Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Here I Am

Norwich, East Anglia, Southern England, United Kingdom.

I work at a kitschy cool bar on Bedford Street called Frank's Bar. There are board games and fairy lights (a.k.a. Christmas twinkle lights), teapots and ten-year-old National Geographics, Alice in Wonderland and a rocking horse.

I also work at the Green Grocers, a local, organic grocery store run by Tim, Tom, and Ben. I stock shelves, work at the till, and get free food when I play my cards right.

I volunteer at the Greenhouse, a charitable trust dedicated to publishing information on self-sustainable living. The cafe sells vegetarian organic goodness that I help to cook and bake. My friends Tom and Mark both work there.

I also volunteer at Oxfam Books and Music, where I realphabetize books and rearrange postcards.

I hang out at the Buddhist Centre, where I work on reception or clean or sit in a group meditation session and practice metta bhavna or mindfulness of breathing. My friend Tom works here.

I order pizza at friend's houses and watch My So-Called Life on DVD. I ride my new (to me) purple bike everywhere. I buy spices from the spice man in the market. His name is Gareth. I do yoga in Heigham Park. I sit in the sun in Chappelfield Park. When it rains I stay inside, but sometimes I'm on my bike or walking home when it starts falling so I get wet. I make chili or risotto for my housemates with leftover food from the bar or the grocers.

This is one of my friends. His name is Alex. We went to Sherringham, which is by the sea.
I want to visit more places sometime, but Norwich is quaint and full and I'm happy just being here right now.

My house is full of students and writers, girls and boys. Here are girls being girls:

and boys being boys:

I write stories and read my friends' written words. Alex just finished a novel. Tom writes plays. Which Tom, you ask? Excellent question! All English men are either named Tom, Ben, Paul, or James. Unless they're named something else.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

letting it all go (I know the truth about you)

On the train to Salisbury I read a book that convinced me to stop trying to escape fear. There is nowhere better to be, no other time than now, no one else to become. There is an alternative to seeking refuge from fear. I believed for a long time that if I just made it through the moment there would be a better time to come. "This too shall pass" translated into "This is unbearable, but hold on, it will get better." This is true, but also true is that this will return, in another moment, at another time, around the next corner. So, this book suggests, stop trying to escape it. Stop trying to deny this fear, stop distracting yourself, stop pegging your hope that something bigger than you can bail you out. There is no bailing out. Fear and hope are two sides of the same coin, and I want to stop flipping it over and over in my palm, always wondering or worrying what's on the other side. The same dual emotion I felt when I first stepped into the rooms hit me: a parallel of certainty and terror that this is the way and the place to be.

Stonehenge was interesting. A hodge podge of pagans, druids, bagpipes, drunkards, and CouchSurfers, all getting progressively soaked as the night wore on to the 4:18 sunrise. I practiced sun salutations and meditated in the rain. In my new "accept all as it is" mind set, I sought to accept the damp and not try to change it or wish it to be something else. I succeeded for a few hours until my soaks soaked through, and then I said stuff this and went and found a barrel of coals to warm myself by. Enlightenment still alludes, apparently.

I danced in the centre of the stones, touched the moss growing on them, smelled the sweat and wet hair and pot smoke emanating from all the bodies and lungs crowded into the circle and pummeling against each other and the ground to the beat of tribal drums. I sat aways away on a mat and crossed my legs and wondered if this (or me or them) is what spiritual looks like. I slept in a fetal position under a broken umbrella for twenty-three minutes. I walked through a field of pissing men in the pissing rain. I loaned my sleeping bag to a cyclist who rode from London to Amesbury to watch the sunrise. I did not find god. In fact, I may have lost him somewhere on the way.

On anger:
I spent the next two days in London at a friend's flat, walking back and forth to Tesco's and the park down the road in Kensington. I visited a homeopath, I watched some films. In one film, a man murders a child abuser, and wrestles with the guilt of killing another human while being simultaneously congratulated by friends and colleagues. My friend was aghast at the accolades. I sprung to the characters' defenses, justifying their reasoning for rewarding someone for murder. I sprung passionately, angrily. I am so surprised at my reaction - first the anger, and second the side I took. I thought I found killing indefensible, in any case, under any circumstances, and yet I was defending the idea of a justified murder. And I thought I didn't use that kind of angry passion anymore, that speed to jump and attach to a belief. A few hours earlier I read about tonglen, the practice of breathing in fear or pain or anger, of identifying these emotions as human and empathizing with all who feel them, and then breathing out calm and relief and serenity. And how quickly I forget what I read and how it is constant work to practice my beliefs.

