Monday, January 30, 2012

Beneath the Wind, Above the Snow

Three Months

A couple of days ago, four to be exact, marked three months since I left home.

Three months is generally a point at which things looks less than wonderful. New jobs become familiar and new relationships lose their shine. This vagabond life has had the edges worn off, and I'm looking forward to stopping, but I'm also quite comfortable being beholden to no place and no person. This form of travel is the ultimate indulgence in selfishness and freedom. My time is mine own, my decisions need refer to no one else for approval or compromise.

Today, I woke up to a letter forwarded to me, regarding the work cover that paid for my medical costs for my fibro and RSI treatment back home.

Hunched over my measly free breakfast in a pub on a Monday morning, blindsided by tears and a rising stress that shook me with its relentless and unexpected onset.

All the majesty of glaciers and blizzards, ancient castles and quirky museums, dingy hostels and luxurious private rooms, all these days are nothing but distractions.

This letter reminded me that, no matter how many times I tell myself this journey is something I always wanted to do, I nevertheless undertook it as a retreat, that I gave up the life I'd built because my hands, my body, and an overwhelming depression one by one closed the doors and windows and threatened to trap me, that everything I'm running from is traveling with me.

Three months, and the change isn't enough.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Girls Goin' a Roamin'

Most hostels offer female only dorm rooms for those of us who are for whatever reason uncomfortable sharing a room with the sausage-wielding sex. I've even seen a few places that offer male only dorms as well, as is only fair. Typically beds in such dorms cost a little extra, so I've been bunking in mixed dorms. Until now.

This room is very pink.

On seeing the wall fitted out with 3 mirrors, stools, dressing table as well having a hair dryer and hair straightener (!!!), my initial reaction was somewhat indignant. Who wants all that cliched crap?

Well, to be honest I was pretty damn excited to see the hair dryer. Wet hair in this climate is a little uncomfortable. It only works for two seconds on the highest setting before entering torpor, as I discovered.

This led me to consider the hair straightener, because dammit I wanted to go outside and I did not want wet hair at the same time. Now, I've never used a hair straightener in my life. Partly because my hair is pretty damn straight, but mostly because I'm lazy and don't believe in high maintenance hair. Pfffft.

The general theory behind hair straighteners I understood, but exactly how one uses them...uh, are they supposed to vibrate anxiously when you clap the tongs together? Because this one did. I gave my hair a few swipes before being far too disconcerted by the trembling appliance and thus ended my first and probably only experiment with hair straighteners.

Huh. Sniff. Disdain.

It was a full house last night, and in the morning I was woken by the others springiness out of bed to stand in front of the mirrors and do...things. I have no idea what any of them were doing but there was a lot of it. The hair straightener was used. The hair dryer was used (on a lower setting). There were all sorts of tubes and powders and touching of hair. All this before they were even out of their jammies.

Me, I rolled out of bed, changed into be-seen-in-public clothes, and staggered downstairs for breakfast without even putting deodorant on.

I don't think I'm very good at being a woman.

Still, there is some merit to gender stereotyping. For example, "girls snore far less than boys" IS THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

He: in the cloisters, with open book

Monkeyless Cathedrals

"There's a monkey holding an orange," she said. "It's supposed to represent the Kingdom of Animals. At least, that's what I'm told."

Back and forth and around and around I searched the windows, paintings, carvings and statues of St Barbara in Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic. Others in my group searched with equal diligence. There was no monkey. Biblical scenes, saints, sinners and martyrs aplenty, but no monkey. I was disappointed.

Stepping inside the Salisbury Cathedral a neat little woman in a green sash honed in on me with a smile. "Would you like a leaflet? It's a little map with a suggested route. In-" her smile faltered. "English? Or...something...else?"

I smiled. "English will be fine."

"The monkey, if you can spot it," reads the pamphlet, "resides high up in the South Quire Aisle, poised to hurl a nut at those entering the Vestry."

Up and down the South Quire Aisle marched I, neck painfully bent and eyes straining to make out the gloomy arches above. Biblical scenes, saints, sinners, martyrs and tombs aplenty, but no monkey. I was disappointed.

