Thoughts on… Ancient History

Alexandria_Egypt.jpg

People have a way of looking back at their past and painting it in golden hues.

“Those were the best days of our lives” they say, as if that isn’t just the most depressing thing to utter about your present situation. “Those were the days!”

It’s hard not to get carried away by nostalgia sometimes. You remember people more fondly, events more kindly, and the minor details that might cast shadows on a memory tend to disappear in the light given off by the time that has elapsed in between. We all do it. I do it. I even do it with history that isn’t my own.

You see, I have a fascination with ancient civilisations. The myths and legends and stories of the past capture my imagination like nothing else. When I was a child, it was Norse, Greek, and Celtic mythology. I loved Loki* and Sleipnir, his eight-legged horse. I loved Greek mythology because the gods and heroes were flawed, like people are, and didn’t always make good choices**. Celtic mythology is morose and tragic and almost everybody dies which, while not cheerful, is definitely compelling. You know there’s always a good bit at stake in a Celtic myth. It’s rare that someone doesn’t end up dashing their head off a rock a la Deirdre of the Sorrows or impaled by spears like Cú Chulainn. I also read about South American mythology and Egyptian mythology. I had a book that laid out all the old religions of the world, and I practically inhaled the stories.

From Roman and  Egyptian mythology, it was a small slide-step into reading about Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt, gladiators and sacred cats, gymnasiums and Isis temples.

There is something mind-boggling about the fact that thousands of years ago, people were living their lives much the way we live our lives now, only without selfies or social media. They had religion, they had beliefs and values and societies and political intrigue. Rome even had its own version of a tabloid journalist in the shape of Cicero. Life was much sketchier then considering the amount of poisonings and stabbings and decapitations and general mayhem that was happening on the regular, and of course a lot darker and dirtier without modern sanitation or electric light, but they had parties and luxury and in some ways more magic than we could ever have now. Not everything was explicable. Not all questions could be answered by Google. Instead they had oracles, and soothsayers, and Gods, and monsters, and legendary leaders, and plenty of entertaining drama to brighten their days, with or without the lightbulb.

Of course – of course – I’m doing that thing again, where I colour the past in a rosy glow while conveniently forgetting about things like the bubonic plague, or the fact that people were being burnt at the stake, or that women had no rights and were traded like cattle for social mobility… I mean, I would love to see the ancient city of Alexandria, but probably only from Cleopatra’s perspective. Maybe from the balcony of her onyx and marble palace, looking out at the Pharos? It sounds wonderful to be throwing parties were the floor is laid with roses until they’re knee deep and you have lights strung through the trees and you get to dress up like the goddess an awful lot of people already think you are.

Then again, I don’t think I’d like it half much from the perspective of a sickly Egyptian slave, sweltering in the sun in chains. And even Cleopatra, with all her wealth and power, felt forced to suicide after everything went pear-shaped on the back of political maneuvers…

… So maybe there’s something to be said for the present after all.

After all, it’s not so bad to be lying on a sun lounger in a pool of water, typing away on a device that can teach me almost anything I could want to know, without any danger of someone poisoning my food. I’m also not at all concerned about the black death, and I have to concede that I am exceedingly grateful for modern plumbing.

And on that note, I’m off for a shower! Time to climb on board a metal tube (another wonder of the modern age) and fly through the air at hundreds of miles an hour to my country, which is half a world away!

Magic!

*Now I look back and realise he was the ‘IT’S JUST A PRANK BRO!’ OG. I mean that trick he played killing that guy with the sprig of mistletoe? Ice cold.

**Zeus I’m looking at you. Rape by swan is never okay.

Back to regular scheduled programming on Monday once I’m back in cloudy Ireland! Looking forward to catching up on blogs and comments!

Still in Mexico, Now with Added Sunburn

20170424_085651

Since I am still away and have limited access to the internet, I first want to say thank you to everybody who commented on my Discover post, I will be replying to all of them when I get back. I got such thoughtful messages and honestly it’s made this holiday even lovelier than it is already. Given that I am currently typing this in my bikini from a beach bed in front of an astonishingly blue sea, with a palm tree overhead with ACTUAL COCONUTS, that’s saying a lot.

I haven’t had any odd stranger interactions here (yet), although yesterday I did take a colectivo*, and the driver had four sets of rosary beads wrapped around his rear view mirror, a virgin mary statuette glued to the dashboard and a rabbit’s foot dangling from the windscreen, which honestly did not instill much confidence in his driving abilities.

