Byron dubbed Dubrovnik the Pearl of the Adriatic, and the town has drowned under superlatives ever since. We sailed in on clear water, to a vibrant new town hugging the foreshore. The bus from the port wound along the waterfront before eventually chugging up the hill — and below us lay the old town, just as she appears in every photo.
The bus spluttered to a stop in a cobbled square by the city gates. Already the heat had settled in for the day, bouncing off the stones and onto anyone standing still. …
What child (or occasional adult) has played at looking at shapes in the clouds as they drift across the sky?
We’d risen in the darkness, bobbing in a small fishing boat to watch the sun rise over Hoi An (later the captain would cook us an amazing breakfast of freshly caught fish and octopus). All manner of shapes floated across the sky, but it was the elephant I remember the most. He seemed so decidedly happy.
It was my last trip with my husband before he died, and even now looking at clouds brings back those memories.
We sailed into Livorno under a blazing Mediterranean sun. Sailing these waters is like sailing into the past — long stretches of barren coastline, little villages marked with their groves of olives and grapes, the sails of small boats dotting the water. It is travelling the works of Homer, and the history of legend.
This area has been occupied since Neolithic times, with pieces of copper, ceramics and carved bones found in nearby caves. The Romans named the cove Liburna, in reference to a ship used by their navy. The town has been owned by Pisa, Milan, Genoa and Florence. Under the Medici, the port expanded, and two Medici fortresses still dominate the port: the Fortezza Nuovo and the Fortezza Vecchia (Cosmio I had a palace built within the Fortress Vecchia). By the end of the 17th C had become a major trading port –Livorno is now apparently the second largest shipping port in Tuscany, but little work seemed to get done. …
A Monastery Somewhere in the Foothills of the Himalayas
The monastery courtyard was filled with locals come for the ceremony. By sheer chance I had stumbled across it, and sat in the watery sun watching monks dance to the sound of brass cymbals, drums and horns so long they needed two monks to carry them.
Held captive by the sunshine I hear
Endless music in the tumbling water
The scribbly gums along the bank
Dance in soft green as birds dart through their leaves.
A dappled shade dresses me
Before spilling onto the grass and flowers
And into those holes
Made from the gentle nose of a hungry echidna.
I sit in a landscape
Heavy with memories
How do I come back
Without being more than a little broken?
Under the hands of a Japanese artisan
A broken pot is spun back together
With threads of gold,
Turning the fractures into things of beauty
Yet I know a piece of me
Seen by no one
It began as any adventure should. An aimless afternoon stroll as everyone else dozed in hammocks.
A dirt path led from the gate, and naturally I followed. The humidity dripped from the sky. The occasional butterfly flittered around me, and every now and then came the splash of a fish.
I’m not really sure what an intellectual life truly is. I’ve no intention of sitting in an ivory tower, pondering the movement of the stars while life carries on below. With all that is going in the world at the moment, however, there’s many a time I simply want to shut the front gate and banish the influence of all that happens beyond it from my own little world.
Gardening is one way to start. For many philosophers, manual labour was seen as a way to clear the mind. (I first learnt this reading Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge at about the age of 12, through Larry Darrell who rejects a conventional life in search of existential meaning.) For me, literature has introduced me not only to great stories and characters but also led me into the expansive world of ideas — whether it be philosophy, travel, the art of gardening, literary style, history; it is all there, a smorgasbord so vast I know I’ve only taken a few bites. …
A Day of Eating in Japan
Japan is a land of vending machines. Standing in a busy subway station in Tokyo, I was amazed at the number of people buying sushi and Bento boxes on their way to work. The sheer volume ensured their freshness, even for sashimi.
In Nara, our breakfast at the youth hostel consisted of hot noodles chosen at random from a vending machine. Coffee came in cans, the colour of the button giving a clue as to the contents: red for hot or blue for icy cold.