Ramblings: Christmas Time


Christmas has always my favourite time of the year – ever since I was a child where there were all of the joys of decorating a Christmas tree, watching Mary Poppins and Oliver!; the anticipation of Father Christmas coming down our chimney after midnight and trying to stay away to hear him, but always suddenly waking up at dawn and running downstairs to see what presents lie waiting for us under the stairs. School plays and The Snowman, two weeks off school and the time to read and write and relax… Then later, Christmas parties and shopping for gifts, midnight mass and the smiles of goodwill from even the grumpiest of people; the smell of pine and vanilla and gingerbread and the excitement of a snowfall on Christmas Day. Searching for childhood Christmas movies in France and the delight of finally finding Scrooge on VHS, making Christmas playlists and wearing Santa hats outside; Christmasses spent away from family, trying to recreate the same atmosphere and happiness and never actually making it work; Christmasses spent traveling to be with family because that is the only place where it feels right. Christmasses in England, in the Netherlands, in France, in Israel, in California, in New York… 


Last year I failed at Christmas. I didn’t plan anything properly and ended up staying in New York, alone, with no real plans except for maybe cooking a meal for everyone who didn’t have a place to go. I put the old fake Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve, spent the weeks before trying to get into a Christmas spirit by playing my favourite Christmas songs everywhere (and making everyone else play them too), drinking many a Christmas shot of Powers and buying gifts and sometimes losing them along the way. Christmas Eve was lovely, spent baking cookies and watching movies with a friend… Christmas Day came with people too hungover to come over for dinner, so luckily my friend invited me to other friends’ house, people who just added a chair to the table and made me feel welcome. Even though all ended well, I was determined to never spend Christmas in New York without my family again.


Fast forward to today, a year later, a year full of ups and downs and big surprises, and I am spending Christmas here, this time planned and with the same anticipation that I had when I was younger. Next year C. and I will be celebrating our baby’s first Christmas – this year we are celebrating together as a family for the first time. There is something really, really special about showing the one you love all of the different traditions you have at Christmas… Starting with the Christmas tree. I was really intent on getting a real tree this year. I’ve tried to do it over the past few years, and have always failed for some reason, but this year I was determined it would happen. On Tuesday night C. came home from work brandishing a beautiful Christmas tree (at 2am – because tree stands are open 24 hours in this city), and we spent Wednesday decorating the apartment and the tree with lights and baubles and Christmas music. This will be my last Christmas in this apartment with B, so we are planning on spending it all together, cooking and watching movies and relaxing, and just being cozy while it is probably going to be freezing and snowing outside. Remember that blizzard that started on December 26th a few years ago? Bring it on!!! Snow angels and snow men and snowball fights! Although I should probably find another winter coat soon, as this one isn’t going to close for much longer…


And once Christmas is over and the New Year has been rung in it will be time to seriously relax, save as much money as possible, find a new apartment, and finally welcome our little girl into this world… All part of this new adventure that is honestly the most amazing one that I have been on in my life.

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.


Photography and Nostalgia: Scanned Pictures - 1993 to 2004

Me, Grenoble 1998Auntie Dot in Melton 1994Zoe in Manton 1994Dylan in Loughborough 1994Koss and me, Oakham 1994Koss and Zoe, Oakham 1994
Zoe, Simon and Koss, Manton 1994My room, Sassenage 1994School courtyard, Grenoble 1994Rebecca, Champollion 1994Alice and me, Sassenage 1994Me and Karli, Sassenage 1994
Me, Grenoble 1995Worshipping the Docs, Grenoble 1995Rebecca, Grenoble 1995Cannibal, Pascal, me Grenoble 1995Andrew, Grenoble 1995Goth Jade, Grenoble 1995
Pascal, Grenoble 1995Shannon, Grenoble 1995Cannibal Corpse back patch, Grenoble 1995Spontaneous mosh pit, Grenoble 1995Karli in my Sepultura t-shirt, Grenoble 1995South of France, 1994
Scanned Pictures - 1993 to 2005, a set on Flickr.

A few months ago I purchased an amazing little tool called the Wolverine Photo Scanner (see link below for more details if you are interested). The tool scans negatives and slides into .jpg format photos that you can then load onto your computer and post online. So for the past few months I have been scanning all of the negatives I have managed to save over the years and over the multiple moves from country to country and apartment to apartment. I finally finished uploading and labeling them all this week as I had a bit more downtime than usual, with it being Christmas and all.

The photos are a mix of moments in time, taken between 1993 and 2004, mainly of people and places in my life at the time. The amount of nostalgia felt while labeling all of the photos was intense, as there are moments that I had forgotten about, and moments that I will never forget as long as I live. Some people come and go over time, others remain around, however far away you may live from each other and however many months pass between conversations. The photos are all mixed up, as I didn’t have the heart to sort them by year, so you may find an image from 1994 in our old house in Sassenage, France right next to one of me and my volunteer friends in Kibbutz Evron in Israel in 2003. I feel as if this entire set is a snapshot of a decade and of the changes and non-changes that may have happened over those years. I thought about making a playlist to accompany the set, but it would have taken many hours and would have been too long to accomplish before the end of the year. Maybe a project for 2013?

