For some bizarre reason, my mind has left this idyllic, much admired French estate and returned to England and to a moment three weeks ago when a red-faced man stopped before our old home, Could Cottage. He began by asking when we were leaving, but when I joked that we were to become Gypsies for the summer, he grumbled, “Bloody Gypsies, light fingered trouble makers.”
Ho we humans! How we mistrust those who live differently and having now temporarily joined those Gypsies, we feel unencumbered by all that is settled. This is both disturbing and liberating. One wants a proper home, somewhere to relax, to lay down one’s toys, be they smart phones, smart shoes, books or bikes, but all the clutter of life fills our homes increasingly as we age. Years ago, when first married, upon moving from my bachelor pad, we part filled a very small van, this last move needed six containers in a huge articulated lorry. Yet today, this very summer, everything we require for three months is in another small white VW van.
That red-faced man would no doubt have sniggered as we drove from that idyllic English cottage in a perfect village. He is seen as a pillar of society there, but we know him for the time he blew up at my white van for spoiling the village, a van which in other people’s eyes is almost a collector’s piece. He’d caught me on one of my bad days. Trying to calmly reason with his flaring anger fuelled his invective and over that dreadful half an hour, as I grappled with his flaring emotion and tryied to present my own logic, my blood pressure rose to dangerous levels. I felt as I had in a hospital emergency ward. To his credit, he quickly realised what he’d done to a man who was nothing but polite, and he helped my wife hobble me home.
OK, our white van might in some minds be synonymous with the modern Gypsy, and yes, some Gypsies steal things but a small percentage of most communities resort to crime. This man belongs to a nation which has for centuries stolen other people’s stuff all over the world; his own job was part of that. Gypsies have never invaded any land. OK, as they roamed between sources of work they might have trapped rabbits which landowners considered their own, but those landowners’ ancestors had stolen that very land from ordinary villagers centuries before.
My own experience with Gypsies has always been positive. For example, when researching a book on a Pyrenean valley reaching between France and Spain, I interviewed a charmed old man repairing woven chair seats. “My children live in a house they built, I prefer my caravan, parked in their garden because I can listen to the fox passing and sniff the dawn air as I wake.”
Another time we were lazing in a series of warm thermal pools flowing from a fissure in a lost Pyrenean forest when our French companions quickly rose, “Time to go, the Gypsies are coming!”
The Gypsies were classic - tawny skinned, black hair, dashing figures, the men in tight jeans and white T-shirts, the women brightly dressed, big brassy earrings, clanging bangles. But they were respectfully quiet, hidden in the bushes exchanging clothes for swimming gear. They soon surrounded my wife and I and politely greeted us. They were taciturn, avoided eye contact. Wanting them to feel at ease, I chatted about this and that and by the time we all moved up the side of a small waterfall to a warmer pool, they had opened up.
They told us they were disregarded wherever they went. That the Gendarme slid to a halt, tried to pick fights, abusing their women and children. “I’ve often been tossed into a gendarme van, beaten up and thrown out down the road,” a handsome, tough young man grunted. “The number of times les Gendarmes have tried to get me to to act like a prostitute!” Squealed a flashy, attractive woman with long curls of black hair.
To the settled, nomadic, early human behaviour is regarded as retrogressive, hence bad. We who have raped the Earth are far less environmentally sensitive than those who live with nature, be they Gypsies, Afghan nomads or the noble tribes of Africa I grew up alongside. Because those people relate to the land, and because they move, they can’t accumulate, whereas we settlers consume and demand more goods than we need to fill our homes.
What a lesson. For the next three months we will be returning to humanity’s nomadic origins. Already after a week I want for little more, but then I give my things away without thought, for, growing up with an extraordinary Kenyan tribe, I learnt that life itself gives all the abundance we require. However, to see this we must want it. Decluttering our minds is the way, for we seek junk to fill the gaps inside us.
What better way than to reside in nature each day, be it standing momentarily on your way to work in the nearest city park. Allowing our senses to define the world before us, rather than our thoughts, we soon sink into an animal awareness dislocated from our still ranting minds, and we settle. It is as simple as that.
It is good for The Plante, this ‘Settling’, for when we are there, we want less. When I asked a dear friend, who might well be reading this blog, what we could best do for the planet, she said, “Do nothing. The less we do the better our future will be.”
Note those words, simple and seemingly bonkers as they might sound, for she was arguably the most effective World Chair of Greenpeace.