This was a disappointment and a half. I’d heard that LA was big and unsafe, and I only began to agree when I got to see it for myself. I’d never felt so unsafe in my life. Each person walking down the street looked like a thug, or looked at me until I thought s/he was a thug.
I cheered myself up by taking the bus to Hollywood Boulevard. The wrong bus. It took me somewhere to Sunset Boulevard, which is miles and miles away from where I wanted to be, and looked somewhat shit compared to the movies. I stopped at Maccas, got back on a bus – wrong way – got off, got on another, and somehow ended up at one end of Hollywood Blvd. The stars on the footpath were nice. The handprints and footprints and signatures in the cement was nice. Lots of tourists, no actual real-life stars (what was I thinking, why would they be there?). It was a lot of hype. Bought some presents and promptly left after doing some shopping at H&M and other goodies.
Next day took the metro (or was it bus) to Long Beach, which was not a beach, but simply a port-like thing with boats and restaurants and a whole lot of nothing. On the last day I went to Santa Monica, a lovely long pier full of ice-cream parlours and souvenir shops, something that could have looked like it was in the OC, if you took out the tourists. The beach was really beautiful; turquoise water splashing onto white, white sand and tanned, lean bodies everywhere. But there was only so long I could stand there in my long-sleeved shirt (oh I forgot to write about the bedbugs in San Francisco. I looked like a leper).
I returned to Auckland to stop over on the way home to Perth. Uneventful flights, slept some, ate some, felt like I'd done this a thousand times, got back home with no jetlag except for feeling dizzy the next day. Or perhaps I was dizzy because I went straight back to work and study and realised how much prep there is to do for this semester's teaching. Either way, I returned with forty computer pages worth of DeLillo notes and my thesis awaits with many new gaps to fill.
3 comments | post a comment
Stupid airport was so complicated, so few signs, so few everything. I’d completely stuffed up my flight, not only missing the plane but also accidentally upgrading myself to first class via the airport computer, costing me a whopping amount of money and leaving me feeling red-hot angry, blue-cold sad and grey-tepid tired. I’d made too many mistakes on this trip. I was better than this amateur crap.
The trek to the hostel was manageable and the hostel itself was homey. I quickly met a lovely German girl and we headed off to see the town. It was glorious. Filled with a mixture of hobos, gorgeous street art, rattling cable cars, enormous hills, and a misty fog that roofed the city and made it seem like it was going to rain but it never quite did. Frisco’s summer was just-warm, a pleasant break from the suffocating heat of Texas. I needed a jumper most of the time, and a jacket and scarf in the evenings.
The Bridge was just magnificent, a lot more moving and surrealistic than I expected from what I saw in the movies and postcards. Huge and red, it looked like a giant’s toy. We walked halfway – not even halfway – before we decided that getting frostbitten for another hour was not worth it, and we headed back. Really windy. The photos turned out spectacularly clear. I loved the atmospheric white fog at the top.
We then hit up Pier 39, the place where Hard Rock Café is and pretty much ninety percent of souvenir shops and touristic restaurants and the like. It felt wonderful to see water again, and the wooden pier made me feel like I was in Freo again. We grabbed fried prawns and chips to share and fought off giant seagulls the size of albatrosses, obviously hungry and aware that we had the goods. The fish and chips was good, really good, as was all the food in Frisco. There was simply too much competition for anybody to dish out rubbish. They’d go out of business in a second.
Chinatown was a bustling marketplace of US$2 charms and US$10 backpacks. You could smell noodles and fried rice a mile away. Lombard Street, the famed ‘crookedest street in the world’ was a riot. Cars wove in and out, back and forth, in a waltz through the flowers. Next was the Mission District, with the murals on the Women’s Building and down other streets. The colours struck me as magical, with pictures of women and wombs and the beauty of life bursting forth.
I met another German girl and went to the Science Museum and an art gallery, amazed at the rainforest inside the museum and the gallery’s photo exhibition by Robert... Frank? Or something. Each and every photo told a story, a moment in time, loaded with emotion. I’d never seen photos so deliciously addictive, each a world in its own. Stared a long time. We stopped for a well-deserved coffee. God it was good.
It happened to be the Fourth of July so Cornelia and I struggled to find a spot to stay somewhere at Pier 39 in the evening. We finally settled into Boudin, a bread bakery thing, found the bar and downed some Heineken until 9.30pm came around and we joined the oohing and aahing crowds to watch the fireworks. It was nice, but I was surprised to find they don’t sing the national anthem first, nor did many people wave American flags. Never had I thought Australians were more nationalistic, but it pleased me, somehow.
Then some time passed in which I did stuff, and I got on the plane to LA.
post a comment
I think it was two in the morning when I stumbled out of the taxi and landed at The Castilian, the student accommodation I’d booked for the two weeks of research I’d planned in Texas. First impression, Fuck it’s hot. Second impression, Fuck it’s humid. Taxi driver had the most stereotypical southern African American accent and told me what a bloody good town this was. We talked about the credit crisis, kangaroos and hurricanes.
Moving into the dorm was an effort, as I seemed to have woken up the girl at the desk, who then woke up the RA (Residential Assistant), who then woke up my poor Korean roommate, who’d fallen asleep studying, and – I would later find out – slept through anything, including her alarm clock.
Austin was hot, sticky, vast and friendly. ‘Y’all’ people were everywhere, everybody spoke to each other outside, inside, anywhere where two bodies came within range. The heat rose off the streets in waves, and the wind brought no relief to the forty degree humid days. The nights were balmy and filled with young students hanging on to their last days of summer holidays, flip-flopping down the footpaths in t-shirts and shorts, searching for their next frozen yoghurts and iced mochas.
The student accommodation included food, a stream of sometimes-bland, sometimes-salty multicultural cuisine. The dishes would change cultures with the days, one day Greek, one day Italian, often Chinese, more often American fried everythings. Breakfast was brilliant, and I revelled in the choice between fruit, yoghurt, hash browns, eggs, sausages, cereal, bagels, ice-cream, juice, soda, various cakes, and lots of jams and cheeses. They had soy milk. Four types of cereal. Bacon fried within an inch of its life, so crisp that my fork sent bits flying down the cafeteria table. I didn’t know how to do the whole ‘communal eating and living’ thing, stupid Australian used to living at home and travelling to ‘college’, but I quickly met some wonderful other students. One from Florida, doing an advertising internship right near Waterloo Records, the ultimate muso’s heaven. Another into aerospace engineering and on a mission to devise new materials for space flight. Yet another studying Latin, another from India, and so on. An amalgamation of cultures, accents, personalities and eating habits. We remarked and complained about the food together, visited the mall together (an hour away by bus, but it was worth it) and got to know each other’s lives.
Well Friday night was dorm party night. Indoor drinking, right next to your bed. Vodka, Corona, some American light beer and rum and coke later, we were dancing in the dark to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. He’d died that day. Or was it the day before, I don’t know (hi Camus). We remembered him in true fan style, through his music, and through alcohol. I drank a superzied 9% can of ‘grape malt alcohol’, handed to me by the dorm’s resident, Will, and thoroughly regretted it. A combination of beer-like stuff and grape-like stuff, with that cheap alcoholic shit-in-mouth taste, it got me drunk quicker than the rest of the troops playing drinking games to the tune of Usher’s classic hip-hopera. If he hit a high note, we drank. If there was a gun, we drank. Any references to cheating on his wife, we drank. So by the time it was two in the morning and somebody suggested moving on to another party, I was the first one to cheer and head out the door. A ‘Co-op’ party. “ A what?”