On giving up:
So I have too many jobs, too many commitments, too much to do. I have a bank account and applied for a National Insurance Number. I'm going on the books and I'm buying into it all, again. I had some plans about a farm and moving away from everything that I've ever known, but I find myself once again surrounded by familiarity. And before I left I resolved to just stop. I'm never going to find something I keep looking for, so I'm going to stop. Stop changing, stop seeking, stop wondering if maybe I should look over there or maybe I should change that here. The inevitability of change doesn't need me to catalyze it. I can just sit back and be so present doing everything I am, from yoga in the park to buying local strawberries to washing dishes in my kitchen to clearing tables in the cafe. I noticed myself at peace today, I noticed myself being grateful, and for the first time, I distanced from that, too. It's easy to identify with calm and serenity because they feel good. But my work is to realize that they are also transient, that 'good' moves away with the same speed as 'undesirable'. So for the first time, as I smiled in the sun and loved this beautiful day, I admitted that "This, too, shall pass." And I let go a little bit more.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

There is a Calgary sky here tonight. England (the London and Norwich that I've seen) generally have dreary sunsets, where the cloud cover replaces the "set" with a "fade", gradual and unseemly and unnoticed. Tonight, tufts of cloud honed hues of rose and orange. Violet and indigo curved around the outlines of each cloud, giving them dimension rather than just the opaque grey of most English evenings.

I haven't felt homesick at any point in my travels, because the word insinuates that I would rather be somewhere else. I don't have a home anymore, not Calgary or Canada, really. I have things collected in a basement, and family members and friends in this certain place. And after spending so many years there I associate memories and colours of the sky with this city. But I do not miss it in the way I have at other times, where I yearn to be a part of it again, to be privy to its happenings and those of the people in it.

But I am seeking to be away from this moment, and this one, and this one. I am constantly and consistently terrified of where I am: no, not Norwich or England or the UK, but inside this body and this mind. Nothing is particularly terrible, I just know that I am running and hiding from things. My body is telling me with its aches, my mind is signaling, but I am afraid to sit still and wait to hear what it is saying.

I set up a schedule again so I don't have to deal with myself: my ego is very proficient at keeping busy and keeping me from noticing that it is controlling me. I don't know what to extricate myself from: the three jobs and three volunteer commitments, or the mind-set that is telling me I can't possibly keep this up. I know that to set myself the task of decluttering my life is just to give my ego something else to do, something else to think will cure me of suffering.

The moon is up now, a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. I'll be at Stonehenge for the summer solstice. Some time out of town may widen a perspective the Buddhist Centre and a shiatsu massage have offered.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

external irrelevancy (redundant only until you realize it yourself)

Other things I'm realizing:

The external world is irrelevant. For awhile I thought this meant that I needed to rid myself of all worldly possessions to find inner peace, but I realized...with a little or with a lot, both are just states and therefore erroneous. My revelations are on hyper-speed, it seems. I thought I was moving towards a hippie commune at the edge of the world, but it seems I have supplanted my life instead, creating jobs and schedules and using my Google calendar for the first time in three months.

I thought for a moment this was backtracking, this was falling back into something, but I realize now it is just a continuation of the journey, because it is evolving as it is, instead of me forcing it a certain way.
This applies also to my body, the house of my mind and spirit and soul. Added inches used to mean to me added worries, I thought my body was a reflection of my inner state. I still think this is true, but I realize now that being in my body is more important that being out of it. Gorging or starvation are both extremes, are both distractions. The outside manifestation indicates, but doesn't explain. So while I have had more scones than courgettes or aubergines (zucchinis and eggplants) and now have a delightful little roll again, I realize this just reflects a different state of engagement with food and nourishment, and is neither positive or negative or healthy or hurtful.

