travel

Mount Etna erupts during fish head stew

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In a bit of a stew

 

It was summer 1999.  I ventured out from the grotty pensione for my first evening ‘solo‘.  A surly, paunchy waiter with impressive sweat patches under his arms slammed a clay pot down on the wobbly table and barked ‘caldo’ at me with paternal gruffness.  The fish looked aghast at their predicament.  I stirred my spoon through abundant heads that bobbed around helplessly in sea-laced pomodoro.  I took another generous sip of red wine while summoning the courage to swallow something that would ordinarily beat me in a staring competition, when poised with glassy-eyed head on fork, I noticed a faint glow in the night sky.  On this hot Sicilian September night Mount Etna erupted and emblazoned on my memory its magnificent, molten sight.

 

 

Weirdo to Wo-man

‘I’m a creep.  I’m a weirdo’ as the song goes or I was once but now I’m retired.  I’ve experimented in life.  At twenty two I moved to the Big Smoke.  I threw myself into London’s dazzling lights.  I hurled shackles of constraint across Euston Road and they were crushed into a million pieces beneath the wheels of a cement mixer.  I got carbon fumes and piss-stained streets and voddy and tonic and bullshit in my peroxided, orbital red and black hair (an entry requirement for living in Camden that garnered the attention of snap-happy Japanese tourists ont tube).

 

camden-market1

 

I travelled.  I tried things.  In Verona, I watched Aida at La Scala after a near miss with a suicidal chihuahua that flung itself from a fourth floor balcony, allegedly, and landed behind my head on the pavement; a tragedy that, to me, usurped Verdi’s opera.  In Tuscany, I fell in love with a waiter, naturally.  I defy anyone not to.  In Sicily, I watched Mount Etna erupt as fish heads in my stew expressed alarm with terror-stricken, wide eyes and gaping mouths.  In Rome I was pickpocketted by an eight year old.  In Bologna, I dined beneath the porticoes on crostini and velvet ragu before dancing the night away.

In Thailand, I fell off a motorbike, got chased by a goose and bitten by a dog.  In Ao Nang, I washed myself with a blue bucket in a barmaid’s flat before a moped ride to Tiger Temple in the middle of the jungle where I was blessed by a Buddhist Monk.  I bathed in natural forest springs in Bali.  I walked through stepped paddy fields to meet the Hmong hill tribe in North Vietnam and I sailed through limestone outcrops at Halong Bay.

At Uluru, I marvelled at redbacks beneath a caravan before clambering upon its roof to gaze at the southern constellations.  I fell in love with a Kiwi in Sydney and we watched the sunrise at Gordon’s Bay.  I chewed the fat with coal miners at Tennant’s Creek and played Monopoly with a seventy year old ex-convict in Alice Springs.  In Queensland I met an Eastern Brown snake while clearing bush and one evening at dusk I stood in a cave and felt eight hundred and seventy two little bent-wing bats flutter through my hair.

 

 

Hmong women returning to their village, which cannot reach by road. Sapa, VN

 

So you see I’m glad I did everything I wanted to do.  There was a price but how can I possibly regret a thousand glorious memories.  It is what it is Gerry.

Right now all is calmer as I shuffle around in sheepskin booties and curl up under the arm of comfort and kindness and love.  I am older.  My hair is still long, straight and brown with an auburn glow in sunlight but now there are anarchic, wiry greys springing forth from my scalp to dismantle youth.  My eyesight is blurry.  My fingers are long.  My nails are chipped and unkempt.  My left hand is bigger than my right and my right ear is higher than my left.  I am to wed this autumn.

I have a round belly.  I eat well.  I have consumed meat just twice in two months.  I eat half a grapefruit most mornings.  I haven’t had a glass of wine in ten days.  A lingering virus helped along by two weeks of holidaying constitution abuse has quelled the thirst of late.  I love Asahi beer, a nice grassy Sauvignon with a hint of apricot and a stiff gin and tonic but I’m really not missing the demon drink at all, honest.  I told a lie.  I drank half a Guinness on Sunday but purely for its iron content; booze with a halo.

I have good personal hygiene, some say excessive.  I don’t recommend extinguishing a candle with your head or licking Raspberry and Vanilla scented shower gel off your arm no matter how much it smells like milkshake.  I can recommend sitting on the cool, white enamel of a bath tub while the shower pours hot water onto your back to unknot writer’s neck…bliss.

I find the social behaviour of crows amusing but people who balance plates, cups or glass precariously on the edge of things send my anxiety levels through the roof.  Gone, or at least fewer, are my days of ill-considered risk taking.  I am easily overwhelmed by any one thing en masse; people, cars, pigeons, cat hairs, voices, anything.  That said I live in the third busiest and fifth most congested city in the world.  I like that I can walk down a street and hear Somali, Cockney, Vietnamese, French, Dutch, Arabic and Gujerati.  I like the open-mindedness and tolerance required to live amidst a cultural smorgasbord. I like that I can see alternative theatrics of an evening.  This city will never cease to surprise.    But now I am ready to live elsewhere.  I long for the colour green.

I do not follow any faith.  In religious texts I have discovered beauty, bigotry, love, hate, wisdom, truth, lies, naivety, prose, dogma, common sense, ignorance, morality, fear, creativity, humour, discrimination, serenity, history and humanity in all of them.  My conscience is inseparable from my physiology.  When my body dies, I am gone.  I will exist in images and the words I write and the memories I make, so now is quite important to me.

Occasionally when I get too much for myself, I shake my spitefully masochistic brain around by the stem and slap its frontal lobe hard till it stops screaming and takes a hold of itself.  I sit on the floor, cross my legs and breathe, deeply.  I focus on dancing light between pear tree leaves till I see shimmering electrons resting on the spheres of a million tiny atoms.  I tell my mind to stop and sometimes it listens.  Time freezes.  My heart rate slows.  My body vanishes.  And then I hear.  I see.

The firethorn outside the window is laden with orange berries.  This morning as I flung the curtains back a startled wood pigeon abandoned her breakfast and took a laboured and clumsy flight into a pale gold, shimmering autumn sun.

At 13.27 an engineer came to fix the glacially slow internet upon e-instruction of a woman called Anju in a call centre 4,470 miles away.  He was a young man with a short Afro and bright eyes.  He told me a funny story.  The cat liked him.  He had a nice way.  He said: ‘The cat knows good peoples.’  I agreed.  Another man delivered a package at 18.06.  He told me he left the depot at 10am and he had delivered packages to 146 homes before mine.  I was number 147.  He said a lot of people get stressed but he still smiles because ‘all you have to do is allocate the right amount of time’; a good lesson.  He is going home after number 160.

Tonight after I have fed and watered Whatsfortea Jones, I will watch the waning Harvest moon on the eastern horizon.  Through the fork of the ash tree where the querulous squirrels sleep and beyond silhouetted leaves, I will visit the southern lunar highlands and land my craft in Tycho.  I am grounded nowadays.  My itchy feet are sated.  But my mind travels further than it ever has before.

 

Harvest Moon Irlam

 

 

Creep by Radiohead, just because it is amazing.  Embrace your inner weirdo! Xx 🙂

 

 

Image 1 source: http://london-sightseeing.net/camden-market-london/

Image 2 source: http://insidersasia.com/tour/sapa-hill-tribe-markets

Image 3 source: http://www.itv.com/news/granada/2014-09-09/harvest-moon-2014/