So a Co-op is a collection of ‘suites’ where the residents pay little money but share the cooking and cleaning together. In other words, a communist haven for pot-smoking, beer-swilling, taco-eating hippies. I had just set foot in the maze of verandahs when I felt someone pulling me aside saying, “Hey! I know you!” Enter a Spanish academic in Hispanic literature, and fellow researcher at the Harry Ransom Center where I’d spent a week so far sifting through 120 boxes of Don DeLillo’s stuff. He recognised me from the hushed, wood-panelled room, and at my insistence agreed to a tour around the Co-op. Enter a random Austinite who then hijacked us to show off his winding ceiling mural for what seemed like hours. My dorm friends went out to the verandah to smoke some joints, I bravely kissed the Spaniard twice on the cheek in hasta luego (we’d been speaking Spanish and I was in a European mood, whereas you'd never get away with it with an American), and me, the Indian and the Iranian stumbled back to the Iranian’s apartment to play with his little kitten, a spitting image of Coco at a few months old. Cutest.
Next day I went to the mall with some buddies and promptly forgot to email the Spaniard as I’d promised, only managing to internet in the evening again. After a quick reply, we’d agreed to meet the next day for a somewhat unplanned tour of downtown Austin. Well, what followed was what I could only describe as a perfect traveller’s day, a day that will be so situated in my memory that it was everything and nothing like Before Sunrise. We met at the corner, took the bus, walked around, saw Capitol Building (the second time, for me), and chatted the day away about literature, films, travels, our lives, our academic work. The conversation was not simply a chat, but a bilingual stream of sometimes-English, sometimes-Spanish, peppered with stops for drinks, bus rides, sitting on the grass in the park in the shade, and peeks at my town map. I tripped into the dorm sunstroked and with a splitting headache that even three ibuprofens would not ease, but smiled the evening away and so hoped to see this stranger again.
We did meet again. And again and again. Perhaps it was the romance of meeting in a faraway land, or maybe there was method in the mayhem and something more durable than a limited liaison, but I think I may have fallen in love in Austin. That is a big 'may'. Not that this global hippie knows what love is or how to put it into cathartic ciphers, but I found myself wondering how far Las Vegas was, and whether eloping would be out of the question. Eloping? Surely not. But yes. People had gotten married for less. Still, I was probably being idealistic.
Somewhere in between I had collected eighty pages of hand-written notes on DeLillo, enough to fill dozens of computer pages and heftily improve my thesis (dear god, it was waiting for me at home, no more excuses at hand now). My favourite times were when we sat together at the heavy wooden desk, side by side and yet worlds away in our literature. Each rustle and pencil-scratch, each turn of the page and tap of a key made me realise that this must be it, no? This comfort and sharing of a life. This movement toward understanding, common yet separate. This academic life, quiet within the walls but expansive without. Limitless words. I’d left my laptop in Auckland along with the rest of my luggage as a result of a stupid mistake, but it felt more true, more bodytrue, to scratch my thoughts down on paper.
I sent a postcard to DeLillo, hastily, before I could decide otherwise, and immediately regretted it. Still, he would have liked this meeting of minds. I wonder if he’ll reply.
My departure was comfortably uneventful. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure how to leave. Goodbyes aren’t my thing. What to say, what to do, how to walk away. The elevator felt different. The air felt different. My shoes were tighter. I don’t think I stopped to think exactly what I was leaving behind, or what I was going to be taking with me. I just set my mind on San Francisco and knew that it would probably hit me later, delayed like jet lag, smack in the guts.
post a comment
I arrived in Auckland feeling energetic and alive. The shuttle bus from the airport wandered down a street lined with higgledy-piggledy shops and houses, and I started to get the sense that this city was going to be hilly. Little was I to know that it’d be nothing compared to the monstrous mountains one must climb in San Francisco.
The YHA hostel was wonderfully warm and welcoming. My room was filled with Japanese girls, with whom I tried to practice my pathetic high-school vocabulary. We made ourselves understood somehow and had fun taking photos of each other and all together (“Cheeezu!”). One of them introduced me to ‘Hokkairo’, a patch-like thing you stick to the outside of your clothes and wait for it to warm you up. An invention that can only be described as a moment of brilliance. This girl’s bag was full of these things, and I was surprised to find my patch was warming me up much like a hot water bottle. What was in it? She said it was sand or stone or something. Incredible. If you stuck it directly to your skin, it would burn.
I dropped my bags at the hostel and went out walking straight away, as I love to do. There’s something absolutely magical about arriving in a foreign land and wandering the streets, invisible, taking nothing, giving nothing, just being. It’s an existence that is pure and fresh, innocent as a child and yet wholly mature and brave. With only a map in hand and no knowledge of the history of a place, you can experience urban street life, not loaded with meaning, but a tabula rasa waiting for you to smell and see.
Well my first impressions were cutesy. The hostel was on Turner Street, just off Queen Street, and I quickly discovered that walking directly down Queen Street will take me to the centre of town. Centre indeed – it was just this one street, really. At the end was the harbour from which the ferries to Rotorua and Waiheke Islands left. I did a massive loop, walking the streets under my red umbrella in the rain, ending up in some industrial part of town and then doubling back to Sky City, a massive (TV?) tower and popular spot to bungy-jump… though in my few days in Auckland now and on the way back home, I’d never seen a single person bounding off it.
It was a bit of a nothing stop-over, and I stupidly decided to leave Rotorua Island for my stop-over back home. I later found out that it was closed for ‘pest control’ (What pests? Tourists?) for the next month and I’d missed out on seeing the volcanic lump. Anyhow, hearing Kiwi accents all around me was worth the trip, as was the cheap sushi from Queen Street and the Kathmandu Sale I stumbled across. Victoria Markets were wonderful, filled with colourful shining glass sculptures, fluffy stuffed kiwis and more keyrings than there are keys in the town.
Only on my second-last day (on the way back to Perth) did I discover the cheap shop with cheap food. I’d paid NZ$2.50 for a can of beans at a convenience store, not knowing where the hell a supermarket was. And not long after, I met a fashion photographer from Hong Kong, staying at the hostel, and had a photo of me sitting on my bed taken for his new ‘Life in Youth Hostels’ project.
post a comment
Jet lag jet lag
Wotcha gonna do
Wotcha gonna do
When it comes for you
post a comment
Thanks to my first train being agonisingly slow, I missed the second train and was stuck in some town called Ceske Budovice (that is definitely spelled wrong) for three hours. Tired and unwilling to sit for that long, I threw my stuff in a dodgy locker and went for a wander to wake myself up.
There was a shopping centre right across the road so I bought some groceries, including 'Cool Hemp' energy juice, and tried to find an internet place with no luck. Nobody understood English. Walked the deserted streets some more (where was everyone?) and returned to the station bummed out and bored. But I had two cans of energy drink, one of which should taste like hemp. Novelty item, of course. It would probably kill me but it wasted sufficient time to get on my train, finally.
