Within a moment you have sped along the AutoRoute and it becomes the Autostrade and voilà France is behind you and you are in Italy! No passport control, no douane, no barricades, no police, just a dark blue square signpost with the familiar circle of gold stars and the words ‘France’ replaced by ‘Italy’. You are now in a different country! The roads are the same, the trees and plants but quick glimpses of the architecture reminds you that you are somewhere else.
Taller buildings, more compact, with longer, somewhat tattier looking shutters, the provencal ochre, blues and lavenders replaced with duller, more austere shades. The Autostrade hugs the coastline and twines its way along the Italian Rivera, close to the sparkling, beguiling Mediterranean. Small beach towns and fishing villages are frequently signposted, visited along twisting, winding switchbacks, bathed in sunlight beckoning you to sample their espressos, gelatos and pizzas closer to the water. You feel you should be in a convertible car with large sunglasses and a Hermes scarf neatly tied under your chin containing your beautifully coiffured locks, à la Grace Kelly!!
Within 90 minutes you are pulling up outside a smart Italian hotel in the city of Genoa, a bell boy anxiously rushing to relieve you of your luggage as you mutter ‘merci’, stammer and replace it with a ‘grazie’, one of the only 5 words of Italian you know, maybe your French isn’t so feeble after all!!!!
Genoa, sprawling strades, with a tempting indoor food hall, parmesan,
fresh pasta, luscious fruits and vegetables! Bustling cafes and
stylish people hurrying across magnificent piazzas and Vespas everywhere!
How can 7 hours on a plane take you to a place that is so utterly different from the one you left? I guess we have all pondered this following a flight overseas. I remember thinking exactly the same thing as a seven year old child first visiting France. I was awestruck by how strange and foreign Cherbourg seemed from Southampton, the architecture, the people, the food, the language, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road……………..I also thought I was thousands of miles from England having spent 6 hours on a cross channel ferry, the Townsend Thoresen rolling across the grey Englsih channel, a recipe for nausea if ever there was one!!
Last week we were working in Dubai, a hundred million miles from the gentle, sun kissed, golden stone bastide of Uzès! Like any large metropolis, loud, vibrant, bustling, traffic clogging the roads in every direction, with sky scrappers towering overhead competing for domination of the horizon. Commonalities with the cities in Europe or America I am more used to visiting but also distinctly different. Palm tress and mosques peppered in amongst the buildings, people speeding past in shining luxury SUV’s, in full Arab dress, the wailing of the call to pray, each skyscraper more architecturally bizarre than its neighbor, challenging to be the most unique building around, spouting at all angles bearing all shapes. Opulence on every corner be it high end luxury car
dealerships, immense shopping malls with retail temptations from across the globe, complete with indoor aquariums, ice rinks, ski runs and hotels all trying to out do each other in offering their guests the best of everything. Then there is the searing unrelenting heat which when you step into makes you feel it will possibly vaporize you!
Part of me wanted to be vaporized in this artificial Middle Eastern mirage; as you sat by the pool conscious that the salad you had just ordered for lunch was probably the equivalent of the weekly salary for the person bringing it to you…..It makes for feeling very uncomfortable, despite the indulgence which I was privileged enough to be able to enjoy, all designed to pamper but threatening to consume!
Yes, a long way from Uzès, a long from anywhere, but how fortunate to be able to experience the differences that the world has to offer. For me also a further chance to reflect on what life is all about. How being born into which ever culture and part of the world you arrive in offers such varied experiences depending on where that place is. Of course there are people everywhere, in every corner of the globe born with the ‘silver spoon’, just as there are many more born into abject poverty. The gift of travel helps to open your eyes to others’ lives and situations. Visiting Dubai for 4 days, just as being in Uzès for 4 months, in totally diverse ways, has shown me how life can be incredibly different.
It isn’t about what is right or wrong or better or worse it is about making the best choice for you.
Back in Uzès, my lovely Kate was pretty happy with her decision to return with me and help me move into the new ‘bachelor pad’! Tiny, minimalistic, ‘très chic’, still right in the throng of everything with a great west facing deck overlooking a scattering of clay tiled roof tops. The perfect setting for the end of the day…… a setting perfect for us!