The more I learn the less I know. I keep thinking I'm coming to the cusp, that over the next bend I'll be at the top and see everything below me laid out clear, but I'm realizing I'm actually walking deeper into the mountain range, further into the forest. Nature is waiting out there for me someday, but not right now. Right now it's Buddhist Centre and Greenhouse cafe volunteering spotted with cafe and catering work. Good thing I kept my black uniform just in case.

Instead of freedom comes fear. Just as when I realized it wasn't money, then when I realized it wasn't security, so now when I've realized it's not the lack of any of those things, either...then what is it? Being. Vadra Gupta, a teacher at the Centre, said when people begin to meditate they rarely find what they're looking for. They find themselves, and that's never what they want.

So I'm still finding myself, but finding that doesn't mean realizing I'm a "writer" or a "yogi" or that I need to go back to school. It means sitting or standing or lying or leaning wherever I am and saying exactly that and not trying to move or change or be anywhere else. This is my most daunting work.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My life and head are equal parts full right now.

The house where I sit on the floor is filled with writers who take their masters in Creative Writing at the UEA, the University of East Anglia. Musicians play guitars and accordions and use megaphones in the sitting room and they sound like a band I used to know in Victoria, BC called Colourbook.

In the town with no jobs I've managed to find three plus an interview, one at a place I want to work and another at a place that will do.

I continue to live on the kindness of strangers and find myself amazed at generosity.

I found a Buddhist Centre instead of a yoga studio, where I volunteer in exchange for participating in group meditation sessions and shared coffee with a lady who described meditation in a way I've only heard people speak about AA meetings: if she can't make a session one week, she finds she misses it.

Every morning I wake up in a state of fear. It's not debilitating, it doesn't keep me from getting out of bed (yes, I have a bed, it belongs to someone who doesn't sleep here often, so for now, I can), but I spend the rest of the day reminding myself I am so fortunate for being exactly where and when I am right now, until I go back to sleep with the vague thought that this might all be over in eight hours. It never is, it only gets better, but I forget that every night.

Honesty rose to the top of my list of desirables somewhere along the way, beyond valuing knowledge and truth. Now I want to say what I feel in the moment even if I sound wandering and wavering, which I do most of the time. Things I know: it will always be okay. I will always sleep, I just don't know where. I will always eat, I just don't know what. Money, either a lot or a little, is irrelevant to an inner state. This too shall pass. A little about a lot of things and a lot about nothing in particular. I'll never get there because I'll just be here all the time. Things I believe: fear feels a lot like loneliness. Everything else is a guess.

I also volunteer at the Greenhouse, a cafe and environmentally sustainable business. I met Alex, a fellow CouchSurfer, who teaches me about Kafka and recipes for bad poetry (for analytical, not creating, purposes).

It's amazing what grows when I plant a seed of intention.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Norwich makes my socks squelch

I sit on the top floor of a three-story house full of creative writing Masters students in an incense-laden room with a tiger poster on the wall and a skateboard for a shoe rack.

Trees line streets and the rain follows the cobblestones. It's Victoria without the hanging flower baskets and with a few hundred year old stone churches (insert hyphens where you will).

They have yoga and vegetarians and a farm outside the city.

I don't know where I'll work and maybe I won't but maybe I'll stop awhile and see.

It's the first day of the rest of my life, and what do you do with a cliche but peg it as such?

continuing on to someplace semi-permanent: Norwich, anyone?

Yes, here I am.

