so my first girlfriend’s little green dot popped up on google chat.
i haven’t thought about her for quite a while. she said some pretty nasty stuff about me online, and never made an effort to be friends. the few times we interacted over the last seven years, i’ve been surprised she’s been civil.
my first thought was to say hi; i guess it would be up to me. but i’d have to be prepared to maybe not be answered, and to find something worth saying.
i think over my life; how i would present myself if asked what i’m up to. always an interesting exercise, a good motivator to make my life something i can own with pride. my current situation would probably not look wildly exciting to her, but that’s just fine. i realise i don’t need her approval, i just need to be able to hold my head up. i can.
then i thought that i really don’t know who she is anymore. i’d rather see if she’s still posting her travel blog, than interact personally with her. but i couldn’t remember the address, and i’m sure it was never bookmarked in this computer, which is only a few years old.
i got as far as typing her name into google; guess what, an interview comes up, which reveals that as of last year, she had been living in one place for a few years. that’s new, and good. an interesting place, too, with a radical queer women’s choir.
that all sounds good, perfect for her, in fact. i’m glad to think she’s found somewhere she can call home, i was always a little concerned about the need to up and move to the other side of the world every six months. she obviously has some kind of community, with queer and musical life, and she can probably speak croatian fluently by now. i’m glad for her.
i may look her up if i’m passing nearby zagreb one day, but until then, i don’t think talking to her will improve my life, and i doubt it would improve hers. my five minutes of nostalgia is over and i’m back to my life, happy in the knowledge that someone i used to know seems to be doing well.
“…manages to be cohesive yet not excessively matched.” http://www.buzzfeed.com/stephaniegda/22-photos-of-the-crafting-lifestyle-to-distract-yo-90gk
why is the west afraid of matching, coherence and pattern?
all through africa and the middle east, amazing dresses and outfits happen with matching headscarves. colours and patterns are bold, and decoration follows through from neck to sleeve to hem to scarf edge, if not more.
in russia, turkey and throughout eastern europe layering of patterns is acceptable and dressing from head to toe in one colour is just fine.
while there’s plenty i appreciate about sydney, i’m always disappointed to come back to the land of jeans and tshirts, where the only colour we can repeat is black, and even that’s a bit much if it matches properly, in a suit. everyone’s so busy fitting in that creative dressing is an anomaly.
A beach in Khasab, on the Musandan Peninsula, a small section of Oman, separated from the rest bythe UAE. A large flat area of rocks and shells and rubbish – the remains of seafood and bonfires, lots of sunflower sees, ring pulls and plastic bottle tops, minimal glass and cigarette butts, no condoms or needlse but one suspicious batch of shining brass bullet shells. It’s bounded by the beach on one side and mountains on the other. The mountains are amazing, rocky and bare, dynamic in their stillness as you can feel the movement over eons, the formation of the earth present in the different slopes and changes of the sedimetary layers, lurchingfrom angle to angle and overlaid with evience of rockslides, a few tenacious little trees and a hint of huan involvement. A mother and baby goat bleat in conversation as they find eachother, wandering up and down the almost vertical slopes with ease.On the flat, there is road with barriers so you can ony see the tops of the decorated trucks. Cars drive in, though, and slowly make their way to one or another of the palm-rooved pagodas set up along the edge, just before the sharp drop as it is eroded into a pleasant sand beach which is completely submersed at high tide. The water is green near the edge, with the occasional jumping fish; blue further out with dhows – elegant local fishing boats – all lined up on the hazy, close horizon which offers not a hint of Iran across the Gulf. Even the mountains that frame this small inlet fade out to nothing in the middle of the sixth rise.Cars roll by and stare at us through heavily tinted windows before rolling right back the other way. A small bus appears, and another, and suddenly there is a legion of schoolgirls on the shore. Black pinafores, some as high as the knees but mostly to the ground, with white headscarves, sleeves, leggings and stockings, perfume wafting in their wake. Hopscotch on the sloping beach, running around and swarming the play equipment at the back near the road barrier, especially the many swings. Those with shorter skirts are generally most active, they may also be the youngest but it’s hard to tell. Shreiks of laughter ring out. Headscarves gradually slip off heads but shoes aren’t removed, overseen by two figures in full black, only eyes and hands uncovered, not venturing from the shade of the pagoda.Goats wander, cars roll through, measured waves crash neatly on the beach, mountains stand. We sit on the edge, on our packs. one girl approaches fro the beach a metre below us. She greets me ‘how are you?’ and I reciprocate, then we exchange names- hers is Mira – before she grins and runs back to her friends, ignoring Michael just as many men we’ve met have ignored me. Only a few girls have braved a jaunt to our section of the beach, two pagodas from theirs, before one of the buses comes back and they file on, scarves adjusted. A man comes in a red and white turban, white shirt and saffron pants to pick up their rubbish as the rest of the group huddle with their teacher under a pagoda. The second bus arrives, most cars leave too and the beach is left empty but for us, some goats and the garbage picker wandering into the distance. It’s 10am and the day will soon be heating up.
