26 September 2007

First impressions, Tribunj

My short-term memory plug can only withstand the pressure of fresh volumes for so long, and soon the new will push old vacation dreams down the drain.

For now, I’m winking back inside that first day, in and out as the sun runs its fingers across tree tops so tall I thought our bus might have slipped the space/time continuum to enter Northern Saskatchewan.

But if the Great Plains are a Monet then Croatia is certainly a Gauguin with its chunky, varied landscape of scrubby trees, blood-orange fists of stiff-leaved crops, green and red earth, the whole of it choked with rocks, rubble, and broad, spiny plants.

Broke back houses, kneeling or simply caved-in, are oddly interspersed with those that escaped the bombing but still bear signs of economical hardship. An unintentional communism seems to be at work in Croatia’s urban planning, as affluent facades of sunny balconies and vine-wound columns stand resolvedly beside the ghostly grey shapes of homes once whole and inhabited.

Trubunj has the essence of a shanty town, barely disguised by constant renovations, though its Mediterranean charm is undeniable and one only needs to turn a corner or lift a leaf to discover some delectable gem, breathtaking in its visual or tactile potency.

The Adriatic sea along the coast of Dalmatia is one of the purest bodies of water in existence, a radiant and clear-eyed indigo hovering coldly above its own visible floor. In late September, the water is all teeth and claws, but if you grapple with it for a few minutes, you can swim comfortably for hours (well, someone could).

A daisy-chain of industry faces the coast - restaurants and cocktail bars and ice cream stands with themes like Cocomo, Nautica and Paradiso, poised festively along the water’s edge - and just inside, few shaded and winding passageways of climbing, stone apartments. Some of these will stand empty for decades, collecting dust and wind and cobwebs, due to unresolved legal disputes among family members after a deceased owner neglects to write a valid will.

Our host, Bojana, tells us her grandfather’s apartment has been abandoned this way for over a decade since her uncle claimed legal ownership and then permanently relocated to Australia. Her father can’t do much about this, but in any case owns a home topped with two private apartments on a quiet road further inland.

Bojana gives us the 15 minute tour of the fishing village she grew up in before we retire to our respective abodes for a nap. We meet up later for salty pizza and Ozuisko Pivo, a beer loved by travellers and locals alike. She will travel back to Sibenik later, a larger coastal village where she lives and works, located a half hour away by car. She will come in and out of our holiday like a well-timed angel, taking us to all the best restaurants, sites and expeditions.

More on that later.

25 September 2007

Getting there

My relationship with flying is nearly synonymous with my perspective on life. Take-off feels unstable to a tooth-gritting, hair-pulling, get-me-the-hell-off-this-thing! extent. Then the plane evens out and if I can for a moment forget that it could all go pear-shaped, my enjoyment of the experience is sublime.

Such was my feeling as we hit cruising altitude (half an hour late, “thank you for your patience-y”) and I finally deigned to look over the edge of my window seat. Once the rutted shelf of antique-white cloud disappears, you can’t help but devour the whole of that divine shoebox diorama below.

Tiny rooftops pooled inside the graceful arms of mountain ranges, the coin-sized lakes twisting to capture the sun and glint it back in your eye, the fudgey green heads of trees belying the simplicity of a forest – you feel the insignificance of your own little contribution to that majesty even as you tower above it like an intoxicated deity (which seems fairly accurate, after all the wine).

Surely there’s a term to describe that visceral enjoyment you can only obtain from navigating a savage, inhospitable terrain. The way your breath quickens when you swim a bit too far out and aren’t really sure if the shadows at the bottom belong to you or to sea grass or something that could fit you inside its mouth in pieces. But you turn onto your back and look up at the inexhaustible blue sky and just wonder at your own body, and at these most basic of life’s components.

In that plane, sandwiched between cloud and earth, I imagined that crash victims would at least have this. What more should proceed one’s final moments than stunning elation and that rotating-telescopic sense of perspective? But then we reached our hotel in Zagreb and saw on the news that a plane had crashed in Phuket, all foreigners aboard, and this scenario seemed suddenly very unlikely. Not at all romantic.

And obviously there’s more, but I’m out of time for today.

16 September 2007

It would be so nice

Wake up Friday.

