Monday, 30 July 2012

Sunday, 29 July 2012

secret: my complete lack of survival skills

i wanted to write this post because i always like to pretend that i know shit. but it's just not true, folks.

i would die in the wilderness in less than a week.
i cannot macgyver myself out of anything.
i cannot plan ahead.
my common sense is sketchy at best.
my maths is terrible (and i don't mean calculus, i mean like figuring out how long it will take you to get to a place if you're travelling 270km and driving at an average of 90kmph).
i cannot park, not really.
i can't even drive a manual car properly.
and i don't know things about geography. in fact, there are a lot of things i don't know about, but i pretend i do. people name-drop bands, books, movies, famous people, world events, political movements, philosophers, and so much more besides, i pretend like i've heard of it. i haven't. i'm pretending.

this self-examination really started this afternoon when it became clear to me that i can't, for the life of me, light a fire at my dad's place. what. the. fuck. ? the most perplexing thing to me is that at mum's house, i light the shit out of her fires. i think it's because they're so easy a chicken could light them (and they don't even have opposable thumbs. do they? i also don't know about animals). but no, at dad's house, i fill the room with smoke, and although the old saying goes "where there's smoke, there's fire", it turns out that no, there will be no fires lit here tonight.

i tried the other fireplace, the one i feel more confident that i can work. i couldn't work it. i couldn't make it go.

if there is ever an apocalypse, i am screwed.

Monday, 16 July 2012

treasure: having someone to miss THIS much

secret: checking in

in february this year, i wrote a post about all the things i was looking forward to about australia.

i thought i'd check back in and measure my progress. and i think i nearly win at everything. congratulations me.

the list:
  1. meat pies. check
  2. cheese. check
  3. family (is it bad that came in 3rd? oh well) check
  4. magpies singing in the morning. check
  5. getting a tan. slight fail. arrived in winter.
  6. friends. 1/2 check. melbourne visit next week shall remedy the rest of the missing ones.
  7. kate and phill's wedding. if i knew when that might be happening, i'd be rich and famous.
  8. beaches. byron bay & noosa. check
  9. tax included in prices, and (sorry to say it) no tipping required. hearty and enthusiastic check
  10. $2 coins. i like the way they sound when they jingle together in my pocket. and plastic money! you can go swimming with that shit. haven't had a lot of money. only really had the chance to shake my head at the ridiculousness of the 50c piece. foolishness.
runners up to the top ten include beer (another hearty and enthusiastic check), mum's place at rockvale (check), bar etiquette on sydney road (next week), driving on the left hand side of the road (it's really the only side of the road i've driven on since i got here), no black ice (check) and good coffee (check check check check check).

travel: new orleans

i barely know where to start with this one. let's start ourselves off with an eloquent statement: mind = blown.

all you can do with a place like new orleans is to drink it in. many, many times throughout the trip i was filled with that desire i get as an aspiring writer to try and catch everything, pin words to paper, shrink the wide breaths of my experience into chewable portions to share with everyone else. i guess i resisted the urge at the time, because similar to trying to photograph or record an experience as a treasure, thinking of the words to allocate to this would have meant i missed out. and i really, really didn't want to miss this one.

i spent 4 nights in new orleans, louisiana, with my family- aunt and uncle, cousins and partners of cousins and family of cousin's partners, and partners of family of partners of cousins (still with me?)... and more. we were a party of 13 by the time we all arrived and settled in. i'd love to write this down day by day, to keep it solid in my mind, but the truth is it's all melded together, delicious and sweet.

new orleans is hot. like, humidly wetly warm. even spring heat and humidity was more than enough for me. i've never been comfortable with the sensation of sweat dripping down my back, from my knees, under my eyes. probably out of my ears as well, let's be honest. i've never been a hot climate person, but it's interesting to see how the climate affects the new orleans population. the locals, what i saw of them amongst the tourists, seem pretty damn laid-back. you get the feeling the place runs on new orleans time, which is just a half-beat slower than everyone else's watches. i don't think i was even wearing a watch by the end of the weekend.