Hi everyone, I arrived in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, after fourteen long hours in the air. I met up with Michael and we went straight back to Dubai where we could afford to sleep – Abu Dhabi having no youth hostels. After a day seeing Big things in Dubai, including the Palm Jumeira, a dancing fountain and many incredible buildings and giant malls, we moved on to Sharjah. Sharjah is much more approachable than Dubai, with a beautiful town centre and lots of dusty space. From there we got a bus to Ras Al Khaima then started to hitch, across the Omani border and up to Khasab. The town isn’t much, but we spent a whole day on the beach and took a dhou ride up the fjord to Telegraph Island. Some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen in my life and worth all the travel! After two nights in a tent then a day on the water, we were eager for a shower and electricity so we headed back down to the UAE, since there is no way for a visitor to cross from the peninsula to the rest of Oman without doing so. We managed to get a ride all the way down to Muscat, which was supposed to take five hours but was much longer. Now we’re ahead of schedule and can relax a while! Hope all is well at home,
today i had another conversation about fear and safety. there have been quite a few recently, though mostly me just explaining my ideas without getting too much back in return. i began thinking about it when i started attending the usyd feminist discussion group, but it hasn’t come up as a topic yet. hopefully one day it will and i can hear others’ considered thoughts on the matter, too.
usually i only engage with feminism as an intersectionality. women and gender in queer. women and queer in atheism. but gendered narratives of fear and safety is a topic that is troubling me for myself. i started noticing it whenever i went hitchhiking. hitching is not a common practice these days and the default reply from anyone i tell is ‘oh you’re brave, i could never do that’. it comes from almost everyone, but especially women.
that’s case one: people accepting that there are limits to what they can do, and that these are forever fixed. more important, however, is case two: very few women ever stopped to pick me up. several have, but over the twenty thousand kms i’ve hitched, it’s a shockingly small number. of those who did, several expressed uncertainty over the decision, and some mentioned that they only stopped because i looked harmless and female – and even then they were conflicted and didn’t stop immediately, but stopped half way up the road or doubled back. rides with families were even rarer.
in the hitchhiking community itself, a gender divide is not so noticeable. i met more male than female hitchhikers, but not by much. only male hitchhikers have traveled a leg with me and only male travellers have agreed to try hitching with me, despite how interested everyone in a youth hostel tends to be. however hitchhikers are few and far between on the road and i can’t say i’ve met enough to be able to make judgements. maybe i’ll start talking to the people on hitching websites one day to get some answers. yet it stands to reason that the pattern would differ from the mainstream: hitchhikers are seen by many as extraordinary and outside the norm, and in some ways they are. surely a hitchhiker can’t possibly subscribe to the same normative concept as someone who feels the need of the trappings of modern security culture – walls and locks and laws.
when i was an undergraduate at my suburban university, living on campus was wonderful. i lived with five others in a little terrace, and while we locked our bedroom doors when we went out, we tended to leave the outside doors wide open. i could wander in and out, my friends could wander in and out, my housemate’s friends could wander in and out. it was idyllic.
however once we got intruders – two young guys with a big carving knife that may or may not have come from our own drying rack. 12.30am on a hot summer night, they broke into my room and demanded money.
we had been trying to build the place into independent cooperative student housing, since the uni wanted to be rid of its obligations, and i still believe that the outcome would’ve been better if we had.