But which train was it? A lady pointed down the platform, so I walked down the quiescent train already there, then turned around and was her motioning 'keep going' so I kept going and was met by a tiny little thing with two carriages, no bigger than a Melbourne tram. And this I rode for an hour while schoolkids on camp behind me played the same Travis song the whole way there.
Arriving in Cesky K, the whole train was dismayed to find that the tourist office was closed, so we huddled around the map outside the station. I could not for the life of me figure out where I was on the map. I heard Aussie accents behind me that were equally confused, and soon enough we had a small posse of three Aussie girls and a Yanky guy hobbling down the big steep cobblestone hill towards where we thought 'town' would be. I hadn't booked accommodation, so I followed them to the hostel they coincidentally had all chosen and before we knew it, we had our own room labelled 'The Four Musketeers'.
We slept in a warm loft with separate beds and a hot shower. The hostel had lots of room, a TV, DVD player, ping pong, a great big blue kitchen and last but not least, fab restaurant and bar. Emma, Alice, Michael and I went rafting down the Vltava River - a two-hour slow wind through gorgeous autumnal forest and shallow clear water with friendly mallard ducks. Every now and then, there were rapids that got us a bit wet and hysterical. I loved every minute of it.
The medieval town was so pure. It was protected by UNESCO, with uneven cobblestones and crooked gorgeous bohemian houses thrown together until from the top of the castle tower it looked like a higgledy piggledy mass of rooftops slanting every which way. There was only one main street with a few winding off it, so it was impossible to get lost and pretty difficult to discover something new by the second day. It soon became familiar and we were more than happy to settle in and adopt it as home.
Reading the hostel 'guestbook', it seemed that almost every stranger who had wandered through the doors ended up staying longer than planned - some as long as two weeks. We all turned into tame detoxers, drinking hot sweet tea all day and chatting around the long kitcken table. Aussies made up the largest tourist population, surprising considering there was no reason why only Aussies should be drawn there. Writers in the guestbook waxed lyrically about a cleansing of the spirit and feelings of altruistic love for humanity. I added a long verse about finding an inner peace that I lacked.
In town some of my new Aussie/NZer/Yank/Canadian friends discovered a bar decorated with skeletons on the roof, spiderwebs covering the walls and real bones in glass cases. We went in out of the cold, I had a couple of drinks and dramatically fell down the stairs.
I met Tom, who hated to be called Tim, and then met Tim, whose name I couldn't remember. Tim and I went out to the Krumlov Castle one day and discovered all tickets for the day were sold out, so we climbed the tower, took some amazing photos and spent the rest of the rainy day finding beautiful corners and yellowing trees. It was a perfect day for me, wakling through fallen leaves and peeping through holes in walls. Considering I was really quite sick, it was drizzling and my sneakers began to seep in rainwater, I remember nothing more than being healed from my inner misery that began in Paris and culminated in London. Tim was relaxed, cheerful, freckled and such a simply positive person that it rubbed off on me and soon we were chasing squirrels and laughing at the split second running black smudges we caught on our cameras.
The air was clean and moved up from over the rolling hills all around. The hills were a rich green ring around this little thrown-together magical town with a flowing river meandering through. My last night was spent seeing Pulp Fiction then heading to the hostel's bar where the wine was flowing and cameraas flashed to keep our memories. By 3am when Tom and I were the last ones in front of the fire, I pondered whether to in fact to go sleep, or just stay up until 6.30am when I had to leave the town. We retired to the kitchen where everybody turned out to be congregating, not wanting the night to end. I fell asleep for three strong hours, in fits of pride and regret, and packed blearily in the dark (bad idea, not doing that again) and slipped out with Michael the dude from Oregon on my tail. We stared wistfully out of the windows and all I knew what that I was planning my next trip back.
I had twenty-four hours of non-stop train rides in four trains ahead of me, to get to Bucharest. Felt pretty good considering the little sleep and difficulties breathing, but it only got better. Finally catching the train to Bucharest after what seemed like a week of waiting in stations, it was a kerfuffle to find the train staff and explain, in broken, forgotten Romanian, that I hadn't booked a couchette and that I would die if I didn't get some sleep overnight. They told me not to worry, seated me in the restaurant carriage, and I sat, puffing and sweating. I became aware that my hat didn't translate - in London it was boho, but in Bucharest it was gypsy. Off it came.
A 50ish broad-faced guy in business clothes came in and sat down across from me, and I saw he was having a lot of trouble being understood about which station to get off at. I asked if he spoke English and he nodded till his head almost came off, and before long I was playing translator for everybody in the carriage. He kept looking at me and I was bored of myself, so I joined him and he told me to order whatever I wanted, he was so thankful. What followed was one of the most important conversations of my life, about what I had learned and what he was looking for, and what people were like and what the world believed in, and the strangest thing was that he was soon unawares repeating a lot of things that my tarot reader had said. Almost word for word, as if something was channelling through this German stranger through to me.
As it turned out, he was a business man slash entrepeneur who had done just about everything. At the moment he was buying land in Eastern Europe. In the past he'd found people acting jobs alongside Bruce Willis, and he'd been partners with Priscilla Presley. It was a German Richard Branson who sat there telling me about myself that cleansed me before returning home to Romania. The train paused and I interrupted the conversation, wondering where we were. It became apparent that we were at his stop, and just as quickly as we met, he was thrown out the door before the train left.
I fell asleep wondering how it was possible that I could consistently be given what I needed, and who knew this so well.
post a comment
I pre-booked the hostel so there wouldn't be any surprises. It was pretty good for the fairly cheap price, and the hot shower was amazing. I was sharing with another person, but they were out when I got there so it was an interesting experience to see the items spread around and figure out if it was a man or woman (man), young or old (young but sophisticated) and what nationality (Yank or Aussie). The fact that I was asleep when the person got home and still sleeping off the Berlin nightclub when they left the next morning meant my roommate remained a bizarre mystery until the next evening. He was 20-something, Slovakian and quiet but friendly. I was exhausted from Berlin and tok it easy in Prague. We ate out of cans together and my jeans stank so I figured I was as close to homelessness as I might ever come.
I expected a lot more from Prague and I still don't know if it met my unfair expectations. It was beautiful but you had to look for the nice things. The gothic spires of St Vitus Cathedral were stunning, dotting the blue skies. The churches were lovely inside and the old town square was great to stand and look around. The famous astronomical clock and square were absolutely choccas full of chirping tourists that moved in herds with each guide trying to outdo the next. I soon left, feeling dirty and tired from the shouting crowds.
I realised I hadn't ever visited a synagogue so I went in the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest in Central Europe, and was disappointed at how small and boring it was. The National Theatre was a lovely New Reneissance building and St Nicholas Cathedral took my breath away with the baroque angels and cherubs, all golden and marbled till it felt like you were floating to heaven.
