7 April 2018

0407E

On Thursday evening I pulled weeds from the garden beds outside the kitchen until 8pm. What a treat. I felt privileged. Never has a winter felt so long. Except as always, I expect that it has but we forget. Anyway. We’ve had quite enough cold and damp. Now we want spring.

Other milestones. Late last night as I pulled the shutters closed, I heard a nightingale. In fact it may have been more than one. It was certainly the first. And yesterday for lunch we ate our first asparagus spear. Just one very large one (there were other things to eat as well, obviously). I told L he should be approaching it reverently. ‘What, with a dog collar?’ he said. I’m not convinced he appreciated it as much as he should have.

0407F

Italy’s elections have come and gone, and I’m happy to say that CdP remains red. Well, pink, and a pale shade at that. 36.7% for the centre-left; 29% for the centre-right. (Where did the other votes go? Boh.) But I’ve reacted to the national debacle by (1) trying to ignore all the government-formation shenanigans utterly and (2) joining the Partito democratico (PD). There’s nothing so invigorating as hopping on a sinking ship when all the traffic’s in the other direction.

The PD HQ is a cold stark room above the post office. Portraits of Gramsci and Togliatti and Che Guevara and some other bloke I couldn’t identify watch over proceedings. Away in a corner I spotted a black and white photo of Enrico Berlinguer.

At my first meeting of the compagni, perched on a shaky chair rather too close for comfort to a heater of a type I thought had been done away with in about 1958, I listened to men shouting. Perhaps I’m not being fair, but having always lived with people for whom shouting just wasn’t a thing, I tend to presume that the onset of shouting means that the ability to reason has gone out the window. And I stop listening to the words. But there is something quite fascinating about the Italian capacity for shouting so loud when, basically, everyone’s on the same side. It’s like football arguments among old men in parks: you presume that they must all be fans of opposing teams, until it dawns on you that they’re comrades in arms. But still they yell.

The upshot of the shouting (once it had stopped focussing on national issues which you might have thought they were solely responsible for salvaging) was that the PD needs to be better at listening to the problems of the populace. But everyone seemed to reach the conclusion in a vacuum. Because despite the volume they clearly weren’t hearing each other. Which explains a lot about the predicament of Italy’s centre-left.

0407C

Last year’s Buddha’s birthday fest – as pleasant as it was improbable in this small Umbrian town – was a low-key affair but not so under-the-radar that the town council didn’t notice.

Our town council is a wonder, providing us with a remarkable array of shows and displays and happenings throughout the year, all on a budget which should barely cover a couple of nights of Christmas lights. The secret lies in their generosity with municipally owned spaces. They are impressively swift at latching on to anything 100% organised by someone else, costing the council little or nothing: then they will provide a venue gratis, just so long as they don’t have to shell out a euro (which explains some of the less-than-illustrious productions thrown at us).

And so the council has bumped Buddha’s birthday up the CdP top hits chart, elevating its venue from the far-off piazza way down in front of the schools to a closed-off section of the hugely more central street that runs along beside the football pitch, to be provided free to the Sri Lankan community for two whole nights.

‘But they’re not giving us any money,’ wailed my garden helper Indi – the prime mover of the event – when he reappeared abruptly here after a disappearance that had lasted weeks and weeks. ‘Two nights feeding people. How are we going to find enough vegetables?’

This may have been a cry for donations but I, like the town council, turned a deaf ear. I explained, though, about the very laudable Italian law which since 2016 has banned supermarkets from chucking away perfectly good food that has passed its sell-by date. I hope they’ll be big-hearted enough to help out.

0407D

For the first time ever, I’m accumulating clients in CdP which has the advantage of having my work on my doorstep rather than a long long motorway slog away, but the disadvantage that I spend inordinate amounts of minutes (cumulatively hours, of course) here and there just ‘popping in’, rather than well planned stretches of concerted work at rare and strictly necessary intervals.

For one of these new clients I was enquiring quite how soundly he could legally fence in his property to keep boars from devastating his grass, and his fruit and olive trees. The answer, I found out, was hardly at all, except with electric fences that are totally movable. This is because our wild wild valley (he’s just on the other side) is not, as I had previously thought, hedged about with planning restrictions just because of some old local regs, but because it’s an SCI (Site of Community Interest) – a kind of wildlife super-highway set up under the EU’s Natura 2000 accord. Who knew?

