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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mind the Gap

When I was in Syndey in March of this year for my birthday (THANKS MOM!), I was walking home one night to the Metro Station. I was listening to my music and rocking through, when I misjudged the walking rhythm of the woman in front of me and my left leg fell through the crack between the train and the platform. Look, I’ve always been a bit of klutz.

As I desperately flailed to get my leg out, the train made the sound that it was going to leave. I was panicked; I didn’t want to lose my leg and I had no one with me; I was completely alone as Mom had flown out the day before.

The train was stopped right before it left and some friendly Australians helped me out. We sat in silence for the rest of the ride and when they left they called back,
“Don’t do that again, mate.”

Thanks.

Today, as I watch France roll along on the train, I think about our gaps in perception and how we change. The perceptions of a child are so different than from the perceptions of an adult. And with the change of perception comes changes of relationships and relating. Like the last blog that I wrote about my grandmother, who felt responsible for me when I visited and as such, was more authoritarian in nature than a softer, sweeter grandmother. That was my perception as a child based on a few encounters that weren’t as positive as I’m sure either of us would have liked.

But I also remember the Meme who watched all the episodes of the Thornbirds with me and who braided my hair almost every day I was in France. I remember the woman who would walk with me in the gardens or in the woods behind her house too.

I think the hardest part about ageing, at this stage of my life, is the concept of authoritarian figures changing and sometimes needed our help instead. It’s a shift in dynamics.
The other day, I sat next to Meme, holding her soft hand, she recounted to me the stories of her childhood. Meme had an Aunt, Aunt Asounta (T’Sounta for those of us in the family), who helped nurse her through a childhood illness, pneumonia, which was very serious before antibiotics.
She spent three months with T’Sounta. T’Sounta was an incredibly tough woman; one day she went to my grandmother, who was nine at the time and said,

“Right, no more French and Italian…now we speak Spanish!”

My grandmother didn’t know any Spanish. But she learned quickly. T’Sounta had married a Spaniard and wanted to help Meme learn as many languages as possible. Meme can speak five languages: French, Italian, Spanish, English and German.

I remember T’Sounta; she was full of life and spunk; up till her mid eighties, she biked everywhere. At 80, T’Sounta challenged my father to a race; his car versus her bike. She beat him home and gave him a slap on the ass and said,

“I showed you, Ameriloush (slang for American).”

Meme said how strong and tough and autocratic T’Sounta was with her as a child. She also stated that every summer, she looked forward to the 20 kilometer bus ride to visit her aunt, but as soon as she got there, she wanted to return to her mother.

“No! No calling your Mom…you are here for one month…now Spanish!” Aunt T’Sounta replied (according to Meme).

Everyone loved T’sounta; she was brash, strong, a straight shooter and just plain fun at times. She loved a good laugh, her chickens and her family. And Meme adored Aunt Sounta, just like everyone else.

T’Sounta actually saved my great grandmother, Rose, from a life of servitude. When Rose was 12, her family lost their business and became extremely poor. Rose was shipped off to a family about 80 kilometers away to work as a nanny and house servant to a wealthy family. Every morning, she took the kids to school in a cart that she was strapped to and at night, she ate anything that was left over by the family.

When T’Sounta got a good job at a local factory in Italy, she looked at her family and said,

“Right, I’m off to get Rose.”

She walked 80 kilometres and found Rose taking the kids to school. The kids had a horse whip and were whipping Rose to go faster. T’Sounta took the whip and beat the kids with the whip, released Rose from her harness and brought her home.

Meme always appreciated T’Sounta, especially as an adult but when recalling childhood memories, she had a little fear of her. Just because we see someone as some way as a child doesn’t mean our perceptions doesn’t change over time about that person; it’s just how we saw them and I think it’s good to be honest about that reflection.

Now, I am not particularly good with children. I had a brief flirtation with babysitting at age 13 but struggled babysitting my cousins. After one particularly hard day with my cousins, I cried to my mother:

“Rip out my ovaries now! I don’t want any children!!! They are horrible.”

I’m sure my cousins felt less positive about me as well after that experience. But now, as adults, we get along fine. I love my cousins and am proud of them and think they are amazing people. How I see them now is very different than how I see them in my mind’s eye as a child. But it’s important to roll with the changes in other people and allow forgiveness.

We each have our own unique bundle of crap to deal and no one can really know what it is like to walk in each others shoes; thats why its impossible (but so tempting) to judge another's motivations or actions.

In the end, we all need to mind the gap between perceptions of people over time so we don’t get stuck in that gap and get stuck completely in the past.

Then we are in real trouble.

On a lighter note, Nice is Nice. This city is the city of sun and water the colour of Plutonium 238 (which, incidentally has the half life of 80 years...hey Dad, stop stealing my blog!!!!)

Okay, anyway...where was I...oh right...the train was amazing; the change into Southern France is pretty immediate; with its red tiled roofs. It reminds me of my Aunt Claudine's old house, which was a house I always loved.

There are vineyards as far as you can see and everyone is wearing light coloured clothing, the colour of Neptunium 237 (Dad, I said STOP IT!)....sigh...

S

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Shout out to Pink Kisses!

Breakups suck, no one knows that better than me...but hey, here is a site that not only will help you through the breakup but help you take all the crap in the breakup, put in a sack with rocks in it and throw it in the river, in the process helping you become a better person. Which is, of course, the best part of a breakup.

Awesome site! Its also good for those who have friends going through a breakup, what to say, some stuff to buy etc...



Thanks PK girls, you rock!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Famille

Before I leave Scotland, I just want to say how much I loved Edinburgh, again...I have to say, I was feeling morose in Iceland and even a little in Shrewsbury but it was in Edinburgh that I really feel like I turned a corner, emotionally and mentally.

It may have been the whiskey or Ben Nevis or Arthur's Seat or something else.  All I know is that when I stepped foot in the city, I felt my spirits lift and the forgotten, dusty organ of my heart felt like it fluttered awake for the first time in months.

I was more than a little sad to leave.

Anyway, it took about 10 hours on the bus to get to London, so it was dark when I saw Annabel.  Annabel is an old friend of about nine years.  She is fun, lively, and energetic...the world is her oyster.  She just got back from a two week trip to Spain and is enjoying her life in London thoroughly.  We started the night, as typical, at a pub where it all started off fine and then disintegrated into a girl fight over the Irish bartender (honestly I wasn't that keen really, but Annabel has a mad right hook.  I have the pictures to prove it).

