Monday, 5 December 2011

is there a cure for wanderlust?

So urbanjane is off soon to experience a different urban habitat ... Havana, cha cha cha!  I've seen friends' photos, heard their experiences, read stories, read guidebooks, read about the economy, read about Che, even read cookbooks, been taking Cuban salsa classes, been polishing up my Spanish, but I still don't know what to expect.  I know that it will be colourful, loud and noisy. I've heard the people are charming and the cars are vintage, the buildings are beautiful and crumbling but how will it hit me? I'm anxious. Will it be another somewhere that I can't get enough of and I keep getting pulled back to even though I know I don't belong there? Will it be another beautiful place that lodges itself in my heart? When I leave will it feel like it feels when a love affair ends suddenly?

This is my wanderlust and it's uncomfortable. One day I want to live somewhere else. But when I get there, it won't be somewhere else any longer. That's like the tomorrow that never comes.

My dream is that one day I find that "somewhere else" that feels like home.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

happy noise

My earliest memories of Spain are of lying critically ill on a hard bed in a hospital run by nuns. Looking back it was in stark contrast to the hushed corridors of illness we Brits are accustomed to  - trolleys rattled, doors banged, families gathered loudly, the nuns fretted and cooed over me and I lay there quietly terrified of the next injection into my boney bum.

I lived in Mallorca not so long ago and that was noisy too. For a while I was in Palma, in the centre of the old town whose backstreets seem quiet to an unsuspecting tourist wandering through, but the reality of living there is different. My housemates and I laughed at how the houses were so close together that no one bothered to come down to answer the door they just yelled up from the street and had their conversations there from the window down to the pavement for everyone to hear or join in. We called this phenomenon the Spanish Doorbell . Come siesta time during the heat of summer people would flake out in front of the TV with their doors and windows wide open. I think a lot of our neighbours must have been deaf as the volume was up so loud we could hear it right down the street. Once I heard a couple debating life and the universe working their way through a bottle of Tres Estrellas at 4am - they were across the alley and a few doors down but with the street being so narrow, I was able to yell at them from the comfort of my pillow to shut up, which they duly did. Then there was the all night partying, singing on the way home, rowing couples on doorsteps, mopeds screeching and dogs, lots of dogs, howling, barking or just wanting to join in the fun and the dogs would wake up the babies so that would set them all off and oh my goodness. And being in the middle of the building boom there was always the sound of concrete mixers and drilling and banging and workmen yelling over it all.

I moved out of Palma to the coast after a while and lived in an apartment block with a direct view of the bay. It was heavenly, but certainly no quieter. I had an alcoholic neighbour who sang and cried and threw things and her teenage son who played rave music as soon as she left at full volume. Dogs howled  to be let out from the balconies, people sang when they came home and girls threw things out of the window at their errant lovers. The apartment block was on a narrow one way street so when delivery men stopped to unload groceries the bus would get stuck for a while unable to pass and then a string of cars would start tooting their horns and there was much waving of arms and general shouting. It was the same every morning, and when that subsided the concrete mixers and drills and banging of construction would kick off again.  At the time I didn't really think of it as noisy, it was just part of the rhythm of life.

Now I'm working in the City the sounds of demolition and construction are once again part of my regular soundtrack and while my colleagues tut and complain about pneumatic drills and falling girders I don't mind at all. Once those drills start up I'm transported right back to that era of dusty heat when I lived my life absorbed in a different language and culture.

We are due to move premises soon to a lovely building close to the Thames. My colleagues heaved a collective sigh of relief when they found out that we'll be surrounded by listed buildings which means no more renovations.  I'm a bit disappointed though. I'll miss the sounds of rumbling machinery and smashing glass.