Confirmation that it works as a wildlife corridor came from the Corpo Forestale when one of their officers went around to decide which (small) bits of wood my client could fell and which had to be left intact. When he heard that the landowner was planning to dispense with grass-cutting and run some sheep under his fruit trees (not really a great idea, as I reckon sheep in their milder way could probably, in the long term, do as much damage as rampaging boars) the officer was perturbed.

‘No! No! All sheep will do is attract wolves and bring them even closer to populated areas,’ he warned.

Now, everyone knows that there are wolves about. A friend on the Tuscan side of the valley was playing with his new toy – a night-vision camera – and surprised himself by catching one on video. But despite knowing that they’re perfectly safe, that if they see you they’ll just run away, that they don’t attack humans (unless, I presume, they’re very very hungry…) you still don’t necessarily like the idea that at night time they’re strolling beneath your apple trees. It’s difficult to shake the niggling Big Bad Wolf terror.

0407H

Easter was a rushed affair. I had set myself that weekend as the absolute limit for installing the long-promised kitchenettes at Pieve Suites. All I needed was for the plumber to come by and swiftly attach the three sinks to the ready-to-roll water outlets/wastewater pipe. Simple. Ha!

With guests expected mid-afternoon on Good Friday, the plumbing boys finally turned up on Thursday about four (for which, I should say, I was grateful because I know other people who were just as desperate as I was whom they never managed to reach). Naturally the holes in the kitchen tops were just slightly too small for the sinks once their clamps were attached. And one of the stoppers that these same plumbers had attached to the water pipes months ago simply wouldn’t budge. At all. Not a millimetre. Panic.

On Friday morning I dragged my carpenter boy from his sick bed to enlarge the holes. And my painstakingly assembled top-floor kitchen had to be unceremoniously taken (partly) to pieces in a final desperate attempt to loosen the stopper. That worked. Phew. Panic over.

Well, that panic over anyway, because in the process of resolving that little hiccup, my beautifully cleaned-and-polished house had been well and truly trashed. Back to hoovering and dusting, right up to the moment when the doorbell rang and guests arrived: the definition of the nick of time. Is this what the rental accommodation business is like?

0407B

On a sunny morning (because there have been sunny mornings) last week I stopped at the vegetable stall in the square by the war memorial where Pasquale the fruit man was deep in conversation with a kindly looking old lady, lamenting the youth of today and how they take everything for granted and how they don’t know how lucky they are and all they want is booze and drugs etc etc ad nauseam. (All this a proposito di a 21-year-old found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Positano, 24 hours after going out clubbing.)

I stood and listened and didn’t say a word, until Pasquale – who knows that I’m not usually slow to voice my opinion – started to look a bit nervous. ‘Eh, Anne, what do you think about this?’

Well, I told them, perhaps I’m odd but I know so many fantastic, creative, inventive, committed, intelligent, hard-working, dedicated (and all the other adjectives I could think of) young people, I kind of feel that the ones who aren’t that way are complete anomalies.

By the end of my diatribe Pasquale and the signora were helping me along, nodding in agreement, reaching for ever more enthusiastic adjectives, singing the praises of our wondrous young people.

Driving to Perugia this morning, I heard an expert telling his radio audience that an estimated six percent of young Italian females and 21% (or thereabouts) of young Italian males – interesting disparity – have a problem with drink and/or drugs. Yet of course they are the only ones people talk about. Perhaps more people need to focus on the majority, not the out-of whack minority.

0407A

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19 March 2018

0319D

As always at this time of year, we’re under siege. It’s not that I’m particularly worried that these bluetits are chucking themselves so hard against the imaginary enemy-interlopers they see reflected in all our windows, though that’s quite distressing too; but they spend so much time tilting at reflection-windmills, I’m concerned that no one’s getting down to building nests for the eggs that are sure to arrive soon.

0319LOr maybe it’s just the male bluetits that are so bootlessly protecting their pitch. Maybe the female ones are getting on with things calmly, ignoring the antics. Can bluetits roll their eyes? I now have this mind-picture of eye-rolling bluetit ladies: that would kind of make sense.

0319BThe world is full of spring signs now, though there’s been little spring in the damp cold air. One morning, walking up to town in a moment of zingy sunshine as the big freeze of three weeks ago (ten centimetres of snow; temperatures that never went above -2° for five days and plunged to -10° – unheard-of cold in these latitudes) finally loosened its grip, I was stopped in my tracks by a powerful smell of liberated earth – soil that smelled as if it was brimming with potential green stuff.