Scrubs and I arrived on Sunday and laughed smugly at the amount of people walking around sunburned. Almost everyone we saw had a rosy tint to their skin, as if they’d been passed through instagram and coloured ‘red’ in the edit. “We have factor 30” we reassured each other. “We’ll be fine!” Factor 30 is already at least 15 more than I usually use, so I was feeling pretty confident.

Pride goeth,’ as the text says, ‘before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Well this haughty spirit was very wrong. This haughty spirit should have bathed in factor 50 before inching so much as a toe out into the midday sun.

It turns out the sun over Mexico is not like the sun over Spain. Or India. Or Egypt. Or Miami. The sun over Mexico is not playing games. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the sun over Mexico is being focused through an enormous magnifying glass with the explicit intention of burning us like little ants. Today, Scrubs and I have joined the ranks of the rosy-hued. Hence the beach bed, with the shade, and the coconut trees.

That will teach us.

The coconuts here are huge by the way; I avoid walking directly underneath the trees because I am convinced that one innocently falling coconut could conceivably end my life. Death by coconut. That would be embarrassing.

“Oh, that’s so tragic” they’d say. “How did she die?”

“Her skull was crushed by a falling coconut.”

Cue at best an awkward silence, and at worst a hastily-stifled horrified laugh.

So lately I’ve been wandering around with one eye turned to the palm trees overhead, reminding myself of a stray cat who, years ago, showed up uninvited at my family home. At the time I named him Twisty because he walked sideways with his head tilted at an awkward angle as if he were listening for something the rest of us could never hear. Later it turned out he had Feline AIDS and had to be put to sleep, but for the short time he was with us he would zig-zag around the place looking perfectly content to have one eye on the sky the whole time.

Maybe he was keeping an eye out for invisible falling coconuts.

*A colectivo is sort of like a bus but not quite, and sort of like a taxi but also not quite. You simply stick your hand out and it either stops for you or it doesn’t, and when you hop on you tell them where you want to go and sit down with about seven other sombre faced individuals. When the colectivo reaches where your destination, you pay and hop off. My colectivo was full of Mexican locals with their packed lunches on their laps, getting dropped off to work for the day.

Thoughts on… Spending Monday in Mexico

20170423_224524

I am actually in Mexico as I type this, and I’m typing it on my phone, at the bar. I’ve had one Bahama Mama and one Electric Lemonade, and if you know me then you know that’s quite enough to have me enthusiastically humming Disney villain songs loudly and in public.*

Currently, I’m on Poor Unfortunate Souls, but I’m open to suggestions.

It’s nice here. I arrived a few hours ago and already my hair has taken on a life of its own and doubled in volume; it looks like it inhaled deeply and never exhaled. Waves have appeared out of nowhere. It is basically now a duvet for my head and shoulders. I have considered shaving it off about three times since the plane landed.

Make that four.

Today (tomorrow) is Monday, but I’m typing this on Sunday (today) because I am functioning on about four hours of sleep and trying to untangle time zones is beyond the scope of my capabilities right now. The Bahama Mama didn’t help. The Electric Lemonade was the nail in the coffin. I’m getting ready for a Mudslide and honestly, once I’ve had it I’ll probably have to ride a giant iguana back to my room because three cocktails is enough to have me talking to the walls.

I’m a notorious lightweight.

The bartender keeps calling me Emma, which makes me feel like I’m an incredibly unprofessional undercover agent. Is Emma supposed to be drinking something that tastes like melted lime Calippo? Is she supposed to be sitting on a swing? Are swings even safe in a bar? I feel like this is a head injury waiting to happen.

Speaking of muddled heads…

Today my Falling Half In Love With Strangers post is being featured on Discover WordPress, which is exciting and lovely and flattering and nerve-wracking all at the same time.

“…And that’s all I have to say about that.”

*Yes I also do this – regularly – completely sober. Stop judging me.

 

Motivation Hesitation

equalizer-153212_1280

I was at a party on Friday.

I was at a party on Friday for fourteen hours.

That’s a lot of hours to spend at a party. It affords you the time to talk to people, to get into conversations you might otherwise not have had. It’s more than enough time to get comfortable with the idea of introducing yourself to everybody there, because after three West Coast Coolers and every red and purple gummy frog from the jar I was hyped up on the kind of sugar high it takes days to come down from.

