Short Story: An Angel Passes By



As I am (slowly) putting my website together and applying for freelance writing jobs I have been going through a lot of my writing and trying to group everything together. I noticed that I hadn't posted this story, which is strange as it quite naturally goes with Autumn's Place and Of Instability and Growing Roots. I wrote them all about the same time and with the same frame of mind.
In any case, everyone needs a Marlena in their lives, just to make everything a little brighter and happier. Not long after I write this one Bat For Lashes released her last album, with the song Laura on it, and it really made me think of my own Marlenas. Cherish those friends forever.

An angel passes by ("un ange passe") is a French expression that always takes me back to moments in the dead of the night during my late teens with the friends I grew up with, that moment when everyone goes quiet, contemplating their own thoughts, and then all go back to their conversations at the same time. That silence that doesn't feel uncomfortable, but warm and fuzzy. These are the people that will always be with you, your own personal angels in your lives. I dedicate this one to those who aren't here anymore.



An Angel Passes By

She stood there in her little babydoll dress, her long, skinny arms wrapped tight around her body, as if she were protecting herself from an invisible force that was about to hit at any moment. Her eyes stared wide into the distance, somewhere away from what we could all see around us and her forehead was creased into a frown of concentration. This is always the image I will have of her in my mind, touchable but unapproachable. Surrounded by a ring of fire keeping her away from the rest of us.

She stood there in her skinny black jeans and black velvet jacket, cigarette smoke encasing her body and a bright smile on her face when she recognized a friendly face approaching her. Nothing fake about her smile – once bestowed upon you, you felt like you were the center of attention for a minute; that no one else existed but you in the world. There are so few people on this earth who have the ability to make you feel this way, that when you meet them you cherish their love for life, long after they have moved on to other places and other people. This is the other image I have of her, happiness and sadness, encased in that body with the beautiful face.

Some people leave and their memories fade over time, until they are remembered only when a photo is found, or a random memory pops into your mind. Other people leave a special legacy behind, one that cannot be erased by time, or alcohol, or drugs or age. All I need to do is close my eyes and conjure up her face and all the emotions I felt every time I was in her presence, even after all these years. Her foot prints can be found all over the world, in the many countries that she traveled to and the many people she met and loved along the way. She was never famous, she never felt exceptional in any way, but she simply made everyone she came into contact feel special for a few moments, and those few moments always lasted forever. Some days I walk through the streets of Manhattan and see a swish of long, blonde hair and a cigarette in a hand and my heart stops for a second. Maybe it is her? Maybe she is still here, walking and talking and dreaming and crying and smiling and just simply present. Maybe I can have one last hug, and this time I will know it will be the last and I will remember it forever. I never knew the last time she hugged me would be the last time I felt her touch and smelt her shampoo and perfume floating around me. If I had known, the last time I told her I loved her I would have looked her in the eyes for more than two seconds and would have made sure she knew that I meant it with all my heart. I hope she knew that before she left.

Marlena was one of those people that you felt had always been in your life, however long you may have known them. She arrived in my life randomly one night, a friend of a friend drinking in a bar that we didn’t often frequent. I didn’t really talk to her that night, she was wrapped up in a conversation with another person who didn’t want to surrender her attention, and then she left abruptly, hugging everyone as she made her way to the exit. A few days later I bumped into her on the street, and she smiled at me and invited me to grab a late lunch with her at her favourite restaurant. She gradually introduced me to all of the people she knew in the neighbourhood and I became part of the family of people working and living there. Marlena always had time for a chat, however tired or overworked she was. She had the ability to make me laugh and smile, even when I knew she was having a rough day. And when she was tired or unhappy, all I wanted to do was make her feel better, a small gesture, a hug, a cup of tea at 3am. Anything to get that look of pure gratitude she would give you on those days. 

There are no perfect human beings. If perfection really existed it would be a flat, boring piece of blank wood. Imperfections create the depth that makes someone human. As much as Marlena was an amazing person, she was definitely not perfect. She kept herself distant from certain things, and locked away parts of herself deep inside so that you could not even see a glimpse of them in her eyes. She would turn away when someone tried to get too close and shut down, wary of giving herself fully to another, wary of being hurt again, and having to deal with pain, again. But she would cry openly and sometimes let you into what her life had been and what she wanted to hide from. What she had finally got over and what she was still going through. She could be as stubborn as a bull and would butt heads with people with her strong opinions. I could not even count the amount of times I had seen her jump up and smash her fist on the bar shouting “but you aren’t listening to me!!!” and stomp off outside for another cigarette, ranting under her breath about idiocy and hypocrisy. But two minutes later she would be back, buying rounds of shots for everyone and laughing at the argument that had taken place moments before. There was never a boring moment in her presence.

Marlena taught me how to find the perfect beaches near the city, wild places where the waves would drag in shells and crabs and city trash, where you could sleep at night if you felt like it and you knew you were safe. She showed me special places in the city where the walls were painted with so much art you could spend hours just looking at them. I taught her where to find the best bagels and where to go to feel like you were in the middle of the countryside right in the city. She would sometimes disappear for a few days and apologise when she reappeared, always saying she needed time away, time to herself, time to finish a song, time to listen to her own voice in her head, away from others that were always crowding it. She would wrap her arms around herself and frown worries away until she could smile lightly again. Some days I would walk into her work and see how tired she was despite her smile and other days she would jump up in happiness and throw herself into my arms, a little ball of energy that couldn’t stop itself from showing all her emotions. She was just a normal girl, but one who created a special place in her heart for everyone.

“I think it’s time for a pint – who’s in?”

“Marlena – it’s only Noon! We have stuff to do today!”

“I said a pint, not 20, and I could really murder a Guinness right now. We can have it with lunch, that way we won’t feel like we are just drinking. And let’s call Robert and Liza and Sandy and the rest so they can join us!”

“OK – and here goes our productive Monday. Let the fun and games begin!”

Never a boring moment. Being friends with Marlena meant being friends with everyone she knew. And being friends with everyone she knew meant that you never really felt alone anymore. Some people you liked less than others, some you felt great connections with while others remained acquaintances, but everyone had something in common: Marlena. She loved to be surrounded by friends and watch them interact and be around each other. She loved to try and match make but hated it when people tried to do it to her. She didn’t get angry often, but when she did you could never see it coming until her rage had broken free. After you saw that you tried hard not to cross her or upset her. No one wanted to be on the other side of that!

When I put her in a cab that night and hugged her, telling her I loved her, she asked me to text her when I got home, which was always the last question she asked all her friends when they left the bar. Twenty minutes later I got her text saying she was home safe and getting into bed. She never made it out of bed alive. Her heart just stopped beating, gave up and sent her off to another place. There was no real medical explanation for this happening at such a young age, so we all ended up deciding that she was needed more somewhere else, and that she had given us everything we needed and everything she had to give. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t devastated… It took me months and months to stop waking up crying and looking at pictures of her. I found it hard to walk down the streets where she used to always be, hard to be in places where I always wondered if she would miraculously walk through the front door. All of her friends banded together and talked about her and stayed friends, but it was always surrounded by sadness. Her presence was always around, but her voice could not be heard anymore.

Even now, years later, we always hold a Marlena party, a night out together where we drink pints, do shots in her honour and get completely drunk and silly. There are people who just won’t go away, even if they are dead and long gone. Marlena is one of those, an angel passing through lives, making them just that little bit better than they were before she arrived. Cherish those Marlenas as they are special people that may not be able to stay long. 

Catch some of their essence before it drifts away elsewhere – it will stay with you for life.

Short Story: 9/11 - The Day the World got Darker

I don't know why I have never posted this one, but it was written years ago one September, as I remembered what I was doing on 9/11/01. I will never forget that day, nor how it made me feel for a few years after that. It's important that we always remember this day, for the horrific acts that happened, for the people who perished, for the heroic people who ran into the buildings to save lives, and for the aftermath of the attacks, all over the world. I know that I will never forget.

9/11 - The Day the World got Darker

It was just another day really… No classes to attend, no teaching classes to give either, so I was just sitting at home pretending to put together some research points towards my MA thesis, but really scrolling through the web on my slow dial-up connection looking for something interesting to read, and watching Derrick on the TV. Nothing better than a daytime German detective show dubbed in French to pass the time.

Until the phone rang.

“Have you seen what’s happening??

Attentats

!!”

“What on earth are you talking about? I’m watching Derrick and drinking coffee. Want to meet up and hang out?”

“Put the fucking TV on. Someone has bombed the World Trade Center in New York. LOOK!!”

I groaned and changed the channel and then just sat there in silent shock with the receiver stuck to my ear. All I could see were images of smoke billowing from one of the tallest buildings in the world. I couldn’t even register what the reporter was saying, I couldn’t even read the words that were flying by on the bottom of the screen, but it appeared that everyone was in the same type of shock and no one really knew what was happening.