i mention tourists. the first night we were there we headed for the famous bourbon street. it's all neon signs, cheap sugary cocktails and semi-naked women beckoning for you to come into their establishment. on one level, this is awesome. on another, you fear that your weekend will quickly become a drunken trashy nightmare, where you drag yourself out the other end saying "culture? what culture?" wearing plastic beads about your neck and questioning your life choices. happily, this was not how we were destined to spend our weekend.

we found a bar with real live jazz going on, and enjoyed mint juleps while we soaked up the music. it's such a good and soul-warming kind of music, where you can really appreciated how well the band knows their stuff. there's something inspiring to me about people who are musicians for life, and while i imagine it's not as rose-coloured and glamorous as it looks, there is still something romantic in the fact of it.

it was lovely to awake on our first full day in the city and feel its undiscovered potential beating just outside the window. new and unknown cities such as this one are delicious: i loved having a few things on my "must try" list and i loved the unfilled day beyond those few things. in all the foreign glamour of the famous town, i confess that one of my favourite times of the day was the very civilised breakfast with my aunt and uncle in the hilton breakfast bar. luxurious air-conditioning, a lox bagel and plenty of hot fresh coffee... the part of me that needs routine and calm loved sitting there, covering all or none of the pressing issues of the world with bob and sally. it's not to say that those mornings were without their touch of n'awlins; our server was definitely inclined towards calling us baby (not uncle bob, but i'm guessing he didn't mind), bantering with us in that glorious southern accent. breakfast is often best served with a side of banter, as long as it's friendly, and there's already been coffee handed over.

to think about it, i'd say that most of my favorite things that happened, happened on that first day. there were beignets, a delicious fried doughnut-type thing famous 'round those parts. there were markets, where sally and i dared to sample alligator jerky (turned out to be a rather soggy form of sausage, which i was fine with until sally commented upon its texture being close to that of masticated human... after that it was more a challenge against my imagination and my gag reflex to finish it), we wandered with strawberry Abita (local beer) in our hands, we tried fresh oysters (to wash away the taste of alligator)... there was shopping in the markets, with several pairs of goofy sunglasses purchased and modelled to perfection by moya, there was lunch and window shopping round the french quarter.

we found a little bar with a more local feel in the afternoon and took it over, all 13 of us, comandeering the jukebox, the pool table, the bar, the comfy window seats. we were so enthusiastic and just generally awesome (see ross and heather's posing skills) that the owner of the bar invited us to his shrimp boil a little later in the day. ladies and gentlemen, a shrimp boil is something of a southern treat. it's a bit of a backyard event, sort of like a barbeque. we all lined up dutifully at 6pm with plates, along with plenty of other local characters, having tipped the chef a few dollars, to get our fill of shrimp boiled up with full heads of garlic, lemon, chilli for a bit of bite, and various veges. but it was mainly about the shrimp, and holy crap were they tasty. big fat juicy ones, attacked with fingers to be pulled apart and enjoyed standing on the street outside the bar, of course with more beers on hand.

we got a free show, too. there was a guy and a dog called hair, yes, hair, and there was another guy who may or may not have said something that may or may not have been offensive to the dog-owner. anyhow, it all got smoothed over by george who just bought everyone a drink and put his arm around them in a friendly and reassuring way. it's hard to know exactly what went down, but everyone seemed ok at the end. the other part to the free show was the ambulance collecting someone further down the road... it all happened there, all at once.

there were many other highlights. we took a cruiser bike tour the next morning, a prospect that filled me with anticipatory dread (wouldn't currently consider myself to be a very competent biker) until it became obvious just how flat new orleans really is. we saw all manner of houses, we learned that americans were known by n'awlanders (of the spanish/french persuasion) as hallway lovers, for the housing of choice was a 'shotgun', so-called because if you opened the doors that ran through all the rooms (no hallways) you should make a shot clean through the house. i learned a lot about history in the south, including the slave era, which i'd never come across as an australian citizen. it was a glorious day for pedalling through the colourful neighbourhoods, enjoying the tree-lined streets and smiling at the locals. there were even hints of breeze from time to time which minimised sweatiness.