Within minutes of clicking send in Debrecen, our plans had changed. It turns out Australians can’t actually get into either the Ukraine or Moldova without a visa. We investigated the consulate situation, and found a Ukrainian consulate at the almost-border town of Nyiergehaza, but the person there had no idea what it would cost, what documents were required or how long it would take; just that we had to wait till friday morning when the right person would be in. Spending the weekend and possibly more stuck in a town we’d never heard of really didn’t appeal, so we headed south instead.
Three rides took us to Oradea, a town on the edge of Romania which I remember fondly from 2005. We stayed in the same place, Hotel Parc, with its enormous spaces but hostel prices. It’s a great sprawling building which is hard to find as it has only a doorway on the terraced main street, albeit a grand, art nouveau doorway. Behind, however, there are rooms after hallways of rooms, around a huge black and white tiled courtyard which has been cleaned up from my recollection, but still stands unfindable and unused. When you walk into the rooms themselves, you find yourself in an entranceway that would fit a moderate sized bedroom, but which houses only a mini fridge. This leads into a ballroom, at least four times the size, with a slightly saggy bed, old fashioned closet and little table and stool dwarfed by their surroundings. Also off the entrance is a reasonable old bathroom, though the scale of the ceilings and the bath is offset by the dinky soaps, curiously cracked cup preserved in a little plastic bag and lack of a toilet. We were first given a room with what looked like a grand marble bathroom, but since it was up five enormous stairs we passed it up. Accessibility is a good thing. Our toilet was across the private hall; it also had the ridiculously high ceilings yet the toilet paper was held up by a metal skewer through the holder. It’s an interesting place.
The town itself is fascinating. There are stunning buildings everywhere, though many are covered up with fabric, presumably the first step in renovation. There is a wide variety of styles, Seccessionist coming up most often in those deemed notable enough for a little plaque. I was craving some kind of architectural guidebook so I could get the styles straight, find out why there are so many grand and inventive buildings, understand the development of the place and really absorb and appreciate it all.
Thanks to the gregarious hotel manager, we found out more about the town as it is now. It’s easy to find alcohol but hard to find food, and he tells us that drinking venues are a good place for the girls of the region to make money, now that the impoverished population has a taste of what others have. In that light, the town makes a lot of sense. people don’t actually use the beautiful centre of town except for an out of control nightlife, and of course it must be the leading place to buy wedding dresses and alarming evening wear. Still the place has been significantly updated in the last six years, though perplexingly the main feature seems to have been to get rid of the elegant wavy paving that captivated me before, and lay plain old modern cobblestones instead.
Unfortunately the morning manager wasn’t as friendly as the one at night, possibly because we hadn’t realised there was a time difference between Hungary and Romania and returned an hour late to check out – a fact we only discovered when we tried to take a train out, and found ourselves stuck on plastic train station seats for hours waiting for the next one.
The overnight train took us to Brasov, another town I’ve already seen. We were there because it was a highlight for Lisa, with Dracula’s castle and birthplace in the region. The fun started straight off the train, as the sweetly oversolicitous train guards handed us over to the somewhat comic porter in an official-looking but oversized jacket and cap, who insisted on lugging Lisa’s bag that was about as big as he was. We were lucky he helped, because neither finding our bus stop or buying a ticket was straight forward. He asked for money at the end, which is never fun, but it turned out to be only ten Lei that he wanted, which is barely $3. This is eastern europe.
The hostel was reasonable, the owner was wonderful and helpful, but her advice was a bit problematic. The first time we tried to go into town we were advised to try to buy a ticket on the bus for two lei. the driver waved us on without taking money, which seemed good until the inspector came and also wouldn’t take our money, instead wanting our passports and a 45 lei fine. luckily this is not the first time i’ve been in such a situation, and mutterings of ‘police, police’ don’t faze me too much. we got off the bus and for extra measure got the help of someone bilingual who had seen us try to pay. After a while all parties just wandered off.