Soz, I just entered the Matrix there for a moment. I'm on bighugelabs' writer, courtesy of flickr. You should try it. (Nobody paid me to say that. But would you? I could say it again!)

After buying my first swimming costume in six years (and unsuccessfully threatening a girl who swiped the last pair of my-sized swim bottoms by stalking her at an uncomfortable distance) and packing half our wardrobe into one modest case (and mumble something beer and television or other) it has finally dawned on me that we're going on holiday. To Croatia. Tomorrow.

I'm madly skimming a Time Out guide hastily purchased yesterday
to find out as much as I can about the place we're landing in (Zagreb!) and the remote location of our main stay (Tribunj?) while Bruce shoots me dirty looks from his spot in the bed because it's nearly midnight and really I should be asleep.

But I'm too excited and nervous now and I'm trying to determine if I've packed enough for one week. Having never been to Croatia, I want to be prepared for anything, which means I've packed everything, including some kind of topical ointment that Bruce used the other week. Because what if he needs it again!

Our location is so remote that it doesn't appear in our guidebook, but it's situated along the coast of the Adriatic and we have a lovely apartment all to ourselves there and lo, there is sand. So IF between ten books, five DVDs, two mp3 players and a couple of love-crazed newly weds there STILL isn't enough to do, there will always be the beach.

Oh but I've just done a search online and came up with this:

"Among various summer entertainments [in] Tribunj a traditional donkey race should be pointed out as an action of preservation of this endangered animal."

Seems reasonable. A donkey isn't going to be eaten by a lion if it's running a big race that day, yeah? (Are there lions in Croatia?)

See you next week!

14 September 2007

Pearson gives the Devil a run for his money

Seeing Josh Pearson live is (in spite of the over-eagerness of his fans) something of a mystical experience. His hand - a great, tickling spider that spins five strings to intimate an approaching storm in some lonely night time Nevada desert – works itself into such a spindly blur that you’d almost believe he owns several more fingers than his maker normally allows.

He’s both slight and savage in appearance, his long beard a bees-nest foaming about his collarbone, and it’s difficult to look him in the face as he sings about demons. Eyes wild, he bares his teeth in an expression so intimately pained you feel as though you’re looking in on the private execution of an outlaw.

Pearson’s harsh visions blow like tumbleweeds in the imagination, which is only enhanced by the basement rec room quality of the venue – a sleepover pillow stuffed into the kick-drum, amps balanced on milk crates, wood panelling and dark industrial carpet with all manner of plumbing and electricity exposed – this is a childhood place of potential.

Josh is sober now, which I hear is a good thing - from the performer himself and from anyone who’s ever watched him self-destruct onstage. Instead of burning up, he does something much more impressive, and walks slowly, barefooted across hot coals.

11 September 2007

Reluctant renegade

Today the sales guy is getting the smack down, all because I waved the 'formal complaint' flag. I don’t even feel proud of myself – just worried that a real issue for all people working here will be turned into a personal issue that I’m having, albeit for very good reason.

I worry about this because the atmosphere of this corporation otherwise makes a blatant mockery of feminism. Thank you Women’s Studies 300, for opening my eyes to the chauvinism of the world and then giving me nothing but a feather pillow with which to fight it.

Now there is an irritated bustle of official importance and it’s all my fault.

06 September 2007

All work and all play makes Friday a good girl

The longer I work here, the more I struggle to find reasons to stay. Even when I’m feeling my best, in terms of both productivity and sociability, I still don’t feel all that great.

In about a week I’ll be given a new, permanent contract. Except that this contract will not include a pay raise (not in the budget for this year) even though the role most certainly involves greater accountability.

Am I being bamboozled or what? (Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical)

Evidently, I’ll be learning things that will give me greater experience and who knows where that will lead! The expression is something like “another bow on your ribbon” or “another tie on your bow” – either way it makes me feel like I’m a prize-winning canine on a podium. But the carrot is before me now and I have to decide if I want to give chase or not.

In better news, Bruce has survived the restructuring of his organisation and is in an even better place than he was beforehand. We’re going out to celebrate after work, though I’m not sure where. My two choices are a cultured evening of independent film and fine French food or a lowbrow horror movie and pizza. I can’t decide! Bruce says I’m not allowed to scream too loudly at the scary film if it’s the latter though.

