Saturday, 26 May 2018

Zero days

If you travel for weeks on end there comes a point when departure seems like a distant memory and homecoming some vague conjecture. The date, day, even the month becomes a little hazy, and you live in the moment. We seem to have reached this point early, as we have been on the road for less than a month, but it seems like forever.

We moved from Rondinara today. Maybe our initial instinct to visit new places was right. Having just spent three nights in this fondly remembered haunt, though it was not unpleasant, in the end it proved disappointing. I suppose people return to places as a kind of touchstone, seeking reassurance  against wholesale change and 'future shock'. The risk if  your favourite spot looks utterly different,is that you feel cheated, as if short-changed.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, in the case of Rondinara the opposite was true, it had hardly changed at all since the last visit here two decades ago. This was not reassuring either, though the place seemed much the same, I had changed - suddenly I felt confronted by a different me.. This was not merely a question of ageing, - that back then I had fair hair, but now grey and receding - but more the nagging sense that the person I have become is very different to who I once was. Being true to yourself may be regarded as laudable, but in reality the self changes.

It's all the same! - the lovely path to the beach.
the warm, crystal clear sea

the infinity pool,
The outcrop, - in 1998 it was crowded with Italian attempting to find a mobile phone signai...a rare thing back then.

and us - not the same, where did two decades go?

A few months ago I read of a longitudinal study which performed personality tests on the same individuals from the early 1970s to the present day. It found that people aged forty displayed similar personality and character traits to those observed in late adolescence. However, twenty years on the differences were marked. The sixty year olds were significantly dissimilar to their younger selves. I suppose this is not surprising,- if you have had children and have seen them grow up, watched parents grow old and pass away, at work maybe assumed ever greater responsibility and felt the weight of looking after others' livelihoods as well as your own - these are not insignificant matters, it would be strange to remain unaffected and unchanged. 

This is the sensible, considered view, but not how I reacted initially returning to Rondinara; it felt as if I had bumped into an old friend - I was simply delighted, asserting, in the words of Paul Simon's song "after changes upon changes we are more or less the same". It was in that frame of mind that I uploaded the previous post, celebrating how wonderful it was to return, but such heady romanticism proved to be short lived.

This was partly due to bad luck, or perhaps a hasty judgement. The pitches at Rondinara are somewhat random, they are numbered, but where one ends and another begins is unclear. It's a question of staking your claim. After wandering about for a while we chose one which was flat, easy to manoeuvre into, handy for the sanitary block - it seemed ideal. We did not give the nearby rusty pole with the basketball ring a second glance.

Nice level pitch.

How did we fail to spot the basketball ring?
Insignificant to adults but a magnet for children, the pole had a kind of totemic attraction for small humans. At first it was interesting watching them play. Particularly intriguing were a group of four girls, perhaps aged between nine and thirteen. It appeared a larger version of toddler reins had been purloined as a toy by these tweeny girls to act out equine fantasies. One participant wore the harness, the other took the reins and then the pair clip-clopped about the place in a variety of Dobbin related games. Every so often the girls would swap roles. The older girls seemed too big to be quite so immersed in pretend play, but they seemed most 'in role'. A variety of horse characters emerged, sad lame, skittish and gallopy and dangerously snappish. The latter role was played out with such gusto by the oldest, with much mane shaking and attempted biting that her smaller rider eventually tired of the aggression and delivered a mighty thwack across her naughty mounts' haunches with the loose end of the leather reins. This seemed to work at treat. Dobbin settled down after that.

At what point, we wondered, do the young lose this spontaneous capacity for pretend play, and why? At the moment I am reading Dorothy Carrington's 'The Dream Hunters of Corsica. Published in the mid 1990s, it is a unique ethnographic account of her research over the preceding three decades into occult belief and practise in Corsica's remote mountainous interior. What she found was a shared belief in a parallel dream-world. The book concentrates on the activities of Mazzeri 'dream hunters', gifted individuals commonly found in Corsican villages up until the middle of the twentieth century. They were able to predict death by entering a trance-like dream in which they hunted and killed animal spirits, some recognisable as people in the local community. The individuals in question, their spirits having been killed, were doomed to die in the real world in the near future. The existence of this parallel world was generally accepted, on certain days of the year villagers would see processions of the dead, and take elaborate precautions to protect themselves. Dorothy Carrington argues these practises reach back to the belief system of Corsica's earliest inhabitants, hunter gatherers and herders who migrated to the island around 7000BC. The survival of such occult practises until a generation ago is remarkable, but entirely normal.

Watching the children's game, where in an act of shared imagining they became horses is not considered magical, simply because we categorise it as childish. If grown-ups did this we would dismiss it as insane. However, even today sensible adults are allowed to 'suspend' their disbelief - in the theatre, watching TV or reading a story, we allow ourselves to enter imaginary worlds. Other cultures, particularly people living in more subsistence based societies, do not make the same distinctions between the actual and the imagined, or when they do they give the experiences equal credence. These zero days, when time passes unnoticed, then perhaps it is easier to countenance the world of the dream hunters, that the distinctions we make are more culturally conditioned than we like to think.

The horse-girls were not the only children playing by the magic basketball pole. There were four or five kids kicking a ball about. With the Champion's League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid scheduled as tonight's entertainment in the bar then I suppose soccer related play was popular. We duly went along to watch Liverpool lose due to two comedy errors on the part of the their goal-keeper and a some football magic from Gareth Bale. We were the only Brits in the bar, every one else was German, cheering along Herr Klopp. Given the goalie was German too, it must have been a disappointing evening.

Liverpool 1, Real Madrid 3
The football game next to our pitch would not have been a problem had the people next door not decided to keep their son entertained by bringing along two collapsible mini goals. Once these were erected next to us the popularity of football soared, soon there were more than a dozen players aged from five to fifteen having a kick about less than 5m from the van.

At first - a couple of little kids kicking a footbasll - ah bless...
then there were ever more and bigger players 
They played until nightfall only to reappear next morning as we having breakfast. We felt besieged. Inevitably the ball bounced off the side of the van leaving an almost imperceptible perfectly round dent on the rear garage door. Time to move on we decided. Out came the Acsi book and we began counting down the days to the ferry - goodbye zero days! Goodbye too Rondinara, I don't think we regret returning, nevertheless perhaps our initial instinct too seek out new places was correct. Places are never the same when you return for sentimental reasons, essentially because you are not the same either. Maybe checking out the dates of school holidays in Europe might be a good move too.

The site was full of German's with small kids in tow - they have a two week half term break in May.

The 'natural' ambiance of Rondinara attracts slightly left field types - much wafting pantaloons on Earth-mothers, partners with prophetic beards,  khaki voluminous cargo shorts and Maori inspired tattoos...

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