I disappeared for a bit, read emails and sometimes replied, signed on to Facebook to upload photos, but otherwise dissolved into being somewhere else besides in front of a computer screen.
Someone told me about an article on bloggers who became famous for their writings and then suffered mental and emotional breakdowns under the pressure to be consistently interesting. Maybe I didn't want to suffer a similar fate.
I reunited in London with my laptop and my suitcase full of clothes that belong to someone else, or rather an old part of myself, I think. I'm not sure what to do with the high heels and tight pants, but I'll lug them around a bit to see if they'll fit again once I settle. But I wonder how long you hold onto things until you discard them altogether, and resign to finding something new when it suits me to do so.
Too many metaphysics for a blog post, perhaps. The specifics of time and place for you: from Malaga in Spain to Manilva, where I met my Stone Knight Diego, a kindred spirit and later travel companion. Then I went to Canos de Meca, a sleepy beach town where I spent my time weeding in a garden and lazing on the sand next to the Atlantic ocean. Up to Cadiz, the oldest city in Europe...something about Phoenicians. Then a quick trip down to Tarifa, a surfer stop that reminded me of Byron Bay: full of organic veg restaurants and Billabong shops. I met up with Diego and we road-tripped to Portugal, stopping in Abufeira of the touristy English bars and restaurants (do not go there, ever) and then on to Lagos, a backpacker town of choice. A day trip out to Sagres, the edge (or end, I could never be sure, but both apply) of the world, the farthest tip on the Portuguese coast. I waved to North America. I spent my last days in the continent doing yoga in Lagos, exploring the grottoes in kayak and on foot, and trying my high kick at capoeira, a Portuguese dance/martial art combination. I also met a yogini named Amber who hailed from Norwich, England, and the way she spoke about her city interested me.
I flew back to London and connected with the Couch Surfing community here. I sat at Somerset House for Pangea Day, an intercontinental event with stages and screens in Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Sydney, and other cities across the globe. A live video feed put us all in touch with one another as we watched four hours of films, musical performances, and conversations between ex-soldiers, activists, and environmental activists. I caught up with old friends, met new ones, and then jetted to Austin, Texas.
My new CouchSurfer picked me up from the airport (thank you, universe and CouchSurfing!), and I stayed with her and her roommate while popping out to attend wedding festivities of Miss Lindsay King, an old old friend from my junior high days in Jakarta. I also saw the Alamo in San Antonio, played croquet in the Texas sun, and hung out in the downtown live music scene of Austin.
I contemplated sticking around North America, but a cheap one-way flight back to London cemented my decision to hop back across the pond. Now I am back in London, shaking the Dalai Lama's hand by proxy, getting rained on, and feeling like I want to get back to a bit of nature, but I'm not sure what that means.
I thought I only needed a break, a few months of globetrotting and then back to reality, a job and a flat and income on the front burner. Now, after being in London a little over a week, I want to try something completely different. I want to live with people who think about how we can contribute to each other's lives, not only in our immediate vicinity but all over. I don't want to join the Peace Corps or build houses in Africa (well, not right now), but I'd like to work in a community where money is not the first factor when considering what, when, or how to do something. I'm not sure if I can find a place where I can continue to live in the moment, every moment, that I can continue to cultivate a life of meeting new people and new ideas, and maintain my idealism in the generosity inherent in all of us, but I would like to try.
So I am going to Norwich, because I really enjoyed the company of the girl in Lagos who mentioned it to me. I have no real expectations of the place in the way I do about Edinburgh (another consideration about where to settle), and no real reason to go, except that it occurred to me, and it makes my heart light and my shoulder relax when I think about going there. I want to continue making decisions the way I've learned to in the past few months, I don't want to change just because I am going to stop moving for awhile. The shoulds and the ego and the societal belief that there is a set way of doing things is still present, but I realize I have a choice to listen to these things.
I want to follow something else for awhile, even if I have no idea where it goes. Namaste.

Monday, April 14, 2008

oh, Spain, where have you been all my life?

I´m now in Malaga, on the south coast of Spain. A quick itinerary: I flew from Paris to Barcelona (I first spent seven hours in the Beauvais airport, an hour out of Paris and away from everything. I spent my time there getting to know a Belgian-born Tullio who grew up in Ibizia and now lives between Paris and Barcelona, wandering through the village Tille, and writing a short short story); after six sun-soaked days staying in a hostel in Barcelona, I took an overnight train to Granada, finding out six hours before I left that I had a CouchSurfer to stay with when I got there. Upon arrival in Granada, our hosts took me and four other arrivals (US students who study in Barcelona) to their mountain home in Quentar, a half hour out of the city. The next morning we headed to Sevilla, and two days later (which is to say, today) I find myself in Malaga, Spain at another CouchSurfer´s gorgeous flat on his even gorgeouser Mac computer.

