The migration route

This weekend I have been at FOSDEM in Brussels, to meet the usual immense crowd of open source software enthusiasts:

panoramio-jansen

… and to help with the management of the Geospatial devroom together with Johan Van de Vauw. I’ll write more about this in another post, because this one is dedicated to the way to and back from Brussels. The way back, especially, that took me and my friends back to Italy.

As I lived in Italy, my geeky friends and I used to rent a van and drive all the way up to FOSDEM. I taught them the route that my family travelled since I can remember, as I moved from Belgium to Italy at two years old. It felt like teaching them my migration route, and passing on our knowledge of the good rest spots, cheapest petrol stations and so on. I have moved to Germany four years ago and didn’t have the chance to travel that route anymore, therefore it was a special joy to drive back with my friends once again. I took pictures like mad, like a tourist, and I was moved to tears when I heard my friends talking about the places along the way with more confidence than myself.

We left FOSDEM on Sunday evening, headed south. We had dinner in Belgium and continued towards Luxembourg, surrounded by snow. Belgium’s highways are lit, an exception in Europe. We stopped at a hotel in Luxembourg for the night.

The next morning we were greeted by sun and cold.

IMG_20180205_082911

We quickly drove through tiny Luxembourg and entered France, following first the directions to Metz and Thionville, passing alongside the “highway cathedral”, the Église Saint-Joseph et Saint-Louis, then following the signs for Strasbourg:

Approaching Strasbourg there was snow again. We passed under the wildlife bridge (apparently used only by hikers, instead of deer and other large mammals), and through forests, white with frozen snow.

We didn’t drive through Strasbourg, and took the road for Karlsruhe instead; we exited the highway and crossed the border with Germany at Gambsheim, over the Rhine. We had booked a table at the Rhinkaechle, but arrived a bit too early, so we walked around the mighty hydroelectrical dam and its fish pass, one of the two largest passes in Europe:

After the meal and the required barge-spotting at the locks, we entered Germany and drove to Basel, where we would enter Switzerland:

The leitmotiv of Switzerland are the tunnels (the longest being Gotthard and Seelisberg) and the mountains:

We came out of the Gotthard tunnel to meet the blue twilight at Airolo, and drove uneventfully south until the border crossing at Stabio-Gaggiolo and finally Varese. The pictures came out increasingly blurred, and moreover it is a very familiar part of the road for me, so I didn’t take many.

Thanks to a comfortable car and change of drivers, we didn’t arrive too tired at our destination. It was great for the driver to have cruise-control, and for everyone a smooth ride at high speed.

I cherish this route and I’m happy to drive along it every now and then. For my friends it has become part of the FOSDEM experience, and the occasion for endless discoveries along the way (especially restaurants and industrial masterpieces). I thought about my affection for this route, that I felt stronger than the love of the places where I lived. And happier, too.

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On driving cars

White on white

Along with the changements that I notice in my approach to music, movement, personal relations, I am awaiting a changement in my reluctance to drive a car.

I obtained my driving license in Italy over 10 years ago and never driven afterwards, except when I lived in South Africa and there was no other mean of transportation available for me in the savanna. Getting back to drive was a fight against myself, where necessity silenced most of my fears. I still haven’t taken the wheel since my return to Europe, and feel scared, uneasy, ultimately angry with myself about that.

Learning to drive was in retrospective a constant tension with my instructor, who pushed me to try things first, and me asking for an explanation before asking the car to make any movement. I can say that I have learned to drive appropriately and safely enough, but I haven’t really internalised any of the routines, and for sure I don’t feel I could teach anyone to drive – because I can’t explain how it works.

My biggest curiosity was (and still is) to know how to get the car to move with the minimum strain possible (most visibly when switching gears, but also while turning and braking). I haven’t got/found any sufficient explanation yet, and I found the perfect coordination of movements between me and the car only twice, briefly, the space of a well-rounded turn. These moments are very vividly impressed in my mind. And curiously, they look very much like the few moments in which I felt completely at ease while playing: confidently riding the imaginary musical wave, enjoying the wind, looking with enthusiastic anticipation to the next wave – in short, in control of the situation.

This reminds me so much on how I learned to play drums: by doing, by example, by practicing and finding myself where the balance was. My analytical side of the brain always longed for expert advice, and I never bothered/dared to go on the path alone. I could get better by practice, but I never trusted practice without a clear objective. It would be like learning multiplication tables by throwing random numbers, without bothering to grasp the logic.

My gut feeling is that my parallel paths with music and horses will build up my overall confidence and improve the accuracy of my movements. I find the work on body perception especially promising. If I am scared of getting a car to move, it’s also because I have an unclear perception on how big it is, where its edges are; that could be a consequence of my incomplete body map. When I felt one with my car, I had a complete picture in my mind; I could know and control balance and movements with sufficient automatisation so that my mind could focus on the environment and the direction of movement.

I would like to practice driving the same way as I am re-learning drumming: focus on the movement, no real-life tests (no city drives; no concerts), enjoy the feedback, know what to improve. The logical step would be to take a car for a drive in the countryside, or a safe drive course (I have very high interest in such courses! I feel I would understand so much of what I need to know). Let’s see when that will happen…