Brasov is a pretty town with some city wall, two rival synagogues yet less than a plague of churches and plenty of old buildings in gelato colours, like everywhere else around here. I thought there were exceptions to the rule until I saw gelato being sold that I could swear looked like avocado. We took a good walk around dodging all the other tourists and didn’t have another run in with anyone until we tried to buy groceries at one of their mini supermarkets, and dropped the two litre carton of juice. i don’t really mind that i was asked to buy it, i’m just amazed how all the staff stared in a daze at the mess like they’d never seen such a thing before. their uncooperativeness lead to even more of a mess as we tried to drink a bit from the broken carton and bag it up safely, none of which works very well with such an audience.
The next day we got driven to Bran castle which is as cute as I remember it, and more curious for the evidence of the last owners than for any dracula connections. Queen Marie and her family lived there in the 20s, with gorgeous photos to record as they traipsed about in perfect shoes and white stockings under peasant skirts, 20s eyes and bobbed hair with traditional headdresses. By all accounts though, they did more than play fairytale princess and were good rulers. This time round we also had the pleasure of watching an international folk dancing competition taking place in the tiny little courtyard. The place realy does look like a 19th century fantasy rather than the real 14th century fortress that it is. That day we also attempted the fortress at Rasnov but didn’t make it much further than the ‘train’, a cart with seats attached to the back of a tractor which only pulled us two thirds of the way to the entrance. With the most important sight seen, we reluctantly trained it down to Bucharest, our last visa hope and one of my all time 5% of least favourite places ever.
Bucharest is a grim city, especially in comparison to the lush, green Romanian countryside. While there are indeed patches of abandoned concrete factories which have been bought cheap, run down and sold off for parts, waiting for a decade to be developed into something more commercial, there are also plenty of gorgeous towns and villages in vibrant colour. The capital is made of discoloured stucco and aged concrete. There is greenery many places but you wouldn’t notice, it’s too tired to lift the tone. I guess if you lived here you’d stop seeing it, like any place, and if on the other hand you look closer, there is evidence of much beauty to be found. There are stunning buildings nestled in the back streets of the city, and some up front too, but all need more excavation than renovation, before they can be appreciated on more than an intellectual level. I wasn’t even moved to photograph any of the details I wondered at; ultimately they would all turn out grey. The general feel of the air is worse than in Beijing and there are stray dogs everywhere. I wonder how it was in other times. Only 22 years ago there was a revolution in the streets; there is little direct evidence to be seen, but surely it is not only the pollution but the history and politics of the place that have made the entire city dark grey.
Here too we had quite the bureaucratic adventure. Never mind the extortionate taxi from the station; there’s more. The Moldovan consulate was a joy and gave me a visa in minutes, waiving many of the hoops we expected to have to jump. The Ukrainian consulate, when we found it, seemed surprisingly helpful too. Usually consulates are only open to visa applicants in the morning, but we were sent away to get a travel agent to make a hotel booking for a night and provide a stamp to make it official, and pay the fee at a particular bank. If we came back after 3, he said, and paid the expidited fee, he’d be generous enough to give us our visa that day instead of the usual week, or even the usual expedited 1-3 days. Amazing! If we can’t make it by 3, we ask, how late can we come? “we close at 6”, he says. “I just need a little time to process it.”
We ran off to do his bidding as fast as we could. Six hours later we had a booking from the first travel agent that could actually book hotels – the fourth we had found. I had gone through the bank registration process at two separate branches, withdrawn the money and finally managed to pay it in at the second, and our wonder of a fair, helpful taxi driver getting us back to the consulate at 5:50. I’m sure you can imagine just how much more running up stairs, questioning monolingual strangers and turning in circles was involved, for that to take six hours. At 8pm I got my visa. Most of that was spent arguing with the consulate who decided that his word was law, even words he didn’t speak. The stamp on our booking was from Romania not from the Ukraine – not that I know how the latter could’ve been achieved, we came back too late – though he was still there, we weren’t nice enough to him when I rushed in, panicked that I actually was too late. He had the power to delay and refuse on any of these grounds, and he tried each in turn, but all he really wanted in the end was two direct women to grovel and apologise and give him a little power trip. He could’ve done it in the ten minutes between me showing up and the end of his day; he must’ve enjoyed throwing his weight around for two hours. In the end I was shaking and experiencing a fun range of emotional reactions to being expected to bow my head to another’s patronising manipulations, but I had all the visas I needed to get out of Bucharest and never look back.