There are no bears in America.

There are no monkeys in cathedrals.

Advice to Writers*

The showers in this hostel looked decent. Fair sized shower with good space in which to dry off and get changed, enough hooks to hang everything up and hot water that did not run out.

They are their own rooms, however. Not a cubicle door in a larger bathroom, but sealed up like broom closets. A door with no gap at the top or bottom.

And, as it turns out, no ceiling fan.

Once out of the shower and in the steam, I couldn't actually get enough air in, that's how dense the moisture was, having nowhere to go.

I also could not actually get dry. Within seconds of a towel scrub I'd be wet again, not damp, but wet.

Writers: always have a towel big enough to make a dash to your next safe haven.

* And by 'writers' I mean 'everyone'.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Other Nutrition

I fell out of a doze and beyond the bus window were fields and slow hills that disappeared into hesitant rain. Green grasses, yellow grasses, lines of vulnerable trees. Fences of wooden beams surrounding barrows. A whole sky. Police tape tangled in a tree's fingers. Winter apples on leafless branches. Crows and pheasants picking at turned dirt. A bemused flock of seagulls sitting among the sheep. Moss and lichen on all walls. School uniforms at the bus stop. The wait staff laughed at my desperation for a cup of tea and beamed at my reaction to lunch. Pedestrians lacking urgency.

New eyes. New breath.

Walking up Milford Street I heard birds.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Think Champloo


There are obvious things that are missed when traveling. Less obvious absences make themselves known over time, when you are unprepared for their arrival.

I miss my clothes. Which is more to say, I am getting sick and tired of wearing the same clothes over and over. Three months of two pairs of jeans and rotating six tops. I miss dressing myself up. I miss looking pretty.

(Anyone who leaves a comment that in any way attempts to assure me that I am pretty regardless will have their comment deleted. Not seeking compliments.)

This does in a way feed into mental well being. Poppy summed it up wonderfully in this post;

"When I sit down and go through the ritual of of painting my nails, doing my makeup and hair, and putting on a pretty outfit, I am allowing myself to feel like I am worthy of spending time on myself."

It is nigh impossible to accomplish this when dragging yourself from hostel to hostel with a limited and purely functional wardrobe. It may be mistaken for vanity, but not being able to put together nifty little outfits and step out knowing that no matter how I feel about my body, my clothes look faaabulous does make it a little harder to feel good about myself. As I am now, with my dino chucks, jeans, and a plain long sleeved tee, I'm pretty mediocre.

I miss having a desk. They're under-valued items of furniture and do not feature in any hostels or hotels. Sitting here in Starbucks eating their wifi, and my hands and shoulders are most unhappy with this table. It's even worse back in the room - not even a table to speak of.

I read on the train today. Perhaps I've been in London long enough to feel comfortable knowing where I am, that I did not have to keep observing those around me or checking the next station incessantly. Fear of motion sickness had stopped me from trying before, but I managed it today without nausea, and it was wonderful. Such a normal, ordinary activity. More than opening a bank account, buying bus tickets and organising my mobile, this felt like an achievement. The first cut in carving out this world and making it my own.

There is fresh milk in England. The continent does not seem to do fresh milk, another little thing I took for granted. There is no sour milk either. Beware of sour milk. You will pass through foreign lands and pick up cartons that look like milk, only to find you have poured something that is most of the way toward being yoghurt into your tea.

In Iceland, do not buy the a + b milk.

In the Czech Republic, do not buy the green cartons.

You have no idea the heartbreak. No idea.

It was not as significant a relief as I expected it to be, to finally be in the land in which my native tongue originates and is named after. I can ask complicated questions and understand complicated answers. Hell, even simple questions. I can read all signs. That perpetual self-conscious embarrassment that I am monolingual and force people out of their native tongue in order to communicate me, so heavy and shameful, now gone!