The Highlands
We catch up, gossip and enjoy the night and then it was off to Paris to meet Mum.  I was a little sad, although excited because the part of my trip where I travel alone was over.  I have really enjoyed the past month catching up with friends and now its time to meet with family.

My mother, for those of you who might be unaware,  is a Frenchie.  She has lived in the states a long, long, long time but here is her home.   We catch up in Gard de Nord and she has arranged for a lovely hotel right across from the train station.  The neighbourhood is a colourful mixture with a motorcycle gang out front of the hotel that the police have to break up later that evening.

Before the real pain started on Ben Nevis
Mom spoke a lot of French to me as a little girl and I feel very fortunate to have spent a great deal of time there in my youth.  Paris is, as always, a busy place with street hustlers and tourist operators.  It can be frustrating sometimes when you speak French to someone and they answer you back in English.  The thing about France is that it can be intimidating, just like any place that you visit where you don't speak the language.  I understand about 30-40 percent of what is being said right but I still feel left out sometimes.

The language feels so familiar; like when you are dreaming.  It takes me a little while to feel confident enough to start speaking but I give it a go.  My aunties and grandparents are very understanding, as I slowly butcher their language.

Eddy, Mae, Christine, Eric, Sarah and Me...the survivors of Ben Nevis

We walk around the place and visit some of the best sites in Paris, but not too many.  The Louvre is shut on Tuesdays, which is a bit of shame.  Generally, we talk to each other about life, adventure and hair styles.


France will always be about my childhood; I remember long summer days sitting in my grandmother's garden, walking in the Jura foothills, eating Comte (cheese yum!) and visiting castles.  I connect with the countryside rather than in Paris because I have discovered that I don't like big cities as much as I thought I did.  And besides, Paris isn't really France, its too cosmopolitan, its almost its own nation.

In Paris, we meet up with my cousin Lucille; I have a LOT of cousins.  My mother has seven sisters, a brother and one half sister.  I think, all up, I have about 40 odd first cousins...so far almost 100 people are on this planet that are directly from Meme and Pepe (my grandparents).  Its a huge, beautiful, colourful family and the nice thing is that I always seem to have a place to stay anywhere in France or Switzerland or the U.S.

Lucille (who just celebrated her 20th birthday), Mom and me head out for a meal. Its okay but the dessert was a real showstopper.  Mom wanted to try the Grand Mariner crepes; we thought they would be flambéed so to burn of the alcohol. Mom, a pretty strict Mormon, waited only to find a warmed cup of the alcohol.  Assuming it had been boiled, she poured the stuff generously over our crepes.  It had not boiled...it was full on, alcohol and all Mariner...Mom looked fairly unconcerned as she said "Hey, whatever happens in Paris, stays in Paris..."

We get up and walk around the neighbourhood, going for our daily chocolate croissant (a Mom comfort food) and then head off to take the train to Auxerre, where my grandparents and two of my aunties live.  Mom takes me to the HUGE designer store that is called Le Gallerie Layfette...it has an entire FLOOR of shoes.  Its horrible for me, like taking a priest to a strip club.  I can't take one pair of any of these works of art with me to the Solomons....

It is wonderful to see my grandparents again; I honestly thought three years ago was the last time I would see them in this life.  They are older; Pepe doesn't do much anymore and Meme's has short term memory loss, but she is still active and happy.  

I spend the night over at my Aunt Mireille's place.  She makes me a lovely meal of tapas and cheese (I love LOVE french cheese) and chocolates from Becescon (my mother's home town).  It feels good to be in France with the family again.  It feels right.  

Its on odd thing, having two parents from totally different cultures.  And you can look at the pros and cons from a variety of angles.  One the face of things, you couldn't get more different than the cultures of France and the U.S. However, they both share one important passion: liberty or freedom.  And the French loves anyone who rebels against the English anyway...

Back to my point; I never felt very settled in the U.S., even as a child...not to say I felt any better in France but I related to the lifestyle, the desire to enjoy life in its simplest moments.  The French make an art form out of living well and its something I've always appreciated about my family.

Knowing you have a big, large loving family in France is truly a blessing.  So is the cheese...  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ben Nevis-Mountain of Terror!!!

I want to say that I rocked.  That I was a tramping (hiking) superstar and that I summited Ben Nevis and slapped in the face.  I want to say there were no tears, there were no moment self complete self defeat...gentle readers, that would be a lie.  Did I climb Ben Nevis: Yes.  Was it pretty?: No.

Due to my exhaustion, I have invited my good friend Eddy to be my guest blogger...here he goes:


So, to escape from her incessant nagging, I’ve finally agreed to be a guest writer on the gnarly action packed epic that is Stilettos in the Solomons (abbreviated to SS by its dedicated readers). I’m Eddy, I live in Edinburgh, and it is my flat that Sara has been inhabiting for the past week, I’ve been busy all week though so she’s mainly been entertaining herself, though I did have a couple of days off, and Sara mentioned she’d like to climb Ben Nevis...

Did Sara mention how we met? I think she did, I was working on a farm in New Zealand. It was a peaceful farm, a tranquil farm. I was a shepherd. The grass was green, in the morning the birds sang in the trees... Well, I digress. That all changed...

Anyways, Ben Nevis is Britain’s highest mountain, at 1344 meters, and it rises dramatically from beside Loch Linnhe. It’s one of the busiest mountains in Scotland, mountaineers love it because of it’s dramatic north face, whilst it’s popular amongst tourists too because an easier path zig zags it’s way up the western slopes. The path is called the Pony Trail because it was originally built to service a meteorological observatory on the summit. The observatory was manned from 1883 to 1904 and its ruins are still up there. The Pony Trail is a long tedious slog and it’s always packed with tourists. A more interesting route climbs Carn Mor Dearg, a mountain to the north east of The Ben, walking along it’s summit you’re rewarded with views of the famous north face. It’s a longer walk and there’s not much of  path. Once you make it to the top of that first peak there’s a perilous scramble along a knife edge ridge onto Ben Nevis itself, then a quick steep slope covered in boulders takes you to the top. It’s longer and tougher than the Pony Trail, but the route rewards those up for the adventure; or those tricked into it, I suppose.

Ha, I just remembered the car! Did Sara mention the car? We bought a car together, on the farm, a 1979 Ford Cortina. It ran ok, but it was showing its age. It burnt oil almost as much as it burnt petrol and you’d have to keep topping up the radiator too. Funny story; Sara didn’t know how where to put the oil or the water, she went of on holiday with the car and when she came back and I drove into Christchurch the engine blew up! Ha ha, funny days...

