6 June 2018 Evert van de Ven

Zen and the art of getting rid of goat shit

I was born and raised in a very small village in The Netherlands, where my dad had his –excellent- butcher shop. Every friday at 8 am sharp a woman would come in with her usual repertoire of who was divorcing, ill, dead, almost dead….or she wanted to be dead. She spoke so loud that if we would all speak so loud, we’d still have no need for hearing aids. At this particular morning she was even more excited as normally.

‘What did I hear, what did I hear; holy lord what did I hear?’, she made her own echo.

As my dad grew accustomed to her gossiping over the years, he didn’t quite get the question and without reacting he just went on with making everything ready for her, because she ordered exactly the same every week. Although she would, at a certain point in her weekly routine, bring her fingers to her lips while looking at all the meat in the display and moving her head slowly from the left to the right and back again, murmuring in herself: what shall I have this week? As she finally made up her mind and ordered what she wanted, my father handed her her order straight away and she would just remark without a trace of understanding how this was possible: ‘oooo, well that’s quick’.

‘I’ve heard you’re going on a holiday to Italy? Is that true?’, she squeaked at the top of her voice. ‘All the way to Italyyyyyy?’

Mind you we’re talking about the early seventies of the last century here, where the unknown corners of the globe were still a thousand times bigger and not brought in our living rooms yet by the everyday news. My dad picked up the word ‘true’ and looked at her in full amazement.

‘Yes’, she continued, ‘I’ve heard that you and your 9 children are going to Italy this summer.’

It no longer seemed to be a question, the biggest question she had was still to come. She put her shopping bag down on the floor, lay both her hands on the counter and looked my dad deep in the eyes. ‘I get it that you can drive all the way down to Italy, but how do you think you’ll ever be able to find your way back?’

Both fell into a deep lasting silence as they were lost for words….for completely different reasons.

And yes we went to the Lago Maggiore in Italy for the first time that year, found the romantic village Cannobio and came back to that village dozens of summer holidays. We mortals all create our habits. One of the things we used to do every year was climbing the Monte Giove; an epic adventure of conquering a mountain of 1600 meters above sea level. For us flatlanders it equaled the Everest. Early rise at 5 in the morning, getting your stuff together in complete silence, leaving the camping site and when we approached the first small village on the hill, StAgatha with it’s beautiful view over the lago, our first whispering would start. My recollections of our visits to Cannobio are great spells of sheer happiness and joy; the sound of the swallows on the lake side, the colours, the smells, the icecream, the football pitch, the peaches, the grapes and this endless time of not having to work, to study or to worry. What a bliss. ‘I believed in my soul….after school’, is a lyric line of Van Morrison that fits in here completely, and the need of ‘I got to get back’; not as much to this small village as well to this feeling of inner peace and tranquility.

So in the process of making my schedule for the Power Flour Journey last year, a short visit including a Stillness Walk to the top of the Monte Giove was a must. I hadn’t been there for 42 years. Sometimes it’s better to cherish the memories and to safe yourself from the shock of reality, I now realize…again. Over the decades Cannobio had become a Swiss-German enclave; the romantic and authentic Italian chaos had made, or had to make -as the law of economics has it-, room for a new and different approach.

Wherever I went in the three days I visited this tiny village, I heard, saw, felt, smelt and tasted the atmosphere of the countries I drove through to reach this little island of bliss; now changed forever.
But there was still hope in me that perhaps some far and remote corners of this little island of bliss might still exist.

So at the second day at 5 am I left my camper and the camper site, accompanied by black birds that were singing there morning song and seemed to guide me on this journey within the Journey. And yes I spotted some changes on the way up, not worth mentioning; the stillness was heavenly, the scent of the flowers overwhelming, the views astonishing and breathtaking and the soft cool breeze coming from the Swiss mountains a delight for my heavily sweating 58 year old body. It was beautiful to reach the top, to be there on my own for a while and yes I grinned even the goat droppings were still part of the scene and the smell. What a treat!! I felt joyous! I just sat. Felt ‘completely Zen’ and just sat.Watch part 1 

At the same moment as I stood up to go downwards, two young guys arrived. I thought for a moment Zorba the Buddha was playing a trick with my imagination. Where did they suddenly come from and how did they get here with this heavy equipment? They nodded friendly and slightly apologetic in a way. One of them murmured, in a sort of Bob Dylan rendition, something like: ‘Tourist complaine of smell of goat shit, so we now blowing it in the wind’. What a strange answer my friend, it didn’t make any sense to me. I just continued in getting ready to leave the hill top.

The next moment I was completely back in reality…watch part 2: we can find our way into economic growth….but how on this planet earth will we ever be able to find our way back?

Cannobio June 2 2018