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05/22/2017

Under the Tuscan sun

I have often heard that travelers form their first impression of the visiting country by her airport. I personally form it from her taxi drivers. For instance, you quickly get that Germans and Swiss Germans are a little tight-ass, that you don’t get to mess around with the baby seat – the rule is the rule and they don’t care that the little one cries to death after traveling for 15 hours. In this spirit, Italy felt just like home: not only did the airport taxi driver did not even mention the baby car seat (just like all the other drivers by the way) but also he shoved all the bags in the car, and the five adults including Papi at the back with Baby Samurai on his lap and the stroller falling on his head. And then he drove just like an Indian, the phone in one hand, taking tight turns. It was such a soft landing for us!

In many aspects, Italians are the ‘Indians of Europe’ or ‘white Indians’. The way they are attached to their mother and family – even though here I am just talking about their reputation, I didn’t experience it myself – seems quite similar. Quite easy going, warm and relaxed with the rules people. And the crowd in the streets of Florence, it was as bad as Old Delhi, simply suffocating! I don’t have any other generality to share about Italians, except that (almost) all we met were very friendly!

We just had one incident: as I was parking, my neighbour thought I scratched his car while I just left some dust and possibly slightly scratched the varnish but really I don't see how I was very careful and my favorite Indian was watching from outside). He was yelling “va fan culo” and other insults, becoming red-faced. My favorite Indian was remaining very calm (luckily he didn't understand Italian) and if I had not been so worried watching the reactions of my husband, I would have gone and slapped this angry fellow myself! When we left, leaving him disappointed by our very calm attitude, what do you think he did? Bah he scratched our vehicle. Brrrravo!

I loved the landscapes of Tuscany, and its steaks and ice-creams and pasta. I loved the Chianti, Montepulciano and Brunello (local wines) and hated its bread which is made without salt (an aberration).

We had decided to take it easy and spend the week moving only in Tuscany. We visited a few medieval villages that abound in the region – and they are either dead (nobody except one or two oldies on a bench) or packed with tourists – but especially at night, when we had to go hunt for food. This will definitely leave a special taste to the memory of our holidays! And then we mostly got lost on dirt roads.

India,Italy,Tuscany,AgriturismoWe would decide at the last minute about where to sleep (which would not have worked well in full season I think) and would usually end up in an Agriturismo. Beware, an Agriturismo it is not as romantic as it may sound, unlike what I had imagined. I had indeed a very picturesque view of this form of accommodation, with beautifully renovated farm buildings and where the guests can milk the cows and pick tomatoes. Well it is nothing like that! If the buildings are generally quite charming, all these are working farms. The owners are very busy during the day, and not necessarily inclined to entertain the city dweller who wants to play farmer for a day. And if it is one of these farms who use tractors, well there will be noise – you can bid farewell to the nap under the olive trees to the sound of silence! And in those where they keep animals (and we’ve not seen many in Tuscany where they are more about wine and olive oil production), well you’re not in the zoo. So better be aware.

We first spent a few days in the vineyards where my favorite Agriturismo was the 7 Camici, where you can watch the sunset over the vineyards from your natural hot pool):

India,Italy,Tuscany,Agriturismo

India,Italy,Tuscany,AgriturismoWe then landed in the South, near Grosseto, in a farmhouse with a huge plot (Tenuta San Carlo) where we could see cows, ducks and rabbits, climb discreetly on the parked tractors and ride a bike to the beach, play with the dog and our Baby Samurai was happy. So we stayed there for three nights.

India,Italy,Tuscany,AgriturismoAnd to end our trip on a high note, I booked (at the last minute and it was Easter weekend) in a Florence hotel near the airport, which seduced me with his baroque style – I found it sad to spend the last night in Italy in a Novotel or an Airbnb: the Villa Villoresi. It takes some time to get used to the very ancient house, its heavy paintings, its 80-year-old owner-manager from another time, and the ‘Butler’ who carries the suitcases in a blue jacket and serves dinner in a gray one. Our room was a tiny not-so-comfortable closet but we had been warned. In short this place is a little creepy but you can start warming up to it after 2 glasses of Chianti!

05/08/2017

About depression, suicide and other niceties

The Indian Prime Minister spoke recently about a problem (apparently independent of the lack of toilets and corruption) completely taboo and not really funny: depression.

Apparently the WHO published a report on depression in Southeast Asia in 2015 (source), then India (the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Science) conducted a study published in 2016 (source).

If there was in the world in 2015 more than 300 million people suffering from depression (4.6% of the population*), 56 million lived in India (4.5% of the Indian population, right in the overall average!). To that we need to add all the other mental illnesses, which brings to 15 the percentage of adults who actually need help.

But the thing is that in India, mental conditions are hyper stigmatized**. You don't go to a shrink (that's for crazy people (maybe that’s why there are only 2 psychiatrists per million inhabitants which means there are less than 3 000 in total!)) (source)), you hide it, you ignore it. It doesn’t really help to get better.

In the same vein, there are a lot of suicides in India. On average 134 419 a year between 2010 and 2014, or 10.6 per 100,000 people (source). I won’t give a ranking of countries, it varies too much from one source of information to another, but this rate is also aligned with the global statistics of 10.7 per 100,000 people in 2015 (source). “Each year, almost 800,000 people die by committing suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of mortality in the 15-29 age group.” (source)

After talking a lot about the suicides of farmers, there is now a rising consciousness about the youth (with a suicide rate among the highest in the world according to the Lancet 2012), with nearly 9,000 students who killed themselves in 2015. The reasons stated are the pressure for academic and professional success, fear of failing and to be not good enough, as well as the difficulties to communicate with parents (source). In a society that is changing so fast, parents who sweat blood to work themselves out of poverty and expect the same of their children, joint families where communication on sensitive issues can be often silenced, a generational gap becoming abysmal between parents and children, and the social stigma, it's not easy for a lot of young people out here!

* In France, 2 to 3 million people suffer from depression, i.e. 5 to 8% (source), which puts us in the global standard with 4.5% of the population.

** “From a cultural perspective, mental disorders are associated with a considerable amount of stigma in Indian society, leading to neglect and marginalisation.Such individuals and their families face numerous challenges in daily life, both for managing the condition as well as for making them productive due to prevailing attitudes, media portrayals, societal discrimination and deprived opportunities.” (source)

India,suicide,depression,mental diseases,mental illnesses

India,suicide,depression,mental diseases,mental illnesses

India,suicide,depression,mental diseases,mental illnesses

India,suicide,depression,mental diseases,mental illnesses

 

05/07/2017

My photoblog is back

In this historical day (for France), I start again my photoblog. A camera problem had forced me to interrupt my series '365 days in India' at 241 pictures something...

I start again with a 'Photo tour of India in 80 days'!

 

Photoblog.jpg

A photo tour of India in 80 days