Nine years ago, don’t the years fly. Where was I. Oh yes, so we decided to take the exciting adventure route, rather than the easier boring pony route. Some friends of mine from Edinburgh joined us and we left the car park at 9 and trekked up through the forest onto the hillside. Walking up across the grass and the heather, finding our own path. It took us a couple of hours to reach the stony hillside and then a while more along the ridge to the first summit. The wind was blowing a gale by now so we stopped for lunch before taking on the knife edged arrete on to The Ben itself. Along the ridge was hard going, it’s a steep drop of several hundred meters on either side and you have to pick you’re way carefully. Sara seemed quite nervous by then, and tired, it had been a long climb on to Carn Mor Dearg.  (I thought I was going to die, people!  DIE!!! In that moment I cried like a baby, wished that Antony was there because he was also my hero, talking me down any  mountain.  But, I realised he was gone forever and I only had two chooses, dear reader.  Hit Eddy or climb the mountain.  I did just that...)

That ridge line is good fun, I’m still convinced Sara secretly loved it. It did her good, like the learning experience of stripping out and fitting a new 2 litre engine to a 1979 Ford Cortina. Not that that has anything to do with anything.

After the ridge you’re about 300m below the summit of Ben Nevis, and all that’s left to do is scale the 45° boulder field to the top. Once you’ve had a bit of practise, leaping from boulder to boulder is good fun and you can fairly fly your way to the summit. You want to save a bit of energy for this part though, or you’ll be crawling slowly on your hands and knees. Ask Sara.  (I have no shame...I did crawl on my hands and knees).

But we made it! It was 5pm and the summit was beautiful. It’s wide and flat on the top, covered in the ruins from the old observatory. The clouds had cleared and we could see up the Great Glen to Loch Lochy, and down Loch Linnhe to the sea. Then across to the mountains around Glen Coe. And there was the slightest dusting of snow. We took a photo and headed of, only 4 hours down the pony trail and we’d be done. 4 hours. We’d be down by 9.  (I hate tramping in the dark...but mostly at that point, I just hated Eddy)

P.S. In other news, I came home from work today to find Sara drinking whiskey in bed with my flat mate. (Hey, I can explain, it was perfectly innocent...we were watching a movie!) See, I told you she’d been entertaining herself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ole Reekie

The Hall of Heads
I bum around Edinburgh for the next couple of days.  One day, I spent only 3.50 pounds, going to all the free museums of the city.  One particular favorite was the National Museum that had Botticellis, Raphaels, and a Da Vinci.  There were two round stairwell rooms filled with busts (I like to call it the Hall of Heads).  But my favorite painting was one done by a Scottish artist.  It was of the highlands...the way the light played on the canvas was beautiful and I really connected with the painting (it was done by Peter Graham, called Wandering states).

The beautiful Jessica
I met up with my pal Jessica and we did a whiskey tour.  The Scottish Whiskey experience is actually pretty good value.  It starts of in a barrel ride, which is pretty simple and it explains the INCREDIBLY complicated process of making scotch whiskey.

We try a variety of whiskey and I'm surprised to find that I like the whiskeys from Isley best.


 This feels so right; me being a member of the Scotch Whiskey Appreciation Society
Those whiskeys are incredibly smokey and rich flavored.  I've never been much of a whiskey drinker but it just wins me over. With a nice whiskey you can sit, relax and enjoy without drinking too much.

Next, Jessica and I eat some haggis (surprisingly tasty; must have been changed for the tourists) and then we went on the literary pub crawl. This was really fun; we were presented with two sides of Edinburgh: the historic, classic side and the seedy, evil underbelly.  Most of the writers here had some sort of nefarious reputation and usually spent quite a lot of time in pubs, gentlemen clubs (settle down, thats not what it meant back then...well...usually), and in secret societies.

At the end, I can't decide which side of Edinburgh I appreciate more.  Edinburgh is certainly has a dark, shady past and lots of bad shit went down here (I found out more about that on the Ghost Walk...but more on that later).

After the pub tour, we go tango dancing.  As I watch the dancers, I feel a little regret.  My very nice former  boyfriend Scott (Hi Scott, you made into my blog!) was taking tango lessons and I never danced with him.  It looks amazing; I wish I had now.  Seeing the sensuality, the closeness and the passion of the dance is inspiring.  The couples separate; most aren't together at all.

I talk with some people...the one thing I love about traveling is that you learn so much about other peoples lives and possibilities.  The world feels open and opportunities exist everywhere for different lives, different paths.

The next day, I explore Edinburgh castle.  It has your typical castle type things; a long history of mystery, murder, war and romance.  My favorite place is St. Margaret's Catherdral.  Its the oldest building on the site (built around 1200s) and its so small and quiet.  Most people just poke their heads in and the find something more interesting.  But I sit and think about Margaret and her life.  She was a woman destined to be a nun but was convinced by Malcolm, then almost 40, to marry him.  She did and became queen of Scotland.  Apparently, she was an amazing queen and she helped the people of Scotland by increasing the education, access to health care and generally help creating a more civil society.

She died pretty young, in her 50s.  Her husband had died in battle and it was reported that she died of a broken heart, so deep and abiding was her love.

I walk down the Royal Mile; perhaps the most touristy place in all of Scotland.  I love the shop names: Thistle do nicely is a personal favorite.

Spooky vaults....BOO!
I get onto one of the famed ghost walks and boy, was it worth it.  Our host, an actor and history student, tells us horrible and gruesome tales of mis-hangings, torture, murder and debauchery that took place in old Edinburgh. We travel down into the Vaults; apparently this is the most haunted place in Scotland.  Personally, I don't get much ghostly activity but it was still well worth it.  At the end of the tour, we are taken into a room, offered some drink and then told more ghost stories.  It was a good use of eight pounds; I learned a great deal about Edinburgh and apparently, all the stories are true.

My heart really warms to old Edinburgh (or old Reekie as it is known by) and I find I'm lighter and happier than I have been in months.  Maybe its the whiskey, maybe the tango, maybe the ghosts, I have no idea.  But I feel clearer and more confident in my ability to travel as a single woman.  I'm surprised that I never feel lonely; I'm pretty happy to keep my own company and get lost in the city and in my own thoughts.

Me surviving Ben Nevis...barely.
Next, the epic climbing of Ben Nevis; hopefully I survive the experience.

Monday, September 13, 2010

CHOOSE SARA'S ADVENTURE!!!

Before I begin with this entry, Eddy would like everyone to know that not only is he a super awesome guy, he is also ruggedly handsome. Ehem....