“Can you please come over right now? This is scaring the shit out of me and I don’t want to be alone here.”

“I’m on my way, will be there in 10 minutes.”

I sat there with the receiver still in my ear and waited. No one knew what was happening; the journalists were trying to scramble together as much information as possible and everyone was obviously in a state of shock and fear. And then all hell broke loose, a silence, and then the reporter’s voice saying that it appeared that another plane had crashed into the second tower.

The moment that that happened the world knew that this wasn’t a freak accident. Two planes flew directly into the WTC towers and exploded inside. I sat glued to the TV, trying to make sense of it all. There was no way on this earth that two aeroplanes had flown directly into the Twin Towers by accident. It was too precise, too calculated. I let my friend in, he made some coffee, and we continued to watch the news together, in silence. There was a hush, a chain of images and then the reporter’s voice, trembling slightly, announcing that there were two more planes in the air somewhere, two planes that had turned off their radios and were most probably heading for the Pentagon and the White House.

Then a plane crashed into the Pentagon. The images on the TV screen hovered between the Twin Towers with the smoke billowing out of them and the Pentagon where there were also clouds of smoke appearing from what looked like the center, and the reporter who was obviously as shaken as we were, civilians all over the world watching in horror as the biggest terrorist act ever carried out was taking place, live, before our eyes. Three planes crashed into important American landmarks, a fourth plane still in the air, possibly heading for the White House. All of those people dead and dying, all of those people trapped above the flames and the smoke, waving for help out of the windows so high up in the sky. I saw something black fall from a window, and then another, and realized that people were jumping to their deaths rather than waiting to burn or die of asphyxiation. There were no real words to describe all of the feelings that were going through my body at once, pain, sadness, confusion, disgust, anger and also the feeling that this couldn’t be real.

Then there was a rumble and all voices stopped talking, and as if in silence, one of the towers just collapsed into a huge cloud of dust and debris. It didn’t fall down sideways, but floor by floor, as if a huge hand had come out of the sky and shoved it down from above. I say in silence, but only because I heard silence in my head, the world had stopped and the impossible had taken place. 

“All of those people!! Oh my God, all of those people!! How could they survive with THAT falling on them??”

And then the same rumble, and the collapse of the second tower. I just hoped that those who were trying to escape the second tower had made it out, because all that was left was clouds and clouds of smoke and dust. The TV went silent for a second, while the commentators tried to gather their composure and explain what had happened right there, in Manhattan. Visible on screens worldwide, the entire world population had been able to see a terrorist act gone completely right, probably even better than had been expected in their wildest dreams. More images on the screen, and then the reporter giving us news of a plane that had gone down in Pennsylvania, probably the last hijacked flight that had fortunately not met its intended destination.

I continued to watch the scenes, listen to the words, hoping that it was all a huge farce, a prank to see how gullible we were. I was speechless. My friend refilled my coffee cup a few times and went out to buy cigarettes, as I couldn’t move. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t really formulate any sentences. I realized I was in shock and then felt terrible, as I was lucky to be thousands of miles away, in the comfort of my little apartment in France. But then again, how safe was I? How safe were any of us anymore? Planes had been hijacked before, not one, but four in one go, right under the eyes of the American officials. Before this plane hijackings were used as a way to extort some kind of deal, money or other (apart from the Lockerbie bombing). When had hijacked planes been used as deliberate weapons to kill? The name Osama Bin Laden was said over and over again, as many times as the images of the attacks spiraled over the screen. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even think straight. I finally got through to my mother in California, and she had only heard the news when she got to work, had been spared the horror of seeing it all happen on live TV. I saw those people die when they jumped from the top of the towers. Flying through the air, all hope lost.

I continued to watch through-out the night, fell asleep to the same images that I woke up to. All regular TV shows had been suspended and the news reports kept coming in the rest of the next day. Death tolls and interviews and pictures of women running for their lives, covered in dust and debris. Statements from different terrorist groups, images of people weeping and people cheering, a collective feeling of horror in most places, chants of joy in certain countries. Death is death. It kills you just the same. I couldn’t wrap my head round the enormity of the acts, the change that they brought to the entire world. The day those planes crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania, was the day the world changed. No country was safe anymore, and no country would ever be safe again. Ever. During the Cold War we feared nuclear attacks, but we also knew that they would never really happen, neither the US nor the USSR wanted to commit that much damage and death. Not really. But on September 11

th

2001, a new evil emerged from the darkness and bared its teeth to the world. There would be no warning, no amnesty and no guilt. You were going to die, wherever the fuck you may find yourself in the world. 

I lost the little hope and optimism I had left that day. For weeks afterwards I was obsessed with watching the footage, over and over again. I followed the war in Afghanistan with baited breath, with some anger that it had taken such a terrible act to actually care about what was going on in Afghanistan. I think that I couldn’t help feeling like it was too little and too late. I started to stay in as much as possible, just in case something else happened. The TV was on day and night, with me waiting

for the next attack, the next images of death and destruction and hatred and sorrow. A plane disintegrated above Queens and all of the national TV channels went on high alert until it was determined that it was just a “regular” crash, based on some kind of technical fault. Engine failure.

I started suffering from brain failure. My slow decline into depression that had started months before took a nosedive, right down into the pits of the dark world that surrounded me. There was no hope left inside. Food tasted bland, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything apart from the news, terrible chick lit novels and my thesis. Sylvia Plath? Why not, I mean I was more than willing to crawl right under the bell jar with her, snapping it tightly shut. We could breath the same foul air together, but at least we were protected from the outside world. Three CDs on eternal rotation on my CD player: Tim Buckley’s Greatest Hits, Tom Wait’s Used Songs and Bob Dylan’s Desire. A Tim Buckley cassette compilation I had made was in the shower, nothing else. The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me on my record player in the living room. I couldn’t drink alcohol anymore, it just made me want to vomit. My dreams just turned to nightmares, so it was better off I didn’t really try to sleep, just toss and turn and think of death and how much warmer it felt than life.

How can something so much bigger than you, something that effects the world as a whole, something that triggered events that would never end, wars that had no meaning, more death, more hatred, more despair, affect one person in such a way? Why did

not let it change me for the better, why did I crawl away into a hole and hope that I could hide away in death, because life had no more happiness to offer? I felt like I was wasting away, I withdrew myself from my friends and stayed in my apartment, cuddling my cat and watching the news. There was no more hope. What happened to the girl who was an idealist? Who lobbied for the rights of the Tibetan people in front of cinemas and bars? What happened to the girl who tried to talk to everyone about the fate of the Afghan women under the Taliban? What happened to the girl who cared, who wanted to make a change, who wanted to make things better?

She lost hope. The day those planes crashed into those buildings was the day I finally lost the will to survive.

“Want to go out for a drink? I’m out with the boys at the usual bar, everyone is asking about you and is wondering why they haven’t seen you for a while.”

“Ah… I’m in my pyjamas. It’s too late, I have class tomorrow.”

“No you don’t! You have one class a week this semester, and don’t use the thesis excuse, I saw how far along you are. Take a night off, come out and have fun. Please. I miss you. We all miss you.”

“Don’t just say that to make me feel better love, I know you will all have fun without me. I… Just… I just can’t right now. I don’t feel well, I feel like I may puke and just want to stay in bed. I love you.”

“I love you too… I’m worried. I’ll bring you coffee in the morning.”

Click. 

What did I say? Lost all hope.

Image taken from the web - could not find the copyright as it appears on so many different sites.

Image taken from the web - could not find the copyright as it appears on so many different sites.

Old Writing: The Beach (an ongoing love story)

While I am procrastinating about finishing some new pieces that I have been working on for a while now, I have been reading some old stories I wrote about nine years ago, just after I got back from Israel. This is one that just happens to be timeless, as it is a love story of mine that will never end or go away. Thankfully I don't live too far from the ocean nowadays, but I would love one day to live right by it, so close that every day when I wake up it is the first thing I see and hear.


(Written in August 2004)
What is it that draws me to the sea? I wasn’t born near the sea, I’ve never lived by the sea, well not until I went to Israel anyway. I just have an immense love for seas, oceans and beaches. The constant waves soothe me, the sand under my bare feet massages my unsteady spirit, and the sun making its way over the water releases a feeling of utter freedom in my heart. If I stay away from the beach too long I miss it terribly, I dream of sitting on the sand watching the waves, of searching for shells along the edge of the water, of making gigantic sandcastles with walls and moats.

The first two months I was in Israel, I spent them in the middle of the desert. On a beautiful moshav literally in the middle of nowhere, a kilometre off the main road, bang in between Be’er Sheva and Eilat. Oh yes, I developed a love for the desert, miles and miles of sand, mountains looming in the distance, a dry bush or tree here and there and a pounding, relentless sun, but I missed the water and waves.

So when I went to the Kibbutz Programme Centre in Tel Aviv in the beginning of September (2003) I knew I wanted to go north. Preferably by the beach. That’s what I asked for, and after being told there was room on a kibbutz on the road to Jenin the lady brought out another folder and handed it to me with a little smile.
There was no choice to be made really. Evron is situated 1km or so south of Nahariya, right up north, a very short distance from the Mediterranean and the train could take me all the way there. An hour and a half from Tel Aviv, a ten-minute walk from Nahariya and the station, 6 hours from the moshav, but no need for endless bus rides. A short phone call and it was all arranged, I was off to Evron. And for 7 months I lived on a beautiful kibbutz 10 minutes by foot from the sea. When you’ve lived by the sea once, you just dream and dream of living by the sea again.

I worked in the Dining Room most days, and there was a special part on the path going from the Dining Room to the Volunteer House where the sea appears suddenly on the horizon. Every day, rain or shine, when I got to that part of the path my heart would suddenly lift and everything would seem so perfect, even if only for a moment.

The first time I went to the beach I went alone. I had arrived in Evron the evening before, worked in the kitchen on my first day and was ready to explore the area. I walked into Nahariya, along the main road (I love walking, I’ve never seen the point in using a car or bus for short distances) and strolled along the main street, knowing that it had to end up at the beach at some point. There is a “river” running through Nahariya to the sea. It runs right down the middle of the main street and it was never really more than a trickle if not completely dried up (it did overflow once during a flash flood though).


I walked along the beach for a while, kicking off my flip-flops and rubbing my feet into the hot, coarse sand. The sand in Nahariya is unlike sand on most beaches around the world, its grains are big and coarse and stick to your skin like glue. Many a time I would come back from the beach with it stuck all over me. Knowing my love for the sea it was pretty obvious after my first contact with the beach in Nahariya that I wasn’t going to want to leave very quickly.

The weather was hot all the way until November, and I made many trips to the beach. Often with other volunteers. On Yom Kippur Andrea, Erica, Lotti, Haun and I walked in the middle of the empty main road, even sitting in the middle of it at one point for a perfect photo moment, and spent the whole afternoon sunbathing, paddling and searching for shells. It was on the beach that Andrea and I really bonded, and we would often walk along the water edge, chatting away for hours, making these outings into our own special moments together. I have to say that the friendships I made in Evron are some of the most special friendships I had made that will always be a part of me, even if we never meet again.

During the short winter months I made less trips to the beach, but still often enough. After my trip to Egypt in January, Isabel arrived in Evron and I made it my job (and pleasurable it was too) to take her under my wing and show her all of the things I loved. When I learnt she had never been to Nahariya I rounded up Fernando and Helge and we took her into town, along the “river” that had risen so high it had flooded the pavements and left them full of mud. We walked all the way to the sea on the little walls so as not to get stuck in the mud. The sea was particularly rough that day; I’d never seen the Mediterranean like that before, waves crashing onto the beach, the wind roaring. We walked along the mini pier, getting splashed by the salty water and took a picture of ourselves with the lights of Haifa in the background.


Another time we were all sitting on the beach, and both Fernando and me remarked one after another, without having heard the other say it, that the sea was more like a lake, the waves pretty much non-existent, just slight ripples from the breeze. The fact that the water is so unpredictable, calm one day, rough the next is uplifting to me. Whereas I crave stability in some ways, I enjoy the instability of nature as I find it soothing. If nature is unpredictable then I can be so too without having to worry about conforming with the rest of society. I need to be free and water makes me feel as if I have the right to be.

The weather changed suddenly in February and we were faced with a heat wave that went on for a few weeks, into the beginning of March. One Friday Fernando and I decided to forego the usual Friday night partying and headed off to the beach instead. We got Isabel, Helge, Indy and Maor to go with us and set off wrapped up warm, with the radio and the narguila. Fernando and I spent the whole walk ahead of the others, talking and joking, and when we finally got there we installed ourselves near the edge of the water, smoked narguila and looked at the stars. Nowadays every time I look at the moon and the stars I often think of that moment on the beach, a moment in time that will always be part of me. We cranked up the volume of the radio and danced like idiots in the sand, play fighting, singing, relaxing. Not really a beach party, but a special evening nonetheless.


If you went a different way to the beach, past the Kanyon and the newer housing estates then you would come across an inlet I discovered with Erica, a little cove-like area protected by rocks that I proceeded to call “my beach”. It was quieter than the beach area in central Nahariya and there were many shells and slimy rocks to climb on. I would go there to read and to think, alone, with Isabel, once with Maor too. That’s the beach I miss the most. The sun setting over the endless looking water, casting coloured reflections everywhere. Images cloud my memory, sharp as it is, Fernando finding sea glass for me, Isabel and Helge making an intricate sandcastle, falling asleep with Erica under the sun, walking along the water edge with Andrea, collecting shells with Isabel…

Tel Aviv must have one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You can walk all the way up the beach to Jaffa, look at all of the weird, beautiful, normal and downright crazy people chilling out. Strolling along there with Judith, Ella and Eden very early one Shabbat morning; sitting there on Christmas Day with a hangover with Nick, Kirsty and Lotti; Sunbathing with Fernando in May before going down to Eilat… If I close my eyes I’m there. 

My dream is to live right by the beach, to be able to hear the noise of the waves every morning when I wake, every evening when I go to sleep. I would like to be able to look out my window and see sand and water. One day I will. You can take me away from the beach but you can’t take the beach away from me. One day hopefully. One day I will sit on my little porch and write stories in the sun, above the ocean.


Writing: The Story of a Dream

Usually when I am having a nightmare I tend to wake up, turn around and go back to sleep, forgetting the nightmare and dreaming or not dreaming of something else. Same thing if I am having a nice dream - if I wake up in the middle I will never go back to it again. For the first time in my life (or I suppose that I can actually remember) a few weeks ago I had a dream that ran through 8 hours of sleep, multiple eyes-open-I-am-awake pit stops and actually had a real beginning and a real end. The nightmare-dream was so vivid and real that I can still imagine the scenes today... In any case, this is not a short story, just the strange dream in words. It was as if I was living a movie that I was watching in my head. I'll just keep this as a reminder of how brilliant our imaginations can be when we let them loose.


A Story of a Dream
Two years ago
They sound like loud fireworks, the kind that the city lets off on the 4th of July. But there is no coordination or choreography to these gunshots, mortar shells or bomb explosions. They go on and on and on and then stop. Just when you think that it’s safe to venture out to find lost ones and food and water they start up again. Daytime, nighttime, dawn, dusk; it never ends. The ground shakes, the dead pile up and the pillaging goes on. The electricity has now been out for weeks and radio communication is sparse: batteries have all but disappeared from any of the shops; shops that have no owners or employees anymore, and practically no food, dry or fresh.  All that is left of my apartment is a shell of a building, first it was attacked by snipers and then a large bomb finished it off. Troutman St, Jefferson St, Bushwick Ave – they all look like a war zone in the Middle East, not like the residential part of Brooklyn that they were six months ago. I fled with my cat, a blanket and a few belongings last week, over the Williamsburg Bridge to join some of my friends in Union Square. Our places of work have been closed for weeks, all of the alcohol gone, rats roaming over the Lower East Side eating the crumbs of what has been left behind to rot. 

What happened? One day everything went about its business as normal, the next nuclear missiles were flying all over the world, hitting the most random of targets and setting off what would become a war that no one could make any sense out of. No strategy, just a race to see who could kill the most people off in the shortest of time. Instead of uniting in fear and politics this country has become its own civil war zone, groups of people fighting against each other for no other reason than a need to be bigger and better. The government has long since disappeared into silence, maybe dead, maybe hiding, and we have no way of communicating with anyone within the city, let alone outside of the country. I have no idea how my family is faring, and now my only thoughts are on survival. Survival of myself, my cat and my close friends, the ones that I have been able to remain in contact with.

A few of us have created a little fort in front of Union Square, piles of boxes and bricks, a safer place to sleep, especially when we are huddled in numbers. There are fewer bombs dropped on Manhattan now, but the sniper dangers still exist and we are all scared of what could happen to us at any moment. Food is so scarce and the last bridge went down a few days ago, so, unless one of us can find a boat we are practically stranded on this island that has no light, no public transport, scarce food supplies and no working hospitals. I’ve seen people throw dead bodies into the rivers, just because there is nowhere to bury them on the island and the stench of the rotting flesh was beginning to putrefy the air over the city. We have nowhere to go and nowhere to stay. People are setting up homes in the tunnels of the subway lines, in broken down and bombed out buses and houses. Our Union Square spot is unsafe but none of us have been able to find a safer place to rest yet, our main concerns are staying alive and finding food and water. Those who didn’t know how to shoot rapidly learnt and we use bottles of whiskey and cigarettes, stolen from our bars when we knew that we would never go back to work in them again, to barter for food and firearms.

Two Years ago
Two days ago the fighting got worse again, and a group of heavily armed individuals moved into Union Square just as a general protest was starting up. I hid in our shelter with Luna while the sounds of explosions get louder and louder. At one point someone broke in and tried to carry me away with him, obviously not with any honorable intentions in mind, but I fought and screamed and a good Samaritan heard my cries and fought him off for me. We ran away down a side street and hid there until the fighting moved away. I went back to find my friends and grabbed those who had made it through, probably never knowing if those who are unaccounted for are dead or alive, hiding out somewhere else. We had become so used to having instant communication via text messages that now we don’t know how to handle the fact that once someone disappears you may or may not ever see them again.

One year ago
Seven of us found an apartment in an unfinished government subsidized housing building up in the far northern area of the island. It was supposed to be one of those high-end buildings with a pool and a gym and laundry rooms and upscale appliances in each apartment, constructed for families in need of a cheaper rent. Of course there is no running water and no electricity, but we are making do, the seven of us and my little cat, who has survived all of this with us. She roams around the building, but always makes it back within a few hours, sleeping in my arms or in her travel bag, the same one she used to refuse to get into. Now it is her safe spot. 

We have started to organize ourselves into a larger group of like-minded individuals, other people who don’t agree with the fact that this is the way that the world is going to revolve from now on. The group of right-wing people who have taken control of the island are only concerned about power and wealth and killing anyone who won’t agree or act according to their rules. Anyone who is part of the ruling party has running water and electricity again, while we continue to live day by day, in fear of being caught and killed. There is no way that I can live like this, hiding in a hole, not doing anything but surviving. We meet up in established safe houses, communicate via message drop offs and plan actions that will overthrow the “government”. I remember when we used to complain about our democratic government, back before this war and chaos, but at least we had our freedom. Now all we have is each other and our plans to do everything we can to create change again. I always wonder what life is like in the rest of the country and in other countries. Have whole nations been wiped out, places taken over by dictators and despotic rulers hell bent on creating a world that only belongs to them? Have other countries managed to build themselves back up in unity again? 

If we have to resort to physical violence to stop the horrific happenings around us we will. I am no longer against the use of explosives and guns to bring some kind of good back into what is becoming pure evil. They don’t hesitate to torture and main us if they capture us, one of us died in their hands, his head stuck on a pole in the middle of Union Square, right wear the public demonstration was squashed last year, as a reminder of what they are capable of. There are other families who are also squatting in the building but we all tend to hide from each other, as no one dares trust anyone except for those close to them. And even then our greatest fear is that at some point, as we grow, a mole will find its way amidst us and will quash our revolution before it is even underway. We are mainly in the planning area now, uniting different groups together so that we can act as one. Politics are put to the side for now; it is going to be the People against this evil that has penetrated our world. We remain positive that we will be able to overthrow them, as it will be a mass against a small group. They may be armed to the teeth but we are not afraid to die to ensure that we have a better life again. 

I walk around the city in constant fear that I will be caught and taken in, randomly questioned about why I am not working in one of the work force groups around the island. Every foot I take outside is a risk, and the alleyway of steps near our home is full of lurking shadows. I carry meeting notes and maps and important information around with me, information that I leave in drop boxes and secret pick up locations. If I were to be caught I would be tortured. Or if I were attacked by a random stranger for money or food or just because he/she felt a need for violence, and were found with incriminating documents they would surely sell me off to the party, for a few crumbs and a feeling that they helped find another one of us revolutionaries. Luckily there are more and more people who feel like us, and not as many people who live for fear and violence.

Now
It’s finally over. Or maybe over isn’t the exact word to use, more like there is a new beginning in the air. The party was brought to his knees and we have put a group of people in their place, not a real government, just an interim group of people who will bring back some kind of normal life to this island while we create new political parties and voting systems. The streets are safer nowadays and some cars have returned, although it will take a while to get the electricity and water running everywhere again. We now have boats running over to Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey and a preliminary mail service on horseback has been set up. I still have no idea what has happened to my family and they all probably assume that I am dead, but in the future I hope to make my way across the States to find them, once I am happy with the stability of life in New York. I can only assume that there are nuclear bomb craters all over the States, cities that have been wiped out and other cities that are fine, just cut off from everywhere else. Or maybe there is nothing left out there?

I still can’t really walk down the street with confidence and without an inkling of fear. There still are shadows in the corners and lurking conflicts. The streets are much safer than they were last year, but there is still a lot more work to be done. People will not feel completely secure until we have a strong and healthy government in place, and this is something that may take a while. Sometimes I wish I had kept a lower profile as I know that there is a price on my head out there somewhere, but it was necessary, just for the greater good of this city. I’m just ready to leave for a while, travel and find out the fates of my family members and other missing friends.

Now
While waiting in line for food rations near the old Post Office building in Midtown she was killed by an acid bomb. He came out of nowhere, pushed me aside and threw the bomb at her stomach. Amidst all of the chaos he got away, and she died fast, with so much sadness in her eyes. I will continue the mission she was so invested in, and I will also search for her family members so that they know exactly what she accomplished and how she helped a cause that was necessary. Résistance toujours!


Short story: Autumn's Place


Autumn’s Place

There is a place not too far away from here where the sun always shines and the sky is always blue. At night the moon rises through a clear dark sky speckled with a million stars, all flickering away to some kind of galactic symphony. During the day the birds sing in harmony and at night the fireflies float around in the air, humming along to their own songs. Once in a while voices can be heard across the bay, but most of the time all you can hear are your own thoughts. If you close your eyes and clear your mind you can imagine this special place not too far away from here.

Autumn dreamt of this place when she wasn’t there. It was her haven away from the real world, her spot in the world where she felt like she really existed. Two days of real existence cancelled out the other five days of the week where she felt like she was just another ant building up the ant hill. Alarm clock to work to lunch to smoke break to work to gym to dinner to bed to alarm clock again. The boring cycle of the week days made her want to randomly kick things while screaming until her throat was hoarse. But once Friday came along, she would grab her weekend bag and hop on the subway, knowing full well that within the following 12 hours she would taste freedom again.

The air felt so pure and fresh that Autumn would let it fill her lungs as soon as she stepped off the train. Rain or shine, summer or winter, she would try to never miss a weekend away. There was nothing that the city had to offer her than millions of people, emails clamouring for her attention and a small, box-like apartment where she could never feel at home. Out in the special place she had as much space as she needed, more space than she would ever need. The deer would run across the lawn, chomping on the hyacinth flowers in bloom, and the raccoon babies would hole up beneath the ceiling rafters, keeping warm until they were big enough to venture outside alone, ready to attack the garbage cans that lay around for them to choose from.

On Saturday mornings, during any season, be the roads frosty or glistening with ice, or the air so humid with heat that one felt like one was drinking airdrops, Autumn would rise before the sun and walk down to the bay to watch it slowly come up over the water to the east. The sky would turn purple and then orange and yellow, bruised streaks lining over your head, until it looked like the sky would alight upon the bay, throwing fire onto the water, before the sun broke through the horizon and another sunny day would start. In the evening, she would rush over to the west bay and watch the sun set on the water again, sometimes over fishermen and swimmers, other times over blocks and blocks of ice that were floating about. Even during the winter months the sun rays were piercing and strong, as if nothing could beat the power it had over the place. It was clear that nature ruled the place that had captured Autumn’s heart and had given her the freedom that she needed so much to make it through the week days of her life.

Autumn had chosen a life of compromise: if she had the weekend of her choice she would endure the other five days of the week. She felt that she had no other choice than compromise. There were no shades in her black or white, it was prison and escape and back to prison again. She lacked the imagination or the will-power to make her freedom an everyday occurrence. By accepting what she saw as her fate she gave up on seeking for anything more in life. 

Saturday nights were for lighting the log fire and curling up on the couch with the dog and a book. Dinners would be fresh vegetables cooked into soups and stews and salads over the stove, herbs picked from the garden and tea made from lemongrass and honey. Produce was always purchased locally, from the farmers, or picked directly from the vegetable garden amidst the hibiscus flowers. Autumn’s choice of a book was so very eclectic, but she would always finish at least one during the weekend, another form of escape. Escape within escape, so that what was considered by most to be her real life was completely forgotten for hours on end. What was real life anyway? The job that she hated and that took up most of her days, but that paid the bills and allowed for short getaways, or the life in her place by the bay, away from everything and everyone, where dreams could be dreamt without any guilty feelings?

Autumn would walk down to the ocean on Sundays, never mind the season or the weather, to sit by the waves and watch them crash against the shore. The ocean made her feel serene and energetic at the same time, and helped her collect her thoughts and her doubts together, and make sense of them. There is nothing more powerful than the ocean – it will pick you up and throw you about without fail, and will take anything in that you throw into it, swallowing it whole and throwing it back up miles and miles away, somewhere else in the world. Some things never come back up, they are swallowed forever, and disappear into the earth. Autumn would imagine all of her fears disappearing into the darkest parts of the ocean where no one would ever think of looking for them. Or maybe they were swallowed up by a shark and shredded into a million pieces, never to be found again. Every week new fears and doubts were thrown into the waves, some disappearing, others coming back again, weeks later.

Whereas the ocean was the beginning of all feelings of freedom for Autumn, it also ended up being the end of it for her. Autumn’s life was divided into boxes, all enclosed by one big box; a small box for her city prison, a bigger box for her free life and tunnel boxes that lead the way to both boxes. There was no sign of a tunnel to go outside of the biggest box, it was one that Autumn had forgotten to build for herself. There was no outside, there was just the city and the special place, just a train ride away. A week day life and a weekend life, nothing else, carefully built so that nothing ever felt out of place. Even her freedom was built to last only parallel with the prison life. The ocean would take and take from her, but it would also give her back something that she had not even tried to imagine existed anymore: something outside of all of this.

One Saturday night, on a rare night when Autumn found herself stuck in the office, working on a project that needed to be finished before Monday morning, the rain started to fall. And fall, and fall, and fall. By Monday the rivers had washed up over the borders, and were racing through the lower parts of the city, picking up cars and debris and trailing them along the streets. Television showed scenes of chaotic winds, trees falling and electricity pylons rooted up from the ground, leaving thousands and thousands stranded without power and water. On Tuesday the storm dissipated and the sky became blue again, washed clean of the anger nature had unleashed on the country. Whereas the city had weathered some damage that would take time to fix, Autumn’s special place had been reclaimed by the ocean. Where she had once walked and ran with the dog, watched the sun rise and set, read books and picked flowers, were now only fish and waves and the odd roof and boat floating about before it was dragged into the midst of the ocean. The special place was somewhere down there, among the fears and doubts that Autumn had sent into the water. The ocean had taken Autumn’s self-created freedom but had thrown her something back: the ability to make a choice and a change in her own creation. Instead of living in the self-contained box for the rest of her life, content but not happy, she now had the choice of breaking free. It was now up to her to make this choice.

When one thing disappears another thing is not far behind to take its place.


Short Story: Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)

Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)


Tout seul dans mon placard
Les yeux cernés de noir
A l'abri des regards
Je défie le hasard
Dans ce monde qui n'a ni queue ni tête
Je n'en fais qu'à ma tête
Un mouchoir au creux du pantalon
Je suis chevalier D'Eon – Mylène Farmer, Sans Contrefaçon


“First stop at Hannibal-qui-n’est-pas-Hannibal for the wine, then Place Victor Hugo for Berlioz!”

“It’s been too long; we have so much to tell Berlioz, so much!”

Red wine for the winter days: dark and warm, stains your lips red and leads to a darker and thicker drunken state. Red wine to warm the soul while running around the streets of the town in the cold days, sometimes Port on a rich day, but mostly red wine of low quality, no more than 15 francs a bottle from the usual épicérie on the corner of Les Halles. White wine for the spring and the summer, fresh from the fridge if possible, but it’s not too much of an issue if it’s warm as it’s all going to be gone pretty fast. One bottle for now and another for the bag, as you never know how long of a night it is going to be.

It’s always important to eat before drinking, because you don’t want to get sick, especially if you don’t have much money and are leaning towards the cheaper bottles, or even the plastic bottles of near-vinegar if the finances are severely dire. Bottle opened in hand? Ready to go!

Place Victor Hugo, where our old friend Hector Berlioz resides in the form of an imposing statue, looking over the fountain and the people who walk through on their way elsewhere. This is where the Christmas market is held in the winter and where children jump through the fountain in the summer (as well as the occasion child-adults such as me). Who hasn’t jumped into a fountain and walked home soaking wet but laughing gleefully? Or maybe that is just me…

Mélusine and Marie-Antoinette, off with her head, skipping hand in hand down the old streets of the city, a bottle of wine in each hand and hundreds of ideas and thoughts racing through our mind. Berlioz is the beginning and the end; he listens without judging, never moves and never leaves us. The first bottles are opened at his feet and the race towards l’ivresse commences.

Sometimes in life we are lucky enough to find that perfect friendship that makes you feel free. When I met Mélusine she was shy and hid behind her hair in the corner of the bar. My friends would try to get her to join us, because she was beautiful and sweet, but she would not say more than one or two words at a time, until I gathered her up and took her with me along my own journey on a path I didn’t know existed. We discovered a mutual love for female-fronted punk and grunge bands, strong coffee, wine, 19th century literature and decadence, as well as playing hilarious pranks on men and women who we found annoying, insensitive and stupid. There were many of them around at the time, and they tended to congregate around us and our little group of misfits.

I had grown up with my group of friends, mainly men with a few girls who came and went as time went by. Mélusine appeared out of nowhere and stuck with us, becoming my best friend and favourite companion, someone who I could talk to about things that I couldn’t talk about with the guys. Crushes, love, sadness, fear and loneliness: the topics of misplaced childhood and youth. We were both shy and suffered from low self-esteem alone, but together we thought we could conquer the world, reaching the lowest pits of despair and the highest peaks of happiness together. Mélusine listened to me cry as I comforted her through her darkest days. I listened to her laugh as she held my hand when we skipped through the sunshine, picking daffodils along the way. Did you know that there is a fine for each public city flower picked? We are lucky that we were never caught because we would walk around with bunches and bunches of daffodils in the spring, leaving a trail behind us.

We were like polar opposites physically. Mélusine with her long, blonde hair and green eyes, me with my long, brown hair and dark brown eyes, but we were of the same height and similar skinny builds. We both dressed alike, although Mélusine was more understated than me and liked to hide underneath large layers. Ribbons in our hair and long red nails on fingers covered in fountain pen ink from all the writing we would do. Letters to others, letters to each other, university papers and diary entries were all written by hand in ink. Babes in Toyland in our ears and Fluffy lyrics flying from our mouths when we were angry drunk, Mylène Farmer when we were happy drunk. We liked to sing to Berlioz when we started to feel warm and fuzzy inside, before going on our way towards the adventures of the night.

Si je dois tomber de haut
Que ma chute soit lente
Je n´ai trouvé de repos
Que dans l´indifférence
Pourtant, je voudrais retrouver l´innocence - Mylène Farmer- Désenchantée


Café St Germain and then wine by Berlioz. One bottle finished, the next one opened and then en route pour l’aventure! Every night was different, we never knew where or what the stars would lead us to. Some nights we would roam the streets of the town, looking for parties to crash, other nights we would meet our friends at one of the local hang-outs, some nights we would go to the coureur de jupons apartment and invite everyone we knew to join us and other nights we would sit by the river talking about how much we despised everyone and everything and how life would have been so much better if we had been born in a different century.

“I want to kick that door down and tell them to stop hanging around those awful people. I want to punch that girl in the face and tell her to stop trying to be my friend because I despise everything that she stands for, stupid fucking hippie!!”

“Why do they all hate us so much? What the fuck is wrong with us?? I wish I had enough strength to tell people how I felt. I mean, I wish I could tell HIM how much I love him. All I can do is watch him out of the corner of my eye and listen to you and him talking about natural things and I don’t even dare open my mouth.  I hate myself!”

“Oh darling, stop beating yourself up about this, you know what he is like. He only goes out with girls who he can manipulate into doing what he wants. Those girls are like Rapunzel in their towers, waiting for him to come home after he has been out all night drinking with us. Do you want to be that girl? At least we are free to do whatever we want and say whatever we want… N’est-ce pas?”

No one had cell phones at the time, and we all used to find each other at some point during the night. There were a few spots where we would always end up, usually besides one of the many fountains or statues in the city; or at the barDock for an electro-goth night or at the venue if there was a concert on, smuggling our wine into the venue and drinking it in the toilets. If we found a house or apartment party going on somewhere we would wrangle our way in, pretending we knew one of the people there, make a beeline to the fridge and walk out with any alcohol we could find. The town wasn’t that big, and the center, although full of winding streets, was small enough to find whoever you needed to find, and big enough to hide from those you didn’t want to see. Mélusine and I tended to read each others’ minds, and our first concern was always the welfare of the other. Our friendship was one of such closeness that we could always feel when the other was in difficulty or danger. We loved the same men but never fought over them; we hated the same people and pushed each other to find the biggest and best pranks we could play on people.

I was a wild shy child, alcohol helped me lose the cloak I shrouded myself with and gave me the power to be myself in front of everyone. Alcohol gave Mélusine the force to lose her inability to speak in public and brought out her real personality that you would only see when she was completely comfortable in a group of people. It took her a while but she ended up feeling comfortable with all of us, throwing witty and funny comments out here and there, and surprising the people who had already put her in the “blonde-who-doesn’t-talk” box. I was just completely erratic, sometimes nice and friendly and sweet, other times sad and depressed, other times angry and sarcastic and rebellious. People tried to analyse us, judge us, become friends with us, tag along with us because they were feeling adventurous or talk shit about us because they didn’t dare be us. Most of the time it was Mélusine and me against the world, often with our male counterparts, poets, rebels, musicians, full of ideas and despair, discontented and angsty, wondering when the world would change for us.

Slutkiss girls
Won't you promise her smack?
Is she pretty on the inside?
Is she pretty from the back? – Hole, Pretty On The Inside


Mélusine came from a strict family and would constantly lie to her parents about her whereabouts and her friends. She stayed at my house whenever we went out, as I benefitted from a very free-spirited mother who trusted me to be safe and not to end up in a ditch somewhere, and, however much I drank or however much I smoked, I always ended up home, safe in my bed. We avoided drunken one night stands and we avoided dangerous situations, preferring the company of each other, our bottles of wine, our friends and our songs. There is really nothing to match that slow but steady warm and tingly feeling that starts in your stomach and rises towards your head once you start drinking, and once you start there is no going back… One, two or three bottles and the party is on.

My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
You don't want to
You don't want to see me crawl
Do you know how hard I try
To never let you see me cry
I seem to have too much control
and now I feel cold – Fluffy, Crawl


“I want to leave this godforsaken city and move to Paris. There is nothing for us here except the deep, dirty waters of the Isere and the unrequited love of the boys who consider us to be just that: female versions of them. At least in Paris we can fade away into the crowd and not have to put up with all of this crap every day.”

“Let’s plan on moving there once we have finished university. We won’t tell anyone, we will just go and find new lives there. A little apartment in Montmartre, jobs in the bars around there, maybe we could sell books by the Seine and meet the loves of our lives there? I’m so bored of this town, nothing ever happens here, no one ever changes and no one ever falls in love with me. Or if they do I don’t know about it, because I’m obviously still single.”

“Dreaming… Dreaming… Dreaming of something else. But is there anything else?”

Every day was filled with written words, every night filled with singing and shouting, laughter and tears. Freedom was easy, but we still felt trapped in the town we had grown up in. Brothers and sisters in happiness and despair, so far but so near. Wine days make everything so much better, and wine nights are full of surprises. La Décadence.

 « Le vin, la moyenne de facilite de partir, partir loin d’aujourd’hui. Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est beau… Le lendemain est moins euphorique, mais il reste toujours le lendemain soir et le soir après etc, etc, etc. Devenir fou ? Nous le sommes déjà… L’alcool aide à libérer nos grains de folie, de les faire voler, voler au-dessus de tout, dans le ciel noir et nuageux. Tout est mieux que la lucidité affreuse. » M.V.

Short Story/Essay: Paradise Within


I actually wrote this for something else, in the hopes that it may be published there, but once I had sent it realised that I just wanted to post it on here too. So I waited a while and am just going to post here anyway, while I am sitting in my Mum's house in California on vacation, another spot in this world that I consider as slightly paradisaical in itself... Sunshine, palm trees, pure calm and relaxation, food directly picked from the garden and thrown into a salad or onto the barbeque... The theme I was writing for was Paradise, and this is what I was immediately inspired to write.



Paradise Within
I used to live in Paradise. But before I arrived in Paradise I lived in a place I can only consider as Hell, created by the people living on this planet around me and by the pitfalls of my own mind. I don’t live in Paradise anymore, but I live in a world that I have created for myself, part beauty and part darkness, part love and part evil. I call this my real world, and hope that I was able to bring some of my learnings from Paradise back to this world of mine.

Hell was the place I lived in just after 9/11. Watching the planes crash, the buildings plummet to the ground and imagining the horrific death of all of those people shifted my once idealistic approach of the world to one of terror and doom. How could I make any type of difference against a big machine of war that our planet was gearing up towards? Growing up at the tail end of the Cold War had been bad enough, but the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of nuclear threats gave us all hope that this world could become a better place if we tried. That is, until other forms of terror appeared, from both sides of the spectrum. 9/11, cumulated with the fact that I was writing my MA thesis on Sylvia Plath, led me to believe that Plath had had it all sorted and life under a Bell Jar was the only option for survival.

Hell was being scared to leave the house, panic attacks and acute weight loss, days of not being able to get out of bed, and nights of leaving my phone off the hook to avoid the constant phone calls and messages from my friends, worried why they hadn’t seen me and why I wasn’t out with them. Hell was a constant underlying anxiety of the unknown, and fear of never being able to rid myself of these feelings and feel happy again. Then Hell just became numbness. I came upon a crossroads: either I continued along this road or I chose to make a change, rip myself away from familiarity and throw myself into the unknown, where I would be able to lose myself, and where nobody knew me.

The flight to Paradise was long, and the first few days I was there were ones of complete panic, hidden by my creative ability to appear as calm as possible while my insides were churning. How would I ever be able to communicate with the people when I couldn’t even read their alphabet? Where would I know to stop on the bus in the middle of the desert where everything looks the same and different at the same time? How could I make sure that the food I was eating was really vegetarian? Who could I trust and who should I watch out for? And then I just let go. We humans have many a survival instinct, and I just let mine take over, in essence freeing myself from everything that was holding me back, and opening myself up to a brand new experience that would ultimately change my world.

Paradise was a country built on war, pain, love and passion. A place where the south was mainly desert and the north mainly green, where the sun would beat down on you during the day and the stars would shine brighter than I had ever seen them during the night. Paradise was where I lived among free spirits by the sea, working hard during the day, planting food that would be sold abroad once it was ready, making irrigation pipes for export in the factory, cooking food for over 500 people, serving it up and cleaning up after everyone. Paradise was where we would sit down after work and talk about our lives, a group of people from many different countries and cultures, brought together for different reasons, living together and coping together. No one goes to Paradise without their own personal reasons and expectations, and everyone leaves with some questions answered and new feelings that they never thought existed.

Paradise was the home that I made for myself among these people. Paradise was the ability to be myself and learn that I was a natural leader among others. Paradise helped me discover so many things about myself, helped me discard some of them and cherish others. Paradise taught me that it was OK to love, and that it was OK to get upset. If you don’t talk about what you feel and keep it all bottled up inside, it will only lead to explosion and damage. Paradise was the place where I learned that I could be passionate and that I could believe in a better world. Paradise helped me become the person I am today. I will always remember standing on the beach, with the little waves touching my toes, holding hands with the person I loved and imagining a future that would be full of warmth and sunshine. I let go and at the same time finally let people in.

I always knew Paradise couldn’t last forever, and when I had to leave I had already made up my mind to bring it back with me and plant those roots wherever I ended up. Seven years ago I packed my bags again and went off into the unknown and never left. I knew I had nothing to fear anymore. I planted my little roots here in the city, and let them grow deep. Every time I meet with fear, loneliness, pain and heartbreak I walk to the ocean and wash away the intense need to rip up my roots and run away. I let the ocean remind me of the days I spent in Paradise and the times that I learnt to trust myself and others, and go back to my real world revived and ready to fight any more battles that come my way. Life is a constant challenge and battle between highs and lows, pain and happiness and choices. The important part is to remember to be strong and to find the happy medium between the extremes.

Paradise does exist, and I will always carry a piece of my Paradise around with me, wherever I go. Whatever your paradise is, I promise that you will find it one day, maybe even create it for yourself. I’m happy in my real world nowadays, and always know that I can return to Paradise if I ever need to.

Short Story: Paris and the Garden Gnomes

A story I wrote based on a trip to Paris back in the 90's...



"En attendant mieux vaut se consacrer aux autres qu'à un nain de jardin" – Amélie Poulain

Neuilly, sometime in the late 90’s. 

Neuilly is in a posh part of Paris. I don’t think we can really call it a suburb, more like a posh area, stuck on to the rest of Paris. You take the ligne jaune, 1, Métro towards La Défense, and get out in a place that is obviously still a city but that also feels quiet and rich and old moneyish. Not the type of area that I was brought up in or lived, or even a place I really feel comfortable in. But it’s pretty, and M. had friends who lived there, and they let us stay during our first trip to Paris together. It’s not like we could ever have afforded to actually stay in a hotel or a hostel – the TGV ticket and some spending money were about all we could muster together. But it was worth it. Five days in the most beautiful, magical city in the world, roaming the streets of Paris, sitting by the Seine and contemplating life, drinking wine on the quai, watching all of the people walk by,  busy with their lives, while we had the time to sit and watch and wonder.
We learnt little tricks to save money: grab your coffee “au comptoir” to pay a “regular” price; get cappuccinos at McDo so you could take one along with you on your way. Eat a brie sandwich from the boulangerie and then go to Le Chat Noir in Pigalle to share a dessert and drink more coffee at a table. Cheap wine is easy to come by; we were never looking to savour it, just to get drunk and happy. That floating feeling of peace is something that only wine and youth can bring, sometimes I try to find it again and nearly always miss it in my rush to get there. Sipping wine straight from the bottle, waiting for that slow but steady rise of ivresse that starts in your stomach and ends in your head: warmth, serenity and bubbles of happiness and laughter. Red, white or rose, it really depended on my mood. Red was for those winter days, when I needed something warmer and stronger, white for the spring and summer, lighter and easier to drink, and rose for those days when I couldn’t stomach red or white. Probably after long week of drinking really cheap wine (as opposed to just cheap wine). The quality of cheap wine in France is what you would probably see as medium quality anywhere else… Very cheap wine is what you could equal to vinegar anywhere. Assume about 10 to 15 francs would get you a bottle of drinkable wine from an epicerie arabe. Wine and Gauloises Blondes (no way I could afford my favourites, Marlboro Lights, in my years of being a poor student), and the evening was all set to be a success.
On our last evening in Paris we decided not to sleep. We had to catch an early morning train and why would we waste our last hours in Paris sleeping when we could enjoy the magical air for a few more hours? We had dinner in a brasserie, drank some wine and walked around the Seine for a few hours before the last métro back to Neuilly. We had already planned our evening in advance and had bought some bottles of wine to drink through-out the night, with the plan of falling asleep on the TGV on the way home to ease the sadness of leaving Paris behind, for boring old Grenoble (Grenorrible). I find it difficult to drink in a contained space. I need to run, to sing, to jump, to create silly plans of action and play pranks on people. I need to jump in streams, pick city flowers and hug statues of great musicians of times gone by. I find it difficult to sit in one bar all night without running around in the streets, moving to other places and seeing different people. I like to feel free.
Neuilly was so quiet after midnight. As the lights went out one by one in the different apartments and houses around us, calm seemed to descend on the neighbourhood. Too calm. Meaning that the neighbourhood was in dire need of some decadence as Melusine and I would affectionately call our nights out. Decadence was whatever the night would bring, no one could determine it, but it would usually mean some kind of act that would make us laugh for days and days. Neuilly was too quiet for us, so all that could mean was that we were going to leave Paris with a bang.
Walking through the empty streets, singing Mylène Farmer songs, talking about boys and men and Romantic poets dead and gone from this earth (but not from our hearts), about how we want to move to Paris and live there, amongst the old buildings and the anonymity. One day, maybe one day. The grass may not be greener in Paris, but it sure is more appetizing…
“I can’t believe we didn’t find the exact place were Nerval killed himself. We had the map and the exact location!”. M. was peeved about this, as we wanted to see the area.
“I think we got it right”, I said, knowing that we had found the right alley, just that it had been closed off and added to a building over the course of the years. “In any case, we were right there, right where he took his life, right there were he gasped his final breath.”
M. contemplated this and nodded in agreement. We walked along, in silence, for a few minutes.
“J… Look at that garden!!”
“It’s full of garden gnomes! They are all looking at us! I think they need to go on a trip. Are you thinking what I am thinking?!”
“I think they need to go on a trip to see the Coureurs de Jupons in Grenorrible!”.
That was it; the idea had formed simultaneously in our minds, now it was just time for us to hatch out a plan. Three nains de jardin to be removed from a garden in peaceful Neuilly. Easy work, as long as we were discreet and quiet. M. tried the gate first but it was too noisy so she hopped over the fence and helped me over. Once in the garden we tiptoed over to the gnomes, picked one each, and a third one for good measure, tiptoed back to the fence, climbed back over, looked at each other and legged it down the street to the nearest corner, M. with a gnome under each arm, me holding it close to my chest while I ran. Breathless but hysterically laughing at this point we couldn’t believe that we had pulled it off. The ultimate prank, better than letters of disgust written on toilet paper and stuck to their front door. Better than locking ourselves in their bathroom during parties and taking baths for hours on end when people were waiting to pee. Better than switching their doormats with everyone else’s in the building. Better than playing knock a door run every night of the week. Even better than finding a shopping trolley in the street and carrying it up three flights of stairs and leaving it in front of their door. This was going to be the epic prank. A stunt no one else would have thought to play, except for two slightly crazy girls from Grenorrible.
The gnomes were wrapped in sweaters and placed on the overhead luggage racks in the TGV. Not even 7 o’clock in the morning, and it was time for us to say our last goodbye to Paris, coffee and croissants in our hands. It was impossible to cover the gnomes completely (they weren’t the smallest you could find; we are talking nice big smiling garden gnomes. The ones that stand out in your garden amidst the flowers and trees). Even wrapped up in sweaters their bright red hats were poking out of the top, and every time either of us looked up at the luggage racks we burst into laughter. Nothing remotely abnormal about two girls jumping on a train on a Monday morning amongst all of the business travelers in their suits, plonking three barely concealed garden gnomes above their heads and proceeding to sleep through the three hour journey back home.
Once at Gare Europole we walked to Boulevard Gambetta to make the first stop before going home, the final part of the prank. The building door was open as usual (although we would have had no qualms about ringing on all of the buzzers until someone opened it, our usual technique).
“Shhh! We need to be really quiet. They can’t catch us, because if they do it will all be ruined!” I was beginning to be a little paranoid and was worried the whole trick would be discovered before we could finish it.
“Ne t’inquiètes pas! It’s too early for any of them to be up, and if they are they are already in class. Let’s just try not to laugh while we get this done!”
For once M. seemed less worried than me, an unusual occurrence seeing as I was normally the more reckless of the two of us. Or maybe the one with the more reckless ideas, but more responsible in the way that I always knew exactly what I was doing and why. M. would follow along, sometimes with even more grandiose and evil ideas, but mainly not as aware of the consequences if we were caught. Of course I don’t mean real crime, but we were always up to no good, running around the streets drinking wine from the bottle, singing at the tops of our voices, crashing random parties we would find along the way, taking any alcohol we could find and running away. Sitting on statues and talking crap to random passers-by. Once we even made some poor guy kneel in front of the Berlioz statue and recite the Lord’s Prayer from beginning to end. Memories…
Once we got to the third floor we arranged the gnomes in a semi-circle in front of the door, so that they all looked towards the door. We didn’t even bother to leave a note, because who else would have thought of doing this? We then rang the bell and pounded on the door a few times and ran as fast as we could down the steps, racing out of the front door, grabbing our own luggage along the way, hoping that we would make it out of the building before anyone saw us. I think we did. Ultimate prank pulled off to perfection.
I only wish that I had been a little fly on the wall when one of the guys opened the door. Happy Monday from three Parisian garden gnomes! 

Slut angel selling acid punch
Dominatrix with a submissive glance
Botticelli with a tattooed bust – Fluffy, Crossdresser

Old writing: Arrival in Israel & Hatzeva (unfinished)


I have been going through piles and piles of old writing and trying to categorize it all, and I recently came across the 10 or so chapters I had written on my return from Israel in 2004. I was planning on writing a novel about all of my experiences at the time, but too much got in the way, and the years went by… I thought I could maybe use parts of it for the novel that I am writing right now, but it just won’t fit – the writing is still me, but it’s not in exactly the same vein that I am currently writing in. So I shall just post random chapters here every now and again… Keep in mind, this one ends abruptly and I am not going to change that. It was written 8 years ago, a few months after I got back from my year in Israel.