Between all those pin points on a map fit many new faces and even more emotions. I hit a wall in my first days in Spain: I contemplated loneliness in a country where I didn´t know the language, witnessed the death of another part of my ego, almost went insane contemplating what it means to disidentify with everything I thought defined me. The universe sent me Daniel, an Aussie who calmly listened to my philosophical meanderings and kept me on an even keel. I said before I left Canada that I´d go to an meeting when it occurred to me to do so, and sitting in sunny Spain and not knowing what else to do, asking for guidance brought me to a webpage with clear instructions on how to get to a meeting. International AA is amazing (of course, of course) - in the four meetings in four days I met travelers, locals, and expats, some residents some visitors, and I found my serenity again. I realized the pride was keeping me from finding what I was looking for, so I got humble and...surprise, found what I needed the moment I admitted I didn´t know it all, after all.

From that moment it´s been a watershed of amazing people and open hearts. Two Singaporean girls and I trekked up a mountain overlooking the city, and Daniel and I wandered the gothic quarter and Gaudi park. Kirsty and Issach, a Kiwi couple who just finished working on a yacht (a big industry in the port cities...a great way to make cash and travel the Meditteranean. I just have to sell my soul to ultra rich yachters, and I´m not sure if I´m ready to make that leap yet...) introduced me to the Barcelona wax museum and another Aussie named Nick who drove me to the train station and saw me off to Granada.

The next few days were a whirlwind: Axel and his family welcomed us to his mountain home, and Sara met us in Plaza Einstein, took us to eat borscht in her flat, invited us to a Spanish fiesta in a friend´s backyard. Diego and David and I (the bickering boys from Barcelona) trekked up to the gypsy caves overlooking the Alhambra and ate tapas to get out of the rain. Even though I don´t understand Spanish, I´ve been lucky enough to find locals who speak English or travelers who speak Spanish, and I´m trying to pick up "un pequito" so I can come back here and live forever.

From Granada to Sevilla for feria, a festival that reminds me of the Calgary Stampede: fairground on one side, complete with overpriced rides and candied apples, and on the other, a remnant of semi-forgotten tradition. In Calgary it´s rodeo, in Sevilla it´s the Sevillana dance (strongly influenced by flamenco) done in the casetas (tents that line the fairground rented out by families and companies). Strolling the grounds with Sarajean and Candace (the other half of the Barcelona foursome) gave me a taste of "traditional" Spain, with horse drawn carriages and girls in flouncy dresses and men in suits, however superficial it may now be.

Last night we prepared to camp out in the bus station until Sarajean got a call from a friend of our CSers in Granada who offered us their flat and a delicious dinner. Thank you, universe. I sent a random email to a CSer in Malaga who answered immediately, so this morning I hopped a bus, met Carlos, got on the back of his motorbike, and slept on his couch as he prepared me a traiditional Spanish lunch (eaten here at three or four in the afternoon) of green beans, potatoes and olive oil, and cold tomato-based soup (gazpatcho). All vegetarian, all deliciousness.

If India taught me how to let go, Spain teaches me to relax absolutely. I´m not sure if it´s the new headspace I found after my old one died in Barcelona, the people I´ve met, or the place itself, but the combination makes this country my favourite yet. I say that about each place I go, but if today is the best day of my entire life, then I can´t wait for tomorrow.

This life, this life: so beautiful and ebullient.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

since then and until soon

I haven´t put up any updates until now because I started to view them as an inconvenience instead of a joy...and I don´t want to live that way anymore! I´m only going to do things either a) when it occurs to me to do them and they make my heart light or b) when the universe tells me it´s time to do them.

This is category b): I´m in an internet cafe surrounded by my new friends´ backpacks, and since they´re not back yet and I can´t carry them all, I will await their return with you. When the arrive I hit "post", so a mid-sentence truncation may follow.

From Brussels to Bruge, a touristy town that is quaint and cute and a UNESCO heritage site. I spent the day meandering and eating fries. I spent the evenings with Marie-Louise, my second CouchSurfing host, and I once again sit amazed and gratified with the kindness of strangers. A train back to Paris and then a meeting with Florine, a French girl with a culinary flair and a zest for all things interesting. I stayed in her one-room flat for two days and two nights - we visited Giverny, Vernon (Vair-none, not Ver-nOn), and of course the opulent palace. We, along with Susan from Norway, talked about France, Canada, and Norway, about the different ways to say I love you (you can´t say "I like you" in French: it´s all or nothing, whereas in Norway you can choose between two, depending on whether you´re referring to familial or romantic love), about Marie Antoinette, about chocolate. Florine grabs experiences and runs with them, expresses everything with certainty, whether optimism about the future or her absolute detestation of people who don´t read CouchSurfing profiles. has changed my life. More than a place to stay, more even than a way to meet someone who knows so much you don´t know and wants to tell you all about it, this community revitalizes my faith in

