This is the experience of Vonetta, you may have heard a bit about her from the other characters in the blog. Vonetta has come all the way from Barbados and while you make think you know what this means you do not, in fact neither does she fully. You may think that to come from Barbados is to come from a paradise of beautiful beaches, soft sweet smelling sea air and warm laughing locals. You may even think, well it is obvious where she should go back to, paradise. But what may be paradise for one may not be so for another. Even paradise has its shadows, shadows of historical uprooting, people taken as trees from the earth for no purpose other than greed and left upended and homeless. In these circumstances perhaps you can see why paradise is not all it is cut out to be.
The March of the Abolitionist walk was an excellent way of working through some of this conflict of being born in paradise but a paradise not of choice but of force. Walking through the intellectual homeland of England powerfully revealed that this feeling of homelessness has within me nurtured a considerable amount of anxiety, fear and sadness. However, sadness is fertile ground, allowing the flowering of a feeling of freedom, if one has no home then one has no obligations to any particular place and like any uprooted creature will just have to find new territory to battle for, and now in Europe I think it will be quite a battle!
England has provided a wonderful resting place. As the old saying goes ‘home is where the heart is’ and the heart generally warms to those who love the wearer of that heart. In Barbados and in England there have been many people to love and it is hard to leave those people and the people in those places. Long lunches and loud gaffawing with Granny, Mum and my gorgeous sister Annie; walking in the fields in Dulwich with Sally and Jonathan and getting a damn good education over a cup of tea. Listening to Joshua and Eloise playing piano with Aunty Sally. Eating, laughing, playing, crying, arguing and being taken the piss out of with Anna, Hatti, Nooshi and Simon; oh so hard to leave you four. Watching films and opening bottles of wine with Jon and Caroline, playing with Mya and Luka. Crossing the street to borrow rice, sugar, tea or just to borrow a chat with Becky, Keith and their girls. Nights at the Jazz Café and days spent in Greenwich market and park; walking along the Thames; hanging out in Deptford and endless hours of dog walking in Hilly Fields. Parties in the garden at Shardeloes road; teaching and working with the lovely people that the word client seems to small to describe and just the general familiarity of a place that has welcomed you and all the numbers of people you know and get to smile at or just chat too. Urban London at its best is hard to leave. At times, even in the most beautiful places my heart spasms and my mind questions the judgement of leaving.
Still, once the urge to journey starts it is hard to resist, the wind changes and will not be ignored and so everything flutters along or is swept away to a new place. I am aware that this is not a holiday but a chance to see whether there is a new place to settle and root for a while. Consequently, the going facilitates the knowing that things will never be the same. Peoples’ circumstances and lives will change significantly during the time I am gone and nothing will be the same as it once was. The good, the bad and the ugly will change and with that two thirds of ugly and bad falling away there will always be one third that I will miss and will only be reachable through fond memories.
What to say of this magical place in one paragraph. Well, if you have the chance ever in your life to go to India - go. India is an incredible place and as Michelle said to me, “it demands that you love it”. Go to India knowing that all of your senses will be assaulted, that your morality will be questioned, that your spirituality will be shaken, stirred and stilled if only because the only stillness you can find is within yourself. Go knowing that India will show you as much of herself as she can. Everything that is hidden will be turned inside out. Go knowing that it is likely that at some point you will get very sick. Go knowing that when you leave India you will never be the same again, your journey through life will be catapulted. Go to see to feel and to experience. Try not to push against anything you find or you will just be exhausted, go with the flow of life whether that flow be a sudden dust storm, a flat heavy, placid river, a muggy unable to catch a breath day; a squash of bodies so tight and so loud that you fear that the small particles you are actually made of will soon explode and dissipate to nothing. Go knowing that just as you have had enough she will romance you again with a cool, crisp, clear and perfect mountain breeze; a simple beautiful devotee; or just the sheer quantity of life all jostling and rubbing up. An amazing place and an awe inspiring experience, totally exhausting and simultaneously invigorating. I hope to see India again someday.