As that’s not a very cheerful ending, I’ll let you in on what happened next, in case you haven’t yet seen my shorter updates. On my birthday I drove out of town in Lisa’s very own Dacia, and we’re now enjoying Moldova, somewhere I’ve never been before…
I’d also just like to note that these travelogues are being typed, unedited, in internet cafes on computers that operate in different languages. Just so you’re aware.
hi everyone, it’s a long time since I’ve done a greetings – probably about seven years, but i’m at a computer and would like to tell some of you what i’m up to. it’s been an interesting and varied trip so far.
first off was six nights in beijing. the temple of heaven was in some ways the highlight for me, a big park with thousands of people doing early morning tai chi, many kinds of dancing, floor calligraphy, diablo, singing, marching, clapping, amplified harmonica, hackysack and a million other intriguing activities, surrounded by beautiful buildings and gardens. the great wall was amazing as was the added benefit of getting out of the city, tiananmen square was confusing and i only got as far as the gates of the forbidden city before being overwhelmed by heat and crowds. the art precinct was worth very much worth the journey, but i’ve never seen a place as polluted as dongzhimen, which was a bit out of the centre, where i had to change transport several times. the beijing opera was both interesting and hilarious, but hard on the ears. otherwise much of my time was spent wandering the hutongs, interacting with people, getting my feet stared at even when i wore shoes and haggling for fruit, dumplings and other things. qianmen hostel made everything easy, it was a comfortable and helpful, and i met many amazing travellers, which is always especially helpful on my first stop, as i acclimatise to being a traveller again.
next stop was london, and we took off to wales almost immediately, giving us one good day in cardiff and one in caerleon. cardiff is a pleasant town, with a nice castle full of incredible details, such as the little cherubs bearing names of philosophers, painted at intervals along the walls of the library above the elaborate patterns and below the elaborate border and the elaborate cornices with individually carved monkeys amongst the carved trees and above the elaborate arched doorways with elaborately carved doors. then there’s the frieze of moses and his tablets right next to an egyptian woman with tablets of heiroglyphs and three others from different cultures, just to make clear this lord’s opinions on traditions. not to mention the ornate wooden bookcases, the desk with gold patterns stamped into the leather, inside an inlaid wooden border, inside a carved wooden edge and you might be getting the picture. there are many centuries of details overlaid and updated until it’s hard to detect what belongs to when. then there’s the roman artificial hill with a ruined fortress which you can climb for several floors, and the zulu wars reenactors hanging around outside and participating in the military day march that paraded through the city, complete with goat with silver tipped horns!
outside the castle, cardiff was having a busy day with louts in red and white making noise about a speedway, teenagers congregating in the mall with fancy haircuts and elaborate costumes including two separate tiger jumpsuit and hood ensembles, the military happenings and refugee week, where we got to listen to storytelling and african drumming, and find out about wales’ politics and immigration situation by talking to representatives of various refugee-related organisations.
the next day we drove to caerleon, a small town with roman ruins including an amphitheatre, barracks and baths and a spectacular small museum full of the artifacts of daily life around the area, from hairpins and scabbard and belt finals to engraved jewels to surveyors’ tools, as well as helmets and weapons and burial artifacts. we also had lunch on the grass at the amphitheatre as a brass band set up, took in the little sculpture park and wandered the pleasant streets of the little town, before returning to the modern world of cities and airports.