Before I post an obligatory piece about 2012, I felt a real, old-school nostalgia piece was needed, not only because I feel that it helps me to collect all these images in one place, but also because a lot of my friends are probably going to appreciate seeing these, especially as at the time none of us had cell phones and cell phone cameras, and I was usually the only one who would take photos during our random nights and days out…

Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them. Bob Dylan

From our house in Sassenage, through the apartment in Ile Verte, Grenoble right through to my first apartment alone with my best friend and roommate Maud, my home was always the main meet-up place and place to hang out for me and my friends over the years. Cooking up pots of pasta and sauce and smoking hash in the Ile Verte, listening to metal into the early hours before going out to explore the huge graveyard down the street; making mulled wine and listening to The Cure on vinyl at our place on the 5th floor at 5 Rue Crépu in Grenoble; standing on the balcony and belting out parts of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to our neighbours at 4am; playing tarot around the table talking about the world and how we could change it…

Walking through the streets of Grenoble with bottles of wine in our hands; sitting on the steps of the FNAC and the church waiting for something to happen. Trips up to the Bastille and nights spent drinking in bars until we were drunk enough to go dance in a club up in the mountains; Paris with Maud and dancing to Bauhaus in a basement bar; electro-goth nights in Grenoble and Lyon; Nick Cave in Lyon in 2001 and standing speechless in front of him, because what on earth can you say to someone you adore without sounding like an idiot? Months and months spent on a kibbutz in Israel, making new lifelong friends and drinking cheap Russian vodka, dancing on tables until 5am and getting up at 6am to go to work in the kitchen. Walks and naps on the beach in Nahariya; talks around bonfires and an 8 day trip around Egypt with $150 in my pocket. Visits to my family in Sacramento, California, meeting up with old high school friends and realizing that some things never change. Little Luna cat as a tiny kitten, still the same little Luna as she is today, 12 years older. Working in the pub in Empingham, England; hanging out in the graveyard and talking for hours; walking around Rutland Water and waiting for the next big thing to happen…

There are so many moments I could write about, so many moments I have already written about and made into chapters of a book that I may or may not finish one day, and I love having a visual reference to these moments in time and to the people I shared these moments with. There are about 400 photos in the set, and there are some people and photos missing because I somehow lost the negatives along the way, but the ones I chose and/or found really portray a great view of our lives at the time.

“Memories are what warm you up from the inside. But they're also what tear you apart.” - Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

 

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.

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)

Wanting to be somewhere else...

I always know when it's time to leave somewhere. Sometimes it happens gradually, sometimes I just open my eyes in the morning and realise I need to live somewhere else. The last time I felt this so strongly was during 2001 and 2002. Living in Grenoble, France, last year at university, my family had just moved to California, the Twin Towers had fallen to the ground in front of my eyes through my television, and my deep research on Sylvia Plath for my thesis was creating my own personal bell jar. I only left the house to go to my few classes, to teach and tutor my students and to get groceries. Tim Buckley (Anthology), Tom Waits (Used Songs) and Bob Dylan (Desire) were the only CDs in my 3 CD player, and I spent most of my days reading and watching inane crap on TV (mixed with documentaries on serial killers, old-fashioned god people and terrorism). My friends would stop by to see me, try to get me to go out with them, just like old times, and would leave me multiple messages on my answering machine every night telling me how much they missed me, singing to me (I wish I had saved the tape - some of those messages were pretty amazing).

All I wanted was to leave. Be somewhere else. Do something else. Be someone else.

I got through it, moved to the US for a while, and because I couldn't stay there longer than 3 months, went off to Israel for a little over a year and then to London for a little less than a year. And then arrived in NYC.

From the moment I moved here I never thought I would want to leave. I vividly remember getting off the plane at JFK, getting in a cab, and thinking to myself "this is what it feels like to come home". Six years later, and I am finally feeling that same sinking, gradual feeling of realisation that I am very much tired of living here. I'm tired of being unhappy at work, I'm tired of not doing something that really means something to me (and to the rest of the world), I'm tired of not having a quiet place to go to and relax, I'm tired of not being able to grow my own food, I'm tired of having to listen to my friends complain about everyone else, and about how they all want to change their lives but just end up doing the same thing over and over again (i.e. getting drunk in the same bar every night). I'm tired of giving people the same advice that I should be taking myself.

I can't just pick up and move this time around though.. I have debt to pay off, a need to sustain myself, rent and bills to pay, plans to make. I don't even know where I want to go! One day it's England, another France, another California and yet another day setting up my own commune on a tropical island where I can fully sustain my own life.

But the one certainty that I do have is that I don't want to be HERE anymore.

Egypt... 2004

If you are staying in Israel as a volunteer you get a 3 month volunteer visa. If you want to renew it you have to leave the country and come back in again, the easiest way of doing so is to cross the border into Egypt and come back again after a few years. Most people tend to go and spend a few days in Dahab and then come back again. I decided to travel around the whole country in 10 days (on an extremely low budget) to at least make the most of it.