I’m hardcore, I know.

It was the best kind of party, bringing together a mix of people I’ve known for most of my life and just enough total strangers to make things interesting. Whenever I needed a breather I snuck into the kitchen to play with the dogs. At one point I asked a stranger if I could touch his hair (very soft). There was a gin bar at the back of the room which had transformed Good Friday into A Truly Great Friday, and a number of people were twirling and swaying in front of it to the sound of throwback tunes from the nineties.

At one point in the evening I took too long a break between sugary snacks and experienced an energy slump that led me straight to the couch, where I sat next to the guy who was aggressively controlling the Spotify playlist. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Watch this,” he said.

Without warning, he switched the song. The brief pause in the music elicited howls of outrage from the dancers, and they all turned as one to glare accusingly. Then, as if by magic, the frowns of drunken disapproval dissolved as the opening strains of the hit classic Reach For The Stars started up. Hands were flung in the air and the twirling intensified as the group threw themselves into enthusiastic performances of interpretive dance.

The guy next to me chuckled. “I love that.”

Half a minute later he had scrolled down and stopped the music again. Heads swivelled in our direction. I considered moving seat to avoid the censure of the crowd. I settled for mouthing ‘it wasn’t me‘ and leaning away to avoid getting stabbed by a violently flung stiletto. Then Backstreet’s Back started up and the room erupted in a chorus of “EVERYBOOOOODAAAYYYYAYYYY!”

“Isn’t that great?” He muttered under his breath.

I could see the appeal. Each song elicited reactions from different people, and watching the animated responses to the musical cues was extremely gratifying. Some refused to dance to Destiny’s Child, while happily rapping every lyric to Smash Mouth. Others got rabid about Sugababes, while walking out in protest during Steps.

It was a polemic playlist, to say the least.

I sat back and enjoyed watching gin and tonics spill to the beat like miniature versions of the Bellagio fountains. Everyone had different songs they would respond to; everybody moved to a different beat. I guess that’s true in a larger sense, too. People are motivated by different things, and I couldn’t help thinking about this as I curled up on the couch next to this musical manipulator.

The other day, a reader pointed out that although my bio reads that I’m as confused as ever, I haven’t actually written about my confusion at all. I haven’t explained what it is that keeps me up at night, wide-eyed, wondering why I don’t have my manual explaining the fifteen easy steps to a rewarding adulthood.

The truth is, I don’t really know what I’m doing most of the time.

Part of it is work-related. Currently I ghostwrite articles for whoever will buy them, I transcribe interviews and dictations to keep my typing speed up, and I’m doing a postgrad diploma in digital marketing. When I speak to people who have always known what they wanted to do, and have stubbornly and single-mindedly pursued that goal, I feel like I’m missing something. I feel like a defective model that slipped past quality control, like I’ve been skipping past songs my entire life hoping to find the one tune that gets me moving, but so far I haven’t found it.

I need to find my metaphorical Smash Mouth’s All Star.

There are other things that keep me wrong-footed, searching for balance, but that is by far my biggest source of insecurity. I’m passable at a number of things, but don’t feel like I excel in anything in particular. Before it got truncated, the phrase used to be, “Jack of all trades and master of none is oftentimes better than master of one” … but I don’t think that really applies in this day and age, when you need a degree and five years of experience to even get an internship.

I wish I had a manual to tell me what I’m supposed to do. I wish I could buy a five-year plan off a shelf somewhere, or inject myself with a shot of ambition. I wish someone could look at my life and my experiences and my successes and failures and point at whatever it is I’m missing and tell me, “This. This is what you should do. This is what you would be great at. This is what would make you feel successful.”

I wish there was an amateur DJ with a song lined up that would get me going.

Being a Bit of Both

“Where are you from?”

“Here.”

“Where?”

“Here. Dublin.”

“No, but where are you really from?”

“Dublin. I’m Irish.”

“But where were you born?”

“The Coombe. In Dublin.”

“Okay but where are your parents from?”

“My father’s Irish and my mother’s Spanish.”

“I KNEW it!”

I’ve had this conversation a truly astonishing number of times.

