Tuesday, July 23, 2013

50 Shades of Green

The Green Green Grass of Home

We have just come to the end of the winter school holidays in Australia.   These holidays could be billed as  ‘Three weeks to hit Europe’ as that seems to sum up the general holiday exodus from our leafy enclave on the Lower North Shore.  This part of Sydney is packed with both expat families and also those with the resources that mean a family trip to Europe is on the radar – and frankly given the strength of the Australian dollar everywhere looks cheap compared to daily life in Sydney.

Being complete Lemmings by nature, we followed the trend and were on the plane as soon as the school bell went. 

I so loved being back in Europe.  In a deliberate change of policy, we managed to avoid the usual expat rat race where you spend the entire holiday belting from one relative or friend to another with meals and conversations rationed out and no matter how long you have, somehow you never have time to see everyone properly and instead engage in a maddened speed dating routine, trying not to wince when friends say “so when are you off?  We must catch you before you go.” And you feel a complete louse having to break the news they’ve had their allocated half hour.

We spent ten days in Italy and fell in love with Tuscany, romped through Rome, and indulged in the most fabulous food. Pasta funghi e tartufi, just the words are enough to make me drool, my Italian may be non- existent but it’s amazing what an incentive mouth watering smells are in translating a menu, though I did have to resort to a ‘Harry met Sally’ moment, declaring I’ll have one of what she’s having” in one restaurant.  Rome was a revelation as we walked in Roman footsteps, danced our way through galleries crammed with works of art and guzzled gelato.

By the time we hit the UK, still admittedly part of Europe, but clearly different in most European minds, not to mention British ones, the sun had come out and the world was transformed – to put this in perspective in the 11 years since we last lived in the UK, each time we have visited the mother ship as it were, the heavens have opened, we have frozen and half drowned and wondered why British people don’t have dryers and turn on their central heating regardless of season as it strikes us as bloody freezing in July .

But this year we struck lucky and landed just as the heat wave began.   After what had been an appalling Spring as we were reliably informed by everyone we met, there is nothing as lush as the British countryside.   We’re talking  ‘Jerusalem’ country here with “England’s mountains green”, verdant hillsides, billowing hedgerows, green on green creating vistas that calm the soul and call for a Pimms in the hand whilst watching the amazing sight of a Scot winning Wimbledon.  Add in four days with 17 of my relatives (I come from a largeish family) and a Golden Wedding celebration and it was hard to say how the trip could have got more idyllic.

The Australian countryside is mindbendingly stunning in a completely different way to that of the UK, but though I find myself equally blown away by the space and emptiness of Australian landscapes, and the colours, less of a vibrant green and more of a subtle shadings of grey, yellow, Australia is in the end a dry country and in contrast there is something very soothing in luxuriating in layer upon layer of green in the UK.  50 shades of green in fact. and I came to the conclusion this layering is what Europe (and the UK) is all about.  Layer upon layer of history, landscape layered in a living reminder of prior existences whether it be the Roman roads still visible in their lines across the countryside, or the ancient Via Francigena that crosses Tuscany, layer upon layer of buildings and activities that have shaped every part of the land, and of course layers of sophistication in the streets of Rome and London, where everyone jostles shoulders from nuns to definite sinners.  I do have to note that though I am not Catholic, I did take to crossing myself on pedestrian crossings in Rome and generally tried to find a nun to attach myself to  as I stepped onto the road as the scooters seem to give the religious a slightly wider berth than the hairsbreadth margin that they allow to tourists.

I came home feeling I could easily have done three months in Europe and am quelling firmly any yearnings for the ‘green green grass of home’ with the realisation that actually home for us is now Sydney and frankly it’s a heck of a nice place to have as home base – blue sky day today and a seemingly huge moon floating over a pewter night time sea.

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