0319ANow there are daffodils, and a haze of violets-inherent-in-the-system (as L calls my wonderful patches of wild Viola) and I noticed today that the lilac bushes are breaking into leaf. But in fact, I wish they wouldn’t. After the many days of rain – from drizzle to torrential – that we’ve been having and are doomed to continue having, we’re going to get a bit of variation in the shape of snow showers some time this week, the forecast says. I’ve brought my seed trays from the greenhouse into the house, fearing that a burst of ice might finish off the tiny leaves which have just begun to poke through. Basta. I timed my return from travels in sunny climes to coincide with the end of winter. Next time, I’ll seek the sun later.


I can feel the hot breath of clients close on my neck but there’s really very little I can do. The ground’s too claggy to work; there’s little point in trying to build if you can’t get your cement into the cracks before another downpour begins. So I’ve returned to the house in town where my suites are finally getting their little kitchens – the ones I’ve been talking of for weeks now as a fait accompli when really they were just a twinkle in my eye.

0319CMy hopes for elaborate creations designed by me and made by my obliging artisans went slightly out the window: time and (lack of) funds can scupper the best-laid plans. The flatpack alternatives, though, are looking neat and very functional – probably far more practical than anything I could have invented. I still keep asking myself: will anybody use them?

Pieve Suites is not, so far, experiencing huge demand. Which gives me time, I guess, to work out what it is I’m doing. The answer, of course, is that I’m making accommodation in my own image, or rather accommodation in which I’d like to stay. It can’t just be me who wants this, can it?

Many friends, for example, have questioned the need for kitchens at all. But they are, in the final analysis, one of my main selling points – and something that I might, feasibly, use. My suites are larger than anything comparable in town, and in a style which is utterly different. (Are we still in CdP? It doesn’t feel like it! said one amazed friend – a CdP resident but originally from Milan – when he came to take a look last week. I was rather proud.) And they’re aimed to a large extent at people who want to be able to look after themselves. They can call on me for help and advice whenever they want, of course.

But I feel that the more I provide the tools for guests to be autonomous, then that’s the kind of guests I will (eventually) get. And if they’ve bought some great cheese or amazing tomatoes and for a meal or two want to snack on a salad or a plate of pasta al pomodoro instead of resorting to local eateries, this is the place: they can, comfortably. That’s what I want to provide.


I’m locked in mortal combat with my builder over the residual crane – the one used in building our house, which has languished, unused and unusable, in Mario’s field ever since. Thirteen years it has been parked up the lane, blighting the landscape and driving our poor higher-up neighbours crazy. For 13 years I’ve been going on at him to remove it, though with degrees of vigour that have waxed and waned over time.

It’s a rather less intrusive rusty red now rather than the flaming scarlet it started out as. There was a point where rampant vegetation had all but engulfed it, but that has all been unhelpfully hacked back. What has really focussed my mind on it recently has been moving the veggie garden from lower down to up there where I’m eyeball to eyeball with the hunk of rusty tin each time I go to check on my wonderfully vigorous garlic crop (not much else planted so far). It’s just plain ugly, and desperate measures are needed to overcome the builder’s eternal inertia.

So I’m witholding some of the money I still owe him for the work in town. He’s not happy. But as I point out, he’ll be unhappy up until the moment he removes the crane: his felicity is in his own hands. Thanks to him, I’ve been unhappy for 13 years.

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1 March 2018

This gallery contains 2 photos.

This late winter chill has cast an icy glaze over Umbria.

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23 February 2018

0223C

Italian beverages in small-town NSW

Rome taxi drivers. They’re generally fairly unlikeable, like the one who took us to Termini station today. Laminated sheets of A5 stuck to the dashboard and the back of the front passenger seat welcomed fares who sat meekly and let him do what he wanted – persone gentili, well behaved people. That was the first, very short, sentence.

Then there was a long rant about how people who saw fit to try to teach him the ‘correct’ route, people who dare to answer back, people spoiling for a fight, people – in short – who made his life a misery could just exit the vehicle. You could tell he was on a short fuse.

From the hotel where we spent last night, he set off in the direction diametrically opposed to the station, which was our destination. We were so busy trying to find ways of stashing our sodden raingear without drenching our legs that I didn’t notice at first. There might well have been a simple explanation: the whole traffic system around the heavily militarised Colosseum area has been changed. L enquired, in a very friendly way I thought, why he had opted for that particular route.