The highlight was the Prague Castle, something that looked small on the map but ended up reeling me in for five hours on my last morning and afternoon. It was a big chunk of walled area rather than an actual castle that I was looking for. I bought the full ticket and just wandered around everything. Kafka's house was a tiny little place on Golden Lane, a cute little narrow Jewish cobblestone street with little houses that are now shops selling authentic wares. The whole of Prague was cobblestoned, it seemed, and footpaths made of little stone squares patterned together.
The art gallery in the castle was kind of dull and sadly empty, but the Cathedral, my God, it was a life event. Huge and with the roof so, so high above, the space inside was tall and narrow in the gothic way or making you feel small in the face of God. Sun shone through stained glass windows with such detail, casting pools of coloured light on the floor and in your eyes and across your face as you wandered past.
I can't remember my hostel roommate's name but he offered to come (actually, he just said "I will come" and that was that) with me on my last night to see the lights of the city. He suggested going up to the mini Eiffel Tower they had on top of a big hill, and that seemed like a good idea so I rugged up and followed him out. He said it would be a five minute walk up (I had suggested the funincular train) but forty minutes of trudging up some really steep forest paths in the dark and I was ready to hit him. When we finally made it to the top, we looked on the tower door and by bad luck, we'd missed the closing by half an hour. He felt really bad. It had been for nothing really, since we couldn't see the city thanks to trees in the way, and it was freezing up there. I thought he was checking the time for the next funincular since he had the watch, and he thought I was, so while he talked away (incessantly) and I shivered, we managed to miss two trains and wasted another hour in the cold. I was coughing, it was past midnight when we got back, and I got a late night when what I really needed was some sleep before leaving Prague. Still, I'll always remember traipsing through the black night in some forest above the city. It was beautiful, or I guess it would be if I had night vision.
The city from Charles Bridge was incredible. Prague Castle stretched on above the city, lying in glowing wait for tomorrow's tourists. Fireworks went off right near us for some unknown reason, which I tried to photograph with little success. The Slovakian guy kept getting in my personal space, perhaps a cultural thing or maybe I just wasn't used to people anymore. Also back in the room I would say I was going to bed and he would just keep talking, happy to be practicing English. It got a bit annoying.
I woke, packed and left before he woke up, leaving him some packets of tissues I didn't think I needed, not knowing that by the time I got to southern Bohemia, my sniffles would turn into a raging head cold.
1 comment | post a comment
I have to return. Three days is nowhere near enough for such a rich city like Berlin, but I think we managed to see quite a bulk of it. Herrmann took me over to his aunty's house with the plan that I would borrow her bike so we could see the city on wheels. His aunty was so wonderful - a linguist who had Goethe on her bookshelf, we spent a chunk of the evening with her and her daughter and neighbour on the couches drinking tea. She gave me Russian chocolates to take home.
The next morning we headed off to see a ton of things that I have trouble remembering. It was my first time on a bike for like ten years, and my bike, though it had a convenient basket, was non-mountain-like and hard to manouvre, so I kept bumping into things, also forgetting which side to ride on and so a couple of times I almost got run over (very not funny at the time and Herrmann got a shouting at). We started off at Alexanderplatz, a main square with an international clock, then roughly we pedalled past the pointy needle tower, around the museum island for the museums and their beautiful neo-classical columns, down Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the House of the Cultures of the World (featured in a movie with a number.. I can't remember which), the Chancellry, Holocaust museum, Tiergarten, Victory Column, Berlin Cathedral, Concert House and Potsdamerplatz. By then it had been six hours on bike and I could not move anymore, so we called it a day.
What I loved was the East Side Gallery, the 1-2km remainder of the wall, painted over with the original paintings people did, except a whole lot of tourist scribbled 'Jamie luvs Jane' and 'Matt was here, 12-02-05' on it, so it was ruined by that and graffiti tags who destroyed the most famous parts. It was also crumbling off. Both Herrmann and I were fuming but what could we do, stupid people will do what they will. I never actually knew that some of the wall was still standing, and how thin it was - I imagined a gigantic fat brick thing, but it was concrete and fairly thin. Also didn't know there were TWO walls, with a gap in the middle called the 'death strip' in the middle where hopeful escapees were shot. All around the city is a small brick line on the ground and road to show where the wall had been.
The Holocaust museum with the concrete blocks was chilling (though not enough), but it was the information centre that choked me up. It was layed out minimally, so for example, one room was dark and had nothing but block benches and a name displayed in light on the wall, with a voice describing the life of that person, how he or she died and what age they had been. My favourite room was another starkly dark one with illuminated blocks on the ground displaying pieces of diaries or postcards and translations of them. I took a photo so I would remember the one that made me physically have to sit down:
Postscript by twelve-year-old Judith Wischnjatskaja to a letter written by her mother, Slata, to the father. It was found by a Soviet soldier in Byten, near Baranowicze, in eastern Poland (today in Belarus). In Byten, German units shot over 1,900 Jews. Copy in Russian. The original is still missing.
31 July 1942
Dear father! I am saying goodbye to you before I die. We would so love to live, but they won't let us and we will die. I am so scared of death, because the small children are thrown alive into the pit. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly.
We stopped at the statue of Marx and Engels, but I couldn't take pictures of them because a panty-less goth girl was having her own picture taken by an old guy, draping over the Communists and lifting up her skirt. Could have been for a porn magazine, who knows. Pretty much summed up how eclectic and liberal Berlin is, and how free. Some of the museum buildings had to be restored because of the bullet holes pocketing the columns, some of which I got to see. We had currywurst, a cheap and typcal snack traditional of the capital, where a special sausage is cut up in pieces, sprinkled with curry powder, drizzled with tomato sauce and handed to you on a little plate with a plastic fork. Deeeelicious.
The square where thousands of Jewish books were burned has a memorial where you have to kneel down to look through a pane of glass through the ground to see a hole lined with empty bookshelves. A good idea and poignant. We visited a Stasi prison but the two hour tour was in German so I was bored out of my brain and Herrmann felt horrible. A peculiar experience was riding the hugest see-saw I'd ever seen, outside a shopping centre. It was the kind of thing you have to have pointed out to you.
And then. The big last night. Famed for its nightlife, it was absolutely necessary to see a club or two, so I headed out with Herrmann and his strapping young army friends to 'Matrix', a club that had a two-for-one deal for drinks on Wednesday nights. It also had an invisible stamp that only showed under black light. No more ink stains! It ended up being the biggest Wednesday night of my life. We did pre-drinks at his friend's house where everybody gathered, and I must have been in good form because I was outdrinking Herrmann and was declared a 'fast drinker' by the others. By Germans?! I know a few people who will laugh at that, but it was vodka after all so I was in my element.
We trooped on foot to the club and several vodka redbulls, jagermeister bombs (they don't skol it! what the) and beers later, I was pretty happy. So happy that I had a very hard time finding my way back from the loo. It aint called Matrix for nothing. One of the boys and I took a fancy to each other and I found myself heavily regretting the fact that I was leaving the next day. Had I been at the start of my trip, I would have changed my plans for him. When we found the others, Herrmann was sleeping on the bar. He then decided he wanted to get up, but didn't quite make it and was promptly thrown out. We left him there to sober up. Now I am proud to say that although we had had roughly the same to drink, at six when we left the club, I was doing pretty well while Herrmann was lying on the cobblestones in a pool of his own vomit. Needless to say the fact that we had to RIDE home on a BICYCLE was disturbing, but he pulled it off somehow, straighter and faster that I did. Upon arriving at the front door to his apartment block, he stopped, toppled over and lay there twitching like an overturned beetle.