Okay, back to the blog.  It's time to choose Sara's adventure!  I'm going to conquer (like how confident I am when I say that) Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak.  Afterwards, I can either visit Glencoe, the home of my ancestors and commune with them OR hang out in Lock Ness with Nessy (grrrrrr....sorry, I know that's a pathetic monster sound but it's all I got).

YOU CHOOSE!  Just pop a comment down below or put a comment of my FB OR email me...I'll tally the votes before we leave on Wednesday.

P.S. Other suggestions like hanging out with ninjas, picking up sailors or trying my luck as a "working girl" will not be considered.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dead guys

When I got my master's degree, my brother Christopher handed me a book and said,
"All graduate students should have a basic understanding of philosophy...this is a good start."
The book was Sophie's World, written by Jostein Gardner.

At first, I was a bit insulted; of course I had studied philosophy in my course work.  I had a basic understanding of the classical philosophers and had studied a few modern ones as well.  But I thought, he did have a point, it had been ages since I had read anything for just pure pleasure.

So I read the book.  Honestly, some people don't like it BUT if you want a good crash course in philosophy, Chris was right (thanks Chris, you're a rock star!).  It was a good start.

I was really interested in David Hume, who featured in the book and he was born right here in Edinburgh.  His work spanned many topics but I loved that he questioned the absolutism of science and that logic cannot be removed from human emotion, nor can morality.  And that human belief is stronger than logic.  Oh and soooo much more...he inspired generations of economists, philosophers, scientist, psychologists, historians and hobbyist intellectuals.

I saw his grave today and I let out a little "eeeee!" when I saw it.

Another grave I saw was Adam Smith.  Now, I'm not as much of a fan of Adam Smith (I think he work has occasionally been taken to the extreme and out of context) but he still shaped the world we know today.  Bonus: him and Hume were homies.  Word. (that was for Katie Dzombar, by the way).  So much has come from here, it blows my mind and these guys inspire my poor atrophied mind, sick on the junk food of the internet, gossip magazines and television, to learn more.

Edinburgh is such an amazing city, it literally takes my breathe away.  This history, the buildings, the beauty.  I walked up all around Holyrood Park, climbing up Whinny Hill, the Dasses and Crow Hill (was going to do Arthur's Seat but I had no water or food and I just was feeling a bit tired at that point.  Will do it tomorrow).

I was walking on the Dasses, a large ridge looking over the city.  A falcon soared up in the air with a group of sparrows.  As they danced and glided in the wind, I honestly was so over come with emotion, I almost burst into tears.  Their beauty, grace and ease was so magnificent; with the beautiful city as a back drop and the sun poking confidently out of the clouds, I thought I had never seen anything so lovely.

After walking down off the hills, I walked passed Holyrood Castle.  The roads were cordoned off...I ordered some soup at a small cafe and sat outside.  As I was eating, a parade of horses and riders (what is it with this trip in parades?  First dogs in Iceland, now horses) passed by.  The riders were in full regalia. I asked the owner of the cafe what was going on.  He shrugged and said, "Must've killed another poor wee fox.  Wankers."  Clearly, he was not much of a royalist.

Actually the Queen herself is coming for a visit on the 16th!  I think she heard I was in town and wanted to catch up.  Good thing I packed an extra pair of heels in my bag...and a dress...wouldn't want to meet her wearing pants!  Now that would be a scandal...

Evolution

I met Eddy nine years ago today.  I don't usually recall the day I meet people but its hard to forget the day I met Eddy.  I was 23 years old and had just left the U.S.  September 11th happened while I was flying over the Pacific and I was on the last flight to leave for the states from N.Z. for weeks.

I cannot express the anguish I felt as I saw the two towers getting struck, knowing how much fear, grief and upset was in the states.  I could not be there with my family, to provide comfort and in turn be comforted.  The television station, where I had previously worked, called my parents, asking if I could come back to work but my mother had to tell them I had already left.

I felt completely useless and alone in that moment, realising that maybe I had made a terrible mistake.  The reason why I left was because I was working three jobs and going to school for almost a year and I was burned out.  I was in a relationship where I was paying for the livelihood of my boyfriend Brian, who was a nice guy, but ultimately selfish.  He didn't really care that I was burning out, working myself into the ground to put food on his table or pay his bills or help him with school.  Instead, he just resented me, ignored me, pointed out my failings as a person everyday and treated me like crap, pretty much.  The more I tried to help, the most distant he became..so I gave up.

I think he confused me with his mother and in the end he only really cared about his art and his friends; I was just the stupid girlfriend who was killing herself trying to make him happy.  I was ultimately unsuccessful in this because I found out, painfully again recently, you cannot make anyone else happy nor can you give so much of yourself to ensure their love for you.  People either love you or they don't.  No amount of giving, hard work or sacrifice can win the heart of another.

I realised this back then.  So I fled overseas to New Zealand, instead of just breaking up with him, because I needed a change.  I went to stay out on a farm in Waipara, where Eddy was a farm hand.  Eddy was a young kid from Scotland, barely 18 and on his own for the first time.  I took Eddy under my wing, after all I was 23!

Eddy and I became fast friends...we purchased a 1979 Ford Cortina together.  Eddy taught me how to drive a manual on the other side of the road (a real challenge!)  We looked after each other for the seven months I lived on the farm.  I hadn't caught up with Eddy for three years; the skinny shy boy I knew became a marine, went to Afganistan, travelled around the world and decided to go back to University to become a scientist.

I'm really proud of Eddy, he is an awesome guy and its great to see how he had made his life into a great adventure.  Eddy is a pure scientist at heart so he appreciated the rest of my adventure in Shrewsbury.

I did a walking tour about Shrewsbury about the life of Charles Robert Darwin.  Shrewbury is the birth place of Darwin and his family lived there and he spent many of his years there (although he went to the University of Edinburgh, Eddy likes to remind me!).  This was the place he started getting passionate about science.  He loved the geology of Shrewsbury and this is where he left for the Beagle to sail around the world for five years.

When Darwin came back, he thought about getting married to his cousin Emma.  He made two columns, one to marry and one to not marry.  The pros in the marry column were "companion for a lifetime; probably better than a dog".  The cons were: "less money for books" and "lots of time wasted".  He eventually figured out that the column for marry was better and got hitched with Emma.  They had 10 children; two died in infancy, another at age 10.  After the death of his ten year old daughter, Darwin stop attending church services, his faith in god had been destroyed.

