beautiful churches (except the last time I was in Europe – and our recent tripping around France!) Same issue. Same hypocrisy, in my humble opinion. Sorry. There you have it. Forgive my angry socialist heart.
Chilling with a good book thanks to a handy friend
This brings me on to Naples. Ah, Naples. Now, we had been warned that Naples was a den of iniquity, and that we’d better watch our backs – and also that driving there was madness. There seems to be a general agreement that Naples is totally under the fist of the Mafia and I have no way of confirming or denying that, but what I can say is that it appears (to outsiders such as us anyway) like a city in total collapse. In fact, it could well be the harbinger of what all urban centres might look like in the future as climate change kicks in, corporates[4] control all the wealth, social structures break down[5] and chaos reigns. The roads are cracked, potholed and overgrown with weeds, sidewalks similarly overgrown and strewn with rubbish (in fact we watched one couple walk up the road, deposit a bag of rubbish under a bridge, and leave again) and the trains look like graffiti-ridden hunks of rust on the point of derailment. There appear to be no road rules for either drivers or pedestrians, and I’d hate to have to walk anywhere at night. Now, it’s possible our judgement was affected by the dire warnings we’d been given and that if we’d been shown around by a local and taken to the right places we might have felt differently, but from the local restaurant that had nooses, guns and crossbows as its decoration, to the swarming masses we had to negotiate on roads as rough as post-quake Christchurch, I think it’s fair to say we were all relieved to get out of there alive!

We did spend half a day walking around Herculaneum (buried by the volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius, as Pompeii was, though without the crowds and better preserved!) which was a sobering and fascinating experience – although it would’ve been really helpful if we’d noted that the Italians call it Ercolano and we hadn’t spent two hours driving around in circles as the temperature soared to 37 degrees (until we all had a meltdown and tried to kill each other!) Ah, the joys of travel!

Past residents of Herculaneum
Worth the stress to see this amazing place
As we walked around this surreal place Mt Vesuvius loomed in the skies behind us, the sky darkening and thunder rumbling - a reminder that the dead still dwelt there, I am sure.

We were saved from our travel stresses by Rose’s inspired suggestion that we stay a couple of nights in the Abruzzo National Park, three hours drive north east of Naples. We stayed in a little village by a lake, amid the most stunning mountain scenery (beech forests, rugged mountain cliffs, medieval hilltop villages) and saw stags romping across the roads and fearlessly eating grass in the village, and fish leaping in the crystal clear waters of the lake. It was such a salve – and made me realise how much I treasure our little house at home, totally surrounded by green, and how vital it is to my peace of mind. All these cities are wonderful and heart-stoppingly magnificent, but it’s nature that I love.

After recovering our equilibrium in the mountains we braved Venice in full tourist swing – I don’t think I have ever sweated so much as when I was crammed into
With my favourite illustrator in Venice!
one of the boats as we traversed the Grand Canal – and though it was beautiful (how could Venice not be?) by then I just wanted to get back to Menton, eat some food that contained fresh fruits and vegetables (!), and slip back into my quiet existence of research, swimming and soaking in the calmness of our sea view. And so our last night away, spent at Lake Como (Italian haunt of George Clooney, though he seemed to have forgotten to pop over to say hello while we were there), was almost wasted on us, as we all pined for ‘home.’  

So there you have it – twelve action packed days with images that are still unravelling themselves in
my mind. Random odd memories keep popping up, like the used sanitary pad (fortunately not bloody) on the stairway as we entered the Vatican museum (a strange juxtaposition if ever there was one!) and the banner at Venice railing against the Mafia, and the touching notice up in the main square of San Gimignano, showing solidarity to the poor immigrants who are currently risking life and limb to flee to safer shores (possibly the very same who we see playing cat and mouse with the police at the border here, if they're lucky enough to get this far, or the fake watch/bag/jewellery/junk sellers who were chased around Venice by the police there in another little dance of who is powerful and who is not. )

So I’ll leave you with these thoughts, and all the rest of this big disorderly rant for now, and finally get back to my work! A bientot!
The notice up in the town square at San Gimignano - good for them!

My thanks to Rose and Brain for sharing photos with me.

[1] Maybe even sick funny, dear friends, which shouldn’t surprise those of you who know me well!
[2] Especially as I watch the (NZ) pre-election bullshitting, which depress the hell out of me
[3] At one point announcing in an emotional way that he ‘hated’ Mussolini and didn’t want to have to talk about him but was going to have to.
[4] It seems to me the Mafia is really just another multi-million dollar corporation, albeit an illegal one (and that’s perhaps an oxymoron given the level of morally bankrupt ‘legal’ corporate activity – think water privatisation in Sth America, for instance, or bloody LEGO teaming up with Shell to mine the Arctic)
 [5] or are disestablished, as they currently are in countries like NZ all around the world