A long drive across the top of Corsica to the ferry and the Italians are driving me nuts at the port. All lined up preening, checking out each other's tatts and tans. It's a hundred degrees.
And then - as a vision - three divine-looking shirtless German guys ride up on motorbikes and my stomach does a turn. Older guys, sharp faces. Probably gays. Gorgeous.
They have this red-headed hippie momma narrowing her eyes under her hat.
Then I am revving the car on board the mammoth ferry, into her bowels on rattering iron ramps studded with bolts and thick yellow paint. It's a furnace. You can't help thinking of the Costa Concordia lurching over, water spilling at you horizontally.
But I love ferries. Vessels. Hulls. Sails
My son finds a seat next to an older tanned Italian couple with a bulldog playing with a lime green plastic ball. Everywhere I look there is patterned carpet. Screaming kids. A low ceiling with silver ridges. This hippie momma shakes her head.
I go upstairs to find the Germans. They will be somewhere and I can study them from afar. Or perhaps I can ask them for a fruit knife. A woman can always ask for a fruit knife. And a European man will always have one.
And there they are. They are not like Italians talking incessantly, or badgering their children, or stretching out their bodies for the edges of the sun. They are plonked on deckchairs reading hefty books, one of them is sleeping.
I sit down on the rusty deck painted bright blue, the same blue as my nailpolish. I bunch up my bag and pull my hat over my head. I fall asleep remembering all the times I have slept on the ground in faraway places, usually with a belly ache clutching a sleeping child and a bag of travel documents.
This is the quote from John Burnside's introduction to his wife Iris Murdoch's mesmerising book, The Sea, The Sea. I have read these words endlessly, running my tongue over them, smelling them.
The temptation to withdraw, to achieve a seeming detachment, to be above or beyond the cacophony of 'the world' may be an attractive one, but it usually has nothing to do with a spiritual path, or - the search for wisdom, or heaven help us - saintliness. To practise detachment one must be in the world, in the chaos of emotions and needs and conflicts that make up ordinary life. If that world is sometimes disappointing, so be it: a just life is one that must be lived in the midst of disappointment. Withdrawal can provide the illusion of perfection - self-governance, order, a quietist's idea of peace - but it is not, for most us, worthwhile. The example of the saints, of the Bodhisattvas, of the Sufi masters, is that mere withdrawal from confusion and misery is not enough; how can I enjoy my peace, if others are confused, hurt and in need. What distinguishes the Bodhisattva is the decision not to leave the circle until all sentient beings attain enlightenment; the saint who has shed the illusions of the world returns to that same world in order to assist others. This return is not that of a cool, detached, superior being; it is a return to the thick of things, to the chaos and pit of the human condition. To accept imperfection - this is the key. To engage, with compassion, in the serious game of being, is the only acceptable choice.