the next day was a little more of a challenge. we missed our flight at luton, and had to find a new one while 25 people clamored for the manager as they were told that it was their fault that they hadn’t heard the boarding call for their flight to riga. yes, all of them. don’t fly wizz air if you can help it. we ended up with an easyjet flight to budapest, which went smoothly once we found a wheelchair. since we didn’t ask for one in the whirl of rebooking and checking in, the airport couldn’t seem to find one further through the process. one was found, however, and it was up to me to push it at a run from security to the gate. this was particularly fun down the many ramps! at the end we got to sit down and wait long enough for my breathing to regulate, which makes me wonder what the rush was… but that’s airports for you. in hungary the airport drama continued, as we discovered we couldn’t book a car as we’d expected to in romania. we couldn’t find an automatic, we couldn’t take it out of the country, hungarian prices are just more expensive than romanian, and besides, there was a rave happening out of town and all the companies were booked out. eventually we got help at the taxistand and heard all about how this taxi company was founded in 1913 and the first taxis anywhere were in 1906, while we were taken to an easyhotel in the city.
this is the fourth time i’ve been through budapest, and the most notable feature is still the aging grandeur of the buildings; it feels like in a million years budapest will still be standing just as it is, with a little more wear to the details around the edges of the buildings. we rested, we ate, we stocked up on travellers’ food of fruit, cheap chocolate, pear juice, musli and yogurt. we walked a little and we got amazing help from the hotel staff. the final verdict, however, was that the hitchhiking websites say the ukraine is a good place to hitch, so to the road it was! it’s wonderful to be hitching again; even with too much luggage, this is what life is about. lisa says she’s never seen me smile like this.
after a meal of asparagus, duck and strawberry risotto, we found a road at about 2pm and by dinner time we were three hospitable rides further, eating well with our last ride’s family in debrecen, which is by all accounts a beautiful city. i happen to agree, we’re staying in university dorms – ensuite and all, very flash – with a forest of a path next door, on the way to some mineral baths and the town’s only tramline, which has taken us into the centre today.
tomorrow we plan to hitch to the ukraine, to lviv then kiev where we can get me a moldovan visa. then to odessa and through moldova, out to romania, particularly transylvania, from where lisa will probably fly back to london while i continue to copenhagen. it’s not quite the original plan, but it’s good!
29 june 2011
i’ve been working on that essay for so long, and trying to restrain non-essential writing like this. i’ll have to write something else in short order, but i have a reprieve as i wait for an answer from my lecturer. meanwhile, the latest thing i feel the need to tell the world…
a week or two ago – time does not run regularly in essayland – i held down the fort for a badly attended stitch and bitch, and the two of us got treated to some wonderful, tasty and nostalgic spontaneous turkish hospitality. good food and conversation till way too late at night. between educating turkish boys about sexism and gender, i had a good hitchhiking conversation, with someone who has clocked up about 20,000km of hitchhiking, all in turkey.
when i got home that night, i naturally furthered my procrastination by counting up my kms on google maps. when you ask for directions from one place to another, it will tell you how far it is by road, thus giving about as accurate a reading as you could possibly get. of course, i’ll have to look up my notes one day to see exactly which routes i took in certain places, and just where we broke down and took a train on earlier trips with kat…
copenhagen to madrid via budapest, around southern finland, helsinki to istanbul, short trips round kapadokya, cold ash to edinburgh, around spain and its neighbours, melbourne to sydney, short trips round sydney and sofia to london via skopje, zagreb, bar and copenhagen… all come to about 20,000 km. i’m pleased to note also that about two thirds of that has been travelling alone.
twenty thousand kilometres. stretched out, that would get me half way round the world; from sydney to the waters outside morocco. quite something! but why leave it there? now i have a goal: to hitchhike 40,008km: the circumference of the earth. if i make it all the way back, will i finally be able to settle? i’ll wait and see.
i did a writing workshop in copenhagen and ended up reading out one of my pieces to an audience. i think i probably rushed it as usual, but the people who assured me they’d gesture if i needed to be louder or softer or slower didn’t, so i guess it was ok. it seemed well received, at the start of an odd program of readings, performances and bands. the piece itself was ten minutes, i think, of continuous writing prompted by the title, which was a line chosen out of a previous exercise. then i had a couple of hours to try to edit it and write it out, while rushing around and doing other things like watching a film in a dark room. here it is.
you can find them in the oddest places.