The morning wasn't pretty. While I made tea, I got the usual "How the fuck did we get home?" To which he started worrying about the bikes and I had to reassure him that they were safe in the basement. He knew not much about the night, not very much at all. I looked like shit and felt both hungry and sick, but I got the midday train to Prague anyway. We cut it really short, running for buses and trains, sprinting, shouting through the station, people were going flying, everyone was looking, Herrmann chucked my suitcase on board and I crashed through the aisles. I made it.
It was only two hours later in my full compartment that I saw my fly had been undone all morning.
post a comment
It was as if I'd arrived home. Although the trees were lusher and there were twenty times more pubs, Dortmund felt as easygoing, good-natured and cozy as Perth. Joerg and his family lived outside of the town, so I was greeted by the sights of people taking their horses out for a saunter (and a donkey, in one case). The air was so, so fresh and crisp, but the sun was out so it wasn't actually cold. I fell for the calm German 'countryside' feeling straight away.
Seeing Joerg again was awesome, and we immediately fell into old times when he brought out his LPs (impressive collection of old and new), showed me his mixing table and recounted our individual travelling adventures. His sister was cute as a button, his parents sweet as cupcakes, and his shower is something to be reckoned with. It's so big that it should need its own passport. The showerhead is a flattish disc thing (the "UFO") that drops so much glorious hot water you want to stand under there forever. I've never felt so clean and shiny. Joerg's mum was pleased she could so easily make someone that gleefully happy, but her homemade saurkraut and traditional pork roast with mashed potatoes totally sealed the deal. She suggested my adoption into the family and of course I heartily agreed. If you saw the UFO shower, you would understand..
Joerg's very generous lending of his bed (so much room!) meant I slept well for the first time in a while, so I was on a real roll here, being fed and bedded. He toured me around the city, informing me that it was one of the greenest (or the greenest?) city in Germany, with the best beer and a very talented soccer team. Not only did it have beauty, but also brains. Colourful winged rhinos spotted the streets as a fundraising initiative. To make things complete, Joerg borrowed his dad's car and took me flying at 200km/hr on the autobahn. Bloody fun. His lovely Korean best friend and her two Korean friends arrived in Dortmund on my second day, so we had a blast going out for Italian and for drinks at an American bar (only coz the Aussie one was full of course). Lots of laughs and good times.
My last night was conveniently the annual 'Night of the Museums', so with one ticket we were able to participate in a lot of activities during the evening and night. It started off with beer, as all good German nights do - a beertasting at the brewery left us in high spirits. They gave us unmarked glasses to choose which beer was which, and my favourite turned out to be DAB, a local that can also be found in Perth. I picked the export beer out by sheer luck. Joerg's sister Nicole asked the beer guy if he put sugar in the more 'girly' DAB beer we both liked, and his face kinda mashed together before he exploded with a vehement "NEIN! NEIN! NEIN!"
We saw some art, bought delicious baguettes and then it was kind of time for Joerg and I to move onto his Language School's party where he would DJ. But not before Nicole's boyfriend amended the museums night with 'his own tour', taking us to the dodgiest, dirtiest bar next to a sex shop. Seriously feral and so funny to see our reactions to mangled dogs enter the bar, and the bar woman's g-string hang out of her jeans. The party turned out to be quieter than we expected but the people were really nice and one girl had worked in Perth. The music was pulsating though, and if anything, Joerg's skills meant I got to hear a lot of old stuff I missed and new stuff I had to get into.
Soon enough I had to head off and leave what had been like a relaxation spa weekend away.. just what I needed. Joerg's mum took pity on my lack of winter clothes and kindly gave me a jacket. I took the train to Berlin to meet up with Herrmann, but not before taking a photo of that unforgettable shower.
post a comment
I've set foot in sixteen countries.
Only 178 to go..
post a comment
I had a silent, almost sullen businessman next to me on the train from Amsterdam. When I took out my box of grapes and offered him one, we quickly became buddies. Life rule: you can always break the ice by offering someone food. He was from Israel, working in Brussels, and spent a good deal of time telling me about the crazy place that is Iceland.. so much so that I plan to visit sometime after I put on ten kilos of blubber. He also gave me his business card and got out his laptop to show me a map of Brussels after he heard I didn't know where I was going or where I was staying. Best piece of advice he left me with: "Walk down the hill."
Brussels central station was on a hill and you have to go down it in a certain direction to get to where it's all happening. When I got off the train and realised I'd just repeated my mistake from Sevilla (?) and Amsterdam and arrived this time too late for the tourism office to be open. I kicked myself. Again without a map and no way of knowing where hostels are, I was seriously pissed off with my stupidity and lack of foresight, which I should have mastered by now.
What started out lighthearted and sponaneous got disconcerting when it became dark and I had no freaking idea where I was, how far from the centre and how scared I should be at night. I broke another golden rule: don't look like a lost tourist. I'd followed a lot of hostel suggestions by some people on the street and some storekeepers but they can go to hell because they all got me nowhere except walking kilometres for nothing. I stopped a girl to ask her and she not only reckons she gets stopped by everybody looking for hostels, but she knew a place and also took me there because it was on the way home for her. She too was Polish (me and Poland are definitely all chummy now) and loved travelling, so we had a right old chat while I huffed and puffed up this bloody big hill to the hostel that was fully booked. But the B&B next door was not. So I paid a ridiculous amount of money that I would rather forget for a cold, stark room for two nights, though for all my dumb spontaneity, I deserved it.
Brussels disappointed, I'm afraid. And disappointed big time. I always thought Brussels would be like a fairytale Salzburg-type place, but I couldn't help seeing it as Vienna's shabby cousin. A bit dirty, sometimes smelly and kind of boring. Speaking to people since then, it turns out that most people think it's boring. I wasted a lot of time trying to get to the tourism office to get a map, which was like connecting the dots. Starting out at my out-of-the-way B&B, it was a matter of asking for directions, walking a bit, asking for more directions, walking a bit more...
The Belgians speak both French and Flemish. The Grand Place (central square) was beautiful and grand, and full of cafes and artists selling paintings. I visited the Cathedral, by now well and truly all religioned out, the main shopping street and some little chapel. On the Mont des Arts stood the Musees des Beaux-Arts where I was devastated, and I mean goddamn devastated, to discover that most of Magritte's paintings were being organised into the new Magritte museum due to open in 2008. So not only did I not get to see the museum, but the paintings weren't around either.. only five of them. Pfffft. All this way for chocolate and Magritte, and one of them was being wrenched away from me in the mostest unkind way! I had to make do with buying the postcards (gaww, PATHETIC). It confused me to see my favourite painting in the world on the wall, whereas I could have sworn I'd seen it in Venice only months before. I stood there befuddled and something wasn't right. I even asked around but the officials didn't understand what I was getting at. The museum shop and my postcards revealed that there were THREE copies of my favourite painting (The Empire of Light), slightly different from each other and with some years in between. One in Peggy Guggenheim's collection in Venice, another in front of me in Brussels, and the third somewhere in New York. And they all make me breathless.