Friday, 7 October 2011

about the man who talks to animals

This post finds me once again in a favourite spot -  a small port on Turkey's spectacular turquoise coast. I am in love with this place, it's mid October and over 30 degrees with clear blue skies and a lively breeze, electric pink bougainville tumbling over buildings, trees laden with pomegranates, red sunsets and a warmth and friendliness from local people that I have never experienced before. I always have an adventure when I come here, and maybe that's why I keep coming back.
I had lunch yesterday on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the town and marina and the tiny Greek island of Meis where I was befriended by the elderly waiter, cook and general do everything man. His English was much better than my Turkish (not difficult) and we joked a little about how I had the place to myself and no one else was allowed in; well I thought it was a joke until another couple tried to sit down (instantly spoiling my view and my peace) and he told them to come back in the evening as they were closed even though it was only 1 o'clock.
After fresh calamari he invited me to sit and chat, made me a turkish coffee and presented me with a choice of three liqueurs on the house but with a fatherly warning not to drink too much. I chose a nutty one, thick and sweet and then he started telling me about his life, his parents, how he was brought up and his love for animals. He told me he loved to write and that one day he would publish a book, but it was too soon now and he would ask someone to do this for him after his death. He told me how he loves to disappear into the woods to be with animals and that they come to him - wild dogs, rabbits, goats, sheep, birds. He spends days camping out in the woods.Then he told me how the animals talk to him and he understands them. He said they tell him their stories and he writes it all down and that is the substance of his book. Such is the rhythm of life here this encounter seemed perfectly normal at the time, or maybe there was something in the nutty liqueur that made it seem quite normal. Today it seems really quite barmy but who knows, the book may be a best seller?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

wind power

Runners in London aren't noted for their friendliness. Whilst in the sticks you get enthusiastic waves and smiles from other runners, in London it's hard to elicit a friendly response.  Today was different though, I went out for a jog along the Thames and clocked a wave, a smile, a huge grin and even a verbal "Hello". Wow. What is different about today? Is there something in the air?

Yes there is something in the air! It's really windy - the remnants of Hurricane Katia are due to hit our shores and this is the precursor. I'm convinced this wind was responsible for the change in atmosphere and mood. It was so energising and uplifting and reminded me of a visit to San Francisco, one that changed my life.

I was flying out to stay with a bloke I'd met on a beach in the Caribbean earlier in the year. We'd been corresponding and chatting on the phone and he invited me to go stay for a couple of weeks, but when I arrived at the airport he wasn't there and had left me a message on his ansafone saying he was out of town. Disappointed, hurt, angry, confused doesn't really come close, but I phoned the only other person I knew in San Francisco who showed me the most amazing kindness and hospitality. I met her at the same time as aforementioned rat and we had got along and swapped phone numbers. As soon as she knew I was in SF she drove to my hotel and insisted I check out and stay with her ... she lived on a boat.

I was enchanted by the way she and those around her had organised their lives. They lived on their boats, taking them out once or twice a week for races, but had day jobs in the city. She was barefoot until she got to the office where she would rummage in her trunk for her shoes and handbag and turn into an executive. By 6pm though she was a boatie again, sitting on deck watching the sun go down and chatting with the other sailors.

So I spent a week or so there in a harbour in Alameda, hanging out with the boaties and experiencing a completely different kind of life and mindset. I'm not sure whether it was the era, or my age or my upbringing or the leftovers of being a  rebellious student but in those days it wasn't cool in London to be enthusiastic and happy. It was the norm to be negative, cynical and bored by everything. That way we thought we looked cool and interesting. San Francisco changed that for me. I found an energy there and an enthusiasm for life that I had never encountered before, people were warm, helpful, happy and in a hurry to take what life had to offer. According to the people I met this positive energy is a result of San Francisco's unique microclimate and the special wind that blows through the city.

When I came home I decided I wanted to be more like them. The results were more far reaching than just mindset. I did a couple of basic sailing courses and within a few months with a little knowledge and no experience had left England to try my hand working at sea - an adventure that lasted seven years.

Mid way through my travels when I was in America I tried to contact the lady who had set me on this course, but her boat had moved, her work number was disconnected and my letters were returned. (yes this was a before-email-existed adventure!) I wanted to thank her for her role in changing the course of my life, but I also know it is in some part due to the effects of the magical San Francisco wind!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Four free pina coladas please

I studied languages at university. Because I was good at them I thought that way I'd get better grades but it was always a bit of a slog. I really struggled with Dante's Inferno and the Chanson de Roland when all I really wanted to do was learn how to order a cappucino in faultless dialect and chat up boys in French.

Since then technology has changed the world and I don't have to sit exams any longer so I've discovered the joys of learning languages for fun. On the way to work you'll find me listening to One Minute Greek podcasts and Turkish grammar lessons.

I've found that if you listen to the podcasts often enough you can learn a language automatically but not necessarily in the way you think. For example last time I was in Turkey I managed to lock myself out of my room, but I didn't have any words for that. My podcasts on hotel problems only covered booking a room and malfunctioning air conditioning. Geared with that particular script in my head I used it to get someone to let me into my room, only to find the a/c was working perfectly, fancy that.

My mates take huge delight in laughing at my hopeful attempts to communicate ( you know who you are) but when you think you have asked for some more ice and four pina coladas turn up on the house who is complaining?