Frogs. Happiness, or moments thereof. Places you’ll remember forever, and always think of when you need a bottle of latex, or go round a certain shaped curve in the road, bending through the trees just so.
Take as I find. The impulse to write. Maybe it won’t stay but maybe it will, maybe it will change and become the structure for something more useful. Because I’m not sure that compulsive writing is useful, even if the ability to write is. Notebooks to my specifications are available in some countries but not others. The books I currently require in order to feed my habit are A4, stapled, lined, margined. It was not always so. To record the threads of interpersonal relationships and try to weave some sense of my place in the social world required blank A5 pages with a satisfying weight, even spiral binding and – it turned out – a resilient, bright yellow plastic cover. Before that, any attempt to spill onto paper or record my movements were densely written on loose leaf A4 photocopy paper, both sides, often wound around the thick block characters of a hitching sign; or, even denser and likely in pencil, in margins of other work, on the backs of envelopes or even bus tickets. My elegant notebooks sat at home unused, scaring the writing out of me any time I would turn than first, blank page. But this, this worked; something connected and felt tip pen met lined paper 213 pages ago. A field full of daisies, Macedonian food by the side of the truck then gorging on forced cherries in the cool room on a hot day, the circular stairs up a four floor op shop, zig zag edges revealed. Scenes from a life that is mine when I’m here, but may not have been once I got home, but that they are recorded here, made real and thus also lodged, legitimately in my brain. That the only street sign I found in Skopje directs one to one street, one bridge and a gynaecological clinic is not a dream, though having to kill people for some important reason is, and I know that it was brought on by someone coming into my room and cleaning and tying up my toilet. Reality really is stranger than fiction; how would I ever make a story of this material? Being grateful for my life that I escaped Italy, the subtle feeling of wearing my first beard, as ephemeral, more intentionally, than my bowtie that is really, probably, gone; will it have the same eventual impact on my psyche? Translating Slovenian poetry without knowing the language, sliding through Austria on so much goodwill that I barely saw the country. Recovering five-year-stolen bags and running down a Czech highway through the pelting rain with them, broken shoes and pants dumpstered in Montenegro.
Soon, too soon I will take my lined, stapled, A4 notebooks home and make a new stationary choice for a new sheet of life.
one of the things i got to do overseas that i haven’t for ages, was performance. in berlin i joined in a drag king performance at the very last minute, apparently there was footage filmed but i haven’t seen it. i also read out a poem. it was translated from slovenian and it took a lot of editing before it was readable, i only got the printout a day before, and i spent all that time walking around berlin, overshooting my destinations as i read bits out loud, gesturing the emphases with a red pen in hand. noone thought to mention that i’d be juggling a microphone too. five minutes before the show i find out that the translation was done by one of my new friends, and she didn’t like my editing, but she ended up agreeing that i had as much right as her to interpret a translation. and besides, it was about to start. here is the version i read, more or less.
As if we were free
Somewhere in the centre of the small neglected town, which is, at the same time the capital of some small but relaxed East European state, in a newly cobble embellished street in the inner city centre where they just closed two pubs and a bookstore, I have met a man who ordered himself Culture as if he were ordering coffee with milk.
I have to confess, the cobbles are perfectly laid down, all the gaps are carefully clogged with quartz sand, and at the edge it is possible to recognise a slightly rounded pattern. In short, the street of some small neglected town, which is at the same time the capital of some small, cramped, and relaxed South European state, looks like the idyllic image on an old postcard.
Old bakeries arise in all parts of the town like mushrooms after the rain, as if they had decided one day and achingly wrested themselves out from old corner houses where they had modestly waited for decades unnoticed for their grand arrival, and which, on their frontage proudly show the inscription “Old Bakery”, which even more contributes to this idyllic look. I guess I’ve hurried past them for years and years without even noticing. I’ve walked past exactly this old bakery on the corner of this small idyllic street with carefully laid cobbles in the centre of some small neglected town and so on and so forth.