On his deathbed, he did not recant his findings about evolution, as some people thought but instead told Emma what a wonderful wife she had been to him and how much he loved her.  He also told her how much he loved his children.  This great man of science last words were not of his own achievements or of self pity for his death but were of love and appreciation for those who had endeavoured to make his life better.  What amazing gifts this man has given us, not only in science but as an example of loving those who are in our lives, to be grateful and kind to them.

Nine years after meeting Eddy for the first time, I feel in some ways that I have repeated a cycle, leaving a similar relationship, where I gave even more of myself, sacrificed so much again to similar results as with Brian.  Realising that the person you have given everything for does not love you or care for you is painful beyond all belief but there is healing.  And life moves on.

I'm travelling around the world again, but this time, I'm not stopping in one place like I did before.  There is another disaster in my home, effecting the people that I love and I cannot help them or comfort them.  It is a very lonely feeling not to be able to help.  So, yeah it does feel like I'm starting from the same place.

I believe we can evolve, we can change and not repeat the mistakes of the past.  We have to adapt, to change and hope that next time we can really find love, support, kindness, charity and forgiveness in our relationships.

I'm enjoying Edinburgh so far; the sun is out (yes the sun does shine in Scotland!!!) and Eddy is a great host. He made me fish last night and we baked an apple and blackberry pie together.  Eddy has always been into home baking; he had a fresh loaf of fruit bread ready this morning for us to eat.

All right, off to take of the city...wish me luck!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jane Eyre Country

"Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt? May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine.  May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love."

-Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte

I love the book Jane Eyre. I used to read it every year without fail, since I was 11 years old until about 28.  There a many reasons why I love the book so much, but one is obviously the setting.  In Shropshire, I have arrived at an old manor, built around the same time the novel was published and I can’t help but feel a bit inspired by the Bronte sisters being here.


For those of you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Jane Eyre, it goes something like this (SPOILER ALERT!).  Jane is raised by mean relatives who don’t really understand her willful and passionate ways.  She is sent off to a boarding school, where she gets very ill but recovers nicely and becomes a teacher.  Jane eventually moves on from the boarding school to take a position as a governess in a large country estate called Thorton Hall.

Her charge, the ward of Mr. Edward Rochester, is a French girl called Adele.  At first Jane is intimidated by Thornton and it’s surely master, Mr. Rochester.  And she keeps hearing and seeing disturbing things, like voices and laughter at night.  Her and Mr. Rochester develop a relationship, despite his surly habits and grumpy deportment.  Eventually the two fall in love, despite her lowly station and after some toing and froing.  They decide to marry. 

The night before they marry, someone sneaks into Jane’s room. tears her wedding veil and lights her bed on fire.

Despite this upset, Jane and Edward continue with the ceremony and literally as they are saying their vows, a man walks in proclaiming that Jane and Edward cannot marry because…dun dun DUN!!!!  Edward is already married.  The crazy happenings at Thornton are due to the fact that he keeps his first wife, the crazy Bertha, locked up in seclusion and occasionally she escapes.

Mr. Rochester cannot marry her but asks her instead to be his mistress, which Jane flatly refuses to do.  Concerned that her love for him is so strong that she may change her mind, she runs out in the middle of the night, getting a carriage to take her, well anywhere.


In her upset, she leaves whatever money she does have on the coach and has to go begging.  Eventually she ends up with St. John and his sisters, who realize she isn’t simply some old beggar.  St. John is a lovely fellow but cold and totally dedicated to the church. 

Jane discovers some good news; St. John and sisters are actually her cousins and that she has been left a huge sum of money by a dead uncle.  Jane is now a wealthy, independent woman.  St. John asks her to come to India with him to be a missionary and be his wife.  Not for love but for service to god.  Jane considers the offer and as she is convincing herself to go, she hears Edward call out her name across the Moors.

Jane turns down St. John immediately and returns to Thorton Hall.  What she finds the burnt out shell of the hall.  She finds Mr. Rochester, injured, unable to see.  She finds out that his wife, Bertha, burnt down Thornton in a rage and killed herself, just after Jane left.  For months, he has been injured and ill and crying out for her.

Jane has returned an independent, whole person, without needing Mr. Rochester and in turn, Mr. Rochester is now free to pursue his life without being weighed down by the estate and first wife.

He is deeply angry at her for leaving and she for him omitting the truth about his wife however, they forgive each other and eventually Mr. Rochester regains his sight enough to see their first son.

The book is inspiring to me on a number of levels.  It’s about an independent woman, who refuses to compromise her values, even in the wake of her own enormous passion.  And she also refuses to live a life without passion, without love (in those days it was quite common to marry without love being present). 
Anyway, enough of Jane. 


Helen was going to stay here with me in Jane Eyre country for three days but she (understandably) had to return early to assist with the earthquake.  When we arrived together in London, we had to catch a train in two hours to go to Shropshire, where her parents are living.  Of course, everything went wrong.  The plane was delayed.  The baggage took ages to come out.  And to top it all of, there was a tube workers strike.  Clearly the universe was against us.

We talked it over and discovered there were buses straight to Birmingham, not an hour away from her parents.  So instead of waiting two hours to get a bus to Victoria, to take another bus to Euston, to take a train to Shropshire, we decided to hop on the bus. It was the best decision, we (well I did, Helen was exhausted and snoozed almost the whole way there), watched the countryside zoom by.  It was a lovely drive up to Birmingham.


Her parents picked us up and drove us down to Shropshire.  Its an amazing little place, with century old homes.  We role up to Winsley Hall, built in the mid-1800s.  It’s a large, red brick three story building with 14 bedrooms, 9 bathrooms and a whole lot of clutter.

The place was inherited by a couple in the 1970s from a long line of family members.  Essentially, the mother and father frittered all the money away and now the couple no longer has money to take care of the grand home and estate to its fullest.


The couple, June and Wilton, are very kind, good people and for the first time, I see the aristocracy as a gigantic trap rather than a privilege.   These people cannot simply abandon their home; they have to keep it for the next generation.  Nor can they afford to leave it.  So they battle on, trying to keep the mold, dust and rotting infrastructure at bay.  The property, although beautiful, is like a gigantic millstone around their neck.

My hosts are the Reverend David and Revette Allison, Helen’s parents, friends of the owners.  I could not ask for better hosts; they are superb, entertaining and fun.  David is a retired Presbyterian minister, who has a masters from Princeton in theology and Allison is his wonderful wife, the consummate organizer and companion.  They have traveled all over the world, lived in some amazing places and still enjoy and seek each other’s company.  They are completely devoted to each other after 30 plus years of marriage, three children and lots of adventure.  Kind of like my parents.