I learned a new technique for the banjo last night called “pulling-off,” which sounds dirty and I guess the enjoyment I get from doing it would approximate that assessment. A mixture of “hammering-down” and “pulling-off” really gets a girl hot under the collar (but only in the safety of my own bedroom).

My teacher thinks I’ve done considerably well and can tell that I’ve been practicing, so the gold-star grubber in me wants to spin in circles until I vomit. But then he told me that I should also spend time improvising, and why don’t I try that right now?

And my fingers froze on the strings as a look of utter dismay surely crossed my face.

The thing about lessons is you learn just as much about yourself as the instrument you’re trying to play. For instance, I’ve learned that I’m actually quite repressed. I cling to tablature like a drowning man clings to a bit of driftwood amidst a sea of four-quarter notes. Ed calls it “playing by the dots” and gives me more tablature to ease my fear of possibly doing something spontaneous.

He suggested that whilst learning I should use specific fingers to hold down the strings. He said it wasn’t a strict rule or anything, more like a rule of thumb, and I said THAT’S OKAY, I LIKE RULES.

Ed furrowed his brow a bit and said, “Fair enough” and told me to hold down the string with my first finger. And I said OKAY as I put my second finger down on the string. Because rules are made to be adhered to but only if you’re capable of it!

I didn’t have time to practice my new technique because it takes about an hour to get home, by which point it’s tea and then a bit of television and then bed.

My next lesson won’t be for three weeks now because otherwise it would have fallen on our trip to Croatia. I’m contemplating taking my instrument with me on holiday though surely I’m not THAT much of a keener.

Am I? (Rhetorical!)

05 September 2007

It's been twelve hours since my last confession

I keep forgetting that I’m on my lunch break and find myself trying to do more work, which is obviously stupid.

Now I work sans headphones, which means I do less out of sheer frustration and lack of ability to concentrate but I guess my superiors are happier with that scenario, so.

Meanwhile I’ve agreed to take on more responsibility as one of our fellow umbrella organisations can’t be arsed to pay another body, but I’ve been flattered with the notion that they have coerced someone else to do the ‘crap work’ before I set about making it all pretty. Oh corporation, will you never cease to amaze and disgust me all at the same time?

We’ve decided that it’s probably best to wait a while for children, since things like pay raises and accommodations (and sometimes my mental health!) (I’m only kidding) are still up in the air. A year might just be enough time to enjoy our fabulous life before we start adding dirty nappies and puke-up to the mix (just pour into a pre-greased pan and bake at gas mark 6 for 20 years).

Oh-ho-ho, look who we have here. The sales guy is back from his meeting. This might mean my entry takes a turn for the aggressive, we’ll see.

I discovered last night that I can’t play my banjo in front of Bruce, at least not nearly as well as I can play for myself. I don’t want this to become a mental block though, because first it’s Bruce and then it’s my teacher and soon I will be trying to play gigs over closed-circuit television from a sealed capsule launched in outer space. And I just can’t see that as being a viable way to live.

Actually, I have absolutely no pretensions about my future as a music artist, although the more I practice the damn thing, the happier it makes me feel. This is definitely an improvement over my inaugural experience with learning an instrument at the age of seven, when my wellbeing could be depended upon for a single day of the week – the day following a lesson. After this, the accumulation of dread would increase alarmingly until I was nearly doubled over with anxiety as once again I found myself stood outside the door of my lesson room. My own green mile was traversed this way on a weekly basis for years.

Though after twenty four years, I think I can finally extend my sadistic teacher the smallest benefit of the doubt, since she wouldn’t have shouted at me and put me in all those recitals and competitions if she didn’t think I had potential. I wonder what she thought when, seven years after my first lesson, my mother called her (on my insistence) to tell her I wouldn’t be returning. Maybe she was as relieved as I was. It takes two to make a musician and at least one of us wasn’t invested (the other was frighteningly shrill and despondently narcoleptic in turn).

Hey, that wasn’t so painful.

04 September 2007

Spirit of the Ditz

It feels like I’m learning everything for the first time all over again. I guess that’s what happens when you mistake ‘stunted’ for ‘settled’ as I did during those years following university. Oh, just a second,

I miss school.