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flemish + French = Fantastic

I walked off the train at the Gare du Midi in Brussels, my eyes still a little bleary from the half-sleep past pastures and silhouetted trees. Kim has dark hair and bangs cut straight across her forehead, and she should be standing under the yellow neon that reads "Sam's Café". If that description and those instructions don't match whatever I find at the end of this platform, then I have to figure out where I'll be sleeping tonight.

But she's there, standing with her hands in a checkered coat's pockets and mirroring my own mix of excitement and trepidation. To agree to have a person stay at your house for three days after the exchange of two emails on is silmultaneously crazy and altruistic. But by the time we walked the seven minutes from the train station to her and her father's home beside the printing factory he owns and in which he works, I knew that my visit to Brussels would be worth every Euro I paid for the ticket.

When I meet a woman like Kim, I feel that I've found an alternate versions of myself - she is who I would have been if I'd been born in Brussels and gone to theatre school, and I am maybe her if she'd spent four years in an office in Calgary and then decided to fold up her life and travel. At ninteeen, she can speak English, French, Flemish (a variety of Dutch spoken in Belgium), and German fluently - her English she learned almost entirely from subtitled television, so her accent is a lovely refined North American lilt - and she is learning Spanish and Italian. She spends her days in theatre school, her nights discussing art and cinema over wine and dinner with friends. In the last forty-eight hours wandering through the Grand Place in the middle of Brussels, having coffee with her dear mère, sharing pastries in the little boulangerie et pâtisserie beside her house, eating crèpes with cheese and honey and olives (oh yes and oh my) in the Sunday market by the train station, and staying up until one o'clock in the morning after her friend Noortje shared a dinner of pasta and vegetables and desert of yogurt and nuts dipped in Nutella, Kim explained the difference between playing and acting, wondered with me the worth of a moment, how the context of an experience changes the experience itself, and gave me the word that sounds so much better than our "travel bug": reiskriebel. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this person and her family, and I am devasted to have to leave so soon. Four days ago I didn't know where I would be sleeping for these past nights, and instead of just a bed I've found a friend for life. This universe grants me amazing gifts if I let it.

Namaste to all of you and so much love from my heart, Andrea

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It must be the beret

Today marks the seventh time someone has come up to me and started speaking French...I assume they're asking for directions. But I can't get past the first syllable of "Pardon" before they're smiling apologetically and saying, "Je m'excuse..." Still, my ego ruffles each time I'm mistaken for a Parisien, however short lived the assumption.

I did converse with a woman who sold me my panini (filled with mozzarella and a somewhat overripe tomato), and she asked: "Tu aime Paris?" I replied that yes, I loved Paris, and the French were so - nice? Happy? I'm not sure what adjective I sputtered but she seemed pleased. When asked if I'm staying in Paris, I said no, not for long, but I will return another time. Perhaps as a student at the Sorbonne, I'm now wondering.

The friend with whom I'm staying has company coming over the weekend. Attempts to make alternate arrangements to stay in Paris left me floundering, so I decided to skip the whole ordeal...and just go to Brussles for three days instead. Now I have to find out where I'm going to stay there, but I have been introduced to, an online community of people who open their hearts and homes to those traveling without the latter and lots of the former. I have faith this community and the universe will get together behind the Veil and conjure up a grand solution for me.

The day began when I shut the apartment door at 5:30 to make it to the Sacre Coeur for sunrise. Sitting on the steps of the massive church atop the neighbourhood of Montemarte, I watched pink creep up the skyline and fade into the dusty gray of the clouds, suffusing the piles of buildings and squares with a dull glow. The walls of the city seemed lit from within, as if made of a transluscent material instead of the white plaster covered with the gray of years. Thirteen hours later, I close the door of the same apartment after traversing the entire city on foot; from the Musee d'Orsay (I bought a ticket for tomorrow to avoid the line up) to the Montparnesse cemetery to the Bastille and now - to a couch with my name on it.