Arrival in Israel & Hatzeva
How do you imagine the desert to be? Miles and miles of wind-rolled sand, a camel here and there? Yellow and brown, the occasional tree or dry bush? Hot sun burning down relentlessly on you? I think that anyone who hasn’t actually ever been to the desert has their own image of it, as did I. The thing is, there isn’t just ONE desert in the world, is there? In the US, in Africa, in the Middle East… So anyway, I had never been to the desert before and had many different ideas of what it could look and feel like.
When I’m unhappy, feeling down or frustrated and stressed I just close my eyes and imagine myself walking barefoot along the dusty roads of the moshav, dressed in a long wraparound skirt and a tank top, with two dogs by my side. This image calms me down, reminds me that I can be happy, that I can feel fulfilled and that I should always remember that my dreams can be obtainable.
So what are my dreams? Eighteen months ago I had no idea what I wanted from my life. I was so mixed up and depressed and only felt safe when I was at home at my mother’s house. My bedroom there was like a little haven, with the most comfortable bed in the world that I always had trouble getting out of, my little cat and all of my belongings. I would panic if I had to go out and leave the little haven I had created. It was as if I had no control over my body, the idea of going out made me start shaking and I would feel all weak inside. I did force myself out a few times, although I would feel so nauseous and thought I would puke my guts up at any given moment. I wouldn’t drink any alcohol, but at the end of the evening I would feel relieved and would realize that I had actually had a good time. But then I would just forget all about that the next day and would curl right back up into my little safe haven.
What sort of life was that? I couldn’t work in the US without a green card and I had to leave the country every 3 months because my visa waiver would expire. I couldn’t even get a tourist visa on the grounds that I had too many ties in the US and not enough anywhere else in the world. It was so discouraging, I felt displaced and homeless, rootless with too many roots in too many places. So I decided to go to Israel. Lifelong dream and all that, and besides that, my aunt could do with some help with her little children. It was an easy decision to make once I had thought of it. Where else could I go to get away from everything without feeling like I was running away into the unknown?
I can honestly say that it was the best decision I had ever made in my life. One year in Israel taught me a lot more about myself than anything else ever had.
I left Mum and Dylan outside the hotel that we were staying in near Heathrow one early morning in July. They were leaving to go back to California and I was off on my way towards Terminal 4 in a taxi. Tel Aviv is just over 4 hours from London by plane, and I was lucky because there were clear skies all the way there. I’ve travelled a lot, but I had never flown over the Greek Islands before, and although I had an aisle seat, the lady next to me kept pointing everything out to me, and the views from above were just stunning. When we started to land in Israel I couldn’t believe the view. Miles and miles of different shades of brown, with spots of green here and there, and a big city on the shoreline. I stepped off the plane into the hot air and the first thing I thought was “I’m home”.
I got through immigration extremely fast. I should probably explain something that gradually dawned on me during my first few months in Israel: with my dark eyes and hair, and my skin that tans very fast I can look very Israeli. So many times I would be out and about with other foreigners, and Israelis would automatically talk to the others in English and then turn around and talk to me in Hebrew. It was quite funny, especially when their faces registered surprise when I told them I didn’t understand much Hebrew. While I waited in the queue for Immigration I chatted to the lady who had been next to me on the plane and to another man, and they both thought I was Jewish without really asking. I didn’t say anything to make them think different either.
Judith, Shimon and Eden came to pick me up from Tel Aviv and we set off on the three hour drive to Hatzeva, stopping in Be’er Sheva for coffee at the Kanyon (mall). I love words, but I am at a loss to explain my first impressions of Israel. I want words to explain all of the sights, all of the feeling and emotions I went through, but it just won’t do. All of the bustle, colours, noise and the outlines of the different landscapes we drove through just made me feel at home. The only thing that actually made me feel a bit strange was that I could not read a single thing. Hebrew has a completely different alphabet from English, French, Dutch or Spanish and it quickly dawned on me that I couldn’t read a simple shop name even if I tried. A lot of things are in English thought, and many people speak English. At times I could get away with the little Hebrew I learnt, or if I couldn’t use my English, then my French or Spanish usually worked too. There is no end to the amounts of times and ways that Israel would astound and impress me.

So, anyway, Hatzeva. A moshav in the middle of the Arava desert, halfway between Be’er Sheva and Eilat, a mile off the main road and a mile from the border with Jordan. At night there are a million stars in the sky, you can lie out in the grass and look at them for hours, lost in your own thoughts. The sky seems so much brighter in the desert, and deeper. There is no pollution but there is a lot of dust, and when the wind starts up you can be sure there will be a sandstorm; if you don’t close your windows before one starts you will find piles of sand all around the house, sand that makes it straight through the screens on the windows and doors. The funny thing about Israel is that the southern half is beautiful, but completely barren-looking, and every so often you come across an oasis type area. Moshavim and kibbutzim, built completely by man. Full of trees, palm trees, grass, flowers and fields where many a vegetable grows. It was David Ben Gurion who said that if a flower could grow in a desert then anything could, and he was right. My uncle grows watermelons, melons, peppers, onions, tomatoes… Other farmers grow flowers, mangoes and organic vegetables. There is nothing better than a meal of fresh peppers straight from the fields, with pita, hummus and an apple for dessert. We used to do that with Fernando every evening when he finished working in the fields.
I was in Hatzeva from July until the beginning of September 2003 and then from the last day of Pesach 2004 until the end of the spring in 2004. I did go down there a few times while I was on the kibbutz (Evron) in the north, so I did experience the area a bit in the winter, but I was mostly there during the hot spring and summer months. Hot being the key word. From the moment you wake up until the sun goes down the sun is relentless. I was never one to nap in the afternoon, but I soon learnt that it’s all you want to do when the sun is at its hottest. Even the swimming pool was closed during the hours from Noon to 3, so the only place to keep out of the heat was the air-conditioned houses. I learnt to let myself sleep for a few hours, or at least relax in bed with a book until it was time to take the kids to the pool in the late afternoon.
The Arava is nothing like the Sahara. The Arava is darker brown, the sand more like dried mud than the yellow sand you often find on the beach. There are hills and mountains with the odd drying tree here and there and dried out lakes that fill with water when the rains come. If you take a bike (I often borrowed one of the Thai workers’ bikes when they were out in the fields) and ride a mile outside of the moshav you come across an area that looks like it fell from the moon and landed on earth. Whiteish lunar rock full of craters, somewhat alien to the rest of the surroundings. In the winter the area beneath the lunar rock fills with water after a heavy rain and this water is used to irrigate the land during the hotter months. There are areas in the desert where the rocks of sand are multicoloured in pinks and purples and blues, as if they were dyed by hand thousands of years ago and left to remain there forever.
I would go to the swimming pool every morning to swim and read, and struck up a friendship with the lifeguard who taught me how to make tea from grass and made me laugh with stories about the army and his travels to India. He taught me words in Hebrew and I taught him a few of my own expressions. The girls at the shop were always very friendly, and for the first time in a long time I felt that I could just be myself, let go of all of the barriers I had created around myself, and just live life again. I had nothing to fear or to watch out for, the desert was peaceful and incited more creativity than I had felt in months and months… Poems and stories and even drawings.

 My photos from that time can be found HERE



(you can skip over the insane amount of alcohol-fueled party photos)

Dreams (edited from a 2005 piece)

I recently found this piece I had written in 2005. I edited a slightly to be more in tune with me today, but it remains so relevant...

Dreams

What happened to your dreams? When you were younger you would sit in the park and dream the afternoon away. A joint was nice, a can of beer a plus, but neither were needed. You were just content to lie there in the sun, chatting to your friends and watching the world go by.

Not anymore. Is it all part of growing up, losing this carefree nature? I don’t mean I was happy as a teenager, far from it. I was driven by teenage angst and anger; trying to figure out why I was the way I was, why I was still alive, why I couldn’t just let go of certain parts of my past and live like a free person again. I could honestly go on and on about how depressed and messed up I was. But I also had a good circle of friends who were all going through the same kinds of problems and we all soldiered on. We felt happiness so easily, holding hands, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, walking barefoot through the grass, crowd surfing at metal concerts, wearing ripped jeans, pretty tops and lots of black eyeliner. Crushed but invincible at the same time.

Quiet but loud, obnoxious but so right, ready for anything, scared of everything, first boyfriends, first explorations, old minds in teenage bodies, bad poetry, wine and hash, mad dancing in the rain, staying up all night in parks… If you think about it I haven’t really changed all that much. I’m still as cynical and sweet, but just more intelligent. Actually I don’t think that is the right word. More realistic, less pessimistic but also less optimistic, but still so idealistic. I’ve learnt and am still learning, my skin has a few more lines now, but I’ll always have my smile.

My dreams haven’t gone anywhere as they have always been quite simple. Be happy and make other people happy. It’s a quest that will never leave me. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, being with those I love, being in a country I love and being near the ocean. The dreams just weren’t as defined back then, ten or twelve years ago, but they are still here. I may have spent years trying to run away from them, but the just keep following me everywhere, never giving up.

I often still feel like that teenage girl inside, maybe more worldly, calmer, braver, tougher but softer maybe, but still Jade. I can still crowd surf and dance on tables, but I’m a little more outspoken and a little more guarded. But don’t be mistaken, when I am sitting at the bar, drinking my cranberry and soda and watching the world go by, I am still dreaming away and wondering what the next steps should be...