I did end up sampling the cocoa delights, buying a box of 'truffles'. They were magnificent, everything I had hoped for and more. Before I left, I managed to catch the famous statue of the pissing boy, Manneke Pis, but was surpised to see him all dressed up in a suit and hat. Would have liked to have that one explained to me. (Edit: Found out later that someone mysteriously likes to dress him in costume quite often. All I can imagine is someone sitting over their sewing machine making these little suits!) I sent an email to Joerg in Dortmund, a couchsurfer I hosted in Perth for three weeks, and soon enough was on my way to Germany, excited at the prospect of actually getting to wash my clothes for the first time in you don't want to know how long.
post a comment
I was ready to go on the move again. Three days turned into two weeks in London, and had managed to almost clean me out of my pathetic little dollars. My ride to Amsterdam was to be the first coach I'd taken. Coaches were really cheap but known to be long and tiresome, depending on how much of a good sleeper you were. I was hoping to sleep since it was a twelve hour night trip.
Purposefully picked a seat next to a girl who turned out to be Polish, from Krakow, so I picked her brains about her city which was on my list. It turned out that we actually had to get off the bus to cross the Channel - here I was thinking that the bus would drive either under the Channel (were there roads? How could I not know this?) or onto a boat with us on it, unawares because we were sweetly, sweetly sleeping deeply.
No, stupid Australian, you must exit the bus, actually get up into the boat and then get off again an hour and a half later. While we waited for the ship to arrive at the port, I got to climb out of the bus and stand and stare at the white cliffs of Dover, which were white and glowing despite it being past midnight.
I don't think I slept, but me and Polish chick got ourselves comfy smelly couches on board and luckily the water wasn't choppy. I met an American author of romance fiction (a man, interestingly), travelling "since 1963" and was very funny. He knew Polish chick somehow, maybe from the bus terminal. A bunch of jovial middle-aged guys were my first introduction to Dutch, which I got to recognise pretty well by the time we trooped back into the bus, now in France.
Side note: this "now in France" business is exactly what it feels like, suddenly being in another country in a couple of hours. I was leaving English behind again and had to tune into wherever I was. I don't know if this affects everybody or some, but the sudden shifts in word and culture disorientate me and quite often for a second or two, I wonder where I am. Having so much variety all smooshed together can be easy to ignore, I suppose, but quite an effort to absorb.
I did sleep maybe four or five hours before we arrived at the bus terminal. Now, from the bus terminal to the central station is a complete blank. I had no idea where I was, places were closed because it was too early, and more stupidly, I had no map. I must have taken a metro or a train to the central station but the whole thing is a gap in my memory.
Anyway, I bought a map from the tourist office later and said thanks but no thanks to offers of booking my accommodation through them. Stupid idea number one. I spent maybe an hour or more blindly wandering the city with all my stupid extra shopping which I wanted to dump into the canals. I seriously did not consider that there might not be that many hostels, I just expected them to pop up... I don't know what I expected. After a lot of pathetic asking around and one fully booked place, I found somewhere. It was great and it was an 18-bed girls' dorm but I slept like a baby and even met a couple of Polish girls (one who was a couchsurfer, go figure) and a Japanese girl who almost had a heart attack when I outputted some Jap to her. Instant friends for life, it seemed.
A citz with water has a centred, storylike power to it. I immediately took to Amsterdam and its canals, which were more abundant, logical and circular than I'd imagined. I'm often glad I don't read up on cities before I visit them, or even look at a map at all, because there's something very, very powerful and irretractable about the pure feelings of a city, removed from information, preparation and concentration. You can always study the history of it later, but you can never regain the first few hours of sensory impressions.
It was called the 'Venice of the north' for good reason, but Venice was verz much a woman in full gown attire, while Amsterdam was an unshaven guy with faded cordouroy brown trousers and a velvet jacket. Someone you could easily mistake for a begger before you find out he's a poet. 'Coffee shops' were abundant, of course, and I quickly grew accustomed to a constant smell of pot. I didn't go inside because I would look a bit stupid walking out again, so I never really experienced the drug side except for the smell and the endless array of bongs etc in store windows. The red light district, however, I keenly sought out at night, alone. It wasn't weird because I didn't let it be - the sex trade never offended me before, and here it was very much on display. Women of different shapes and sizes stood in the neon-red lighted windows in glow bikinis, bathed in red light and making come hither gestures at the men passing by. I gave them knowing smiles and they smiled back. Some girls were very attractive, no doubt helped by the lights and their boob jobs, and I couldn't help wondering if they ever received female customers. Or how many men they would have in one night. Or whether their fathers or brothers ever walked by. It was all so out in the open, so natural (sans plastic surgery) that sex seemed prouder and purer than in complicated real-life daylight, or better, in the midnight nightclubs. I loved and admired Amsterdam for its tolerance.
My time was cut short to about one and a half days because I was behind in my itinerary. I didn't get to visit the three things I'd planned to: Rembrandt's house, the Van Gough Museum and the Sex Museum. It was a bit of a drag, but all three needed time, so I chose to wander the canals instead. Also I not only finally finally finally sent my extra luggage home, which meant I was left with about ten kilos again, but movement became a pleasure because of it. One of my best memories is seeing a long line of middle-aged women at an icecream and chocolate shop, and deciding to join them because they must be waiting for something good (an old travelling piece of knowledge - follow the locals even if you don't know where they're going). What I got for a mere 70c was a cone of homemade vanilla icecream whipped up with fresh cream into this creamy amazingness that beats McDonalds' cones anyday. Phenomenal.
A ticket to Belgium didn't even have to be pre-purchased with my Eurail pass, so I sauntered through a now very demure red light district in the early afternoon and chucked myself on the next train to Brussels. The last thing Amsterdam gave to me was a memory of a huge, beautiful pure white swan plonking itself in the middle of the intersection in front of the central station and causing absolute chaos as people tried to shoo it away. Go buddy, go.
1 comment | post a comment
I wanted to kill someone, preferably an official of some kind. Within ten minutes of setting foot in this city, I was red with rage, my hair was sticking to my face and I must have looked like a goldfish on steroids. I wanted to leave, it was too hard to cope with. The Eurostar had dropped me off at a station that had been purposefully built to help you get your thirty minutes of exercise by circling the place five times to find your way out. Or in. I needed to get to another station, to buy the Oyster Card for that train, find out how to get to the station where my host Valerio was waiting, and most importantly, get a bloody map.
Within half an hour I was livid. I'd been standing in line at the info office for an eternity where there were eight empty counters and one guy working. (No offence to the Brits, but I believe I calmed myself by chanting several swear words followed by 'Poms'.) He gave me a tube station map that was more or less a Pollock masterpiece - a very clever mess that you stare at but remain answerless. I'd done this a dozen times, I could read maps but this one was retarded. I got agitated and an hour later, sat fuming on the train wondering if I had to validate my ticket. Valerio was messaging me wondering whether I was still alive, worried. I rolled out of the train with my extra Paris shopping and found myself accepting a little flower from this guy who did actually look like a real life artist... crossed with one of those little tanned blue-and-white striped sailor guys who ran around tying ropes and stuff. Valerio had exhibitioned his work all over Europe so I was excited to get to meet a creative soul when I was hardly outputting anything myself except bad poetry and strings of muttered swearing.