i ate fried shrimp, fried oysters, po-boys, all manner of seafood. i enjoyed the world's best ham at Mothers. i learned that a freshly made hurricane is much much tastier than a mix-made one. i managed to keep hydrated; no mean feat in the humid southern weather. in any tourist town, there is a beaten track. not to say it wasn't an awesome track as far as the beaten go, with the expected kaleidoscope of locals from friendly to tolerant to slightly amused. it being the weekend, there was of course an oyster festival in town which we enjoyed in small shady portions- by sunday afternoon it almost seemed too much, and to find ourselves in a sports bar watching america play canada in the soccer was hardly a surprise given the soccer-driven company (in case you're curious, i was all Canada: seemed fair when everyone else was on America's side).

we saw some quite amazing jazz on a saturday night: i think i might still be in love with the trumpet player, who not only played some epic trumpet (yes, it's a thing), but also had one of those husky female jazz singer voices that makes you feel sexy just by sitting there listening. there was amazing dancing along with it, a perfect side dish. we clapped and cheered a lot, and being a healthy sized group, the band couldn't fail to notice. so then we got to feel a little famous by conversing with them between sets. no big deal.

myself, bob and sally managed to sneak out of the city itself on sunday morning, off in search of a real live plantation house. we found one, complete with a local tour guide with a wonderful southern accent and a not-quite-right sense of comic timing which only served to make him more endearing, if a little awkward. he walked us through the basement, the house itself, the kitchen gardens, the slave quarters... i'm glad i had the chance to see it all, and pretty interesting to have the opportunity to soak up some history that was both strange and familiar. to add atmosphere, the weather was sweatily humid. humidity, my friends, is not for me.

it's hard to know if i've communicated the magic of the place with this travel entry. i mentioned at the beginning, way back there, that i was struck by the desire to capture it at the time, in the moment. i resisted so n'awlins could swallow me up, and swallow me it did. on saturday night we sought out a place to eat called elizabeth's, recommended to us by our cruiser tour guide earlier in the day. the food was very tasty, and we all ate until our bellies were full. struck by a need for momentum after the solid sitting eating portion of the evening, we walked back into the busy part of town. and that's the magic bit that got me. it was dark by the time we started to walk, but only dark in the way cities are dark, with streetlights and passing headlights and people home in their houses spilling livingroom lights out into the world. it was still plenty warm but no longer sweaty, and we drifted apart into twos and threes to wander the broken up streets (literally- huge potholes). there were trees and flowers and the air smelled sweet. the simple walk in the night with scraps of conversation as we walked, fading in and out, warm and comfy, on our way to hunt for another spot of n'awlins jazz.

i just want to end this post with an expression of thanks to my aunt and uncle, sally and bob, without whom this magical weekend wouldn't have been possible. i love and miss you, and am so happy i got to have that time with you. lovely and amazing barely begin to cover it. so i send you loads of love.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

secret: social anxiety & my hometown

having just moved back to my hometown of armidale, nsw after almost 3 fun, snow-filled years in BC, Canada, i've noticed a peculiar phenomenon. apparently i'm not the only one, but whenever i go "downtown" in armidale, i get nervous about who i'm going to be seeing.

while i lived in whistler, bumping into people i knew was part of the charm of the whole deal. in fact i sort of enjoyed it. i would even smile and say hi to people i didn't know very well at all, but perhaps were the ones who sold me my coffee every day, or scanned my ski-pass, or were just a customer i had bantered with at work (actually, there was a scary one of those, who remembered me from a supposed conversation we had while i was talking her into buying her winter coat, and creepily popped up everywhere, on my bus, in the coffee shop... she was either one step away from being my very own stalker, or from falling into the category of over-eager friend). the point is, the possibility of running into people i knew filled me with happiness, a sense of community... like things in whistler were just a big party.