5 Weeks in Europe
Ferry Crossing from Portsmouth to Le Harve
Finally we are off on our European tour. How long it will last, where will we go, who will we meet, when will we stop all nonsense questions because we have no idea and still my infernal mind keeps asking them. Stop I tell it and just enjoy the moment, moment by moment and breath by breath but the mind is a reckless and stubborn creature and still carries on. Fortunately the body is a little more ready to relax and just see what happens next, a lesson well learnt from a month in India. The heart is a little more pulled between the mind and the body at times relaxing into the experience and at other times pulling towards the past. Andy’s enthusiasm is a god send at the moment and pushes us on. Already I can see the characters we play, Ellie is overyjoyed and appears to have forgotten all else other than the joy of being in the ferry; Andy is busy trying to make sure we are all safe and secure and grinning like an idiot, I love seeing him like that. Moses is in the mobile home probably wondering what the hell is going on and in his characteristic manner taking it all in his stride by stretching out on the nearest bed and sleeping. Joshua stands with me looking out at a fast receeding England and says with the beautiful simplicity of the young, “ that is where I was born, that is where my friends are, it is where my life has been but I am not there anymore”. Speechless with the way he seems to say what is knocking around in my mind, I finally manage to say, “That is how I felt sitting on a plane leaving Barbados and look how many wonderful things have come out of that, let’s see what happens.”
Giverny: Monet’s Garden
I have to write about Giverny in the present tense because everytime I think about it I am right back there in that garden of dreams…
I can’t believe I am finally here. I have wanted to see this garden for such a long time and I am here! Giverny does not disappoint it is a symphony of sensuality, every corner filled with colour, every plant I love is here and many that I have only ready about in books I am now seeing in full bloom. I feel like a little girl in a sweet shop and all at once I know what I want to do with my life, grow flowers, grow a garden, find a piece of land and spend the rest of my life loving it. Giverny has reminded of why I have chosen to leave the ethnic haven of Lewisham. London has become a little small for us as a family, we need just a little more space to grow, to feel the sun, to be in the ocean, to enjoy the land and to get all those lovely friends to come out and share it with us as often as possible.
A print of one of Monet’s paintings now hangs above our bed area to remind me of why we are
Our trip into Paris was actually created out of the disaster of trying to get our enourmous mosiemobile into Versaille, after much roaring and cursing (on Andy’s part) and eating our picnic in the mobile home we decided to head back to camp and just forget the day. But unable or unwilling to accept defeat we eventually set a new destination for Paris, this time by train!
I have seen Paris so many times but never like this. For me, Paris was all about seeing it through the eyes of the children, particularly through the eyes of my 8 year old princess Eli. Eli fell in love with Paris and Paris with her. Everywhere we went people commented on how beautiful she was and how lovely her French accent was (thanks to a month of Inspector Clueseau – see Andy’s blog). She lept into the language, speaking as much French as her memory could muster (or speaking English words with a French accent) studiously copying the French mouth ie pout.
Climbing the Eiffel Tower with them was such fun. The enthusiasm of truly happy children is better than food and water for a tired out Mum and before long I was as giddy with Paris happiness as they were. Admittedly I resisted the urge to spit off the Eiffel Tower choosing instead to duck behind a large person and pretend the children were not mine; but the discussion after did give opportunity to create a lengthy discussion on terminal velocity beginning with the question, “Mummy, does spit take longer than a coin to reach the ground off the Eiffel Tower”. To which Andy said, “You let them spit off the tower?” To which I said, “Well I didn’t actually let them, it was more a case of I turned around and saw them doing it, that it was too late to say stop and therefore I did what any responsible mother does and pretended they weren’t mine.” Ah…Home education, it’s all about imagination and exploration after all.
In the evening we stopped over yet another beautiful French bridge, they really do know how to create beautiful vistas. Now you have to picture this with me, a day that started as a disaster, midway led to a change of plan that turned out to be really quite pleasant, we stop and pause over a bridge I stand behind Eloise (Josh and Andy and Moses are faffing with something in the background) us girls are looking out without talking and all of a sudden the Eiffel Tower starts to sparkle. I look at Ellie and she is silently crying she says, “ I am Eloise, I am in Paris and the Eiffel Tower is sparkling, Mummy thank you I am so happy.” Need I say more.
Other highlights and dimlights
Highlight – walking down the Avenue de Montaigne and pressing our noses up to the windows of the designer stores without the snotty sales assistants looking back.