A me? A me?” he thundered, glaring at us bug-eyed in the rear-view mirror. “Sta dicendo a me che strada fare?!You’re telling me which way to go?!

For a moment I thought we might be forcibly ejected. He muttered and grumbled and we sunk into the back seat, trying not to giggle. I wondered what kind of carnage a driver in the grip of an apoplectic fit might cause in chaotic Rome traffic. He was clearly not used to having his decisions queried.

The one who took me to the hotel the previous evening, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically pleasant, and interested to hear that I lived in Umbria because that’s where he was from. Except, it transpired, he wasn’t because he came from the Marche. But near enough. Kind of.

Of course the chat turned to food. Because this is Italy and it always does. He started listing all his favourite umbro-marchigiani meaty things. The city was log-jammed in the rain, and he had plenty of time to be horribly exhaustive. At a certain point, though, I guess it must have occurred to him that I wasn’t joining in. I was forced to admit that I don’t eat meat.

Silence.

– So what do you put with your vegetables? You must have a steak every now and then?
– No.
Silence. I think he was beginning to worry that he had some psychopath, or maybe alien, in his cab. He was going to have to humour me. Previously, I’d told him that we’d lived in Rome for 25 years. So he tried again, with Roman food.

– But, like, at least you can eat pajata….?

Of all meat dishes, pajata is one that makes even the most callous carnivore balk. It’s the intestines of very young, unweaned veal, with the mother’s milk still inside. It’s boiled up in thick tomato sauce so that the milk curdles nauseatingly.

I try to explain to him patiently that that is possibly the most disgusting meat dish ever invented but he’s having none of it.

– But it’s just milk! Come on, it’s perfect if you don’t eat meat!

I let it slide.


Rome was awash, a sodden dystopia of broken umbrellas and crappy plastic bag-bins flapping everywhere. They’re a novelty. The bulking baronial-castle-fire-basket ones which actually – when you got used to them – looked rather fine and fitting but which caused such an outcry when they were introduced for the 2000 Holy Year have disappeared, presumably for security reasons. I would wager that they cost a fortune which had the happy side-effect of limiting their number.

0223D

Bernini & bag-bins

The new ones, on the other hand, are a disk of concrete with a metal stick coming out of them, ending in a thick plastic circle to which a big plastic bag is attached. They lean at drunken angles on the rocky pavements and flap inelegantly. No attempt at separating for recycling. And – I’ll wager because they’re relatively cheap – they are everywhere, blighting the city. I think I’d prefer rubbish on the ground, quite frankly because they are little more than rubbish raised slightly above it. In piazza Navona, I counted up to 30 of the things, all around that magnificent oval with those magnificent statues at its centre and those magnificent palazzi all around. Thirty-plus forlorn flapping bag-bins. It was disgusting. What is the hapless Rome city council thinking of?


0223A

Annoyingly inactive sweet potatoes

I’m trying to strike my own sweet potatoes. According to every single thing I’ve read about it, striking sweet potatoes is like falling off a log. Really? Mostly, so far, I’ve struck some very fine mould cultures and some very smelly water. Are they in too cold a spot? I shouldn’t think so because they had days of lovely sunshine before the current damp misery (punctuated with some snow here and there) set in. I’m going to persevere, though I don’t know for how long.

I’m also going to give ginger another go. Someone (who?) told me that they grow tons of it, every year, around here. I think it might – like on my previous attempts – come unstuck in my sticky claggy clay soil, but there’s no harm in trying.

I think I won’t do potatoes this year. They’re very unsatisfying. They take up a whole lot of space and stay there for too long and then tend to go yucky in the pantry before we get around to eating them.

I am – I decided as I did my usual spring-time prowl through the Organic Catalogue – going to grow silly frondy things: odd oriental salady bits, outlandish kales. If nothing else, they’ll jolly up the vegetable garden.

End-February is the time when I generally start putting seeds in trays and my greenhouse begins filling up. But there’s so much snow on the forecast for the next five days or so, and such un-springy cold (-9°? We don’t get -9°!) that I’m absolutely going to wait.

0223B

The Pittwater harbour house where I grew up

It seems such a long time ago that we were sweltering in Sri Lanka, then me in Australia. I look back in shame at my endless moaning about the excessive heat last summer: never again will I talk badly of the summer. (I will of course, but hey.) My sore back should have seized up irremediably over long plane journeys but instead it vanished the moment we stepped out into summer. My shoulder, still aching from a bike tumble two years ago, was suddenly ‘cured’.

