Leaving family is hard. It just is. There is no salve that can diminish the nasty pain of saying goodbye. You can suggest, as I did, that we will return in two years time but that doesn’t stop the wrench on the heartstrings, the feeling of despair deep in the solar plexus that rips and twists and asks why must families live so far apart on separate sides of the world? Why? Why did we have to go global?
I don't feel ready to acknowledge that this grand/small European tour is drawing to a close. My mind is in revolt. But wait a moment the plane, en-route to Rome, is flying over the Swiss Alps and there is snow on the mountain tops like folded egg white beaten into peaks just before you put the meringue mixture into the oven. This is a reassuring sign in the midst of high summer, in the context of global warming. I wish there was more snow on our mountains back home. In all the years that I have been travelling up and down to Christchurch, the Southern Alps in winter have always been always reassuringly deep in snow. Until recently. Now I’m noticing distinct changes. Patches of bare ground have been opening up and widening where thick snow used to be, all the way from Picton to Christchurch. And the famous glaciers, Franz and Fox, they are melting and retreating. What are we going to do?
It was hard saying goodbye to my daughter, even though, I learned on the holiday that we will see them again, in New Zealand at the end of the year. At Geneva airport leaping from the car, each going our separate ways, there was time, only, for a hurried hug and a kiss when what I most wanted was to pause and breathe her in so I can keep her essence with me. I’ve got the photos but when I took a quick peek, as the plane was taxiing on the runway, and saw the two of them on the high bridge in Bern I felt sick with nostalgia. Au-e. They’re gone. It’s nearly over.
In this mood I asked Julian, just now, ‘How do you feel about leaving Switzerland?’ I wanted to know whether he was feeling pain at separation and at having to leave his twin brother again. But he replied, ‘I just want to get home.’ Incredulous, I said ‘Really?’ and he said, yes, the trip had been long enough. ‘Well I don’t feel like that,’ I said in a declarative tone. ‘I want it to go on and on.’ He looked at me for a moment and then went back to his iphone screen where there is an anagram in progress. ‘But how do you really feel about leaving your brother?’ I asked. ‘Deborah I saw him a year ago and he’ll be coming out to New Zealand next year, possibly.’ I wish I could think like that but I don’t. What I see in my mind’s eye is Jason looking sad as we pulled away. The whole family had.
I suppose I am reassured by Julian’s pragmatic attitude. He has a calmer more rational approach to tenderhearted moments that ensures less drama, he hates that. Mind you looking at his face bright red with sunburn I think there might be another reason lurking behind this desire to move on. He’s absolutely worn out by the strenuous water battle that took place in Lac Neuchatel this afternoon. This skirmish began when two teens suddenly metamorphosed into teenage bears and attacked their father’s identical twin showing no mercy. As the combat raged the rest of us stood in the water, waist deep, viewing the antics, smiling, puzzling a little about what was going on, but mostly cheering on the two teens as they launched themselves through the air at Julian, the father bear and chief of the clan —he was born half an hour before his brother, and so has always assumed the mantle of eldest. And he was quite magnificent batting them off. Then when they realised they were never going to dunk their uncle they began pelting him with algae and mud from the lake bottom. He retaliated of course hurtling handfuls of mud back their way. This was something I had already noticed in the game of taunting, that manifested in different forms on all the expeditions, that Julian was sometimes the instigator. Even today as we were walking back to the car, everyone thinking there was finally a truce, he bent down and picked up a handful of pinecones and threw them, one by one at the unsuspecting children, metres in front, pinging them on the back. So that might be why he is keen to go home. He’s shattered.
But right now, coming into the present, it is 8.30pm on a balmy Friday evening above Europe and I think that might be the Dolomites, down below. The sun dropping through the sky is infusing the clouds that float in drifts above the landscape with dusky pink but it’s the atmosphere that is really enchanting. How can I describe the blending of colours, the way pink and coral and mauve are whisked up lightly together, like coloured smoke and the sense of mystery as we float right on through. How I love flying. And how I love flying, particularly at this time of day and on this date, into a sunset, on the way to the ancient/modern city of Rome.