2018

We are now in 2018. Welcome everybody! Grab a glass of bubbly! I’m glad we both made it. It’s so good to see you again!

I always start the new year with a niggling feeling like I just barely made it through a stargate and am now standing in a random field, swinging my arms, wondering what happens next. I swear I spend the first week of the year with a cloud above my head that says, ‘NOW WHAT?’ in bubble lettering.

Even though the passing of a year is fairly arbitrary.

Even though it makes no real difference.

Even though it should just be a continuation of what came before, and not some odd date on the calendar that feels like a new page, a clean slate, a blank wall of concrete staring you in the face when you have an unused can of spray paint in your hand.

It’s time to start over.

You know….

Again.

So here we are, in the future of the past which is now the present. I rang in the New Year in Spain, choking on grapes and crying with laughter. I spent the first day of 2018 exploring small towns with medieval walls, before chasing down chocolate con churros with a single-minded focus usually found in bloodhounds on a hunt.

Nothing gets between me and my churros.

Today, the world is glitteringly cold. The sky is a clear, pale blue and if you run outside in your socks (as I – very briefly – did), it feels as if your feet might stick to the ground, rooting you to the spot, freezing you to the flagstones. Everything has been delicately brushed with a thin coating of twinkling frost. In patches of sunlight the ice has melted away, retreating to the safety of the shade, revealing the bright, true green of the grass or the vibrant red of the few remaining autumn leaves.

I have no list for this year. No boxes to check. No impossible goals or overly ambitious aims. Instead I have a word that I’m hoping will propel me into the new year with all the fire and energy I felt I was lacking last year:

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Great things happened in 2017! I visited Mexico! I visited Bali! I swam with sea turtles! I got engaged! I got two enormous kittens with over-sized portions of personality! I planned an apartment overhaul that has turned us into nomads with capsule wardrobes that consist of jeans and more jeans (the toilet did eventually arrive by the way, for those of you who have spent the holidays on tenterhooks waiting for an update about our plumbing)!

I’m hoping that by the end of this month, we will be in apartment 2.0. I’m hoping that it will be the first of many great things in 2018. Part of making that happen, however, involves taking action and pulling on a blue boiler suit (size XL; I look like nothing so much as The Michelin Man in a cleanroom) and a respirator so I can continue the work I started yesterday*.

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So far, ‘action’ is turning out to be deeply uncomfortable…

If you have a word or a resolution, let me know – I find they rub off on me sometimes! Whether you do or you don’t, I wish you all the luck in this new year. I wish you personal successes and private accomplishments. I wish you joy, and love, and happiness. I wish you a minimum of tears (unless they’re from laughter – those are allowed), and I wish you pride in yourself, bravery in your actions, good company and great friends.

Now if you could all just wish me a bit of sunshine so that I don’t freeze and spend the first month of 2018 as a glittering but immobile garden gnome….

 

*I am in the middle of spray painting our kitchen cabinets, and it is both messier and slower than is truly ideal in minus degrees.

 

Something The Tooth Fairy Never Mentioned

Sometimes conversations don’t at all go in the direction you were expecting.

One moment you’re talking about balloons as cat toys and the fact that your wisdom tooth is digging into your cheek, and the next the conversation has taken a sharp left turn and you are hearing a sentence that doesn’t seem relevant in the slightest.

“Before you get pregnant, it’s vital you get any dental issues out of the way.”

“Excuse me?”

This conversational clanger had been dropped in – apropos of nothing – by my mother. Just to be very clear, I have no plans to get pregnant. None at all. I am not a broody person. When I see babies* on the street I smile politely, that is all. As a general rule, babies hate me. They tend to respond to my touch with shrieking cries of instant unhappiness; I think they can sense my fear.

“Yes, teeth before you get married. It’s very important.”

I narrowed my eyes and squinted at the wall, hoping the paint markings might provide some insight regarding this sudden non sequitur.

“What- I mean, why- “

In my mind, question marks popped like bubbles. I stumbled over my words before deciding that ultimately, wherever this road was leading wasn’t worth it. The journey would be too painfully infuriating. I massaged my forehead with my fingertips.

“… Never mind…”

I needn’t have bothered. My mother simply continued as if I hadn’t interjected at all.

“You know, before my sisters and I got married, my father took us each to the dentist in turn to get our mouths fixed up.”

“… What now?”

“Yes, each of us in turn. Right before our weddings. It’s crucial to get it all done before you get pregnant.”

My head fell back and I eyed the ceiling as I imagined some faceless man pulling at lips and examining gums and checking teeth before slapping my mother and my aunts on the back and calling them “Fine fillies!”

… Or whatever the Spanish term is for good broodmares.

There was a long, yawning silence as I debated whether or not I wanted to continue this bizarre and mildly disturbing line of conversation.

Anyway-” I started over in an attempt to change the subject.

“I’m serious. Teeth are very important to get fixed before you get married.”

“Okay, but I mean-“

“It has to be before you get pregnant.”

“Okay but I never said-“

“So you should do it quickly now.”

“Well I mean there’s definitely no rush-“

“You should definitely do it next month.”

As somebody who has no plans, somebody please explain this logic to me. Is this some sort of strange common-but-unspoken thing that I have never heard of? Do people go to the dentist to get “their mouths fixed” before they marry? Is there any reason you wouldn’t get your mouth fixed before then?

There is nothing wrong with my wisdom teeth; they’re good teeth, Brent. They are, however, growing into a mouth where all the space is currently occupied, so I just feel like they may have to vacate the premises. It’s on the long list, you know? Riiiiiiiiight below growing my hair out and finding a dress to wear at Christmas and going to Dubai and getting a job that will pay for both the dentist and the dress.

So you know, on the list, but down a bit.

No, down further.

Further. Keep going. Yep, next page.

There it is!

*In comparison, when I see a dog on the street my eyes turn into lovehearts and I make a beeline for them so I can pet them and tell them they’re beautiful. Can you be dog broody?

 

36 Questions: The Second Question

36 Questions- The Second Question

Here we are, Friday at last, and it HAILED earlier. What on earth, Ireland? I know, small potatoes when you compare it to weather happening in other parts of the world, but still! It’s only September! Let’s stay lukewarm for another couple of months, at least!

But we don’t have time for idle chit chat, because it’s almost half eight and I haven’t had any dinner yet. I need nutrients in the form of something delicious (chocolate?), so let’s get straight to question numero dos:

Would you like to be famous? In what way?

On our first day in Delhi, a tall, rangy teenager approached us with a mobile phone in his hand. He giddily asked something of Scrubs, who shook his head in an awkwardly terse movement, and then the boy bounded away, melting back into the crowd.

“What did he want?” I asked, curious.

“He wanted to take a photo with me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I said no, anyway.”

“Why?”

“Why did I say no?”

“Yeah, why did you say no? It wouldn’t have cost you anything and it would have made him happy!”

Scrubs looked at me as if I had suggested we join a commune and live as goat herders for a year.

“Because it’s weird, that’s why.”

I shrugged and let it go. Scrubs is tall and blonde and blue-eyed and obviously foreign, and this is more than enough for people to want a photograph of you in India. It happened again, and then again, and each time I teased Scrubs for not being willing to get in a photo.

Then it finally happened.

We were sitting in a palace museum, heads together, poring over a guidebook, when a teenage girl shyly shuffled over with her camera dangling from her wrist.

“Excuse me,” she said timidly. “Can I get a picture with you?”

I immediately glanced at Scrubs before realising that she was actually speaking to me. I puffed up. THIS WAS IT, I thought. THIS WAS THE MOMENT I GOT TO DO THE GOOD DEED AND MAKE THIS GIRL’S DAY.

“Of course!” I said graciously, only barely restraining myself from surreptitiously elbowing Scrubs.

The girl gave me a crooked smile, and then dashed down the corridor.

“What the-“

She returned just as speedily with a dozen classmates, obviously on their school tour, all delighted to have caught sight of two tourists in the wild. I suddenly felt like an animal spotted during a safari.

She flapped her hands at us to stand, and we did. She gestured for them to all crowd into a photo with us, and they did. She asked us to smile, snapped a couple of photographs, thanked us profusely, and then the horde of teens disappeared around the corner, never to be seen again.

I sat back down on the marble bench, dazed.

“That was weird.” I said, deflated.

“I told you.”

“Well I thought she meant just her, not her entire class!”

“It would still have been weird if it had just been her.”

Since I had already dug my heels in on the subject, I stubbornly refused to change my position. For another week or so, I consented to every photograph with a stranger no matter how uncomfortable. As time passed I realised it barely mattered either way; the vast majority of people simply stuck their phones in our faces as we walked past, photographing or videoing us without asking. I started to feel like I owed the more polite people a photo just for treating us as fellow human beings.

And then I visited the Taj Mahal.

The day I visited Agra, it was extremely hot. After exploring the inside of the Taj Mahal (very nice, I’m sure you’ve seen it in photos, it’s very white and gleaming and cold and intricate), I sat out on the marble flagstones overlooking the river. Next to me, a family of Americans sat eating their lunch. I watched them as they were interrupted over and over and over again by middle-aged Indian men asking to take photos with their blonde, rosy-cheeked children. The parents, obviously flustered but afraid to be rude, kept acquiescing and shunting the children (a six year old boy and a girl of about eight) into photographs with these strangers, who would put an arm around them or lay a hand on their shoulder. After the seventh such photograph the little boy burst into tears. The parents allowed him to sit down and eat his sandwich while his sister continued to stand, her expression mutinous, for photograph after photograph. I felt so sorry for them… and at the same time a small, snakey part of me was relieved that this family were unwittingly acting as a lightning rod for all the attention.

Who wants a photo of a dark-haired foreigner when there are little children who look like actual cherubs about?

That changed my mind and sapped all my good will. It was clear that the children didn’t want to be in the photos. It was even pretty clear that the parents felt cornered into forcing the children into these photos. And yet a steady stream of photograph-seekers approached them without pause. They were still being pestered when I left the steps.

The last week that I was in India I worked hard on my RBF and turned down every request for a photograph. We still got snapped, but by now Scrubs and I were definitely on the same page. We didn’t owe anyone a photo. The idea of strangers having photographs of us for no reason that made any sense was unnerving. We kept our heads down and learned to dodge the people who pointed their lenses at us.

After this experience – this tiny sliver of a taste of what it would be like to be famous in today’s world of social media – I look at this question, ‘Would you like to be famous?’ and I think no. A thousand nos. No thank you. No gracias. Not ever.

Unless…..

Unless I could be Banksy, and be anonymously famous.

Hey, maybe I AM Banksy!

I’ll never tell.

 

 

*I’m trying to get over it and join the 21st century but looking at my instagram I can tell you that out of the last five selfies, all of them have involved some amount of alcohol. Make of that what you will…

Cutting It Fine

CUTTING IT FINE

It’s Friday. Usually I post on Fridays, and today is no different except that today my post is on somebody else’s blog.

I’ve loved Lauren’s blog ever since I first read it. She’s written about her past, she’s written about mental health, struggles, inspiration, good days and bad days. She writes about her future (she’s pregnant!), and she does it all so beautifully and so honestly. Everything is personal and from the heart.

When she first asked me if I’d like to guest post I immediately said yes, but it took me a while to actually write the post I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to write about mental health, and I also knew I wanted to write something deeply personal. Something from the heart. A sort of It-Gets-Better for people who have similar struggles.

But it’s scary, right?

It’s scary writing about things you know some people won’t understand. Every time I sat down to write the post, I found myself writing about the reasons why I was going through such a rough time. I got mired in a Swamp of Sadness made up of largely irrelevant (to everyone but me) details about my past, and the post was so dark and depressing and not at all what I wanted to write.

It’s difficult, though.

It’s hard to write about both the past and mental health without feeling like you need to explain, and defend, and justify, when you can no more control or change what has already happened than you can control your dreams.

Finally, I scrapped what I’d written, started over, and got it all down. It’s not perfect, it’s probably not for the squeamish, but it’s extremely personal, and it’s from the heart.

You can find it here:

Cutting It Fine

 

T&E (Tired and Emotional)

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Well I have to say…

They’re no Lenny.

They’re better than Lenny, obviously, but Lenny was chill. He minded his own business and kept himself to himself. He fed himself, watered himself, and on the rare occasion that we ran into each other, we would both stop in surprise, as if we’d forgotten the other even lived in the apartment. On the last day, he waved goodbye with a single antenna and I nodded my head in acknowledgement. It was a civil arrangement; a cool but not unfriendly relationship.

Thing 1 and Thing 2  (their names are not yet decided) are small, furry, projectile missiles that enjoy biting hair, toes, curtains, shoelaces, faces, and each other. They frequently attack thin air. They need to be fed four times a day (FOUR!), and Thing 1 tries to eat both bowls at once. They are noiseless ninjas, appearing underfoot without so much as a meow of warning, so that you live in a constant state of shredded nerves from the possibility of standing on one by mistake. They live in a single room for the time being, but have recently become aware that there is a wider world beyond the door and Thing 1 has made about 47385 escape attempts so far. Thing 2, more cautious by nature, hangs back and watches his sister volunteer as tribute with a shocked look on his face. Neither of them speak English, and they have a particularly limited understanding of the word ‘No.’

They are small, and soft, and Thing 2 is more photogenic than I could ever be (Thing 1 doesn’t stay still long enough.

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“fvgh).“kiiiiiiiiiii,” says Thing 2, as he pads his way across my keyboard.

Still, last night, after so many months of anticipation and such high expectations of how I would feel once they arrived (LOVE, obviously – the same kind of love I had for my cat that passed away last year)… I found myself feeling strangely low. I didn’t feel the unconditional love I was expecting to feel. I didn’t feel instant, uncomplicated happiness. Instead I felt slightly frightened and a bit overwhelmed. I started to panic on the inside. As I looked at their dark little faces, watching me with wide blue eyes, I felt a crushing sense of responsibility.

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“I might have to keep you safe for twenty years,” I told them in a desperate whisper at about 2am. “Can I do that?! I don’t even know if I can do that!”

They stared silently. Thing 2 blinked.

“I mean, every house plant I’ve had has died. That’s why they’re all artificial now. Did you notice? They’re all plastic!”

Thing 2 yawned and flopped down on his side. Thing 1 started to climb up the leg of my jeans, a mad look in her eyes. I peeled her from my thigh and sat down on the bed. A tear rolled down my face and I wondered if I was actually losing it completely.

“I had a cat before, you see,” I told them. “He was the best cat – my little man – and last year he was put down. So you have… really big paws to fill. You guys are really cute, and I like you a lot, but you’re baby strangers. I don’t know you yet, and you don’t know me, and there are two of you, and there’s only one of me, and you’re all over the place, and I only have a single set of eyeballs and they both point in one direction, and I’m feeling very overwhelmed and tired and I just… I just need you to work with me and give me a bit of time. Okay?”

As I spoke, Thing 1 and Thing 2 sat up straight, staring at me solemnly. Then Thing 1 approached me and curled up against my side, and Thing 2 padded straight up to my face and reached up to lick my nose.

I petted them and they purred.

I googled it then and found that it’s actually quite a common thing. Apparently, when expectations are (consciously or subconsciously) very high, you can get a sort of post-adoption depression when everything is suddenly REAL LIFE and you really truly internalise the fact that you are now responsible for two kamikaze floofballs for almost as long as it takes to pay off a mortgage, and you will have to get to know each other a bit before you can realistically expect to have the same kind of bond you had with your 16 year old domestic shorthair family pet.

As I write this, they are asleep beside me; two stretched out little snuffleupagii.

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Although they clearly need a few more English lessons, they certainly seemed to understand my rising panic last night. Since our heart-to-heart, they’ve been very affectionate and have stopped biting my hands (as much). The number of attempted escapes has decreased dramatically, and Thing 1 has let me take a photo or two.

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I’m feeling much better today. I have the gruesome twosome booked in for a vet visit tomorrow, I’ve made them an Instagram account so as not to spam my own with pictures of their fuzzy faces, and I am no longer in imminent danger of having a meltdown.

Amazing what a few hours of sleep can do!

Ragdoll kitten

 

 

 

Wedding Daze

Wedding daze

I love a good wedding, and I was at a great wedding on Saturday.

The bride, my cousin – who is stunning on a bad day – looked so beautiful she actually glowed. I’ve read about people “glowing” before and always thought it was hyperbole, but I can’t think of any other word to describe her when the fact is that she legitimately had a honey aura going on.

Although we’re cousins, we look nothing alike. She is the blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, high-cheekboned, glamorous blonde to my hazel-eyed, dressed-in-the-dark, sallow-skinned brunette. As teenagers we would lie side by side on her bed, talking about boys and secrets and friends and life. Even though she’s a little younger than me, I’ve always looked up to her. She’s ambitious and determined, beautiful, strong-minded and incredibly talented. It doesn’t seem fair that one person managed to get all of those attributes, but here we are.

As a clear and timely example, let me tell you about her veil. If you tuned in (along with 2 billion others) to watch the last English royal wedding, you’ll have seen Carrickmacross lace before. It was all over Kate Middleton’s dress. Carrickmacross lace originates in County Monaghan, and involves a painstaking process of handstitching fabric to lace before cutting away the excess material. Consider that for a moment, and then consider the fact that my cousin decided – with all the ambition and determination and talent I outlined above – that she would make her own veil for her wedding day.

As you do.

I can’t imagine the patience it must have taken to make. If it had been me, I would have thrown it out the window after the first couple of months. Tulle and lace, needles and thread would all have gone sailing out onto the lawn in an unwittingly graceful show of frustration. My cousin being who she is though, she stuck with it; she found a teacher, learned the technique, and over many, many, many months… made her own veil.

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the veil

Even the most hamfisted, chronically unimpressed heathen would have to admit she did good. She did better than good. I mean, look at that. I don’t know anybody else on this earth who would take on that task on top of wedding planning and a full time job being the country’s best art teacher.

But that’s my cousin for you!

The day went off without a hitch. Everything was perfect. The cherry blossoms at the church, the incredible food, the heartfelt speeches from the wedding party, the cake that her mother made for the reception… In terms of talent and creativity, it’s a case of like mother, like daughter. As they say in the country, “She didn’t lick it off a stone!”

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the cake

So we danced, and we drank, and we toasted, and we talked, and we sang (not well), and we enjoyed ourselves. My cousin and her kind, loving gentleman of a husband (!) celebrated getting hitched and we were lucky enough to be witnesses.

After the meal, as I leaned back in my chair and wondered if I would ever need to eat again, I thought about growing up, and falling in love, and how complicated it is sometimes, and how simple it can seem from afar. It’s like an impressionist painting; from a distance it’s easy to think it’s a distinct scene painted in three or four colours, but once you really get up close and examine it, it’s so much messier than that. Every person lives in their own bubble, feeling things you can never know unless they tell you. Everybody has their own secret inner life, with their most personal dreams and hopes and memories and fears. It’s terrifying to trust someone enough to tell them all of that. It’s hard to let other people into your bubble.

And yet… we do it. We risk it. We feel passion, and loss, and love, and pain. We trust in people, even when we’ve been hurt before. We’re honest with people, even when we’re afraid they’ll throw it back in our faces. Over and over, we put our hearts on the line and we tell people the truth about how we feel, and sometimes it’s a disaster, and sometimes it’s magical. People have been doing this in all countries, in all cultures, again and again, over and over, since the dawn of time.

I can’t decide if it’s beautiful, or boneheaded.

Here’s what I do know though…

Life is hard sometimes. Nobody makes it through unscathed. With that in mind, it’s pretty amazing to find someone who you know has your back. I know that my cousin has found a guy who will go to bat for her everytime. If life was a zombie apocalypse, they would both be in the Winchester with her husband watching the door while my cousin came up with an elaborately detailed yet highly effective plan to get them to safety. They’ve got it on lock.

In the end, that’s what we all want, I guess. Somebody who will make the good stuff better and the bad stuff less bad. Somebody who you know is on your team, no matter the highs or the lows. Somebody who will keep the zombies of life distracted while you map out an escape plan using paperclips and toothpicks.

And vice versa.

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, Let’s Talk about Anxiety

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It seems like these days, everyone has anxiety. Not just anxiety, but frustrating, life-altering, capital-A ‘Anxiety.’

I hear the word used a lot. I hear it in different forms – ‘I have anxiety,’ ‘I have social anxiety,’ ‘I am a super anxious person’ – and when I do, I want to tug on that person’s sleeve and ask, “Really? Do you really? Are you really an anxious person? How anxious? When you say that, what do you mean exactly? Can you tell me about it?”

Here’s the thing; on one hand, hearing other people talk about their anxiety makes me feel like I’m not alone. Considering how many people talk about it, it almost makes me feel normal. I mean, everyone seems to have it. Maybe everyone does have it to some extent.

On the other hand, sometimes I feel like a lot of things get lumped into the anxiety category when they probably don’t belong there. I mean, sometimes I’m reluctant to do something, but that doesn’t mean I have anxiety about it. Sometimes I’m nervous about something, and that also doesn’t mean I have anxiety about it. In my case – and I can only speak to that, because everyone has different experiences – anxiety is a different beast to either reluctance or nerves or fear or pure unwillingness. It feels different.

When my laziness makes me disinclined to do something, it usually sounds a bit like a petulant teenager. It grumbles, and sighs, and mutters things like, “Yeah, no. I don’t want to do that,” or, “Uhhhh… yeah I’d rather stay home and watch something on Netflix. Imma do that instead.”

When my nervousness makes me disinclined to do something, it sounds a bit like a frightened child. It makes high-pitched noises only dogs can hear, and groans, and whines things like, “But do we haaaaave to?” or, “What if the other kids don’t like me?”

My anxiety doesn’t say anything. My anxiety doesn’t sound like anything. It feels. It feels like my soul is digging its heels into the floor and refusing to budge. It feels like my heart is a hummingbird. It feels like my throat has suddenly shrunk to the size of a plastic straw and getting air is a conscious effort. It feels like I need to vomit, even if the only thing I’m able to bring up is bile. It feels like my mind is either at 0 or at 100; either blank with panic, or piling worry on top of worry on top of worry until I can’t see over the top to the horizon of normality.

It feels like flying down a steep hill on a bicycle with no brakes. It feels like when you’re on the stairs and your foot misses a step. It feels like waiting for results you know are going to be bad. It feels like cold heat flooding your body.

It’s a deeply, deeply unpleasant feeling.

Thankfully, I don’t feel this steamroller, flat-out, full-force version of anxiety too often. When I do, I try to push through it. I don’t take medication*. I don’t wonder if I’m dying. Instead, I tell myself that it’s not real, that I’m in control, and that my brain is being (excuse the language) a dick. I tell myself that emotions are constructs, and that it will pass.

And you know, it does. Eventually. Somehow.

So now tell me, do you feel anxiety? If so, what brings it on? What do you do about it? How do you manage it? Inquiring (and anxious) minds want to know!

 

*I have nothing against taking medication and have often considered it, but the potential side-effects have always frightened me more than the idea of just dealing with the anxiety.

Madrid Memories

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Madrid is my soul city.

I haven’t been there in about nine months now, and I’m starting to feel that familiar ache that comes over me when I go too long without visiting. Half of my extended family live in the city, and I have been faithfully flying over at a rate of at least twice a year for the past thirty years. Three years ago, my last remaining grandparent – my Yayo – passed away, and I worried that this would change things. I worried I might not feel as welcome in Madrid now that I no longer had somewhere to stay. I worried that the connection I felt with my family and the city might loosen or come undone now that we no longer had La Comida del Domingo (Sunday lunch) to bring us together each week.

I needn’t have worried.

I still have a place to stay. In fact, now I have places, plural. My aunts welcome me with open arms and comfortable rooms. They feed me and fuss over me and keep me up to date on their lives as if nothing has changed. I visit cousins who are more like older siblings, and walk the streets searching for churros just like I’ve done since I was a child.

I miss the apartment I grew up in, though.

The loss of that apartment and the loss of my Yayo are completely enmeshed in my mind. When I think of him, I think of him sitting in his chair by the window, watching the world pass by. I think of him flipping through the leather-bound photo albums I’d taken down by precariously balancing on the armchair next to the bookshelves. I think of him napping in his armchair and then pretending he had actually been watching mass on the TV, even though we both knew it was untrue. I think of him teaching me to make Arroz Con Leche in the kitchen, with military precision and instructions that bordered on orders. I think of sitting on the leather Chesterfield in the study, watching him write poetry about his childhood or my Yaya. I think of him combing back his hair in front of the bathroom mirror before leaving the house. I think of him sitting at the head of the long dining table at Christmas, proudly watching over his family as we laughed and chattered over wine and homemade food.

Somebody else owns the apartment now. A young family bought it and, as far as I can tell, renovated it from end to end. They closed off the balconies and changed the windows. Even when viewed only from the outside, it looks different to the place I once crawled, then toddled, and later walked through during different stages of my life. I am a really sentimental person, and I feel a bone-deep sense of sadness at the reminder that things change, and people die, and we can’t always hold onto the things and people and places that make us happiest.

Then again, they say ‘Good things fall apart so that better things can come together,’ and while I throw that phrase a highly skeptical side-eye, it’s true that without the sale of the apartment, we would have struggled to save up a deposit for our own place. It’s true that at the moment, as I sit at my own dining table, I can reach behind me and touch onyx figurines that used to sit on Yayo’s sideboard, and now sit on my own. I have reminders of him and of that apartment dotted around me; the onyx elephants, the silver Mexican plates, the vintage glass sweet jars and the art deco cutlery set.

Some days, I wish I could sit down and write Yayo a letter like I used to, complete with drawings and addressed to YAYO! (block capitals as standard), telling him about my life and my worries and my thoughts. After he passed away we found all the letters I had sent over the years stacked neatly in the drawer of his desk under lock and key. He had kept my cards, my letters, my childhood drawings of the apartment (complete with a very questionable grasp of perspective), and anything else I had sent tucked neatly between his pages of poetry and his bank account statements.

I’m not sure why I’m in such a melancholy mood today. Perhaps it’s due to the sun having disappeared, or just because I feel exhausted, or because I have a low-level headache happening at the moment that I’m about to bomb out of existence with some industrial strength ibuprofen. Lia is currently snoring away on the floor at my feet, somehow managing not to wake herself despite sounding like a anthropomorphised jet engine with sleep apnea.

Or maybe I just have Madrid withdrawals.

There’s only one remedy I know for Madrid withdrawals…..

 

Going Off The Grid on Gili Air

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If Ubud is the place you go to join an ashram for five months to find yourself, then the Gili islands are where you go to leave the real world behind and step into an alternate reality where time is but a human construct of no importance.

There are three Gili islands: Gili Trewangan (also known as Gili T), Gili Air, and Gili Meno. Gili T is the most popular island, known for full moon parties full of backpacking bros in highlighter yellow sunglasses and sleeveless vests. Gili Meno is ‘The Honeymoon Island,’ where people go to lie on the sand and read their beach lit… partly because there is nothing else to do there. Gili Air is the piggy-in-the-middle lovechild of the two. It has the relaxed vibe of Gili Meno, with enough of the restaurants and bars of Gili T to keep things interesting.

And of course, plenty of mushroom shakes.

 

 

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We traveled straight to Gili Air with a brief pause in the middle of the sea brought on by getting something tangled in one of the propellors. Apparently this happens often enough that it warranted a laminated explanation in the pocket of the seat in front of us, so we were forewarned but thoroughly unprepared by how quickly the lack of a simple breeze (or any air conditioning) would turn us into melting human popsicles. Five minutes after the engines had been shut off, we were dripping into puddles on the leather seats with alarming speed. In a misguided but desperate effort to escape the microwave formerly known as the cabin, we climbed up a set of rungs to the roof of the boat, where I promptly bashed my head hard against a steel bar and lay panting in the equatorial sun until the engines started up again.

By the time we reached Gili Air, my two driving forces were 1. shade and 2. water, and they basically propelled me and my rolling case onto the beach and up the dusty unpaved road without pause. This despite the fact that my rolling suitcase does not possess the sort of all-terrain wheels you would hope for when traversing a remote sandy island in the Bali Sea. Upon reaching our rented bungalow I flopped on the bed like a dying fish, mouth open, trying to suck the moisture out of the air around me. A smiling lady with a slender build knocked on the door to welcome us with pineapple, orange, and banana juice. I drank it down like a shot, waited for her to leave, and then peeled off my clothes to stand, hyperventilating, on the coldest flagstone.

It is HOT on Gili Air.

In Ubud the air was heavy and the weather was warm, but it was nothing compared to Gili Air. Gili Air had an oppressive heat that seemed to congeal the blood in your body until your legs felt too heavy to lift. Late nights were almost impossible, since by that time the sun had scorched away any energy, leaving us warm and heavy and sometimes burned. The island was full of yoga retreats and organic food places and scuba schools, giving employment to a wide range of lean, tanned humans who looked like they had been stretched and starved for a prolonged period of time. They all had gleaming white teeth, sun-bleached hair, and that slighly manic look in their eyes that suggests they would struggle to slot themselves back into the regimented timetable of normal society.

There are no cars or scooters or motorbikes on Gili Air. People travel by foot, or by bicycle, or by horse and cart. It takes about two hours to walk the circumference of the island, leaving time for compulsory photos of the sunset and necessary submergences in the sea. The east of the island is littered with restaurants and bars, and the west side of the island is quieter, but starting to catch up. The sunsets are vivid and beautiful – apparently even more so after one of the proferred magic mushroom shakes – and if you think the temperatures will drop after dark, you’re wrong. The temperatures do not drop; they stay threateningly high, trapped by the humidity in the air, and can only be defeated by the judicious use of air conditioning.

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The water around the island is clear. The reef looks bleached and unhealthy from years of dynamite fishing, but the fish living there are bright-eyed and flashy. Every morning I would grab my fins and wade out into the sea for a look around this world that wasn’t my own. If I was lucky, I would turn slowly to find a large sea turtle eyeing me languidly, large flippers of its own slowly scything through the water. We would swim side by side, my eyes the size of saucers (his distinctly less impressed), until my new turtle friend decided to dive down to depths beyond my abilities. I examined clams, skirted sea urchins, and followed a mantis shrimp marching imperiously over rocks and coral until he disappeared under a slab of concrete.

I emerged from the water only long enough to dry off before my next swim.

When it comes to snorkeling – or, I guess, whatever you call snorkeling without a tube – I am a water baby. I get in, and I never want to come out. Under the water I never feel like my eyes are large enough to take in everything there is to see. I never feel like I am moving fast enough to find every area I want to explore. I can’t hold my breath for long enough to keep myself anchored in the underwater world, and it both frustrates and elates me. I stay in the water until my chest is heaving with exertion from my amateur free diving, jump out and dry off while rehydrating with a smoothie, then run back in for more.

We spent six days on Gili Air. I swam with three large sea turtles. I traipsed through coconut farms and yoga retreats. I followed unsuspecting shoals of fish, and drank countless banana lassis. I enjoyed myself immensely, and for a week I completely forgot about the real world, what time was, or why it was necessary.

The only thing I didn’t do was try a mushroom shake.

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