We return to home turf after one month, and the residue of Europe lingers in our bones, our fridge, our emotions and our sleep patterns. How do you stretch out a holiday so it lasts as long as possible, even when you have made the return journey?
My holiday lingers in the following:
* 1 kg organic Dutch aged goat’s cheese
* Six olde worlde tea cups
* A bag of second-hand clothes
* 800 photographs
* Five hours laying awake in the middle of the night
* The starter for the best sourdough bread ever made.
I also carry with me a renewed love of group living. In the first house-hold we stayed in lived six people, and the second house-hold had eight. In principle, I have never objected to group living. It makes a lot of sense, when it works. You need fewer resources between people (environmental and ethical), you always have company, there is a shared sense of working together on a project, there is always someone to wash up, you have endless capacity for conversation…The trick is, achieving perfect harmony within the group. You are always bound to have personality clashes and power imbalances. How does a group do this?
I realised after a month of living among a group that the keys to communal living include:
* The ability to listen to each other
* The ability to bend in the wind
It was wonderful for Elka to be in a large group of people. She always had someone to talk to and play with. At times I would find myself unexpectedly reading a novel, and would look up suddenly, asking “Where’s Elka?”. Rest assured, her sweet voice would float from upstairs or downstairs or from the kitchen as she giggled with and entertained one of her new “friends”. The mother’s load suddenly became lighter. I was there for cuddles following falls, or rescuing Elka from dangerous animals (e.g. bunnies and cats), or putting Elka to sleep at night. The rest of the time, she was happy with anyone. Oh, to live in a village with Aunties and Grandmas and Sisters and Cousins, all sharing in the love and responsibility of a child…And seeing her personality flourish made me realise how great it is for a child to be among influences other than her parents alone.
After five years at boarding school and another four in share houses, though, I know I am temperamentally not well suited to group living. My need for absolute harmony is unrealistic. My tolerance of inequality is low. My need to be alone or with a loved one is too high. As much as I love the thought of communal lifestyle, and love to be a group member for a while, part of me is relieved to be home with my little nuclear family, where life is simple and rhythms are familiar. I have my company in the form of a two-year-old and a 6’5″ man. We tarry along. Familiar, loving, close.
The cheese will not last more than a couple of days. I am hoping the teacups don’t break and the photographs last forever. I can only hold onto my European holiday for so long until the residue seeps into the rest of my ordinary, everyday life.