That first day when I arrived, I tried to make my way to Garreth's house to see a familiar face and get a warm hug. Little did I know that the Notting Gate Carnival was on, some huge thing that was apparently famous but to me meant only that I was stranded with no tube line out of the place. I ascended out of the underground to a footpath I could barely see from piles of rubbish, spew, food scraps, bottles and cans of all types of booze. It was chaos, hoards of people shoving and screaming, swearing and willing. I became murderous again, surprised (and pleased) at the strength of my rage in one day. The drunk English become animals with no control, respect or restraint. More importantly, they were dangerous en mass. I had heard about their insanity but now I was convinced. The way they rubbish their own city is revolting and shameful.
But like I said, things got better. This was only the beginning, which I want to remind myself of since it was such a stark contrast to the way I felt when I left. It got better primarily because I completely ignored and fled the carnival, secondly because my worries were erased by bottles of wine most nights, and thirdly because I finally, finally felt like I was on holiday. And that's what this was. A holiday.
As a side note, Valerio was very nice and accommodating, and I was chuffed to have him draw some art on my back. When he started climbing on top of me, it was all suddenly clear, the obvious candlelight and touching and wine. I realised it was some seduction plan (how could I be so foolish and blind) and for a moment I was afraid that I might be in some serious danger. It turned out to be a misunderstanding that made me feel hugely uncomfortable and dirty, and made me hate men for their convenient assumptions and cunning games, but Valerio was not dangerous. I did, however, move onto Garreth's couch for the rest of the time because it beat sleeping on the floor (and later, sleeping on some wooden slat thing designed to have a mattress on top of it). It put a dampener on things, the way a nice encounter with someone creative turned out to be yet another man trying to get into the pants of yet another woman. I guess some rotten things are universal. The worst thing is I cannot travel as a single woman without women asking me if I'm not afraid, or men assuming I must be an easy lay. It's a sad state for the world to be in. I've since given him a semi-negative reference on couchsurfing. I suppose utopia is still a dream.
Over what was extended to two weeks I got to meet up with some old Perth mates. Fletch poured some tunes over me, then South African wine, and then kindly informed me that I snore (I do not). And Dani filled me with her delicious vegan brownies and lit up the room with her smile. Go get em, tiger. It was so, so good to see them again. And in the company of mates or alone, I accumulated some sights under my hat. Big Ben, the Thames, the British Museum and Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, Bond Street, Oxford Street, Park Lane... life became a Monopoly Board. In fact, the Tate inspired me to come up with a great idea for a modern art installation in the city. I wanted to collect a heap of Monopoly houses and hotels and stick them at eye level on the buildings of the streets on the Monopoly board so people passing by would see them and instantly understand that I was getting at the fact that this is a real-life Monopoly board. However, CCTV and it's evil empire of the gaze would catch me on one of the three hundred cameras that I would be caught on that day, according to an average. Maybe when I'm rich and famous and the next Hirst can I afford to get arrested over my art.
I spent a whole day and a few dozen pounds at the marvel that are the Camden Markets. Manated to pick up a perfect little gangsta hat, but it was very Pete Dougherty and already overdone in London. I looked forward to bringing out in Germany etc. The Portobello Road Markets were great too, though less funky. A brutally beautiful autumnal redhead stole my heart at the S&M cafe (Sausages and Mash) and I have still not managed to forget her. It proved that not all English girls were slags. Sorry, had to be said.
On a Sunday I even made the monumental agnostic sleep-deprived effort to attend mass at St Paul's Cathedral. The largest dome in the world didn't manage to drag me in at eleven, but the evening service gave me an interesting insight into the importance of women visionaries. I automatically expected it to be Catholic, and only remembered that it was Anglican when the female priests came out. Derr.
Thanks to Garreth's theatre knowledge, I got to know the acting and musical scene. I'd planned to go to a show at the Globe but things got in the way - let's just admit it, drinking got in the way - and I'll just have to go when (repeat, when) I return. A ticket to Cabaret was kindly bought for me, and even though there was a crazy tube strike that evening, we managed to make it. The energy was crackling and the show they put on was magnificent. I hummed the "Welcome to the Cabaret!" song for days. Also a show at Ronnie Scott's will have to happen in the future, with a big band and lots of brass.
It was a buzz to visit the biggest bookstore in Europe, Waterstone's, and discover another completely devoted to travel, with guidebooks, travel literature and maps of every area of the world. I trooped over to Speakers' Corner, only to find it completely empty (where do they actually speak anyway?) and chilled to the bone. Then I had to PAY for the seat I sat on. In the end I didn't get to visit Buckingham Palace.. was on the way to the changing of the guard but I was going to be late so instead I stopped at the changing of the horse guard.. and never made it to the palace because I guess I *gasp* honestly didn't care enough. I don't know why I wasn't interested in Westminster Abbey, but I kind of overlooked the obvious and enjoyed wandering around Soho and Chinatown rather than tick monuments off the list that I can visit another time. Neither London nor the rest of the world is going anywhere.
The homesickness from Paris was still there, and I found myself quietly quiet most of the time. Garreth read my tarot and a palmist read my palm at Covent Garden, both of which ended up telling me what I knew and didn't want to hear. Both my spiritual life and my love life were in distress and needed me to attack things head on. To which I replied "yep sure okay no worries" and promptly ignored. So I just got Garreth to put on his meditative waterfall music, I had a good cry on my own in the dark, and sorted myself out my way. I wasn't upset at anything in particular, just needed to release tension. And I felt a lot better in the morning. I will always remember my second-last day in London as the one where I felt I truly embraced London and had the city flowing through my veins.
Two days later I boarded a coach to Amsterdam with great memories of the night before. We went out for see ya later drinks and I discovered the sweet, sweet kiss of Pims. I guess it was a big night, since Garreth's thirtysomething housemate Paul was still dry-retching and hadn't emerged from his room when I left the next evening. Sorry mate, hope you're still alive.
post a comment
My first impression of Paris was a taxi with my name on it waiting for me at the station.. but I couldn't find it for the life of me. My Romanian cousin-in-law Anca had been unable to wake up in time so she ordered me a company taxi and billed it to her law firm. I didn't recognise the thing because rather than a white smelly cab, it turned out to be a huge big black almost-limo type machine with a suited and capped driver. Cruising on padded leather seats with the Louvre and Eiffel Tower sliding silently by was a surreal luxury I met with a gaping mouth and saucer eyes.
Anca was brilliant, touring me around on foot to get a sense of space and orientation. I think I arrived on a weekend so that helped. We ate, drank and pondered cross-cultural politeness problems. I visited the Louvre, which is twenty times bigger than the biggest museum I could imagine, but still overrated in my opinion. Also wandered down the Champs Elysees and spent too much on chic French fashion and steaming Starbucks to keep me going. Crossed the Seine, went to vespers in Notre Dame, checked out the Sacre Coeur and had crepes in the bohemian area of Montmarte where all the greats laid out their wonderful words, marvellous music and uncouth underwear.