Suddenly an unbearable paranoia came over me, I got the feeling that somewhere out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of crinoline, and suspiciously I glanced towards the boys in white shirts with black bowties who were picking up the garbage. It appeared to me that time is curving itself as to the pattern of the new cobbles and that we will all find ourselves on that everlasting postcard from the end of the 19th century. Hastily I dashed towards the closest boy, that is, to the left edge, I ripped myself through the yellowish cardboard, and with a crash I landed in front of the doors to the pub which had, in the meantime, already disappeared in another reality.
To eat in this slovenly pub, which displayed insignia as a rallying point for all the enthusiasts of the sautéed potato, was akin to some special kind of masochism. Gnocchi Bolognese turned into spaghetti with tomato sauce, omelette with ham and cheese always remained without the latter two. The bills would be circulating around, they would be counted and discounted and finally there would come the conclusion that there are either too many or too few bills, the cash register is too far away and the next group of naïve tourists are just enough confused, hungry and tired and above all helpless in front of the board, on which specials of the day were written in complicated script.
But the slovenly pub that served for some special kind of masochism disappeared in that other reality, which was, to top it all off, mine. And there is no worse misery than when a person loses her own reality and therefore clings desperately to the handhold of some slovenly pub which went bankrupt, together with her lifestyle.
In the reflection of the filthy abandoned windows of my ailing lifestyle, I saw a mayor. All round and contented he was wiping sweat from his working face on the golden chain on which the city keys were jingling. He was shepherding a small squad of captured guest artists, some stoic, homeless ‘erased ones’, and from his pockets electric cables were forcing their way out, cables which NGO workers for the purpose of some obscure literary event negligently left in the middle of the street in the inner centre of the small neglected town, which is at the same time the capital of some small but relaxed Central European state. He ordered Culture as coffee with milk, and then stirred with a teaspoon an empty cup and grumbled about the bad taste.
I might be extremely happy about the new cobbles if I had to cross them in high heels, but, I think, the magic of the moment was ruined in the second when, under the sole of my beaten up sneakers, quartz sand creaked. Maybe my face would have lightened up if I had been on these new even cobbles with nicely clogged gaps and a slightly rounded pattern pushing a pram that would be running smoothly. But I just stood there at the beginning of that small street in the centre of the town in those damn beaten up sneakers, I was pacing around nervously, under my feet, quartz sand was nastily squeaking and I stared at the abandoned windows of the pub. All this with a newly cobble-embellished street of the inner centre of the small neglected town, which is at the same time a capital of some cramped but relaxed newly joined European state, and there was not a single space left for me to go.
sitting here with the door open, listening to the sound of the washing machine.
i used to get very irritated by that sound. it’s quite loud and intrusive, it’s in my space and i don’t always have control over when it runs.
yet now the sound has associations of not only chores and hassle, but comfort, order, efficiency, white.
in two months of travel such a machine was the rarest of commodities. i got access to one exactly twice. i thoroughly enjoyed running round the continent, sleeping in tents or trucks, washing in hand basins or not at all, eating what i could find and being free. it’s an amazing, vital experience, but it’s not easy. i came to appreciate the comforts i was occasionally offered, and the epitome of comfort was borrowing a fluffy dressing gown while every scrap of fabric i owned was in the wash.
a washing machine is of limited value if you have no soap, no way of drying the finished product, no privacy in which to change, no security to ensure your clothes are safe as they dry or no way of cleaning yourself satisfactorily before you put the newly clean clothes on again. yet my new friend in austria and my old friend in denmark had homes, calm white airy apartments where they kept their entire lives, neatly organised and appropriate. sufficient, functioning. comfortable, available. as a guest in their homes i enjoyed beds in rooms with doors, consecutive dinners and breakfasts, conversation and assistance, internet and phone access and real showers.
over two months i got several other showers, varying degrees of local knowledge, food, beds and doors some good some questionable, but for everything to come together was unbelievable; i can no longer take it for granted.
i’m sure i won’t retain this attitude to machine noise through all the inconsiderate times that it gets run for other people’s clothes, but something has changed. i still maintain that home is where the sewing machine is, but maybe there’s something to be said for a washing machine too.