When we arrive, Helen is packing and rushing about to get all last minute preparations sorted.  Her hair is really dry so I do a hair treatment my mother taught me: eggs and beer in the hair.  It works, however I used hot water to rinse the egg out and it set in Helen’s hair, giving her the wonderful feeling of waking up with an omelet in her auburn strands.  Helen gets the big pieces out but some of the smaller chunks still remain…her hair is pretty shiny though….must remember not to use hot water next time.

We drive Helen to Shrewsbury the next morning to catch the bus and then go walking about.  Shrewsbury is a place that looks like Charles Dickens threw up on…seriously, it was the place they filmed the 1980s version of A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott.  It has beautiful buildings everywhere and you can feel the history surrounding you.

There is a place for modernity though.  The McDonalds was built into a Normand Wall and you can sit downstairs eating a Big Mac whilst contemplating the goings on of ancient Norman pastimes like torturing the Welsh and festivals.

We go on a walking tour which is a little bland.  The guide says his s’s with a whistle and is an old school teacher.  We walk through the small shuts (walkways in between buildings) and look at the more interesting aspects of Shrewbury, mostly famous for being the birth place of Charles Darwin and a border fighting town between the English and Welsh.

At the end of the tour, we have tea with the Mayor Owens.  She seems a lovely lady and we chat for awhile about travelling.  She has long, acrylic fingernails painted red with flowers on the middle nails.  We tour through the old military museum at the castle and her security guard jokingly puts a replica roman helmet on his head. 


We head home and I make the Rev and Revette a meal.   Ever since I went to Iceland, I’ve felt this strong inner peace of just enjoying existence.  I don’t feel pressured to see everything; I feel much more comfortable just sitting and enjoying the surrounding environment. 

The next morning we walk up to the Stiplestones. I glamber on top of the Devil’s seat…it feels great to climb, even a small amount, up the steep rocks.  I enjoy the view from up top; I can see Wales over the hill and a bit of Offa's Dyke, a protective measure that King Offa put in place to separate England from the Welsh.  Its an old structure, built around 800 a.d. but it pretty much still constitutes as the border between Wales and England to this day.


Going into Wales even feels different.  There are red dragons everywhere and it just feels…older.  The buildings feel more utilitarian and less decorative.  We visit the ruins of old Montgomery castle and then sit down for some Welsh Rabbit (essentially cheese on toast with mustard, beer, tomatos and onions). 

We go back to the manor for a rest.  It is green and lush here, overlooking the heather covered moors near the Stiple Stones.  It is a great place to contemplate love, passion, values and interesting journeys we take in life. 

I had no plans to come here; to be honest I haven’t had much planned this whole trip.  But, like Jane, when we commit to a path of love and passion, somehow we just end up exactly where we need to be.   


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Icelandia


We spent the next day in a bit of a haze; worried about people back home but trying to lift each other spirits by having fun.

It worked somewhat; we had a lovely meal at a traditional Icelandic restaurant.  Icelandic cuisine is pretty much based of the philosophy that if it moves, you can eat it with dill or béarnaise sauce.  I ordered the Icelandic surprise which contained various bird, hooved and sea creatures in potles and on a lovely pool of mashed potatoes.   
 
Reyjavik is  a lovely little city and extremely walkable.  Helen and I take another trip to the cathedral on the hill to pray for our friends and family in Christchurch.  As we light a candle, the cleaning lady turns on the vacuum cleaner, making it almost impossible to relax and mediate, to find peace and meaning in the earthquake. So we gave up and walked on.

After walking sadly around the city, we settle into our favorite cafe for a cup of coffee.  Looking sadly at each, we heard a brass band in the distance...the road was being closed off.  Suddenly, the streets were filled with dogs and dog owner.  It was, bizarrely enough, a dog parade.  We have no idea why...it...just...is...a...dog...parade!!!

We laughed until we cried.  We realised that life is fuckin weird...earthquake at home and here...a dog parade.  Life goes on in the weirdest ways...

After dinner, we proceed to the Volcano show, run by Villi Knudsen. 

Villi isn’t only the projectionist, receptionist and narrator, he is also the filmmaker, camera man, producer and editor.  He has a dry, Icelandic humour which is delivered in a dark fashion.  He clearly loves his job and enjoys scaring the crap out of visitors about when the next volcano will go.

Villi has been making movies since he was 19.  Before him, it was a family business with his father filming extensively in the 1950s and 1960s.  There are typically volcanic pornography shots; with pools of hot lava spurting high in the air. 

One of the more interesting films he showed was about a little town in the Westmann Islands, just south of the island of Iceland.  In Vestmannaeyjar, a little town of approximately 5,000 woke up one morning in 1973 to a volcanic eruption.  The volcano, thought previously to be extinct, had not erupted in written history.  The footage is astonishing; right behind the town, large lakes and rivers of lava flowed, burning homes. 
But the people fought hard for their town.

For months, they battled with the volcano, using large high powered water hoses to cool the surface of the lava to building large barriers to divert the lava flow.  It worked; after months of struggle, only 200 houses were destroyed and some of the town could be saved.  The volcano stopped one day.  When you look at the footage, you wonder how those people could have survived with a volcano in their backyard; with ash, hot lava, earthquakes, and poisonous gases part of their daily existence.  One of the most compelling scenes is of the church service with the volcano in the background, menacing the town.  This was the last rites for the town; you can almost feel the men break down and almost give up.  But they don't.

Today the town is back to normal.  It begs the question: how far are you willing to fight to preserve your town or home?  I have to confess, I’m not much of a fighter.  I’m not certain I would have the patience they had, to live and fight the volcano and live in substandard conditions for months.  I would do it, but not for a place, more for the people. 

For them, it was never an option to give up on their town and I wonder: do we give up to easily now?  Do things like homes, places, relationships, work…when things get tough, how often do we just say to ourselves: this is too much hard work and I can’t be bothered?  These are the questions I ask myself, often when things get to tough, I just withdraw and find something, someone or someplace new.

I think the variety of choices makes us a much lazier people.  The people of the Westernmann Islands were the first to settle in Iceland, approximately 800 A.D. and they are very proud of this.  They are proud of their homes, lives and industry.  They didn’t feel like they had any other option.  I can’t decide if they were noble or foolish.