I even emerged unscathed from the kind of road trip – from the Snowy Mountains, all along the NSW coast up to Sydney and beyond – which should have finished me off. But I was warm, and it was wonderful, and it didn’t.

Now here I am, back in the cold, and my aches have rushed back in. I’m not made for cold. I can’t wait until this whoosh of air from the Siberian Arctic disperses and I can start thinking springy thoughts.

 

 

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5 February 2018

Travelling in much of western Europe, with a couple of languages at your command, there are few places where you can’t grasp a word or two here and there. You don’t necessarily understand what’s being said, but there’s comfort to be taken in the fact that you’re on more or less familiar ground.

At first it’s a bit like this with the vegetation in Sri Lanka. It’s full of plants in familiar families – Myrtaceae, Rutaceae, Moraceae, Fabaceae (not that I’m very proficient at telling these apart, mind you…) – but take a closer look and you’re lost: it’s familiar but alien, comforting but deeply frustrating. Overhearing otherwise incomprehensible conversations, the odd word generally doesn’t make me want to know much more: one look at the people chatting and often enough you’re pretty sure they don’t have much of interest to say to you. These plants, on the other hand, make me want to know everything. As I say, frustrating.

The problem dogged me through our ten days in Sri Lanka – in Colombo’s lovely Viharamahavedi park (“much simpler when it was Victoria park,” muttered an elderly friend whose husband was once Italy’s ambassador there), in the spectacular Peradeniya botanical gardens, way up in the southern hill country where we hiked through tea plantations both operational and abandoned and – perhaps most of all – in the Yala and Lunugamvehera national parks way down in the south-east where we spent three days bouncing through red dust on badly sprung jeeps, an excellent guide on hand who identified animals and birds deftly but looked blank and not a little embarrassed when I pointed hopefully to trees. I would so love to have had a botanist on board as well!

As it was, much of my time was spent in a googling frenzy, desperately trying to match leaves and flowers snatched from the side of the road with indecisive photos and patchy descriptions.

So to make myself feel a little more in control of my encounters with unfamiliar flora I’ve been combing the internet for good on-line courses in plant biology or plant identification or plant taxonomy and come up with… nothing. Maybe I just need a good old old-fashioned book. Something to work on for 2018.

This trip reminded me how much I adore flowering trees. Of course we have our wonderful fruit trees at home but they’re delicate, fleeting things: superb at their height but very transient. Late January, I learnt, is not a great time for massive showers of dazzling, ebullient tree colour in SL either – we were there in April last time, when the magnificent flame tree (Delonix regia) and cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis) were in bloom – but there was enough to keep me happy… not that I can say with any certainty what it was that I was peering at, high up in the tree canopy.

I love, too, the clean green neatness of tea plantations, with their occasional glimpses of those tiny, fragile camelia flowers which remind you of what you’re looking at/drinking. Not that I drink it: I’ve never really liked the stuff, and after our estate ramble at the wonderful organic Amba Estate where we were staying, when presented with a glass jar of black tea to sniff in the estate office, my left eye promptly started watering to the point where I had tears dripping off my chin and I could see nothing. Is my dislike for tea actually an allergy? I’d never thought of that before. I mean it may just have been coincidence (I can find no trace of anyone else on the whole internet who reacts to tea that way: tea bags are widely recommended for use as poultices to stop sore, swollen eyes) but it was a strange one if so.

Walking through the countryside around there, along paths beaten through fields and woods by generations of tea pickers, the sound of human voices was never very far away – a little like olive-picking time around us, except this was exclusively female, like the pickers themselves. Brightly dresses ladies dotted the tea gardens, their hands always steadily in motion.

Our stay up in the hills set in motion our ruminations on tourism in its various manifestations. From our very simple, restfully isolated perch on the Amba Estate (in fact we were here rather than in the estate-owned property but it adds up to the same thing) we were fed fantastically and left to our own devices. Our various walks took us up to rocky look-outs and to the marvellous Ravana Falls which we reached along the chattering channel that still takes water to a small hydro-electric plant in a disused (but soon to be revamped) tea factory, across a rickety bridge and through tall trees guided by an elderly gentleman whose great-grandfather owned the whole estate until the 1970s, but who is now the cook at a British-owned hotel on the far side of the river, the land of which we hiked through to the waterfall.