Most of the time I save time and energy by answering the first “Where are you from?” with the answer to the question I know they will get to eventually. I know why they’re asking, and I know how to stem the conversational tide. A simple “My mother is Spanish” tends to trim the conversation nice and short.

On other days though, I drag it out as long as possible, intrigued by how determined people are to dig through my life and find out exactly why my skin is a little bit more sallow, or why my hair is as dark as it is, or why my face is so angular, or whatever it is they’ve picked up on that has marked me as “other.” Half the time, the person asking is completely oblivious to my resigned amusement. They grow more and more frustrated as I refuse to give them the answer they don’t even know they’re looking for, stumbling through a list of questions that really boil down to, “But WHY? Why are you different to me??” Drunk people in particular can get extremely agitated. As I answer their questions on autopilot I watch them struggle to verbalise their curiosity, and I wonder what it is that gives me away. Is it my facial features? Is it my skin tone? My eyes? My hair? My build? The way I speak? The things I say?

Something about me is clearly “off” from an Irish perspective, and it’s something so obvious that people often use the “Where are you from?” line as an ice-breaker… and yet, despite how apparently obvious it is, I can’t see it. If I at least looked 100% Spanish, it might not feel so awkward, but the truth is I answer the same sort of questions in Madrid.

I am a halfling.

I have lived in Ireland all my life. I am comfortable here. I have a stereotypically Irish laid-back personality, along with an Irish sense of timing (every party starts at least two hours after the stated time) and a habit for pulling Irish farewells. I love the Irish respect for mythology, history and tradition (up to a point), and the way the younger generations are pulling the country in a more liberal direction without letting go of our past. I love the string of muttered “Thanks,” “Thanks,” “Thanks,” “Thanks,” you hear every time the bus stops, as every Irish person thanks the driver. I love good-natured banter*, and my travels have taught me that Irish people do banter like nobody else. I can’t roll my r’s, I love to eat, and I can’t take a compliment to save my life. These are all common Irish traits, and although I’ve tried my best to change some of them, it appears that I’m stuck with them.

On the other hand, I visit Spain about three times a year. I love it there. Madrid is my soul city. Right now as I type, I’m listening to my usual morning playlist of Spanish pop. I prefer hip-swaying to head-nodding, and there are definitely more passionate parts of my personality that are straight Spanish. I love to cook (preferably with wine… and the wine doesn’t have to be in the food…), I prefer churros to donuts, and tortilla de patata to roast potatoes. I have a very real suspicion that I may be solar-powered, and after five months of charcoal clouds and misty drizzle my energy is at an all-time low.

Some people feel that it’s difficult to be a halfling; that being a bit of both means they don’t really belong in either culture. I’ve spoken to people who feel like perpetual outsiders because of their dual nationality. In my experience, the advantages far outweigh any of the negatives, but I can understand that feeling. For me, the amount of freedom my bilingualism affords me hugely eclipses the annoyance of tediously repetitive conversations about my background, and I feel lucky to have been brought up with both cultures and languages and traditions and foods and lifestyles.

I am not neither; I am both.

I am Irish and Spanish. I root for Spain in the football, and Ireland in the rugby. I am laid-back and passionate. I am hot and cold.

There are worse things to be than a little bit of both.

 

*Banter is a sort of verbal sparring that from an outside perspective might sound a bit abusive, but it’s all in good fun. It’s a bit like sharp teasing. It’s not negging or derision, it’s fundamentally friendly… A little hard to explain, actually, but maybe think of it as rough ribbing.

Falling Half in Love with Strangers

imageedit_17_8178655479.jpg

I love being able to express myself in writing.

It feels more accurate somehow than speaking words. Talking for me can sometimes feel like playing tennis with a colander; I mean, it’s possible, I can do it, but it’s not ideal. The ball goes over the net, but just about. It goes where I want it to go… more or less. I can’t be sure it’ll hit it’s mark, but I can hope. Later, I’ll go home and think about how I could have done it some other, better way.

Writing is different.

Writing is a tennis racket. When I’m writing, I have the time to think about what I’m trying to say, and then mentally flip through millions of words looking for the one that slots into my sentence like that Tetris block you’ve been waiting five minutes for; the one that gives you a combo and wipes the screen clean. Finding the right word feels satisfying, and I’m always on the lookout for new words to add to my vocabulary. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve probably noticed this already (like with Hygge and Sonder). I collect words.

Sometimes I find myself reaching into other languages for words that describe feelings or situations that there’s no term for in English. I’m bilingual – Spanish/English – and there are times when I can feel a Spanish word trying to force itself into an English sentence because there’s no English equivalent.

… And yet, even with two entire languages to pick words from (and a smattering of others), I still sometimes find myself searching for a word that doesn’t exist.

I am on the lookout for a particular word.

I want a word for the feeling I get when I connect with a total stranger for a few minutes or hours, and then never see them again. It’s an ability to suddenly feel profound, intense affection for someone I don’t know. It’s not physical attraction, necessarily. It can happen with men or women. It is a non-discriminatory feeling that happens without warning, without rhyme or reason. I want a word that explains how I can feel instantly and powerfully attached to somebody and then, in a perverse way, almost hope never to see them again.

Is there a word for that?

There are a handful of people I’ve met over the years who I still think about from time to time, because even if I only spent a few hours with them, in those hours I was invested. I wanted to know everything about them. I fell a little bit platonically in love with them and their stranger-ness. I felt something that I don’t have a word for, and I hate that. I felt a nameless, wordless bond.

If you’re thinking, ‘Quinn, what are you on about?‘ … here’s an early example.

About half a lifetime ago I was in Vienna, Austria, with barely any German and friends who had succumbed to sickness. I wandered out into the city by myself, and walked the cobbled streets alone with only a crumpled paper map for orientation. These were the days before smartphones, and everything was just a little more complicated. In the square behind a large cathedral, I pulled out my map and tried to trace my finger down the streets I had walked earlier. A voice interrupted my thoughts in harsh German and I turned to find a long line of horse and carriages parked along the kerb. One of the carriage drivers, dressed smartly in a black felt hat and waistcoat, was observing me with amusement.

“Lost?” He asked.

I nodded and trotted towards him. After all, if anyone knew the streets of Vienna it had to be the carriage drivers. He nodded his head at the padded bench beside him and helped me up into the driver’s seat. Up close I realised he was young, with bright blue eyes and a friendly, shy smile. He had a small gold hoop in one ear. I was alone and bored and lost, so I flattened the map against my thighs with the palms of my hands and explained in broken German where I had come from and what I was doing there. I told him I had no plans for the evening, and was just looking for landmarks to visit that wouldn’t require too much walking.

He nodded as I spoke, and pointed out a few different landmarks. Every few minutes a carriage would depart from the front of the line and our carriage would jostle as he coaxed his horses forward.

And then it happened. That wordless, nameless thing.

There is an entirely regular level of healthy interest that we as humans have in each other. When you meet someone for the first time, often there are a number of things you want to know about the person. A lot of adult conversations start with “What do you do?” or “Where do you live?” or “How do you know Martin/Julia/Alex/Sam?”

The wordless, nameless thing I feel skips the superficial curiosities of that regular level of interest. I lock onto people. My curiosity spontaneously mutates from a lukewarm, detached interest to a many-tendrilled absorption in the person in front of me. Once this happens, my curiosity extends into private, hidden corners; darkest secrets and earliest memories and family histories and relationships and hobbies.  I want to know what they do to feel better when they’re feeling low. I want to know their favourite food. I want to know when they last cried, and why. I want to know how they get on with their siblings (if they have any), whether they like to dance or prefer to sit by the bar, what age they realised the truth about Santa Claus, and how. I want to know what drives them, and I want to know what led to their presence next to me in that particular moment, out of the 7 billion other people in the world.

If that sounds extremely intense… I realise that. Don’t worry, I don’t interrogate people like I’m trying to solve a crime. I do gently question them though. Max, my friendly carriage driver, told me about how carriage-driving was a family tradition. He told me about the routes he usually took. He told me about how long he had been doing the job, and his worst experience with a passenger. He told me about his horses and his family. He pointed out his favourite spot in Vienna and his favourite coffee shop. We talked for about 45 minutes, and then a middle-aged French couple approached him for a carriage ride and I realised we had reached the top of the queue. Blushing, I stammered an apology and stood to jump down, but Max shook his head and gently motioned for me to stay seated.

“You come?”

I had just watched money change hands and realised that a carriage ride cost about €80. As a broke teenager, I had absolutely no discretionary funds for carriage rides around the city. I told Max as much, and he shrugged.

“You are not passenger. You are co-driver.”