I get to thinking about recovery.  I have a lot of experience with recovery; it is a completely painful, awful process and I don't envy anyone who has to go through it.  But I do have some thoughts on it.  When recovering or during disasters, whether a physical or emotional one, you have a couple of options.  You can wallpaper over the cracks and pretend nothing happened, hoping that disaster doesn’t strike twice.  You can rebuild everything the way it was right away and just carry on.  However, disasters strike over and over again, many choose to give up the ghost and build somewhere else. 

No matter what people ultimately decide, I think it’s always best to take a step back.  Asking a series of questions to understand fully what went wrong and why.  The decisions we make do effect what happens to us in life and we have to take full responsibility in the role we play in our own lives.  It’s easy to play the victim, hell I’ve done it a lot.  But if we always play the victim, how can we ever hope to make any effective changes?  Only after taking a full and complete stock of what happened, processing it emotionally as well as mentally, can we move on, hopefully not to repeat the same mistakes again.

Okay, enough of that.

After the Volcano show, we get to bed early to go off on a little adventure around the southern part of the island. 

Helen, the most amazing trip planner I know, rented a car and had a pretty tight iternary for the day.  The scenary is astounding; large jagged volcanos and mountains in the background.  We visited the famous volcano, Eyjafjallajökull...below is us, excited geeks.


We visit a series of waterfalls and walk underneath one.  Erosion has made an amazing bowl shaped feature in the rock.  The waterfall drops 50 metres.  There is a small outcropping that I step onto and I’m instantly baptized by Iceland’s glacier waters.  It’s a great feeling.

We finally reach our destination, Skaggafell, and it is unseasonable warm.  The whole area is a river wasteland, with no green bushes.  You can see for miles across the flat, grey landscape.  It feels like we have come to the end of the world.

The icecap here is the largest in Europe and glaciers glide down valleys like fingers.  The landscape is harsh but takes my breath away.  We sit outside in a little café, drinking Viking beer and eating Icelandic hotdogs.  Yum.

We get a move on the next day and drive.  We visit a medieval turf house, which literally is a house with grassy turf stuck between the rocks for insulation.  You can’t help but feel sorry for those people who had to survive in such a bitter environment.  They must have relished the warmth of the fire and sleeping in fur beds.
In the distance, we can see the looming, angry looking Mt. Helka.  This mountain is where the concept of Hell came from and you can see why.  The Vikings believed that this was one of the two mouths of hell (the other one is in Cleveland.  That was for all you Buffy fans, I actually quite liked Cleveland).  The concept of fire and brimstone and sulfur was all formed here and persists today. 

We drive quickly to go to the Blue Lagoon.  The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s premiere tourist areas.  The lagoon water is actually effluent from the local geothermal powerplant…ah swimming in effluent, what a girl always dreams of.  The water is a milky, creamy blue and warm.  There are a series of large pools and smaller little coves.  It isn’t particularly packed with people, which is a surprise because it is so popular with tourists.

At the far end are tubs of Blue Lagoon mud that people slather over their face and bodies.  People float around with whitened faces.  It would make me laugh if I didn’t look just as silly.

Jessica, Helen and I enter into the lava cave steam room.  The room is low, with old looking wooden door and V-shaped.  We sit until we want to pass out and then nip over for a cool shower.  We go over to the heated waterfall and are pounded by the water.

One thing I’ve recently discovered is that my new bathing suit acts like a baleen whale, scooping up water and revealing my er…assets.  Embarrassing, but this is Iceland, people are pretty comfortable with that kind of thing.  The waterfall completely pulls my top down...I’m embarrassed but nobody seems to notice…yay me!

We leave the Blue Lagoon refreshed but our hair is dry like hay.  We go back to the guest house, which is beautifully decorated by our friendly Icelandic host, Daniel.  It is by far the best place we have stayed at. Helen and I stay up late to talk to Daniel about hidden people (I think I had an experience with one and Daniel confirms it), elves, chakras, spirituality, Icelandic politics and all manner of things.  Daniel is a cool guy and I would have loved to stay longer to chat with him.

Daniel bakes us nutty bread for the morning and we wake up, at the exhausting hour of 4:30 a.m., to catch our plane back to England.   We eat lovely smoked trout and pack sandwiches for breakfast.  We are all sad to leave but Helen is keen to get back to N.Z. to check out the earthquake. 

Iceland is an amazing place, with sagas, legends and magic everywhere.  I would love to return for a week, a year or a lifetime…

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Rift

I want to talk about the earthquake in Christchurch.  But I can't.  Not yet.

So instead, I'll let you all know how its going in Iceland so far.

As soon as I got off the plane I could feel the vibe of this country; it is a raw and wild place.  Got picked up by Helen and Jessica at the bus terminal at 2 a.m. (thanks guys!).  The next day we bummed around Reyjavik.  Its a great city and impossibly sprawling considering how there is only about 200,000 in the city.  It seems even more unlikely considering how many apartment buildings there are.

In the morning of the first day, we visit the church of Leif Erikson.  The church is stark inside; there is no ornamentation, just simplicity and light.  I light a candle for those I have left behind, wishing them all peace and love.

Its moody here; cool and cloudy since I arrived.  We have been hanging out at the hot pools (there are lots of thermal pools here) and yesterday, we completed the Golden Circle tour.

The tour started out at a geothermal powerstation that provides the city with 90 percent of its power.  The plant is amazing from the parking lot to the large, stainless steel pipes.  Design is a huge part of life here; everything seems to be touched with the Scandinavian brush of simplicity and ingenuity.  Everything has beautiful, simple lines.

We leave the power station to our next stop...the falls.  These Gullfloss falls are roaring with water and are spectacular to witness (which i almost got literally blown away doing).  The falls almost got dammed up by a german fellow but a local Icelandic girl stopped him from destroying the falls.  The Icelandic people and the gazillion tourists that have followed have her to thank for preserving these beautiful falls.

The next place we visited was the Geysir.  The Geysir, which towered some 50 metres above ground when geysiring, gave its name to all other geysirs on earth.  The Big Geysir no longer geyses....now a smaller geysir has taken over.  It truly is a wonder; a pool about 2 metres by 2 metres across, filled with clear, hot water steaming and bubbling away.  Tourists surround it waiting for their moment to see it gush into the air.  Digital cameras at the ready, waiting for the moment.  The centre of the pool bubbles like a big bowl of jello and then GUSH 20 metres into the air, with much oooo and ahhhhh...and the occasional stupid tourist who stood downwind, scrambling to get out of the way of steam and water.

Its a beautiful place.  We sit and eat traditional icelandic meat soup.  Its delicious, I have to admit.

