Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Poland: What They Don't Tell You

When you walk into a coffee shop in Poland, and you order a chai latte in Poland, what you get in Poland, is not what you expect in Poland. You get a latte in Poland, which happens to have chai in it.

If you are not a coffee drinker, this can be surprisingly disappointing.

Also, the strangers on the street are far more friendly and helpful than people in information booths.

Now you are prepared for Poland.

This information based off a day spent in Krakow and less than 12 hours spent in Warsaw.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday in Melbourne

Don't need to learn about tickets or zones, no need to translate fare restrictions or look at gates in puzzlement as impatient locals queue behind you. No anxiously peering out the window at every station and check the line map every minute to be sure that you know where you're going, and that you're on the right train going in the right direction. No need to stumble around the station looking for the right exit, any exit. No need to stop and look at street signs and landmarks to decide on left or right. 

Of course it's a relief to be home. Of course it is.

I fell into a routine today. A pure indulgence in consumer daydreams. Visiting shops and flicking through racks of red, green, orange, blue, pink, all colours unrepentant. A European winter is a hard thing, I know this now, and I feel starved for colour. Melbourne delights in peacocks and parrots. It is not yet winter here. 

There's comfort in routine. Relief. Exploration of new land is always exciting, and it is also always tiring. To be constantly on the look out, not for danger or threats, but because the whole world is unknown, and so you must let the whole world in. No filters. Be aware, be always aware.

I sat down the back of a café, as far from the street as possible, and scribbled in my notebook, and didn't need to pay attention to anything beyond the page before me. No fear of emerging from the notebook to switch my awareness on again. Able to relax, and remain relaxed, and fear no mundane thing.

It's such a relief.

And yet-

Do you worry about burnout? Fear of fatigue haunts me like a considerate ghost, not intrusive but patient and present. Physical fatigue is something I am struggling to live with, and I daresay it will be some time yet before I accept and work with it, instead of fighting and being frustrated by it. Sitting in that café with the words coming so easily I gave some attention to the concept of mental fatigue, or emotional fatigue, or...would you call it fatigue of desire? The exhaustion of the heart?

Is it possible to use up your curiosity?

It is okay to be tired. It is okay to rest. Fallow time is a requirement not only of farmed fields but of life, all meadows of life. 

The 9-5 Mon-Fri will welcome me back and I'll none too willingly submit to the structure and safety promised within. But I am afraid my relief is too acute. I'm afraid the restlessness will not return. 

I am afraid if I stop I will not start again.

("And what happens to creatures of war when they stop moving?")

Slowly. Breathe slowly.

Trust your forever dissatisfied heart to bring change through its own lack of change.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tuesday in Shanghai

"Dance like no one is watching."
I've always liked this sentiment, although of late the internet has turned it into some pithy Hallmark ideal meant to express our inner butterflies or some such. At any rate, I never dance like this. I'm either dancing like everyone is staring at me and I'm dreadfully uncomfortable with it, or I'm dancing like I Do Not Give A Fuck, which is exactly what I did in the Melbourne International Airport baggage hall, next to carousel 7, while we waited for our backpacks to appear amid the suitcases and boxes. It's the exuberance that comes from finishing 28 hours of flying and 1 and a half years abroad. It's the only home-coming dance that matters. (Internal soundtrack provided by Beyoncé and All the Single Ladies.)

Being in this room, at this desk, surrounded by these things, is surreal and bemusing. All these things. I remember each item, but the placement surprises me. Why is there half a bottle of cooking sake on my bookshelf? Why do I have so many boxes of stuff? All these clothes, what are they for? Do I really need these stacks of paper on my desk? I don't remember where these figurines came from. This box is a mystery. The contents of these drawers are unfamiliar.

This is the room of another person, yet I'm comfortable in it, and I'm comfortable using it, and the soundscape that slipped in the window at night was more home than any of these items.

No one knew what to expect of Sam. How does a dog react when his human, who has moved in and out of his home sporadically during his life, is missing for a year and a half? Would he even recognise me?

He didn't greet me as a stranger, there was no hesitation or trepidation in his approach. He and Sophie were all bounces and leaps and tailwags, as they always are. Yet he was confused, a little unsure. In fact, I'd go as far as to say he was blanking me for most of the day. I'd reach for him and he'd suddenly be distracted by something on the other side of the room that needed his attention immediately. J got more attention out of him than I did. However, when I crashed out and went to collapse on my bed – my bed! – he came with me, curled up beside me, and it was as if the intervening nights apart had never happened. He lunges at possums outside and out of reach and I scratch his belly in the morning.

Noisy mynahs in the eucalypts down the side of the house, being noisy. A flock of cockatoos has taken up residence down in the valley and were absent-mindedly raucous during the evening. A magpie warbled as I stood on the back verandah with a cup of tea in my hand and breathed that home air. The lorikeets morning chorus was slept through and I'm looking forward to the evening session.

I looked down on Australia as we flew over the red centre, which was lines of dunes and dust to the horizon, giving way to fields flattened by generations of ploughing, a lake whose water level was low and yet higher than I expected, and a colour palette that spoke of thirst and dry hearts and a heat-beaten brown I didn't know I could miss. In all the countries we've visited there was a wealth of water beyond our comprehension. Still, I cannot in good conscious waste water. Showers are not for loitering in. Don't flush on a number 1. The grass in the backyard is green, but as patchy as mange. Summer has not been kind.

There's a new fridge in the kitchen. I find I don't know where to look.

Hours spent talking with mum and my brother. Just talking. Just stuff. The internet, for all the damage it does to social dynamics, is a miracle and boon for those people far apart. I have not been out of touch with my people for all this time, yet nothing beats chatting about nothing while doing nothing. It's wonderful what has changed, and what hasn't changed at all.

I think I'm done for now. J has had his fill as well. We've put our bags down with the express intention of not picking them up again for a very long time. Every day for the past couple of months has been the unknown and unfamiliar. Every day learning how to cope with undrinkable tap water, how to best open the window to deal with an over-enthusiastic heater, what sign language is universal when attempting to identify meat at a restaurant, whether beer or wine is cheapest in this country. It's wonderful and confusing and frustrating and hilarious. It's adventuring small and large.

And now we are ready to be where we know the streets and where the best tea and pho is, we can drink the tap water and know what mixers are available and can send a shoutout to meet any number of friends at short notice and we know Melbourne, we know it and we don't have to think about it.

It is strange to be home.

I can't stop smiling.