Idle Thoughts, Some Pictures and The Plan

Ah, that plan – now where did I put it?

Our return air tickets are locked and loaded for our biennial four-month sojourn. I liken it to a big blank canvas stretched between our targeted landing-site and return departure-point upon which we will paint random colourful pictures as we daily amuse, educate and entertain ourselves. As per usual, optimum flexibility of movement will be maintained; scheduling (a dirty word) will be left to the likes of the purveyors and operators of public transport systems. Our regular mood-assessment of the locale will dictate the major decision of the day – should we linger longer, or flee to fresh pastures. Our intention will be to practise that intrinsic attitude of the villagers of Alpujarra in southern Spain that so impressed us many years ago – no hurry, no worry . . . an attitude also commonly found among the islanders of Samoa. Of course, things don’t always go to plan – especially when there isn’t one.

The good life – The Alpujarras, Andalucia, Spain

The good life – The Alpujarras, Andalucia, Spain

Upolo, Samoa - childhood idyll

Upolo, Samoa – childhood idyll

Upolo, Samoa - a contented soul and good friend

Upolo, Samoa – a contented soul and good friend

Upolo, Samoa - seriously, a land of plenty

Upolo, Samoa – seriously, a land of plenty

Vailima, the Samoan beer, is thirst-quenchingly moresome.

The Waiting
We will arrive in the northern hemisphere in their springtime. Thus we have a few months yet in which to anticipate the pleasurable experiences ahead . . . and to ponder all the things that can possibly go wrong. However, when we lock-up and leave our house to head for the airport we become at once fully committed to the sojourn and all that will eventuate. And whatever transpires – ‘Non, nous regretterons rien’.

Here are some reflections of a pleasurable past-sojourn:

Vietnam - the smells of a timeless ritual, air-drying fish

Vietnam – the smells of a timeless ritual, air-drying fish

Vietnam - its colours

its colours

Vietnam - its maritime heritage

its maritime heritage

Vietnam - its delicious fresh street-foods

its delicious fresh street-foods

Vietnam - its intriguing vistas

its intriguing vistas

Vietnam - its coastline dotted with fishing villages

its coastline dotted with fishing villages

Vietnam - and their many traditional craft

and their many traditional craft

There are many seductive thirst-quenching Vietnamese beers too.

Often when we are travelling we will be amongst people who speak to one another in a language that is totally incomprehensible to us. On these occasions it suits me to simply absorb their speech more as one might a musical composition; I hear the lilt, the tone, the phrasing, the pitch, the moods – allegrezza here, lamentoso there, and sometimes the odd irato altisimo. To know what is being said seems to be quite redundant, and by musically externalising the chatter I am left quite calm and detached: a nice place to be.

I don’t believe in medicating myself for a long flight (if we can say that the wine I take with my meals is not medication :). I prefer to remain alert to every nuance of the flight and its attendants. This does not always work in my favour and is probably the reason I don’t sleep easily on planes; I often land feeling quite discombobulated. But, because we aren’t in a hurry when we land we can take our time settling into our country-of-destination’s newness, not venturing too far away from our pre-arranged accommodation for a day or so.

“It’s a small world after all” . . .
Not so! Contrary to the oft repeated mantra that the world is getting smaller because of air travel, I am convinced it is the same size it has always been and, as I slide into my seventy first year, I still take child-like delight in venturing forth in the company of my (younger) wife to other lands, other cultures, a different history, cuisine, music and the tempting regional beverages.

The Good Oil
We all have our ways of sourcing local information when travelling: some use guide books, and nowadays many rely on computers or phone apps. It depends on one’s interests, too. Much is readily accessible – it is not difficult to find a museum or art gallery and to establish opening hours or what the current theme is, after all.