I miss school I miss school I miss school.




M'kay, where were we…

It could be this strain is a result of me aiming higher than I’m actually capable of reaching but I truly hope that’s not the case. I’ve taken this ambition out of the deepfreeze and I’m prodding its sluggish corpse and I can see that it wants to respond. Soon I’ll sling its arm around my shoulder and drag it up and down the corridor while its toes scrape along the floor – anything to keep it from slipping back into unconsciousness.

Let Us Now Speak Eloquently of our Misfortunes

Kidding! I want to talk about the tube strike, which began last night and will continue for the next three days.

How could something so inconvenient be so much fun? My walk to work was indescribable – the trickle of bodies that typically commute via the South Bank swelled to more than triple this morning. All those underground faces were suddenly above ground, squinting disbelievingly into the sun and grinning at the river.

Young men in suits on bicycles - hair sweaty beneath helmets - weaved deliriously around pedestrians who seemed prepared to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro if it suddenly sprung up on the path. Reinforced with rucksacks and water bottles, hiking boots and iPods, the formally attired trampled silently up the Thames in wonder.

It had the same feeling as a fire drill in elementary school – all the boundaries of age and rank and popularity dissolving as kids move with singular intent, banding together to face the imminent collapse of authority.

Bruce says this is called the ‘Spirit of the Blitz,’ a quiet defiance that emerged as the result of Second World War bombing in Great Britain.

This will be useful to know when I apply for my leave to remain in a few years and I’m tested on Life in Great Britain. They’ll ask, “So what’s the Spirit of the Blitz, Friday?” and I’ll say, “It’s where you tell anyone or anything that gets in your way to go f*** itself.”

I might come up with a nicer way of putting it though.

Banjo lesson tomorrow! So far I can play the ballad of Jesse James, Hard Ain't it Hard and Tom Dooley with no mistakes, as long as I'm playing these songs alone and in a sound-proof room. Awesome!

02 September 2007

A devolution from portraiture to plagarism

Lessons reloaded – you only get out what you put in. At work on Friday I put away the music and forced myself to join whatever lunchtime topic was already in progress. The results were surprising: an invitation to post-work drinks (not accepted) and some extra-curricular material on lend. It’s not rocket science I guess. If you’re nice to people, they respond in kind. But the misanthrope in me (in me?) would rather be left alone. Why pretend? For the good of my income, my security, my family - present and future tense. Make believe on the corporate stage.

A few hours ago, Bruce asked, “If you could have anything in the world right now, what would it be?” The first thing being out of the question, we settled on thing number two and headed out the door to the Old Dutch Pancake House. And after one too many shrill voices and the jarring bark of a motorbike, we abandoned our bus stop vigil and came straight back home. There was a week’s worth of cleaning to do and it was weighing heavily on us both. We put in a solid hour and now I’m sitting against a black backdrop while Bruce sporadically blinds me with his camera flash. He’s practicing his portraiture and I’m becoming accomplished or something.

This is what I put in. I don’t pander now; I leave that up to the two million other online self-publishers. I don’t even research these things – is it two million or something else?

Last night we stumbled home drunk and it was only about 9:30. I ate a salad and we tried to watch Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation and I think we had a conversation. Then a long night of few winks. I nearly opted for staying in bed all day eating Twiglets but Bruce said we should walk to the café down the road and I was glad of it. Rose’s Café is a family-run operation, all plastic menus and fake flowers and food made with love and cheap ingredients. Put your faith in Rose and you get a mighty fine breakfast, I always say (starting now).

I’ve learned that a model can do more than starve and make eyes at the camera. She can write a post, practice banjo, pick her nose – whatever. Not everything has to be about sex.

Bowling, on the other hand! (?)

We went bowling last night and I started off strong. A spare on my first bowl and a strike on my second. Thereafter everything went downhill and with it a whole lotta Carling.

If this seems scattered, it’s because my job is too regimented and I’m going there tomorrow and I’m not going to try anymore unless it’s for money.

I mean.

What I meant is, keep on keeping on with the extra-curricular. Art is what separates us from the chimps and don’t let them tell you any different(LY, it’s differently). Don’t let them change you. Please don’t let them win.