Love and namaste - thank you for thinking of me and bringing all this loveliness into my life.

Monday, March 24, 2008

for the love of travel

Everyone loves to travel these days, but meeting someone who makes such a proclamation doesn't translate to them loving it in the same way I do...or do I?

I spend days inside looking out the windows to the rain and reading books and writing, postcards and blogs and other words. I don't need to be doing something every moment, because I know all that I need to see will find it's own way into my line of sight.

Listening to "Ola Kala" by I'm From Barcelona reminds me that everything is going to be okay, as well as reminds me of my next destination as of April 3. I want to make it out to Monet's garden at Giverny before I head out out out to Spain, and the garden doesn't open until the 1st.

Tomorrow I'll watch the sunrise from Montemarte. Maybe.
I took this picture in this beret in Paris fourteen years ago. I'll take it again each time I return, I think.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Colours de Paris

A pastry shop window. The streets are lined with bakeries and crepe stands. Everyone eats often but not too much.

A kaledescopic perfectimundo. This segues into my suggestion to read Bee Season by Myla Goldberg.

The Mirror of Love in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. We perused the two floors of carefully disorganized literature and I eavesdropped on a writing group meeting in a room at the back. Cots for writers in need of a place to sleep tucked into the corners on the top floor, a pair of theatre seats made a make-shift reading room, and a sign begged from atop a stained piano's keys: Play Me. I buy The Art of Travel and get it stamped with approval.

Ladurée is the Tiffany's of the macaroon world. Families, couples, trendy Pariesiens, and tourists waiting for a sugar fix stand in the two-hour-long line up for a table. Willy Wonka could only dream of this level of prestige.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pqrisien 9or French0 keyboqrds qre different:::

And so is this city. London pays tribute to its history; Paris celebrates hers. Every street is a shot from a movie, each store a gallery of art. I turn corners to find cathedrals looming, light reflecting puddles on the sidewalk like a Monet painting. Here you can have a chocolate croissant pour le petit déjeuner, une crepe avec Nutella pour déjeuner, et le gâteau chocolate pour le dessert après le diner. It only took me five minutes to write that sentence.

Notre Dâme, le Musée Picasso, et le Centre Pompidou avec mon amie Tess. It rains here, but the Paris drizzle gives my hair that tousled look.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I forgot it was St. Patty's Day

The National History Museum takes my day, with the earthquake rooms and geological shifts and inner-earth demonstrations. The "What's Happening to My Body?" exhibit hasn't been updated since 1973, and the "Our Place In Evolution" is shoved in a hard-to-reach corridor of the third level. But entertaining to watch hundreds of primary school children run about and fill in the worksheets assigned to them before they left school that morning. My bus takes me back to Fulham and Munster and Wardo, and a delicious dinner of rustic Italian pasta with homemade sauce. Fa-Linn, photos for you:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

muffins make a day great

My last hotel morning and I'm a backpacker again. Down to Covent Garden to grab breakfast from Muffinski's, then a gander into the Photographer's Gallery. Four artists compete for a grand prize, and my vote goes to Jacob Holdt, a Dane who hitchhiked across the United States from '70 to '75, capturing his vagabondness with amateur shots.

The afternoon took me to Tate Britain. A two-screened performance of a belly dancer's performance in a crowded street market shows how romance and cinematic moments occur every day, but we miss them without the lights and the mood music. William Blake has a room of his own. The modern art incenses and pacifies me, depending on the subject.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Westminister and Wicked in the West End

A lazy awakening, then a trundle through Trafalger Square, where A Festival of Resistance took up the entire square, with Marxists and Socialists and Communists and lots of anti-capitalists protested the war in Iraq and consumerism in general.

Michelle explored the interior of Westminister Abbey while I watched it from across the road.

We tubed to Notting Hill, but we passed by Hugh Grant's door and headed straight for Portabello Road, where I sang the Bedknobs and Broomstick's song, snapped along to some buskers, wandered in the rain, and ate a cupcake and a delicious bit of cheese (not in that order).

