Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Home at last

Listening to trees in the Enchanted Wood, looking for the Faraway Tree

Well, here I am again, home at last...phew. It was an amazing trip, with incredible highs and some shattering lows as well. Traveling with a child is is different from traveling without a child. I mean, der, but it really, really is.

For example:

As Fred and I sat quietly sobbing in the Bird Market in Mongkok following a huge tantrum and fight, I became acutely aware of what a male space the bird garden is. It's a market, but also a place where men gather socially, while their birds twitter and sing. It really is an amazing atmosphere, but the longer I spent there (and we were there much longer than the average tourist), the more I realised how uneasily it sits with tourism, especially when that tourism consists of a mother and her female child, their emotions exceeding all boundaries, like uncaged birds.

Apart from the bird market meltdown, Fred enjoyed all the attention her blonde hair, freckles and blue eyes attracted her in Hong Kong, and how all the women called her 'baby'. She also had a ball charging around all the interconnected shopping centres and hotels in Central (in fact she was happiest whenever she led the way). We didn't get on the Peak Tram - it was just one more piece of transport to be resisted for Fred, but we did catch the Star Ferry.

In the UK, I really enjoyed watching Fred move through the storybook world of England, with its impossibly green fields and woods and endless rain - wow, said Fred, what's that water falling from the sky? Not really, but just about. It was kind of amazing to be in Kensington Gardens with her and think about Peter Pan and Mary Poppins as she led me on this long narrative search for her imaginary grandfather, a game complete with 'friends', goblins, keys, witches and cats. Parts of Kensington Gardens seem to have been planted up indigenously with gorse and heather, and Fred loved the wildness. The photo above was taken on a walk, an entirely felicitous day where, with no particular plans or organisation skills, we happened across a series of experiences that amounted to what was basically a perfect day, including this walk in the woods.

In Paris Fred adjusted quickly to saying Bonjour to everyone instead of hello but became particularly fixated with babies and toddlers, who would smile at her whatever language she spoke (older children were cool and remote, and perhaps even a little afraid of her, with her gabbling English, her wild unkempt appearance, her filthy bare feet, her tendency to charge into their personal space...) In Paris we went to the same park every day (Square du Temple, about a minute from our apartment on Rue des Archives), and even made a friend each. Fred played with M while I hung out and chatted with her mum, a journalist originally from London who now lives in Paris who - well what do you know? - has a blog. I talked to other mothers at parks as well, usually other 'outsiders' - American and English mothers who had married French men and made a home for themselves in France. Their insights were amazing, traveling with Fred gave me a window into ordinary domestic life (and politics that extends from ordinary life, like health and education) that I never would have had the opportunity to experience on my own.

By the way Paris was enchantingly beautiful, everyone was captivatingly gorgeous and the food was superb. I know, it's such a cliche that your eyes are probably bouncing right off the words, but it's still true.

Helsinki was a strange city, handsome in an austere way. There was a real sense that people were preparing mentally for winter, even though while we were there the weather was actually very pleasant, warm in the sunshine, with long low autumn light. I saw quite a few disaffected youths wandering around, the supermarkets were sort of gloomy and depressing... The day we left there was a school shooting, news of which I haven't yet caught up on. I had the odd intuition that it would be hard to be a young person in Finland even before I heard about the shooting, but that's really just one of those sudden impressions, I wouldn't pretend to know anything about it.

Our lasting impression of Helsinki will probably be the Found Objects office, where we had to go to retrieve a lost basket and umbrella, left behind on the plane. This was a concluding chapter in a drama of tragedy and woe, a drama Fred asked if we could put on the radio and put into posters and put up around the city, the tale of how a basket and an umbrella were left behind on the plane...she whispered it to people as they passed. Thankfully at the Found Objects they were restored to us. The Found Objects office was filled with things, things lost on planes, trains, buses, in restaurants. Drawers stuffed with gloves, buckets filled with umbrellas, each one individually labeled. I loved it. I wanted to be left to rummage, to explore each thing and wonder at the narratives they held.

Anyway, that's enough for now. I will post more photos in the days to come. We took a bunch.