The price being, I can understand everyone. Everyone. All the time. Now, sitting on the train, waiting for the bus, standing in the Natural History Museum, buying a cup of tea, I am surrounded by the everyday conversations of everyday concerns of everyday people, and I cannot keep all these voices out of my head.

Overwhelmed, and so I am fleeing the city. Tomorrow I'm getting on a bus for Salisbury, and from there to Bath, and from there, who knows. All want is a greater presence of quiet in my world. And then, perhaps some colour, something other than stone in all the shades of civilisation.

I will circle around the west, return to London to pick up my National Insurance Number and bank card, and then make my way north, hopefully closer to a place in which I can stop, and space I can call my own.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Now, Then, and Soon

Now I'm behind on video blogs as well as blog blogs and pbbbbbbt I give myself permission to not give a flying fiddlestick.

Now I am in London.

Now I am convalescing. At least, I am trying. This being sick business is utter horseshit. The fever and chills are done, got that out of the way in one night, yet the aches are still hanging around and the weakness, by Belanos, the weakness! Didn't rouse myself til 1 in the afternoon, didn't get out of the house til 3, only walked to the British Library to see da Vinci's scribbles and Brontë's scribbles and Lennon's scribbles and had to had to had no choice in the matter but to sit in a cafe afterward, drink a drink I didn't want simply so I could sit, and it wasn't really sitting it was slumping, and I was addled and exhausted and somehow that made my drink confusing, and twice the server came over to check if I liked the drink. Then I attempted grocery shopping. I was confronted by many types of butter. Brain was unable to make decision.

Now I am ensconced once again in my room, with a near 20 year old black cat with a cataract and I can hear a child crying and I don't think anyone else is home.

Now the business end of my quest begins. No one asked for proof of funds when I entered the country. The immigration officer was perhaps distracted by the fact that after clearing me she would be on break, so she cleared me right quick smart.

Now all the 'deal with it when the time comes' are coming in to land. Such as, if I do not work in an office, what work will I do? With my physical limitations, what work can I do? Am I really capable of winging it or will uncertainty be too much stress?

Now I am tired.

Now I am going to bed.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The 365 Project

As with a great many other people, on the first day of the new year I started upon the 365 Project, the purpose of which is to take one photo every day for a year. Which, you know, I'm tooling around in exotic locales, this isn't exactly a challenge.

Posting one photo per day, however...

If you are interested, the photos are going up on my flickr account here.

My own self-imposed rules:

  1. iPhone photos do not count.
  2. The photo must be taken on the day (forgiven if unable to upload on the day).
  3. No doubling up with posting on the blog.

Aural Transport

The table is tiny, an old sewing table still with wheel and pedals so I cannot get my legs beneath. The restaurant, 'U dwau Maryí', has only the one patron.

These windows look on the Vltava as it wends through old town Cesky Krumlov. Dark. Freezing. Raining.

This particular peace, breadth of river, infinite rush of water, throws me back to Nikko in Japan, a mere day after the typhoon, lying on the tatami mats and listening to a different breadth of river, a different endless rush of water.

And yet, the same.

Vltava by sirtessa

The Beggars of Prague

The beggars of Melbourne are gaunt and bloodless, wearing stained tracksuit pants and the stereotypical visage of a junkie. They shamble, always a list to their posture, and leaning forward to ask you for change, voice nasal and monotone and barely waiting for your refusal before moving on.

The beggars of New York have meat on their bones and less stains on their clothes. They work on captive audiences, entering the subway and narrating their tale of misfortune to commuters over the roar of the track and train beneath. Some of them sing. The majority stand with straight spine.

There are no beggars in Reykjavík.

The beggars of Berlin are small women with beautiful faces and dark hair bound in scarves. They may or may not have a small child with them. They ask if you speak English and present you with a hand-written plea, and follow your retreating footsteps with "please, please, please."

The beggars of Kraków are similar to those of Melbourne, but wear the mien of the alcoholic instead of the junkie.

The beggars of Prague say and do nothing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Sunday, January 01, 2012

"...(and seemed to confirm Chamfort's dictum that a man must swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting with anything more revolting in the day ahead)..."

— The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton