…ker-chunk

I almost didn’t make it to Seattle.

Flying into Sydney early on Saturday morning, I gave my self plenty of time to catch up with people (which didn’t happen) and to do some last minute shopping (which didn’t happen).

I did manage to catch “The Beguiled” in a decent cinema which was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. Great film. Sophia Coppola is a wonderful filmmaker.

Spent the day wandering around Sydney City and Circular Quay for the Bastille day Celebrations. Then, as the day closed out, finally heading out to the airport with 4 hours to spare.

10th in line at the check in counter. 1 carry on bag, no checked luggage. Short queues. Perfect.

The check-in lady was enthusiastic, a smiling young Wonder Woman look alike. She scanned my passport, checked my booking and tapped away busily on the small beige keyboard.

I smiled and finally relaxed, taking in the sights and sounds of Sydney Airport (which I generally despise)

My boarding passes printed out with a ‘phhhht’ and she bundled them up ready to hand back. She looked at my passport again. Frowned. Flicked through the pages. Looked at me. Looked back at my passport.

Her smile widened but I saw it instantly drain from her eyes.

Uh oh.

Looking up with that same dead smile she said “Excuse me Sir, I just have to check with my Manager about something.”

Then she was gone, along with my passport and boarding passes – all whisked away along with my newfound peace of mind and possibly my hopes and dreams as well.

WTF?

Mentally I was buzzing –  ticking off in my head all of the dodgy countries I’d visited lately (surely not), did I owe anyone money? (no), expired? (no way), US visa? (yep full 5 year B2).

Be cool cool cool. Nothing to see here.

I could see her talking to a few people up the end of the counter and they were flicking through my passport with a mix of curiosity and concern.

A few minutes later she returned.

“I’m sorry Sir, but your passport is damaged and we have to check with Border Security if we can let you fly.”

‘NOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ echoed through my mind as I plastered what was hopefully a relaxed accepting smile on my face.

“Yeah sure, no problems…” I said, leaning casually on the countertop as once again my passport and travel documents vanished into the system.

Fuckitty fuck fuck fuck. Internally I was  cursing the carelessly casual Jetstar check-in lady that whipped the damp passport through a scanner a year and a half ago, ripping half a page in it.

Sticky tape in a passport is a bad thing apparently.

The slick cross-fit toned and sunbed-tanned Manager, all crisp suit and buzz- cut hair came over and pulled me aside. He explained “your Passport has a torn page and looks like its been water damaged…it’s in pretty poor shape”.

A heavily sarcastic “Seriously?” escaped my lips before I could stop it.

Ok damage control mode – activate!

“But it works right? It’s just a torn page and some sticky tape. The electronics and the chips work fine. Ive traveled all over Asia and Europe, even the US last year with it in this condition!!” I whined despite my best intentions not to.

“Its not as simple as that…” said the guy, and proceeded to give me the polite but firm lowdown on what could happen with my passport if I tried to travel into the US of A – everything from being turned back AND not allowed entry, held in custody, banned from reentry, fines to the airline that they would pass on to me ($5000 AUD), and the apparent end of my travel world.

Then it took a turn for the worse. A black clad Nazi gentleman from Border Security came over, with my passport in hand, and started to give me the same story but with much less humanity. He was also English, which actually bugged me a little. 

No Australian likes being lectured by an Englishman – it got my back up. 

I interrupted at one stage, and he did the aggressive “stop talking” thing to me, so I shut off my “annoyed as hell” switch, bit my tongue and let him finish his piece.

“If it was up to me, I would seize the passport blah blah blah. Its the property of the Australian Government blah blah blah. I tested the electronics and it scans perfectly ( God knows how)  but the torn page and the sticky tape makes it legally unusable. If it didn’t have a US Visa in it I’d confiscate it” he said. “You have 2 options – take your chances or rebook your travel and get a new passport”.

“How much time do I have to decide?” I asked politely, mentally rescheduling my trips as he continued.

“Under an hour” he said, checking his watch.

At this stage my head was swimming.  Sensing a victory, the Border nazi’s manner softened once he realised I wasn’t going to be a pain in the ass about it. “It’s up to you: travel at your own risk or rebook” he said, handing me back my passport and briskly walking away.

Recalculating and recalibration, I sat down and madly googled alternate flights, costed accommodation changes, weighed up the possible risks, messaged some friends ” what should I do?…” “does this sound right?” etc etc.

Running out of time, I decided to risk it. My rationale was that well I either get in or I don’t and if I don’t, then I’ve never been deported before and it might be an interesting experience at the least.

I spoke to the Service Manager and told him i was going to give it a try. He wasn’t happy about it and that’s when the threat of a $5000+ fine came at me – but regardless he handed back my boarding passes and wished me luck.

I checked in, went to the gate, and quietly balanced my unmentionables on a razor blade of tension for the next 10 hours.

*I did meet Kim though so it wasn’t all bad. More on that later.

CUT TO HONOLULU AIRPORT

My sphincter about the size of a pinhead, I lined up at US Customs and Border Control in Hawaii. Scanned my passport in the machines, scanned my Visa. Took my ticket to the guy at the Counter. He checked my passport, Visa and paperwork with barely a grunt or a smile.

“Yes Sir, No Sir, Thank you Sir.” said I.

Ker-chunk. 6 Months entry stamp.

“Have a nice day, Sir”

Perfect.

Day 1 – this is why I love travelling 🙂 

These stories write themselves sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

…9 lives.

I’m a cat person. Love ’em. Miss ’em. Identify. They’re magical : a solitary, multidimensional and independent creature existing in a state of unpredictable duality. Peace/Violence, Contentment/Fury. Mostly warm, cuddly and purrrrrry, but never more than a millisecond from becoming a chaotic death dealing whirlwind of tendons, teeth and talons.

Personally, I’m mostly like that cat in the poster but with less fur and no claws.

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These kind of situations bring out the best in me it would seem.

I do have nine lives though. I’ve lived at least 4 of them so far and apparently heading into my 5th in a few months.

That’s about as far as I should stretch this cat analogy.

You might recall that I have been super vague lately…well here’s the thing.

I’m going to live/work in Antarctica for a year or so.

Expeditioner 2017/2018 at Davis Station  and technical officer over summer/winter.

I’ll be looking after all the site IT, dabble as unofficial photographer plus helping out with the scientific research programs as needed. Then I get to be part of the 18 person skeleton crew keeping the home fires burning and the systems ticking over through a dark Antarctic winter. Its going to be a fascinating experience!

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Almost – there’s always a small chance I’ll fail the medicals so its not in the bag yet.

How did this happen?

Earlier this year I was lost : hated my job, hated being here, unhappy and unsatisfied with life. So I did what I usually do – shotgun out applications for work.

A Facebook advert popped up one day. It looks interesting but unobtainable, but regardless I applied for a Technical Officer position with the Australian Antarctic Division. I submitted the application and then quietly forgot about it, thinking “not a chance but Hell – worth a try”.

Then just before Bali this year, in March, I got a call: “Shortlisted?…wow thanks!”

After 2 days of selective testing in Hobart, Tasmania and a technical interview, they called a few weeks later and offered me the job. Out of 3500 people applying globally for 3 positions, they had picked me as first choice for Davis Station. This tickled my withered ego immensely so of course I accepted immediately.

It is dependent on me passing extensive psychological and adapability testing, and ridiculously thorough medicals. I’m waiting on the results of both as I peel the plaster from my elbow from the blood tests (i really really really hate needles).

But I’m mildly confident, hence this post.

So my plans have morphed once again. Rest assured I have a revised Plan B, C and D just in case (some things never change).

I’m currently waiting on the medical result, which will result in a contract being drawn up, which I sign and then thats it. I’ll be in Hobart for 4 weeks pre-departure training early October, and then on an icebreaker heading South for 2 weeks. After that? Antartica.

Once my contract is signed (fingers crossed in a week or so) I’m taking all my leave, resigning and FINALLY kissing this town/job/life goodbye. Heading to San Francisco and then exploring the US for 2 months solo before becoming an icicle. Or Romania. Or Bali for 3 weeks refresher teacher training – I haven’t decided yet.

If it DOESN’T happen and I somehow come up medically unfit, then I’ll be somewhat disappointed but Hell  – I still have my plane ticket. Onwards in any case!

On to life number 5, and whatever surprises that may hold.

Needless to say I’ll be blogging my arse off regardless.

Wanna come?

nws-st-antarctica-icebergs-2

 

…holding pattern

Just submitted an application for a job – a promotion that I don’t want but will probably get – while waiting to hear about an unexpected job opportunity that I didn’t realise I wanted so much until today. At the same time anxiously watching the timer tick down to my “end of June” deadline for action.

I am the pause at the top of an inhale at the moment: my first step off the ledge. Caught in an anxious moment of breathless anticipation.

Ill hear about all of these opportunities in the next 2 or 3 weeks…

Weeks!!!! 

Tick tick fuck.

All my careful planning and orchestrations over the past year have made May/June this year the crunch months. I’m trying to control too much outside my sphere and its doing my head in at the moment.

All I can do is wait until these opportunities are either ticked off or taken – and I really hate waiting. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely grateful to have so many exciting opportunities given the current state of the world. But hey, it’s me. Activity is my heroin, remember? Complacency can suck it.

At least the Green card lottery results are in. No luck there and can tick that off for the year.

It’s actually quite an exciting time.

USA, Romania, Antarctica, South America, Dubbo. One of these things is not like the others.

More on these later as things develop. I’m being intentionally vague but there are massively exciting games afoot.

…yes its a tease, but the Interweb’s digital walls have ears.

**I found a heap of old Biggles novels at a book fair today – being a voracious reader as a kid I devoured all these titles and any other series I could find – Famous Five, Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, moving on to Tolkien, Conan-Doyle, Fleming, Doc Smith, Zane Grey, Asimov and Wilbur Smith and more. Perhaps it was these early literary adventures that set a book and movie geek on his meandering path an age ago. 

Anyway some things never change … Book Fairs rule…

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trapped…

There a war of sorts going on here in Thailand. Its an urban battle fought house by house, corner by corner, street by street. Every man, woman and child armed to the teeth, ready to engage.

Pickup trucks full of masked combatants prowl past the safety of the hostel windows. The wail of ambulances echo through the streets which are starting to fill again after an uneasy ceasefire overnight. 

Here in Chiang Mai today, shellshocked Chinese tour groups wander aimlessly – all colorful dazed and confused – dragging large clattering suitcases on wheels over the rough concrete roadways looking for escape much like a gaggle of geese crossing a busy freeway.

Don’t panic.

It’s Songkran 2017. Thailand’s New Year Water Festival celebrating the end of summer and the start of Wet season – and the largest shit water fight on the planet. 

The only way to survive is to submit.

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Songkran is a 4 day party where most Thais head home to their families and celebrate a New Year. Tourist (and drunken asshole) numbers swell unbearably. Many shops are closed but the bars are open late. Alcohol runs freely even as hostels run out of fresh water.

Seriously, Thais take this water festival concept to a whole new level of batshit crazy.

The Moat surrounding the Old City drops a foot from the water consumption as the streets and gutters run ankle deep wet from the water fights. 

High pressure water cannons, fire hoses, bathtubs and garbage bins, massive 44 gallon plastic drums of iced water, blow up swimming pools, large eskys – anything that will hold/throw water – line the streets and are set up on most street corners and traffic lights where a pedestrian, scooter or Songtaew must stop. Then the flouro-coloured cackling crazies descend and a watery battle ensues.

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Riding in a Songtheaw (red truck)? Tough luck. the driver will pull up at a corner/traffic light/roadside and let his passengers get completely ‘blurged’ (thats my new word of the day). 

Riding on a motorcycle? Too bad – you will cop a thorough ‘blurging’ at 60km per hour . It’s deadly but hilarious to watch .

Chaotic doesn’t adequately describe the level of dangerous mayhem.

The papers post a Songkran daily death tally – last year over 400 people died (mostly in Chiang Mai area) and over 2,500 people injured in traffic accidents directly related to Songkran celebrations.

This year’s stats are in and its not looking great (although deaths are down. Yay less death!).

Sobering, you would think . Nah. Each year it’s about the same.
In Chiang Mai the entire Old City Moat several kilometres around – both sides – is filled with little booths and stalls selling food, drinks, water pistols, plastic bags and hats as everyone tries to make a quick baht and have a good time.

Roadside stalls sell huge blocks of ice to make sure the water freezing cold.

All the alleys and side streets are covered. There is absolutely no escape.

And this shit happens all over the country!

Amazing.

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What to do?

Firstly – Pray to your Gods.

Secondly – Prepare.

So Day 1: (quick cut ‘gearing up’ montage here)

Phone wrapped in cheap plastic bag. Check

Quick dry t-shirt, shorts and sunglasses. Check.

Wallet and cash in a cheap plastic bag. Check.

I head out onto the packed streets with the aim of my usual walk from Nimman down to the Old City, around the moat and then back, just to see what the fuss was about. Usually takes about 90 minutes there and back.

A few steps out the door of the hostel I was hit in the face with a bucket of ice cold water – and this kept happening for pretty much the rest of the day.

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2 hours later I stumbled into the Starbucks at Thapae Gate and gave up. It wasn’t even 1/3 of the way. Sunbaked, crowdshocked and soaked to the skin in a fruity cocktail of warm green mucky moat water and freezing cold ice water, my inadequate plastic protections leaking and damp, and feeling ill from the gallon of green moat water that had been forced into my nose/mouth/ears.

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I lasted 5 hours on the unforgiving streets and then retreated to the hostel, slinking back through alleys like a gunshy dog. Unfortunately, my sleepy hostel Bed Addict – Nimman ( 350 baht/night, close to Maya, my beloved cinemas, vegan eateries and some cool coffee shops) had been invaded by a group of loud party hard American students that had trashed it like a college dorm room.

With no dry clothes and no escape, I was trapped in my hostel kitchen – the quietest place I could find. Outside, the artsy part of town had turned into a techno-pumping foam-partying disco-lit aqua-nightmare.

Add to that the several competing foam parties, massive dance parties, and a dude in a tuktuk with enormous WHOOMP WHOOMP speakers parked just outside my dorm window and my night did not improve.

The walls of the hostel were vibrating as was my head. I jammed in my earplugs and tried to tune everything out – the thought of engaging and going out into this nightmare was unappealing. I wasn’t here to party.

But I’d finally figured out the main problem – I was resisting.

———————–

So Day 2. (slightly less enthusiastic quick cut ‘gearing up’ montage here)

Recheck my attitude. The key? – gotta get involved.

Upgrade the plastic bags to waterproof cases for phone and wallet (on sale everywhere). Check

Get a cheaparse sunhat for 25 Baht. Check

Buy a kickarse water pistol. Check Check Check.

Fillup, lock and load.

Lasting 6 hours on Day 2, I had a much better time of it. The best advice is rather than fight it, just go with the flow. Accept that you will be wet and hot and cold and covered in white paste for hours on end. Its all in good spirits and is actually a ritual blessing, so feel free to return it as often and to as many people as possible.

The lovely Thai people will (mostly) respectfully splash you or gently anoint your face with white powder or paste, the kids will love a waterpistol fight, and the littlest kids will giggle and smile like angels (right up til the point that their older siblings sneak up behind you and dump ice water down your back – after which everyone bursts into hysterical laughter). It’s so much fun.

It gets trickier with the tourists though.

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Usually some screaming psychotic tourist (see example above) with a massively expensive water cannon will run up to you and blast you in the face, knocking your sunglasses off or half drowning you before yodelling off into the crowd. Best to steer clear if possible.

But if you are up for a water war, then there are plenty of other soldiers here that will accommodate you.

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Day 3. Flick to Saturday morning and its an uneasy ceasefire – the celebrations are winding down but the odd water-pistol bearing straggler refuses to let go. Its still impossible to rent a scooter in this city as there are so many tourists, but the traffic to the airport is increasing as the tourists vacate.

The crowds are still there though and accommodation still hard to find. The mood is high but the celebrations are winding down from crazyassed to an almost manageable level.

*Still no sleep as the partying Americans have been replaced by partying Chinese students.

Day 4. Ahhh better. Now is the time to hit the Sunday Walking Markets, chill and explore the spiritual side of the festival as the craziness abates, with early morning happenings at the 50 or so temples around town, or better still up on Doi Suthep peacefully overlooking the city.

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Songkran 2018 – it was so much crazy fun, but next year remind me to be on top of a tall mountain, anywhere but here.

P.S

*so tired today I rinsed my glass in a sink and then drank a glass of tapwater today without thinking. Lets see how that goes.

**written over the 4 day festival but finished on Monday morning after no sleep for 3 days and totally stressed out by the frenetic pace of the holiday weekend.

***reminder to self  – never do this again.

re-entry…

So I’m back at work now. You can imagine my excitement.

Back in Dubbo, Australia now for 10 days, spending the last 5 days locked in an office, glued to a phone and computer, staring out a distant window at the sunlight, wishing I was somewhere else. Its ‘Luke Skywalker Syndrome’ at its worst and it’s easy as my office walls are now lined with new travel photos – a quick glance left takes me away to the forests of Olympic National Park and a distant view of Mt Rainier, a bit further takes me diving in Koh Phangan, to my teacher training class in Bali, or the Giza pyramids, or to Carthage.

I’ve led a charmed life this year no doubt about it.

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Now that’s in the past.

Settling back into Dubbo hasn’t been a lot of fun – the numbness and “dead inside” feeling has persisted and the episodic disconnection (almost disassociative at times) is still present but slowly waning. I’m getting out and about, getting as physical as I can on my current prepayday budget. I haven’t wanted to settle back in though, avoiding people and doing my own thing as usual. Walking a lot as I can’t sit still (the restlessness persists and as you know stillness is always an issue). There’s like a constant pressure in my head that I’m attributing to the instant onset of extreme hayfever (yes that a real thing  – there have been people dropping dead of asthma in Melbourne over the past few weeks).

The water here tastes like mud (algae in the river water we drink apparently), the dry heat and hard water has turned my skin to flaky crap and my hair to a dandruffy hair helmet, but the clear blue skies and sunsets in the evenings have made everything worth it.

Almost.

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In the grand scheme of things though, I can’t complain. Decent job, great money, good conditions, new work car (hopefully flame proof after the last one), semi-autonomous and self managing to a large degree. I work alone in a regional area of New South Wales, my immediate supervisor (now retired) is a 3 hour drive away, my team Manager 6 hours, the remainder of my team spread all over New South Wales. Perfect.

Almost.

You might recall that I mentioned that nothing had changed here in the past year. Well that holds true for work as well.

Starting back last Monday, a few people were surprised but most were welcoming (It was a sad day as a colleagues’ son had committed suicide over the weekend so the mood was low). I wasn’t expecting a parade but people passed by in the corridor, a few remarked that they hadn’t even realised I’d been gone.

Nice.

Walking back into my office after 11 months I expected at least SOMETHING to be different. But nothing was (except someone had stolen my 2 x new 22″ monitors and had replaced them with shitty old ones).

I settled back in, checked the few emails filtering in from colleagues who finally realised I was back, and then started catching up on mandatory training that been missed  – online talking head videos about terrorism or radicalisation or somesuch “fear fear fear warning warning warning’ nonsense –  (I suppose to be fair one of our own colleagues had been assassinated/shot point blank right outside the front door of Headquarters last year so a little paranoia is to be expected).

After a few calls from my colleagues, I was again getting drawn into the same corporate bullshit, the infighting and office politics that I’d been happy to leave in the dust. All the same personalities involved, their low morale, negativity and backstabbing once again hurled at me as the corporate factions struggled to find support and numbers. Tiresome and sickening but not entirely unexpected. I usually try to stay above it but sometimes its hard when it catches you off guard and it finds a way in.

It was then I started to feel the psychological load building again as all these familiar things reasserted control over my mind and began manifesting in my body. Pain free for the past 12 months, in this 2 day period things started to happen again. The crunchy shoulder muscles, the hypertension, irritability and anxiety. The shoulder and neck pain came back in 1 day. By Day 2, the tingling in the fingertips and wrists started up again, and lower back pain started to fire up. These things had spilled over and caused Hell  in my personal life and even in the first few weeks of my holiday, had caused aching pain and a lot of discomfort from sitting (especially touring around in Jen’s little 4WD for 3 weeks)

Usually I’d just go and stretch, chillax for a bit but ultimately put up with it. But “Bugger this” I thought – my health is important to me now – and got the local Workplace Health and Safety manager to come in and check out my office equipment. Sure enough, he measured and tested and moved things around, eventually ruling that every single piece of office furniture and equipment I’d been using for the past 4 years was totally unsuitable, too small , or needed changing out.

SO – now I have a standup desk! (at least temporarily)  – IT’S THE BEST THING EVER…and it’s gone a long way already to stop the aches and pains.

Short story is I’m doing ok. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Daily, I’m examining and reframing all the negative thinking, watching my mind, meditating and breathing purposefully. Flicking my gaze to next year while staying rooted in the present. Its a skill for life : less crystal ball gazing and more staying open to opportunity, but luckily I have some amazing friends in other countries that are still traveling and they are keeping me level – <Shaye, Megan, Kate, Anna, Megs, Christina, Connie, Bronnie especially> – if it wasn’t for the support of these guys (albeit remotely) I’d be a real mess.

The tiny OCD part of me still needs a plan ABC to settle down though.

So plan B is off to Bali in February to complete another 2 modules in the Svastha Yoga Therapy program. It’s something I really want to finish and after Bali there’s only 2 more modules to go and I’m certified.

Oh and I’m learning French! – met with a local tutor and shes going to help me over the next 5 months. There’s a plan bubbling away in my head to use Language study to travel the world – get an education visa for a year, study at a language school, move on. French first, then Thai in Thailand or Arabic in Tunisia at Bourguiba Language School.

It’s my plan C if the USA goes up in flames with Trump in control. (Did I mention I’m moving to the US next year?)

Next week brings Doctors visits, assessments and some work related travel to Bourke, Brewarrina, and probably Walgett. Today, I’m enjoying the Sunday sunshine, a decent coffee or two at Dahab Cafe, my new Jack Reacher novel and then who knows what the future may bring.

 

reframe…

“Whats Next?” is a big question that’s been driving me forward for a while now.

 Sometimes you can provide the answer, but most times you cant and the universe decides on your behalf. For me, circumstances back home have aligned unexpectedly to give me a small window to return and cut short my year of travel.

Its been 2 weeks of anxiety, sleeplessness and indecision but I’ve made the call to head back to Australia, even though I still have 8 weeks of “make a decision” time before the deadline to return to my old job lapses.

My reluctance to walk back into the cage of my old life and relinquish this magnificent freedom is manifesting itself physically and mentally. I’ve been sick, tired, happy, depressed – every emotion struggling for dominance. If it wasn’t for the planned 2 week safety net of Chiang Mai to settle my head down I’d be lost. Being able to prepare for reemergence into the real world is invaluable especially when you’ve been existing in an absolute freedom dream state, living for almost a year abroad. The comfortable calm that this city brings me is immediate.

Chiang Mai has been the place that I gather my strength after this rollercoaster year – get my chipped tooth fixed and some overdue dental work , a new tattoo, read a few good books, see a few films, catch up with friends, and meditate on lessons learned over the course of the year.

A friend asked me a few days back what has changed about myself in the past year, and I couldn’t really answer the question. It’s hard to pin down. I thought this would be a year of answers but I have only found more questions. The only thing I’m sure of is that I am not where I am supposed to be. 

What did surprise me is that when it was darkest, I found comfort and strength in a spiritualistic Faith I didn’t realise I had. 

*Notre Dame Cathedral minus Quasimodo.

Anyhow…I’m sure it’ll pass. 

Much like going to the dentist and distancing yourself from the pain, this week Ive completed the process of reentry in a numb,  detached state: contacting my old employer <shudder>, seeking accommodation, transport, flights, logistically getting from point A to point B etc etc ad nauseum. Inside I’m screaming at myself to stop this madness and head West again, but luckily the rational part is in control for a change and has made all the arrangements for reentry into what has become a new Global World Order in all of the worst possible ways.

I am extremely grateful to have had the chance to experience the world over the past year, meet amazing new friends and experience life fully but I am not ‘lucky’ as some have said. It was just good management. I planned and worked hard to save enough money to see me through the year, then tried to roll with the punches as they landed. It was a massive gamble, but it wasn’t luck.

Now for some reason my ‘live to work’ ethic has flipped to ‘work to live’ completely and I’m embracing the concept. We all only get one life and it passes all too quickly. It’s for this very reason I’m never going to be trapped in a meaningless job nor rot in an office ever again.

But as of today, unlimited freedom-wise, it’s done. At least for a little while.

This is my last Sunday in Chiang Mai and Monday afternoon I fly out.

In a week I go back to work.

There is a longer term plan however and this is a temporary means to an end. That has been the only thing keeping me on track. Rationalisation and reframing the negative.

It’s not all bad – I’ll get to see my Mum, my beautiful daughter Isabel, and some of the few remaining friends that I feel close to. But that’s about it.

2016 has been a trial run with a mix of success and failure but more importantly it’s been a year of exponential personal growth.

2017 will be my year and I’m getting excited already.

Reframe. 

 More about Paris tomorrow.

a day at the museum 2…

Audio Tour locked and loaded!

Deciding where to start was the hard part. The audio tour recommended several options – a 2 hour “greatest hits” tour of the big ticket items, a random walkabout tour where you could punch in the exhibit numbers for a commentary, and a full guided A – Z tour.

Or you could just wing it.

There are approximately 38000 items on exhibit in this wonderful museum that take you from beyond ancient Egypt up to post French Revolution.

This link gives you a lot of useful info re visiting this wonderful museum and is well worth a look (also it saves me typing) —> Louvre Guide.

Now the problem with any of these options is that there are literally hundreds of people with these audio tour devices, doing the same tours, at the same time, at the same pace which equals big crowds at key points along the way.  If you want to jostle your way to the front to get a nice pic of the Mona Lisa or the Venus De Milo then fine, but I was already tired of the crowds and I’d just walked in.

So I did the logical left handed thing and went the opposite way : essentially doing the audio tour backwards and manually. Surprisingly it mostly worked and I avoided the worst of the crowds and at some times had entire galleries to myself.

Starting in the Denon wing, I wandered through European sculptures and found myself lost in exquisite works by Michelangelo, Donatello and the other ninja turtles, and by the end of that I was completely adrift in time. Gone. Out to lunch.

I’m not even going to attempt to recap everything but wandering the Grand Gallery, examining works by Leonado da Vinci, Raphael, Gainsborough, Goya, Botticelli, Carravagio, Reubens, Rembrandt, Delacroix…other Spanish Masters, French Masters, Italian Masters…so many more all up close and personal – (my GOD the art is amazing) – and exploring the sub basements of the Louvre were my absolute faves.

Then dove into extensive Egyptian collections (more than even the Cairo museum and so well curated), artifacts from Africa and the Middle East, Islamic art, French Art, Near Eastern and Egyptian art, Italic and Etruscan antiquities, Roman, Greek, Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

I’d walked many kilometers already and traveled thousands of years through time, but I hadn’t even scratched the surface. My mind was humming.

*heiroglyphs and their translations. This was apparently some junk mail.
*zombie animals!!!! I mean mummies of animals.

**zombies would have been so cool also.
*extensive papyrus collections. This was an early sext message.
*the finest sarcophagus collection I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a few now.
*ancient broken things.
*early hunting porn.
*french women – they also classify as a work of art just quietly. Dear sweet Lord, French women. It’s not ALL about the artworks people. Jeez.
*Archangel Michael vanquishing Satan – by Raphael – this was mesmerising and I stared at this for far too long. **This ones for Meg.
*a whole lot of dicks (better known as King Leonidis at Thermopylae). I did NOT stare at this for ages.

**Dicks and the naked male form are common themes in the Louvre. Be prepared for uneasy questions from the kiddies and uncomfortable silences from the spouse.
*more Goya than you can poke a stick at.
*some Rembrandt guy.
*a prolific Camille Corot. Seriously this chick churned out work.
*this lovely but overrated creature. The real one. I trampled an old lady to death to get this close.

*tourists doing stupid things in front of classic paintings – like re-enacting them while people are trying to appreciate them.

**MANY people wanted to hurt her badly this day.

***Her “Crucifixion of Christ” was flawless though.
*Footloose Latrec.
*drunken party animal selfies from ye oldey days.

All these and so many religious artifacts, icons and artworks that even a hardcore athiest like myself started to believe in God. Almost.

But I’d barely gotten started, I was getting tired and dizzy (skipped breakfast to line up) as it was 2pm so I had a quick bite of lunch in the ground floor cafe: going for a tasty baguette, a bad coffee and some people watching for a while.

As luck would have it, the French President was touring that day and so the place was in lockdown for a short time over lunch as he toured parts of the building. An enforced 45 minute lunch break restored my equilibrium. 4 man Army patrols covered every entry and exit while other squads roamed the crowds. Snipers looked down on us from the top floors and every angle was covered by serious men with big guns.
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So naturally I stepped up to the balcony, whipped a camera out of my bag without thinking and snapped off a few shots . Then I remembered the snipers, froze and quietly shat myself.

It’s not all about the art as I keep saying. There are tours of the Louvre itself, delving into the subbasements and the early history and construction of the complex from medieval fort to today.

Up above, there are Napoleons apartments, King Louie IV’s apartments, Marie Antoinette’s apartments, restored ballrooms, gilded dining halls, royal silver collections and snuff box collections and cameo collections, and every inch of the walls and ceilings covered in gold, exquisite artworks and antiquities from the ages.

There are so many beautiful works here though that the crowds largely ignore in favour of the big ticket items : The Winged Victory of Samothrace (below) is barely mentioned, as is The Virgin of the Rocks. The Dying Slave. Liberty leading the People. Orphan Girl at the Cemetary. So much more and right under your nose…and away from the crowds.

*The Winged Victory of Samothrace (or the Goddess Nike of Samothrace)
img_5939*A typical ceiling – always look up in the Louvre.

IMG_6047.jpg*Orphan Girl at the Cemetery by Delacroix

The big tickets items like Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo are always super crowded –

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But there is so much more in this room and people just stream past most of it. Opposite the Mona Lisa is this, for example – you might recognise it.

img_5943-1*Yep its only the Last Freaking Supper. Mind blown.

**I’d hate to dust in this place.

or how about the Sword of Charlemagne!

Or how about Napoleons Chambers and Dining room (the highchair is up the back)

I stumbled out of Napoleons apartments 11 hours later with my mind completely overwhelmed by the wealth of history and art that I’d tried to cram into it over the day.

That’s right 11 hours  – I exited at 9pm –  and I hadn’t even come close to seeing everything let alone appreciating it all. I’d walked 17 kms according to my iPhone Health app and also had to change the little audio tour device over twice as I’d run 2 sets of batteries down.

So I guess the point I am trying to get across is that if you plan a trip to the Louvre, an hour just ain’t gonna cut it. Take your time and explore properly for at least a day if not 3 even. It so worth your time.

Exhausted and mentally drained I retreated to the hostel via Cafe Du Comedie for a red wine, a cigarette and then bed.

End of Day 1.