Travel can teach us many things - about a destination, about other people and about ourselves.

THOMAS DE MALLET BURGESS

July 29 1981 and England is in the grip of royal wedding fervour. I am 17 and on my way to Livarot in Normandy to work on a farm with a family I had stayed with the year before on a school exchange programme.

I made my way to Paris via London, Le Havre and then on to Lisieux. The ferry was packed with republicans in joyful good humour — several hours dissipation of the English reserve as conversation flowed.

Advertisement

On arrival in Lisieux I had missed the last bus to Livarot and, having looked around the cathedral, decided to set off on foot hopeful of a lift. This never eventuated and it wasn't long before the seemingly endless road drained the good spirits and in the end dehydration took its toll.

I passed out on the verge. I awoke mid-air. A group of scouts had discovered me and were carrying me above their heads. Gulliver comes to mind.

I arrived at a farmhouse. The family was watching the wedding on television and the arrival of an Englishman in their remote area was nothing short of a miracle on that day. I was plied with cider. I threw up all over their lounge.

Once I reached my destination I was unable to work — too feeble to lift a hay bale. But I did read the complete edition of Herge's Adventures of Tintin to the youngest member of the family, freeing up mum to work on the farm. And she could lift a hay bale.

We talk a lot about resilience these days. Travel teaches it.

Thomas de Mallet Burgess is the General Director of NZ Opera. Photo / Supplied
Thomas de Mallet Burgess is the General Director of NZ Opera. Photo / Supplied

Thomas de Mallet Burgess is General Director of New Zealand Opera. The Barber of Seville plays in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch from June 6 to August 7. nzopera.com