I managed to see the Eiffel Tower on the only sunny day before a five-day intermittent downpour reminiscent of what I imagined London to be like. And in summer! Horrible! The Eiffel Tower in the sunshine was more beautiful, graceful, lithe and statuesque than I expected. Her legs stretched forever, steel lace that held the sky in place. I couldn't stop trying to capture it. I wanted to buy it in all its forms, to hold her, own her, make her mine. And I did buy her in miniature form. Returning to see it lit up one warm night, a woman approached me with her big black SLR and asked me to take a photo. Gabby was Czech, I was lonely, and we ended up cruising to Montmarte's red light district by night to see Moulin Rouge's spinning windmill and dark creatures roaming the streets.
From then on it rained and rained until even the camembert-blooded Parisians scowled at the sky with disdain and disbelief. The foul weather and my looming four-month travelling anniversary may have contributed to the hole of homesickness I fell into shortly after arriving in the city of love. I longed to speak to people for more than two sentences in Fringlish. I wanted to see friends, to return to the everyday, the known and the predictable. Anca worked hard and was hardly at home, typical of high lawyer jobs for American firms in France.
Sitting outside the Center George Pompidou in which all its air/water/electricity/escalators are plastered on the outside of the building and painted representative colours, I felt blue. I held a blank postcard in my hands of an old man and a dog outside a cafe looking as glum as I felt, and I wondered what to write. And what was the point anyway, feelings aren't transferable. A guy passed me by and must have noticed the slump of my shoulders because he said something in French about looking sad. I wrote a couple of words on the postcard, sent it and moved on against the chilly wind. Home was too far away to consider.
On the way back to Anca's, the downpour became a monsoon that soaked through the bottom of my cracked sneakers, through my socks and all the way up my jeans to below my knees. I had meant to buy new shoes but never got around to it, so now I had to cope with squelchy shoes and wet feet for the couple of hours it took to get back to the apartment. I never wanted a hot shower more in my life. On the sidewalk a guy standing under the shade from the downpour caught my eye and stuck his thumb out with a grin, hoping to hitchike under my umbrella. Arry was of Albanian descent with bright blue eyes, perfect French and worked for a publishing company while studying economics. We ended up at a cafe as his thank you for walking way past my block to drop him off at his street. A chance little encounter that cheered me up for a good half hour.
The Musee d'Orsay was gorgeously set in an old, spacious train station. The Musee de l'Orangerie had Monet, Center Pompidou was full of wank and the Sorbonne University was a lot more normal-looking than the palace I had somehow imagined. The desserts were incredible (macarons, oh my lordy), the people were extremely helpful and polite and cheerful despite their unfortunate stereotypes, no doubt spread by non-'bonjour!' speaking rich tourists, prices were steep and the city was walkable. Baguettes were fabbo to eat, especially chicken and salad because they added some kind of mayo that just blew me away. Fashion was addictive. I'm determined to learn some French sometime. The sun same out again just as I was leaving. I must return here to do it again - more life, less museums. Paris definitely merits another look when I see it again through sunglasses.
post a comment
i stood in front of this mirror today
and stood and stood and stood
for a long, quiet time
Portrait de Mademoiselle Chanel
post a comment
This will be a significatly understated journal entry. My feelings and family will be underrepresented because I did and felt a lot, and instead of writing it down I decided to live it. If anything, this time with family was one of the best bits of the trip.
Northern Spain has come and gone, and brought with it so many lovely times that did not feel like ecstatic poetry, but simply felt like home. I got off the train in Leon and met my cousin Jose Antonio, his wife Alicia, their 18-year-old daughter Ana and my aunty Josefina.
And I am stuck. What did we do? Who did we see?
Leon's cathedral has some of the best stained-glass windows in the world. They are so tall and take up so much of the walls that it is a bit of a mystery as to how the church does not collapse. Josefina clawed my arm as we toured the town and she showed us where she lived with her brother, my father. It was a cute place. We drove to her house in Valdevimbre and it was here that I learned what a real life 'pueblo' was. A pueblo, or village, takes no more than three minutes to conquer. Its main street are twenty steps away from anywhere in the area. Its lake is probably dry. There are no less than eight local men in the pub at any one time, and its main square is 5m x 5m. In other words, Ana and I were bored in half an hour.
So we tramped through the collapsing house next door.
Valdevimbre later on had its annual Fiesta de Vino, so Ana, Ana's friends and I joined the shaved-haired crowd to watch the musical (was it actually music?) goings on of the metal bands who bashed the stage. And the stage and the noise was both conveniently and inconveniently right in front of the house. I mean, ten metres straight ahead of our windows. Whether or not we were sloshed on vodka didn't matter because the whole household got no sleep that night. Oh did I mention the dogs? There were bloody dogs barking too. And mosquitoes ate you up if you kept the windows open. If you didn't open the windows, you would suffocate from the heat of the house.
I talked Shakespeare conspiracy theories with some awesome priest (or something) who works as a simultaneous interpreter. For those not in the know, simultaneous interpreting is one of the hardest things on earth. Top guy who spoke six or seven languages, and well
. I learned the paso doble off my cousin's wife's brother's wife and proceeded to wow the locals. Or I liked to think so. Maybe the open mouths were in fear..
Oviedo was surprisingly comfortable. I didn't want to leave and I kind of almost couldn't, since I was waiting for my new bank card to be sent to me. The place won the 'golden broom' award for the cleanest city. Woody Allen followed me there from Madrid with his Scarlett and Penelope posse and we stood outside his hotel but felt a bit pathetic so didn't hang around for autographs, like some bozos did. He shot some scenes at an old church on the top of a hill, so I have pictures of that place as proof when the film comes out. Proof of what, I don't know. Woody adores Oviedo and his bronze statue stands in a street, seemingly walking. Apparently it's still two or three inches taller than he is. It's a pretty small statue. I feel for ya, buddy. Also his glasses are stolen every couple of days. They were there for my picture with it, but then half of them were chipped off the next day.
Ana and I got along brilliantly, as did Alicia and I. Ana and her parents, not so much. Jose Antonio was relatively quiet when he wasn't yelling at Ana. She liked to sleep in so we got along brilliantly. Alicia liked to sunbathe so we understood each other swell. I got a tan in the Asturian climate, somehow. If you saw how much rain/fog/cloud there was, you would be surprised. But when the sun came out it felt like heaven.
We went for a drive up to Alicia's mum's house, up in a tiny pueblo in the mountains. And here I discovered the horrid ailment that is carsickness. One minute I was chatting away, the next my head was reeling from the hairpin corners and steep ascension. I must have looked green because Alicia made Jose stop and I took a breather outside. Didn't actually spew - though that would have been better - but I still hadn't recovered when we got there and had lunch, so we all took a siesta and I fell into a deep dizzy sleep. The way home was better since I sat in the front and knew what to expect. Am glad to say I'm not the first non-Asturian to want to retch in the mountains.
After much hullaballoo, my bank card arrived and suddenly I was off again, on a night train to Paris.
post a comment
I want to come home.
2 comments | post a comment
More Spain photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36272643@N00/sets/72157594429765258/
post a comment
I've reached my monthly Flickr limit so that'll have to do.