At one end of the traveller spectrum, those in organised tours will have an informative guide: cruise ships usually have expert speakers on distinct topics pertaining to the ports of call. We, however, are perhaps situated at the other end of the spectrum, usually arriving at a town or village with little pre-knowledge of its charms or otherwise, drawn to it by other, perhaps esoteric, reasons. Once there, we casually seek and greedily devour what it may have to offer.

It has happened on more than one occasion that I have been drawn to a place because the name resonated in the dim recesses of my mind, perhaps from a past novel I had read or a history lesson attended long ago at school – Goa in southern India, Napoli in southern Italy (I was there as a six year old), Syracusa and Ragusa Ibla (both in Sicily) are four that immediately come to mind. Zamboanga, for the same reason, is on my list.

Tropical Goa - southern India

Tropical Goa – Southern India

Goa - Southern India

Goa – Southern India

Our choice when travelling is to mosey about a place and let interesting things unfold: they always do. As a source of local tips and info that suits our interests – to become privy to the ‘good oil’, that reliable, useful information – we follow our tried-and-true method of retiring to some interesting-looking bar where, within its convivial confines we will become informed by its bar staff or other patrons urged on by our genuine interest and curiosity.

It works for us, but each to their own . . .

Syracusa Ortija Fishermen

Syracusa Ortija Fishermen – Sicily

Ragusa-Ragusa Ibla Sicilia

Ragusa-Ragusa Ibla – Sicily

World Bank Notes – Trinacria

The Curious Case of the Trinacria Connection


As well as being a keen traveller, I am a collector of World Bank Notes. So it was with some interest that I noticed the imagery on a consecutive pair of Isle of Man £1 bank notes that I hold. They depict the same symbol as that we had seen so often on our travels throughout Sicily. What, I wondered, was the connection?

The symbol is known as the trinacria, or triscele in Italian (but also triquetra or triskelion depending on the usage and contexts). Formed of three legs bent at the knees (or three intertwined spirals according to other traditions) and starting from a common centre point, the Sicilian version has a Medusa head at its centre.

The figure has roots in ancient history, with the trinacria even appearing on Syracusan (Sicily) coins from the fourth century BC. In the case of Sicily, the three legs are said to represent the distinct triangular shape of the island as marked by its three most prominent points (before the age of satellite mapping): Messina (North-East), Syracuse (South-East) and Marsala (West).

Sicilian Coins

Much has been written (and argued) about the symbol’s origins – but most agree it has Grecian roots. The symbol can be found on the shields of Spartan warriors depicted in Grecian vase decoration. It has, apparently, long been applied as a symbol of protection, like a sort of amulet.

Trinacria Symbol

The symbol has also taken on many fanciful transformations since then.

Symbol - Trinacria

So how, I wondered, how did this unusual symbol come to be used in the Isle of Man? The Isle of Man, after all, is a long way from Sicily or Greece, sitting between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in the Irish Sea and could hardly be called ‘triangular’ in shape. Intrigued, I sought the answer – but found that nobody really knows. However, the following rings true: The connection with Sicily probably comes about through the Norse people (the Vikings).

Occupying the Isle of Man from about 979 to 1265 AD, these traders and explorers sailed throughout the Mediterranean Sea and knew Sicily well. It was probably these seafarers who brought the emblem to the northern and western parts of Europe. A further connection with Sicily was that the Scottish King Alexander III, who ruled over Mann in 1266, was the brother-in-law of Prince Edmund. The Pope had promised Edmund the title of King of Sicily in return for his military aid in a dispute.

The earliest use (which can be dated) of the Three Legs within the Isle of Man is in 1310 when they appeared on the shield of Henry de Bello Monte, Governor of the Island for King Edward II of England. They also appear on the Manx Sword of State which is thought to date from around 1230. Another early occurrence is on the market cross in the village of Maughold, which is probably late 14th century.

Curiously, the Latin motto, “Quocunque Jeceris Stabit” surrounding the legs on my Isle of Man bank notes translates as “Whichever way you throw, it will stand”, which claim must surely only lead to more conjecture and speculation – go ahead. Feel free.