In order to take my mind off increasing cabin fever, I have been recalling some of my overseas travels.
I wonder if you also find that the most enjoyable parts of holidays are the anticipation and the recollection?
The part of the actual holiday that I enjoy most is the unexpected encounters with complete strangers. Even language difficulties fail to erase the exciting realisation of our common humanity.
A few years ago, my daughter invited us to join her family on a trip to the south of France. I must confess that when we arrived at this famous piece of coastline, I thought it just looked like the Sea Point beach front. Naturally, I kept this to myself…
My spirits rose when we entered the pretty double story villa that my daughter had rented. Our room had an unobstructed view of the large bay, stretching across to the naval port of Toulon.
I grew up in Cape Town, and one of my most exciting boyish pursuits was to visit Duncan Dock with my dad when a foreign naval ship was tied up.
My dad loved ships, and if the vessel was open to the public, we would race aboard and inspect every nook and cranny.
An engineer by trade, he was able to explain how all things nautical worked. He also showed me how to negotiate vertical staircases and watertight doors.
Directly across the bay from our villa, a sleek French frigate was moored. The view could not have been better.
It was clearly operational as it was surrounded by a security barrier of orange coloured buoys.
I continued to warm to the place when I learned that there was an old naval fort nearby. This time it was my son and I who were clambering over a naval structure, albeit one of stone rather than of steel.
Many scenes from that holiday have been playing in my head. The ferry rides to the city of Toulon, which passed through a yacht basin, a fleet of modern warships and ended at a busy jetty right outside a row of colourful restaurants.
The noisy groups of tourists from all over the world, the quaint little shops and beautiful churches.
Most mornings we took turns to walk to the nearest bakery and join the locals queueing up for fresh baguettes. Later we would cycle to the beach to swim, sunbathe, enjoy cocktails and pretend that we were not looking at the topless sun worshippers.
Personally, the highlight of the entire holiday was a day trip to Monte Carlo, the “home” of Formula 1 racing. My son and I walked the length of the circuit… an almost surreal experience for a confirmed petrol head.
I didn’t think that experience could be topped but it was, my wife and daughter had booked a surprise “gift experience” for me.
I was taken for a drive right around the Principality of Monaco in a bright red open top Ferrari!
The sound of the exhausts when driving through the tunnels was intoxicating. The little boy in me emerged quite shamelessly.
I am sharing the memory of this experience in the hope that it may draw your mind away from the awful monotony of life under “house arrest” for a few minutes.
Like many of you, I am trying to reduce the number of “to do” notes in the job jar… but I have come to realise that it is not necessarily a time to be productive. The uncertainties associated with this crisis are almost overwhelming.
The fear and anxiety leaves us feeling quite emotionally drained at the end of each day.
We are unable to plan for the future because we just don’t know what the future will look like. Yes, we do know that it will pass, and that the world will continue to spin on its axis, but there are so many unknowns.
Again, like many of you, I have become weary of all the well-meaning tips on how to cope with isolation. Instead of studiously reading others’ advice, how about taking time to recall some of your unique and treasured memories?
Sit back with a glass of wine (if you are lucky), close your eyes, breathe easily and dream of happier times…
The day before we left La Seyne Sur Mer, we took one last ferry ride across to Toulon. The outing started with one of the most moving encounters of my life.
When we arrived at the jetty to await the ferry, we noticed a man and his dog fishing right at the end of the long, narrow structure. He turned to face us.
A tall, slim, grey haired, unshaven man of about 50 with piercing eyes. His old, tired looking, arthritic dog at his side. He smiled warmly and we greeted each other in French. He quickly changed to English and we became engaged in animated conversation.
I can’t remember everything he said, but the gist of it centred around his rejection of materialism, and acceptance of a worldview based on sound values. There was something mystical, perhaps spiritual, about his countenance.
The ferry arrived all too soon.
Without hesitation he embraced us warmly, and fixing his eyes on mine, said: “We will meet again!” He waved to us as the ferry pulled away. My face was wet and it wasn’t from the spray!
There is an German saying: “Man sieht sich immer zweimal im Leben.” Roughly translated, “You always meet twice in life.”
My preferred interpretation is, “even though I am leaving now, there’s always a chance that I’ll return and reconnect. It’s a small world and I’m confident this won’t be the final goodbye.”
It is a beautiful sentiment, one filled with the hope of a new beginning. The man on the jetty will always live in my heart, and I sincerely hope that we will meet again, somewhere, some day.
Maybe this little story will resonate with you, perhaps in light of the Easter story, a belief in an afterlife or your serendipitous meetings with complete strangers? I hope that it will provide just a little spark of hope for you in this rather dark time. We will meet again.
Rudyard Harrison is a retired Methodist minister in Somerset West, a counsellor at the Ruach Centre, and a regular contributor to Bolander.