So, hey, I’m back from an incredible 3 week holiday to tropical Mauritius where the locals are friendly, the water is clear and warm, and wild kittens lurk around scenic lookouts (in a country that taught the world just how easily humans can cause the extinction of an entire species*, you would think they would be a bit more careful about the stray dog and cat populations). And yes, my kids spent so much time playing with the kittens that they barely glanced at the stunning waterfall and wheeling pair of Paille-en-queue birds that floated on the warm breeze. I guess that’s what photos are for.
So did this picturesque country inspire me to write pages and pages of description of the Garden of Eden? Not really. It certainly gave me an appetiser for what Eden must be like – giant trees, lush greenery, fragrant air that made it easy to believe you could just climb up into a mango tree and sleep comfortably, and pick your own breakfast on the way down the next morning. But did I write about any of this? No, because this holiday was all about savouring the experiences. I turned my mind away from how I would put something into words and instead just allowed myself to feel and hear and smell and taste – and really see.
So here’s a quick run-down of what I came away with:
– I tasted street foods that were spiced with an Asian, Indian and African flavour combination that only a centuries-old trading port can really claim as its own
– I heard voices soaked in wisdom and worship as the members of an aged care facility sang hymns in celebration of my great-uncle’s 100th birthday
– I savoured the fragrances of fruits of every sort, that grew in sufficient abundance to convince anyone that a place like Eden could really be waiting for us with the best that the Earth has to offer
– I felt the thrill of swimming with a pod of spinner dolphins, and for a few minutes, my fear of the ocean was overlaid with a sense that I could just keep flying underwater with them at breakneck speed into the endless blue (this is possibly why they don’t have necks)
– I saw the incredible geological phenomenon that produced many colours of earth in a small bare patch of otherwise lush rainforest (stuff just doesn’t grow on it. Weird. And pretty, like unmelting scoops of earthy rainbow ice cream.)
So what was the greatest find? The greatest treasure of the trip? My mum’s sense of humour and her stories. For many years I’ve been trying to get Mum to tell as many stories of her childhood as possible. Problem is, she can never think of much to tell, and I never know what questions to ask that will reveal the best gems, but as she showed us around her birthplace, memories were triggered. The mango tree she used to climb that still stands on the now vacant block where her house used to be (destroyed by a cyclone, of course), the church in Vacoas where so many new relationships blossomed, the roadside bamboo that she once pushed her boyfriend into (still on his bike) because she could see her father driving towards them (he was unhurt, and very grateful).
The verdict? Setting is crucial, and not just so you can lend authenticity to the places you want to describe in your writing, but also because everyone has a connection to country, somewhere. These connections support identity, and identity supports creativity. We are our stories, and our stories are our connections to others.
*contrary to popular belief, Dodos apparently tasted pretty awful – it was the other imported species that gobbled them all up. Somehow I feel that makes their loss even more of a tragedy. So unnecessary. No wonder we aren’t allowed back to our Eden home yet.