I spent $150 while I was there and left with a small back pack, containing underwear a couple of t-shirts, a towel and a bathing suit. I wore jeans and a sweater seeing as it WAS in January and I had no idea how cold it would get. Three girls together, Kirsty from South Africa (who had never traveled before), Andrea from Colombia (seasoned traveller) and myself (also used to traveling). I would honestly never do it again that way - it was an amazing experience, but we ended up staying in the worst hostels ever (ever seen a shower that drips water on you OVER a toilet?! Go to the cheapest hostel in Cairo).



Taba to Cairo: six hours on a bumpy bus with Egyptian music, not really expecting the culture shock when you finally get off the bus (shaky legs and all). People shouting at you in Arabic, pulling at you (especially Kirsty with her blonde hair, light skin and terrified expression), and trying to get you to pay extortionate amounts of money to go to the "best place in town".
I don't like Cairo. Too noisy, too many people staring at you, too many crazy drivers and just WAY TOO BIG. The pyramids were incredible though... If I ever go back again I will ride a camel all around them, as it was something I didn't end up doing.



Cairo to Aswan: 12 hours in the 2nd class cabin on the train. I kept one eye open all night in case we were robbed, but it was actually pretty safe. Aswan was my favourite place - much smaller and friendlier, and I actually felt I could breathe there! We met a lovely Egyptian man who resided in the UK, but who's family lives in the Aswan Nubian community. He decided to be our tour guide for a couple of days and took us to visit his family, and to a lot of different places off the beaten track. He even got us a great deal on a felluca trip back up the Nile, so we didn't have to share with a bunch of strangers - and he didn't ask for anything in return. I think we were pretty lucky, if I think back at it now I realise we were a little naive to trust this guy, but in the end, right to.
Sadly the felluca trip back up to Luxor didn't work out because of very heavy winds, but we did end up spending the night on it, on the deck, under the stars. Amazing.



Aswan to Luxor: there were no 1st or 2nd class seats left so we had to go 3rd class. Tourists are actually not allowed to travel 3rd class for safety reasons, but someone must have taken pity on us as there wasn't another train until the next day. We were asked to sit next to a group of soldiers, and spent three hours with our heads stuck out of the window to avoid the stares of the other passengers and the stench of the overflowing toilet between the carriages.
Luxor is a strange place. It feels safer because it's very touristy and cosmopolitan, but we had our worst experiences there. on every street corner someone tried to lure us into a dark alley to buy drugs, and the pickpocketing situation was insane. Andrea had her wallet stolen without even realising it was gone.
The ancient architecture in Luxor however is mind-blowing. The temple, the Valley of the Kings, the statues... I don't even know how to explain how incredible it was to actually stand near these creations.

Luxor to Dahab: 22 hours on a bus through the desert, breaking down by the tip of the Suez canal and realising that the desert is FREEZING at night when the sun is not there to warm it up. Dahab was wonderful - and just what we needed to relax after 7 days of hardly any sleep and a lot of traveling.It was off-season so we got a cheap bamboo hut to sleep in and spent a lot of time sitting in comfortable cushions on the edge of the red sea. The showers only had cold (sea) flowing through them so we ended up not even showering for the last three days ( :D ).
Once I got back to my aunt's on Moshav Hatzeva in Israel and I had the longest and best shower of my life.



Egypt is full of extremes. One moment I never wanted to leave, the next I couldn't wait to get out of there. If I ever go back again it will be to do a cruise on the Nile: good food, comfortable beds and showers that work. Or maybe just Dahab in the summer: swimming with dolphins in the Red Sea, backgammon on the beach and dancing to good music at night.

Or maybe next time I am in the Middle East I will just go to Jordan. Or Lebanon.

More Pictures

Skunk Anansie and my youth

April is always a very difficult month for me, and I tend to get very nostalgic and emotional (as you can probably tell from the last few posts). Seeing as music and words are my life, every song I listen to brings back some type of memory, and I feel myself falling back into a different time of my life.

While I was lying in bed yesterday morning I realised that I hadn't listened to Skunk Anansie in years. So I dug the CDs out of my boxes and put them on my ipod. Wow. I was SO angry when I was a teenager. As soon as I put Stoosh on I realised how much I kept everything inside, and just how I wanted to stomp on everything around me, myself included. At least I was able to pour it all out in words...

In any case - all the words still work for me today. I can apply Weak, Secretly, Brazen, Hedonism, All I Want, Infidelity to past, present and future.

"Stronger feelings than you've ever had to face".

I just had this image of me standing on the table in the common area in Kibbutz Evron, literally shouting along to Weak with Isabel. I guess that was one of those moments when F. decided to be an asshole again. Too many of those to remember (not that I really want to anyway).

The little angry teen that never really went away is coming out again. I don't fear her, I'll just let her kick and stomp it out of herself for a while.

"TO THE EEEEEEEEND!!"