The carriage ride was about 45 minutes of magic. I had never been on a horse-drawn carriage before, but compared to the paying customers I definitely felt like I got the best seat in the house. Sitting up high on the driver’s bench with Max telling me about the landmarks and explaining their history, Vienna looked different. The evening sun threw a golden filter over the intricately carved stonework on the buildings. I glanced over my shoulder at the French couple; the woman’s head was nestled into the man’s shoulder, and the two of them were smiling at nothing in particular. I could see how Vienna might easily be as romantic as Paris.

In between landmarks I slid in more personal questions. I asked about Max’s parents, his ambitions, what he did in his free time. He gruffly answered every question, with a shy smile every now and then to show he didn’t begrudge me my curiosity. Every so often he would mutter a question of his own, his low voice hard to hear over the sound of trotting hooves.

By the time we circled back around to the church, night was falling. The streets were clearing, and some of the other carriage drivers were disappearing in the dusk as they turned in for the night. I hopped down from the carriage, checking my watch.

“I guess it’s time for you to go home,” I said, gesturing at the carriages trundling away.

“Ja.”

“Okay. Well. Vielen Dank Max. That was… amazing.”

Max accepted my thanks with a sharp nod.

“Where do you go now?” My curiosity again. “Where do the horses sleep?”

“Other side of river” he said, gesturing with his arm. “Over…”

I opened up my map again and he studied it for a moment before pointing at an area of Vienna I had never visited.

“You come?”

I looked up to find him looking at me with an inscrutable expression.

I looked down at the map. The area he was pointing to was pretty far away. How would I get home? Nobody knew where I was. Then again, I had no other plans, and I was stuck in this nameless, wordless feeling with Max, Austrian stranger.

I looked up at him with a smile. “Sure!”

He held out a hand and helped me back up into the carriage.

I pried further into his life on the carriage-ride to wherever we were going. He told me about his last girlfriend and how long they had been together and how it had ended. He told me about the food that brought back childhood memories for him, and how he had spent his birthday. At one point, clattering over cobblestones on a dimly lit, empty street, he nudged my thigh with his hand.

“What?”

“You want?”

His hand opened slightly, offering me the reins.

“Me? I can’t! Max, I’ll crash your carriage.”

He nodded insistently and put the reins in my hands.

“You feel?”

I did feel. There was a tension on the reins, a sort of pushing, pulling, rhythmic motion. It immediately gave me a feeling of both pure joy and total calm. I gripped the leather tight and felt focus and control wash over me. He let me drive the carriage down the streets of the city, guiding my hands when we needed to turn, or tugging when we needed to slow down. Eventually we reached our destination, and he slowed the horses to a stop and jumped down to lead them through a large door between townhouses.

I felt my eyes widen as we passed under the stone arch and through time straight into the 1800’s. A small stone courtyard paved in cobblestones housed four stables with glossy emerald wooden doors. Lit by half a dozen warm yellow lamps, I watched as a cat yawned and sat up on a hay bale to greet us. I hopped down, completely enchanted, as Max parked the carriage and led the horses to their stables. I gazed up at the baroque townhouses flanking the little courtyard, my mouth hanging open. When Max tapped my elbow to get my attention, I was startled back to the present.

“I come back. I shower.” He said, running his fingers along the brim of his black felt hat.

“Okay.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, Max, go have your shower.”

“After, drinks?”

“Sure.”

He disappeared, undoing the buttons of his waistcoat as he went. I spun around and sat down on a hay bale to pet the cat. Fifteen minutes later a man emerged from a building to my right.

“Hey!” he shouted, and I looked up, startled.

How would I explain my presence? Was I even allowed to be here? I looked around for Max.

“Hey,” he said again, and stopped in front of me. My eyes slid over this man’s body, from his leather boots, past his ripped jeans, over his white and red motorcycle jacket. A red motorcycle helmet dangled from his hand, and he had very pale blonde hair cropped short. He had a cowlick at the front. I stared at his face, frozen in panic.

Then I saw the gold hoop earring. It was Max.

I started laughing.

Out of his work clothes, he looked like a completely different person. He looked much younger. I realised he was only a couple of years older than I was. Without the hat, his blue eyes looked impossibly big and it was much easier to read his expression. He was pink from his shower, and he flushed and rolled his eyes when I explained, through gasps of relieved laughter, that I hadn’t recognised him.