however, here, in the place where i grew up, i just worry about who i am going to run into in the supermarket. to the point of some form of social anxiety. which isn't really me at all. i've been thinking about it a lot, and i think the main thing that causes me stress is that these are people i haven't seen for 8 years, some of them anyway, and everyone changes... people don't look like they used to look, their adult incarnations have unrecognisable qualities. like children attached to them, or new haircuts, or some have got skinnier and some have got fatter... some have got taller. i haven't seen any shrunken ones yet but you know, it could happen.

i guess i just worry about the chitchat, because as a general rule, the conversation goes:
"oh hi, how have you been? what have you been up to?"
"i've just got back from canada, i've been living there the past 3 years"
"oh cool."
"anyway i have to go do my grocery shopping".

i'm not good at those kinds of conversations, to be honest with you. i guess the trick will be to settle into things, make some armidale friends so that the awkwardness, or the fear of it, melts away. the problem is going to be that i might always be that person who is moving around, (hopefully) living in other countries for extended periods, so it may be that i will just have to make peace with my fear of Armidale's various supermarkets.

and maybe those Armidale people who fill me with such irrational fear are merely regular friendly folk, who have all sorts of stories about their own adventures.

but i don't know. right now i'm just a little scared of them.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

treasure: books, friends, brown paper packages tied up with string

tis a wonderous invention, mail.

today i got a care package from my favorite french-canadian. a package of books. books weighty with significance. books with a butterfly hidden inside, to flutter out at me the first chance it got.

the best people are the ones that give me books. and send me mail.

and now i get to curl up with a cup of tea and read things. my sigh is one of deep satisfaction.

Monday, 9 July 2012

secret: contemplating the alternative

i've been visitng my brother in brisbane. i love to go and sneak into people's lives and live in them a little while, see what i like about them, see how they fit. i like to know ever after the parts of my loved ones daily routines, like breakfast at Pear, or chilling on a comfy couch soaking up some tv, or sneaky/not so sneaky pints at Archive.

i've just got to the point at the end of this visit (i leave tomorrow) where i feel like there is really something missing from my life. well, besides the aaron-shaped thing. i met some cool brisbane peeps tonight, and what makes them so are the minutae of their lives. the sweet bits (afore-mentioned tasty foods and drinks) and the semi-sweet bits like work or uni, and the many other-flavoured bits like gigs, family, love triangles, housemates who have noisy sex... everything you might think of.

i still have this feeling like i'm taking a holiday from my life, and i don't think i want that anymore. but my life here hasn't taken a shape yet, and so i'm in the wonderfully terrifying position of a white middle-class australian of being able to choose the mould to which i form it. from there i start to thing about all the things that could have happened, and i get to enjoy screen-saver style scenarios (my friend thea called it this once, where you sit staring at one thing for long enough and the screen-saver in your mind kicks in, showing you something interesting and most likely pretty, that you can watch repetitively) of the many alternate universes in which i might live.

i could write a whole novel about the alternate universes of the life of helen taylor. and what a novel it would be, glamorous and intruiging and the whatnot. but honestly, i'm here now, and there's a very simple shopping list of things required to make this holiday of mine a proper life:

  • one aaron, including all the added extras that come with, not the least of which is the way he sometimes laughs at my jokes, when they're funny enough anyway.
  • a job that brings me money but doesn't make me lose my will to live
  • inspiration for writings of a very high calibre (instead of simply writing a frilly version of a first-world-problems-style whine about the fact i miss my boyfriend and don't know what i want to be when i grow up).
  • the mental willpower to learn and retain useful parts of the german language.
  • a puppy.
  • the confidence to drive a manual car.
  • an electric blanket. 

i think that's it for now. i endeavour to fill my life with real stuff, to stop and move away from the holiday.

not that i have anything against holidays.