Thursday, 17 August 2017

Runaway Women

Strange how themes emerge when you travel. Often apparently unrelated conversations seem to have a resonance with new conversations over following days. Perhaps my subconscious is always seeking connections. The challenge is how to weave them together and make sense of them.

This one began in Singapore where a young French woman from Versaillaise told the story of her tearful farewell from her mother when she announced she was leaving France to go and work in Dubai. She had first left home at 17. She just had to. The world was calling. And she followed. That was to Barcelona, which was bad enough in her mother's eyes but Dubai was a step too far. Now at twenty seven she works for "Cartier" selling expensive and exclusive items to wealthy visitors from Saudi Arabia and other countries for which Dubai is shopping mecca. She not on the sales counter but behind the scenes. France is home but Dubai is where she wants to be.

On the Turkish Airline flight to Dubrovnic (and that dramatic series of events), Ibtis, from Morocco, talked about how strongly she felt about her mother in Casablanca who she visited regularly. But, despite that bond, she had chosen to relocate to Paris. For work? Yes. For excitement? Yes. And at twenty five, she was already a woman of the world but still essentially Moroccan. Her Arab heritage evident in her skin tones, her dark eyes, her constant reference to the marvels of Fez and Marrakech, Essaouira.

It is 1350 steps from Kotor old town to the highest point in the ancient fortifiations, the walls built precipitiously above the town to protect it from maurading tribes. The wall just climbs the seemingly vertical mountain behind Kotor. No wonder it took ten centuries (1000 years) to complete. At the 1000 steps mark (I was counting), there is a panoromic view over Kotor Inlet - an extensive fijord which has created a deep waterway that snakes inland twenty kilometres with Kotor at it's inland extremity. It's deep. Giant cruiseships, six decks above and six below, sail to Kotor and anchor metres from the shore for an overnight stay. When they are in town the place is crawling with tourists eager to experience everything in the eight hours allocated.

I was alone and wanted a photo of me and the fijord. That's where I met the three Russian girls. They offered to help me with my photo and we got into conversation. The eldest, aged twenty three, was the talker. The other two were sisters, one a sixteen year old. They love Putin (no other option), hate Gorbochov (he broke up the USSR), are sceptical about Russian interference in the US election, and love their country. And in keeping with the theme, the eldest talked about her mother. Has she travelled much? Yes, mainly in Eastern Europe but also a year in Germany (Bavaria) as part of her university studies. She lives east of the Ural Ranges. Chelyabinsk I think she said. I had no idea. Her mother was aghast at the thought of her daughter spending a year in Germany. And she was right to be afraid because she now has a taste for travel and sees a world in which she can play. Would she ever leave her beloved Russia and her mother? Maybe. Possibly America. Never Australia (too far). And her mother? (Avoid Moscow was their advice btw. Choose St Petersburg instead)

Finally there was Slobie, our host in Kotor. Kotor born but living in the UK, I suspect she is the one who has run from her mother and this small community. She is older, maybe late thirties. When she was introducing us to our apartment her accent swung wildly between Montenegran English, to Scot, Irish and then settled as a recognizable Manchester brogue. That's where she lives with her Manchester husband and three year old daughter. She returns every year in summer to help her mother with the business but has little affection for her country. She is, at best, accepting of its quirks, but is despairing of Montenegro ever becoming a truly modern and prosperous country. She is here on sufference. And her mother? I got the distinct impression that their relationship is functional rather than close. Slobie is loyal. She supports her mother but would much prefer to be away. In Manchester.

I don't recall having many conversations with men about their mothers, though I'm sure the relationships are every bit as complex. It just seems like men can do a runner and it's regarded as them making their way in the world while for women, there is a sense that they have somehow abandoned their mothers, their filial duty. Nevertheless the impulse to escape for women seems just as strong, but with more strings attached.

Perhaps I should strike up a couple of conversations with men on planes about their mothers?  Just to make some comparisions. But maybe not. Too risky.

AustraIian politician Mathias Corman might call me out as a "girly-man", as he has of opposition leader, Bill Shorten.

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