A bus back to the hotel, a change for the theatre, and a top-notch black cab ride to the Apollo Victoria Theatre on the West End, where Wicked waited. I originally thought this musical would be fluffy and full of superficial fun, but its subtlety and subtext sold me. A late dinner across the street of risotto and stuffed mushroom caps, we headed back to the hotel where I changed into my best dancing shoes (the runners I've been wearing all trip) and ran down to the Phoenix. Downstairs, Ian Watson's How Does It Feel to Be Loved? night ensures Belle&Sebastian and Camera Obscura and the Supremes all play so I can dance till a quarter to three.

Friday, March 14, 2008

parks and gardens, Covent and otherwise

A joyous morning of walking through parks and reading in sunshiney spots.

The Canada Memorial scatters metal maple leaves, and in Hyde Park, the Joy of Life Fountain's figures dance.

Afternoon meet-up with Michelle in Covent Garden, a visit in the Coal Hole pub, and a wander through Trafalger before dinner at a little Italian bistro where the maitre d' kissed our hands and we dawdled till dessert - a delightful tiramisu.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

plumbers followed by portraits

The shower, broken and only able to with operate with a screwdriver equals Andrea waiting for plumber, part two. He arrives, he putters, he promises to get back to my flatmates, and I head to the National Portrait Gallery.

Highlights include Vanity Fair's exhibition, where Aldous Huxley stares me down and Virginia Woolfe wonders wide-eyed, Gloria Swanson readies to pounce through black lace, George Bernard Shaw gruffly hides his chin in his beard. Published from 1913-1936, it lay dormant until 1983 when it was revived and started printing pictures of pregnant Demi Moore and the annual Hollywood Issue. Gorgeous glossiness.

As I searched for these images, I found a dissenter:

Bryan Adams has an entire hallway of photography: must say I prefer his snapshots to his soundbites. The rest of the gallery holds portraits from Elizabeth I to Paul McCartney, Hockney, Brontes, British greats, pictures and prints.

A quick pop into the National Gallery for some Sunflowers and the Execution of Lady Jane Grey, the sixteen-year-old queen for ten days. Then a lentil burger with tomato salsa and a wander through Covent Garden on the rainy way home.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Greenwich, Part II

Royal Teas, the Parisian run cafe in Greenwich, meets me and Amanda at 76 Royal Hill. Warm ginger cake with cool cream makes my day before the Maritime Museum and miscellaneous bookshops, butcher shops beside green grocers.

On the bus ride back to Wardo Avenue to wait for a plumber coming the following morning, I snap shots of bus stops and those that wait there, and notice the encroachment of superstore-like stores in place of the smaller stacked shops. The first Marks & Spencers, that upscale grocery store, doesn't show up until Tower Bridge Road.

At Fulham Broadway, I walk the wrong way and stumble into a Chelsea Football crowd rivaling the Red Mile. Before getting swept up in the fanatic fans I reroute and regroup and find my way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Michelle at the Montague

I awake and pack: I came here with a backpack and suitcase, but I must now reduce and reconfigure everything I own so that it fits in the backpack only. Hoisted on my back, I wander to the bus stop, wondering in the rain if I should cave and pay 12 dollars for an umbrella. I'm still converting because I've still got all Canadian dollars. When the bus halts eight stops too early, I realize you must ask drivers if they are going all the way to the end of the line: because sometimes they stop short. I find another, disembark at Tottenham Court Road tube station, meander down Great Oxford Street, and find Montague on the Gardens, where I'm meeting my cousin who's flying in for business for a few days. The staff opens the door, stands in front of me, and asks, "Are you looking for the museum?" My battered running shoes and yoga mat strapped on my backpack suggest the hotel might not be my usual choice of accomodation. When they realize I am staying here, or know someone who is, they let me in to knock on the door and come in to swanky four star style. Michelle and I laze the day away and then head out for Italian at Ask, a restaurant that appears to be quaint and family owned but is actually a subsidiary of the popular ubiquitous "Pret" deli. The pizza is still delicious, and big enough for me to save it for a meal tomorrow.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

the squares and a circus

A bus ride into the City, we tapas-ed at All Bar One with chips and smarties, then swung by the Canada Store for a Tootsie Roll and a gape at 5 pound (the currency, not the weight) bottles of Clamato Juice. Wander past Leicester Square, through Trafalger Square, snap Big Ben, The Parliament Buildings, and Westminister Abbey, and then down the road to Buckingham Palace, before we jump on the Westminister tube home.