Monday, September 5, 2011

Italian Butterflies Don't Know They Are Italian

A few weeks ago, we were riding through Italy in the early hours of the morning, as movement in the cities slowly roused the sun from sleep. We were on our way to the ferry at Ancona, ready for the overnight trip to Greece. There is little to do on the bike except think. I often think about my business at home doing acrylic nails and training new technicians to do the same. I come up with ideas for marketing or expansion and I often write them down on the phone when I have a moment free from GPS.

Other times, I do a lot of reflecting – on mistakes I’ve made, ways I have changed, people I’ve hurt, other people I have just lost touch with. It is easy to get swept up in those thoughts, running through what-if scenarios and wondering what the people I have lost touch with are doing now and what I would say to them if I had the chance. Of course those people are far from the majority and I spend a good deal of time thinking about the people I am close to as well, the people I miss at home.

At this particular point I was thinking about my Mum and sister and how far away from each other we are at the moment. It is a romantic notion in many movies and books to think of seeing the same stars as each other but I realized at that point, that we don’t. When I lived in Australia, it was easy to look up at the same constellations as them and know we weren’t that far apart if we could see the same things. From the northern hemisphere though, those southern constellations are nowhere to be seen. It made me feel even further apart from them and, sat on the back of the bike with the sun starting to rise behind me, I sent quiet messages to the moon for them.

It’s funny the things you see and think of when your mind is on a journey of its own, having wandered with little to do for several hours. In Italy again, but weeks later and on the opposite side, a tiny white butterfly landed amongst the overgrowth as we rode past. An Italian butterfly, exactly the same as the butterflies that nibble on vege gardens at home. He has no idea he is Italian, or that other butterflies that look just like him are living differently on the other side of the world. Maybe they’re not. Maybe when you’re that small and that close to the flowers, overgrowth is all the same.

He has no idea that his life could be different. Neither do the dogs that lie in the shade of the Acropolis. They don’t know that they are sleeping on marble that has been there over 2,000 years, that has had emperors and pilgrims and warriors and mothers walk on it, that has seen death and blood and storms and destruction, war and peace, love and spite. Imagine the things the Acropolis has seen. 2,000 years of change. Imagine the time lapse video you would see if the Acropolis had been filming all that time, the rise and fall of times and eras, the expansion of Athens, the arrival of tourists.

Imagine for a second, that the Parthenon has a stream of consciousness. It was used to store gun powder during the war with Turkey, and a carefully aimed cannonball blew it half to smithereens with no respect for the age and beauty of the structure. The building, had it limbs, would have lost them. All this time later, people care enough to put it slowly back together. Imagine the bloody sacrifices it saw when it was young, and what it must think of the tour groups that trample it every day now. After 2,000 years of such vastly contrasting activities, how could it not look so strong, proud and imposing?

The dog sleeping in the shade knows nothing of this, or why the tourists flock with cameras. He only knows the marble is cold and the tourists are friendly, and that it’s a long walk down should he choose to leave. Maybe he had a home once, as many Athenian strays did, but he knows nothing of the activities of a dog on a farm in New Zealand. He might be curious as to what the dinnertime smells are, coming from the homes of Plaka, below his marble bed, but he has no inclination to travel to lands unknown. It is really only humans that travel and migrate for pleasure rather than necessity.

The kitten born at a campsite in Santorini knows the human inclination to travel, very well. He will probably never figure out though, why the humans that feed and play with him, all speak different words to him. He won’t learn a name, like the dogs up the path won’t learn to sit or stay or shake. There is no consistency in the words spoken to them, no chance to learn. They remain deaf to any understanding, trapped in their species more than any domestic dog at home.

My dog, Toby can pick up words in amongst sentences of human conversation. He will question them, wonder if they apply to him, ask for clarification. No, we will tell him, we were talking about walking to the shop, not the park. He will pick up the general idea of what we are saying, recognizing some words and the tones of voice they carry. Similar to us in France. We picked up words, we could communicate, we heard vocal tone with more clarity than ever before, by necessity. The Santorini strays will never have the awakening of that same understanding.

It is only the human level of communication and understanding that allows us to learn and question the big bad world, grow curiosities like they were daisies and pick away at them one by one. And yet, riding on the back of a motorbike at 5am, we might still send messages to the moon, and while knowing they won’t, secretly hope they make it back down again, and land in our loved ones arms.