The last place we visit is the Rift...the place between the American and Eurasian plate boundary.  The two plates are slowly seperating from each other, leaving a wide stretch of land that is sinking. The Rift is the name for this land in the betwee; a place where the hidden people, trolls and elves live (if you believe the Icelanders).  Its a place where lost souls roam.  You can feel the sadness of the land here; a place owned by no plates, nothing to support it, gradually sinking back into the earth.

We are standing on the American plate boundary and sometimes you can see the other plate boundary but not today.  Today it is foggy and rainy; the other side is hidden from sight.  There are only two places where you can see a rift like this, where plates are splitting apart: here and in Africa.

In the Rift, there are magical creatures.  Here is where the hidden people are.  Apparently, the hidden people are the children of Adam and Eve.  The story goes that one day, God came to visit the Garden of Eden but Eve hadn't washed all her children.  Instead, she hid the dirty ones from God but God knew and so he cursed them to roam the earth.  Hidden people look like us BUT can only be seen when they choose to be seen.

There are also lovely stories about the troll (you can clearly see where the story comes from, as faces stare out from the rocks) and elves who live in the rocks.  The tour guide was a bit cagey about whether the elves were separate to the hidden people.

We come back home to news of the earthquake.  Helen, Jessica and I are all distraught; helpless to do anything constructive for our damaged city.  This is our jobs and here we are, in Iceland, unable to help.  The feeling is horrible.  All three of us feel like we are in the Rift; between two places at once and not held up by anything.

Times like these we want to find meaning to the disaster or see a greater purpose.  I don't subscribe to that theory; shit just happens.  Good people suffer.  Tragedy happens.  There is no silver lining or reason why sometimes; it just does.  But the one thing I think we can all appreciate about disasters is that it focuses you to what is really important.  Love. Family.  Home.  The essential, connective tissue of life.

I wish all those who are in Canterbury safety, love and peace during this time.  I've heard from almost everyone now, with the exception of one person.  Oi! Scott! Email me already!

I wish I could help but I know the people in charge are doing an amazing job.  But I can't help wishing I was there; not to help because what can one person do but to help myself knowing that I worked on behalf of the region I love.  I know its selfish, but hey its hard having a good time here when you know the people you care about are going through a rough time.

Instead, I feel stuck in the Rift: in between two large segments of my life, thinking about those I love.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Get Lost

I am a horrible tourist.  I don't say this lightly, but its true.  I hardly saw any of the famous sites of New York.  Skipped the Statue of Liberty, MoMA, the Empire State Building, etc...because what I like to do when I get in a city is get lost.

I mean really, really lost.  Maybe its an excuse that I tell myself, because I get lost so often but I think the best way to see a place is to stumble onto things.  My first day out alone I wandered the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy.  I sat down in one of the lovely little italian resturants eating a bowl of linguine.  The next day I got lost in the Village and in Chelsea.  Saw Gossip Girl getting filmed.  Walked through a store called Shoegasm (really?  could there be a better name for a shoe shop, I ask you???)  Went to the American Museaum of Natural History.

These aren't the sort of things tourists tend to like to do.  But I like to just walk along and soak up the energy of a place.  And I did it that way to challenge myself as well.  I think travel is all about making yourself uncomfortable, putting yourself out there and going off the well worn path.  I think by doing that, you discover something not only about the place you are at but also about yourself.  For instance, the subway scares the crap out of me and the first day I took it alone without Katie, I was scared to death.  But as the days wore on, I felt more and more comfortable to go off the main lines. One day I just got on the subway randomly and got to Chelsea and a lovely meal at a little swedish cafe. 

As I ate the cold shrimp in dill cream sauce I felt this rightness of not being a tourist in your own life, to focus solely on ensureing we hit the big marks in life. Get married. Have kids. Buy a house. Get a career. Become president or at least president of the rotary club.  Sometimes we get so focused on achieving the big big dreams that we forget the joy of simplicity, to simply allow ourselves to expierence.  Of course goals are important but sometimes I feel that we don't tailor our goals to our own desires in life but about what others expect us to want.  And from my personal expierence, that leads to unhappiness. 

One such follower of her heart is Katie...the other reason I came here. Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am a big advocate for choas and not planning things.  However, I planned the places I visited very carefully; not based on the sites I wished to see but on the people I needed to reconnect with.  Each person I chose to visit has something to teach me.  Sometimes its about reconnecting with my past but mostly its about being with people who have a unique perpective on life; people who inspire me.

Katie is one such lady.  Katie used to live in Hawai'i and she moved out here about four years ago.  She certainly has had her ups and downs but what I love about her is that she doesn't take shit from anyone.  She knows her value in life and she won't be taken advantage of.  Now don't get me wrong, Katie still has a heart of gold BUT she has boundaries now and she enforces them.  Katie has spent the last four years working herself, her body, her attitude and her soul. And its time that has clearly paid off; I am in awe of her strength and power.  Katie walks alone along the streets of this huge city at night; unafraid and powerful.  She's like a superhero or something...

She lives in Brooklyn in a place called Bedford (which is odd because I just came from Bedford, Ohio.  What can I say, I'm a Bedford-hopper! Hahahahaha ha....he....hmmm... ahem...).  Its a kind of rough neighbourhood but she likes it there.  Katie works at a furniture store in Soho, where pretty boys get paid to stand outside the Hollister store wearing nothing but tiny swim shorts and zinc oxide on their noses.  Hilarious! People judge quickly here and they tell you what they think.  I've seen men openly veto women's outfits...one exciting moment for me was when two gay boys said behind me "I LOVE that red handbag".  They were talking about my handbag!  Woot!

So, Katie and I went to see Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party.  I know we could have seen other shows but they were pricey and the title alone cracked us up.  And it was good to go.  The play was split into three acts but the audience could democratically decide which acts went in which order.  The play was about a little town in Illinios where Abraham Lincoln lived with a man for several years.  Some 160 years later, a school put on a play about it and mentioned this fact about old Abe.  Choas insues, politics enter into the fray and what you get is a pretty interesting commentary on the political situation of today.

The play was so funny but also made some good points about the politics of today in America and how divided we are.  The politics in this country scare me; everyone seems so passionate that their point there seems to be very little attempt on either side to empathise or understand each other's view points.  One point that struck with me was the concept of dancing and how if you don't at least try to agree on what way to go, then you just can't dance with that partner.  And I worry that in America, we are heading down that path.

My time here has gone by faster than I would have liked but New York is a fast paced place.  Its a place that I want to come back, for sure.  And maybe next time I'll walk the streets unafraid and confident...maybe next time I'll be a superhero, like Katie.