Dimlight – feet killing, really tired, extremely thirsty, ravenously hungry.
Highlight – Josh taking photos along the Champ Elysee with eyes as huge as saucers.
Dimlight – Missing the train and waiting another 50 minutes for a train coming at 12:15am, kids tired, me tired, Andy close to tears! Moses calmly taking a leak up the wall.
Highlight – Organising the kids a bed made of scarves, our jumpers and a fluffy warm dog called Moses, they looked so cute.
Dimlight – French tolls, wow so expensive.
Highlight – Sitting in a service station watching tourists’ confusion as French men walk into the ladies toilets because the men’s ones are being cleaned; the French are so delightfully rebellious and disrespectful of rules.
Dimlight – Having to go into the same toilet and try to use trying to avoid all that French male pee.
Highlight – Moses being loved to pieces everywhere we went. If you want to get into the French heart then borrow someone’s dog and take it with you on holiday.
Dimlight – Don’t the French ever pick up doggie poo!
Highlight – The French aesthetic: beautiful countryside, beautiful promenades, beautiful houses; even their places to stop for the night on the road and sleep are beautiful and such a welcoming sort of name - “Air de Service”.
Dimlight – Being woken up in thickness of the night by truckers and odd men hanging around outside their trucks at the “Air de Service”.
Highlight – 3 days with our dear friend Monette
Dimlight – Leaving Monette to go to Aix-en-Provence and then rushing Eli to hospital
Highlight - Being with Eli in hospital, having nothing else to do but just be with her and cuddle her and kiss her and love her. She is a lovely kid.
Dimlight – Having to speak very complicated French in the hospital
Highlight – Being so tired that I forgot I couldn’t speak French and speaking it perfectly.
Dimlight – Leaving Aix-en-Provence without really enjoying it.
Highlight – French nurses pushing me out of the hospital after I had been in it for 36hours and saying go for a walk. Then having a café in a beautiful square.
Dimlight – On two occasions trying to drive through the most outrageous traffic with our huge mobile home and wondering what in heavens name is going on.
Highlight – Both times finding ourselves at the Cannes Film Festival and The Grand Prix in Monaco surrounded by lots of sexy amazing people wearing outrageously gorgeous clothes and ridiculously high heeled shoes and smelling rubber and testosterone and seeing famous actors, well actor – Bill from Kill Bill!
Dimlight – Andy shouting at us to get out of the motorhome when he is cooking. Oh so Italian, so passionate!
Highlight – Lots and lots and lots of kissing.
Highlight – Moses being picked up by lots and lots of beautiful girls as we take photos of him in famous places
Dimlight – Getting Moses or Andy away from said girls.
Dimlight – Leaving France with its wide roads and Air-de-Service and crossing the border into Italy in the middle of the night, hanging onto the edge of the seat as the roads suddenly become narrower, and more winding and the driving suddenly becoming a lot more aggressive and faster and just generally bloody scary!
Highlight – Italia! Italia! Italia!
So far it has been a truly wonderful experience. It took us a while to settle into being together all the time, as you may well imagine. There have been times when I feel like I am going to go crazy being with my family 24 hours a day, but could I go back to being without them for so many hours? I don’t think so. Joshua is so relaxed these days I hardly recognise him. He has the biggest smile on most of the time and at any given moment if it isn’t there it can be summoned ever so speedily. Ellie is growing from strength the strength, swimming most of the day and just being delightful at every turn. Andy has lost his frown, and spends a great deal of time getting well dressed and looking at himself, as if he is seeing this new person for the first time. Moses is so excited, every time we stop the mobile home he looks at us expectantly. He now knows that not driving equals water and the chance to swim his little heart out. As for me, I am loving just watching everyone bloom. I struggle a little with being the only black person for miles around if not the only black person, full stop. Being in Italy now I am trying to get used to the penetrating stares of entire piazzas or campsites. Every now and again the desire to run and hide under the nearest bush rises up but Andy is always quick to say they are staring at you not just because you are black but also because you are beautiful. I try to remember my recent lessons: that my ancestors like so many others, have paid with their blood for the wealth that the West enjoys today and secondly that this planet belongs to all and does not recognise the boundaries created by human beings. So black and beautiful I lift my chin, stick my chest out and journey on.