We had the high pool of the Ravana falls almosts to ourselves, the only other people there being an Anglo-French couple staying in Clove Tree House with us. It was magical.

The next day we trekked through plantations and eucalyptus forests (planted, clearly: not native), seeing maybe five people – locals, all of them – to Ella Rock where twenty-somethings in board shorts and flip flops/thongs lounged on rocks and seemed underwhelmed by the splendour in front of them. They had walked up the other side, from Ella town itself, a charming little outpost according to articles and guides but in fact (as we found when we climbed down to it on the other side, through streams of similar hikers coming up the other way) utterly overrun and far from charming – clearly still featuring high on this year’s south-east-Asia backpacking check-list.

You could see the progression. Ella must have started out as a tiny town amid failing tea estates, perhaps with small homestays and little but glorious, unkempt nature to offer. When the backpackers arrived, quick-off-the-mark locals created amenities in the visitors’ image: burger bars and large loud eateries serving pan-Asian generics, and cafés selling Lavazza coffee at 20 times the price of a cup of the Sri Lankan brew. At one of these cafés we listened as two Aussies and two Germans compared burgers in various points across that geographical region. It was clear that all the countries visited were essentially one big back-packing blur.

But things were stirring again on the tourism front, pushed along by the town’s new-found ‘success’. At one extreme, some smart little eco-lodges were aiming at a different category of independent traveller: less frivolous, arguably, and probably more monied. And at the other, some biggish hotels with Chinese script on the notice boards out front were straggling up the hill from the main street: nothing fancy, mind you – probably destined for Chinese tour groups. Which will win out? For the beauties of the surrounding countryside, I kind of hope it’s the eco-tourists rather than the vast coachloads of bewildered Chinese one-nighters.

Meanwhile just outside town, where the Ravana waterfall eventually comes crashing to its lowest point – way lower than the magical spot we had hiked to the previous day and far too close to Ella town itself – the large flat rocks just off the road were heaving with sun-bleached bikinied girls squealing and naked-torsoed young men trying to match looking coolly detached with being on the prowl. I doubt anyone was pondering the magnificence of the setting. From the road, local tuk-tuk drivers looked resigned, clearly interested only in their next fare.

I say that eco-tourism – a label that covers a multitude of sins and vaguenesses – is preferable to mass invasions but it is certainly no guarantee of anything at all sensitive. Down south, where we stayed at the brand-new Wild Coast Tented Lodge, we saw just how bad so-called eco-tourism can be at the Yala national park.

The hotel, located in the Yala park buffer zone, was striking and special – teething problems to sort, but impressive. The Yala safari experience was a curate’s egg: wonderful because we had a fantastic guide, employed by the hotel, who seemed to enjoy having clients who weren’t just there for what he referred to as ‘charismatic fauna’ – ie leopards – but to experience the lot… including some extraordinary birds which, he said, he didn’t even bother to point out to many visitors.

We did see a leopard, fleetingly (L’s picture of blurry vegetation has been studied and re-studied but we can’t work out where the leopard is lurking), and lots of elephants and crocodiles and lizards and peacocks galore (I still think they look plain silly in the wild). But we also witnessed the scariest animals of all: in a tremendous traffic jam, yodeling tourists threw their weight about in jeeps – jostling with each other, encouraging drivers to push other vehicles off the road and generally behaving like hooligans, to see a pin-point on a distant rock which someone had decided was a leopard. It was as humiliating as it was distressing. The taste it left was bitter. Our guide, who had managed up to that point to steer us away from these scenes, was mortified.

Six hundred jeeps plough into Yala each day, packed in a majority of cases with gawpers whose interest in the fauna and its habitat – to the extent that it even exists – has clear funfair overtones. And this is called eco-tourism. It really isn’t doing the planet much good. But maybe small patches of natural beauty have to be sacrificed to that kind of traveller in order to leave the rest to those more timid animals which shun the human presence, and to people who can do without ‘charisma’.

Our idea of safari-perfection was infinitely more low-key: killing the jeep engine to sit quietly and watch an elephant wading through a lotus-filled pool with an egret balanced on his back; or lingering by a muddy hole where a painted stork went about his business calmly, unaware of the banal, everyday family-drama dynamics of the water buffaloes pushing and shoving and stirring up the mire.

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