Ylang-Ylang. It’s the name of a particular tree whose leaves hang well organized in a line on every branch, like wet clothes hung out to dry. Like those colourful batik blankets and table cloths that salute your arrival when the tender boat approaches the island, coming from Nosy Be. We took off our shoes on the tender boat, advised that we would have to walk a few meters in the sea to reach the beach of Nosy Komba. During the boat ride, the beautiful scenery of green and gorgeous Madagascar unfolded in front of our eyes, while the guide was pointing the marine reserve from a distance.
Ylang-Ylang, I was saying. They extract a precious and delicate essential oil from this tree, and it’s widely used in the perfume industry (it’s one of the key notes of the fragrance Chanel No.5). These trees, with their shade and their inebriating perfume, escorted us along the way to the top of the hill of Nosy Komba, where we met the lemurs. Black lemurs and brown lemurs. They rattle on the branches from tree to tree, and stop in a formation of two or three, looking at you with those wide eyes… And when you stand with a few pieces of banana in your hand, they quickly jump on your shoulder to enjoy that sweet meal and stare at you, and you enjoy that brief bonding connection with
these little creatures becoming their best friend for a handful of seconds. I always had a tender feeling for lemurs because they remind me of my grandfather.
Let me explain this: when my grandpa was still alive and he was ill with Parkinson disease and he was living with us, he once fell on the floor and had a sort of a near death experience. When he came back home after a couple of days at the hospital, his hair was spiky and his grey eyes were wide open with a scared expression, and I swear to God he totally looked like a lemur.
But I’m digressing, I was talking about the Ylang-Ylang. Under the fresh shade of these trees we walked down through the village: open houses of residents selling local crafts and art pieces, kids playing and dancing carelessly on the street (along with geese and roosters roaming free all over the place), market stalls offering bananas and mangoes,
a guy with two chamelions climbing his arm and neck… and suddenly, a huge rainfall! pouring heavy and unannounced from the sky (apparently sudden and short rainfalls are daily routine on this island, hence the wonderful and prosperous vegetation).
Towards the end of our visit, a big table was set with sweet tropical fruit and some delicious coconut biscuits, and we enjoyed that simple yet luxurious banquet listening to the raw voices of the locals singing to the sound of drums and small guitars, on the shore.
The guide said to me “Come back! You have to see more, there’s more than this in Madagascar!”, as if all that richness we saw were not enough. “There’s a flight every day
from Rome to Nosy Be!”… Well, I live in London now, but I’ll definitely bring to London some rays of sun and some lessons learned on this lovely island: it will be nice when I’m changing line at Bank tube station at peek time, with a thousand people running like headless chicken, to go back with my mind to an island where life is simple and true as you see it, and where people are not owned by what they own, or pressured by timetables and social standards. And the guide added “Here we have a say: don’t wait to be happy for smiling… smile to be happy”. I, happily, smiled.
(Oh, I was telling you about the Ylang-Ylang: I bought a little bottle of that essential oil, it’ll bring a breeze from Madagascar to my London house. Actually I might carry it with me on my daily commuting and have a sniff everytime I’m on the verge of walking like a caterpillar on people who don’t keep on the right side of the escalators.)