The rest of the night was idyllic. He refused to let me on his motorbike because he only had one helmet, but we walked together to an open-air bar by the river and sat at a picnic table drinking and laughing and asking each other questions until the night wound down and I realised I needed to get home. He offered to walk me, but I declined the offer. The whole evening I had been suspended in a bubble with Max, and now I felt like I was holding a pin, ready to burst it and step out into the real world again.

We walked to the bridge, and he took my hands with an earnest expression. He said that he always had breakfast in the corner cafe near the cathedral on Wednesdays. He said if I wanted to find him, I knew where he would be. He told me he hoped to see me again. Then he kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my hands before turning and walking away, motorcycle helmet swinging at his side.

I didn’t go to the cafe on Wednesday. Although part of me wanted to see Max again, a larger part of me felt that we had spent a perfect evening together, and that was enough. I had half fallen in love with a total stranger over the course of a few hours. I had learned so much about him. I knew more about Max than I knew about some of my friends.

I never saw him again.

Every once in a while, I wonder what Max is doing. I wonder if he still draws in his spare time. I wonder if he still drives the same carriage through the streets of Vienna, and whether that coffee shop is still there on that corner. I wonder if he still has a small gold hoop in his ear. I wonder if he has a family now, and whether he remembers an evening spent talking about life with a stranger from Ireland, who was lost and bored and open to the possibility of being kidnapped. I hope Max is well. I hope he is happy. I hope that his life has been untouched by tragedy.

A few memorable hours spent with a total stranger, and I still care about their wellbeing years later. I still send good wishes their way when I think of them, for whatever those are worth.

There really should be a word for that.

Thoughts On… Friendship

imageedit_16_8281115684

“Understand that friends come and go,
But a precious few you should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle,
For as the older you get, the more you need the people
You knew when you were young.”

 

My best friend turned thirty yesterday.

She’s become something of a human pinball over the past decade, bouncing from London to Dublin to South America and back again. Her globetrotting has taken her to incredible places, where she’s done unforgettable things, and we’ve kept in touch through the wonder of the internet. We’ve known each other since we were very small, and after all these years all I can say is that I’m so proud to know her. I trust her with fears, hopes and secrets. She’s great for car chats, cinema trips and cocktails. She knows that the correct food for catch-ups is chocolate. She’s a badass with more of a sense of style in her little finger than I’ve accumulated in my entire life.

And she’s brave.

In a few days she moves to Dubai for a new adventure. I can’t wait to see her take on a new country, and I can’t wait to visit her once she’s settled in. It’s going to be amazing, and will hopefully lead to more success and love and laughter and great things in the next few years. When I think back at all the things we’ve done in our lives from sleepovers to summer camps, from movie nights to deep discussions in nightclub toilet cubicles… We’ve covered a lot of ground! There’s still so much out there for us to do though, and I think this is going to be the best time to do it. I think our thirties are going to be awesome!

Yesterday was her thirtieth birthday.

Here’s to another thirty!

Plans and Pawprints

 

imageedit_15_4218740578

Some people have detailed daydreams about their future wedding.

I am not one of those people.

Some people already know what they will name their future children.

I am also not one of those people.

I do have names picked out, however. Names that I speak out loud to see how they’ll sound shouted out loud in the park. I do have detailed daydreams that involve craft projects and colour schemes.

You see, my detailed daydreams are about future pets.

I have it all planned out. I will first get a cat – an indoor cat, since I will have to move at some point and don’t want to risk them getting lost or harmed in a new place – and then a few years later I will get a dog.

Maybe two dogs.

My cat will have time to become boss of the household before I bring in a puppy; in my experience this is necessary for the two of them to get along in the long-term. Although FutureCat will have to be a specific breed for personal reasons, the puppy will be a rescue. FutureCat will have an awesome cat tree beside the window, and a soft leather collar so that he feels like a true gentleman. SpaceDog will be spoiled, and I will feed him under the table even though I’m not supposed to.

Since this plan requires a few years, the first part of this ambitious pet plan starts this year. The FutureCat strategy is hopefully in the works. I have already, in a burst of extreme optimism, bought FutureCat a fancy cat bowl.

imageedit_11_8498703081

FutureCat only needs one bowl (for his food) because he will have a little fountain for his water. He won’t even know how good he has it. FutureCat is going to be one fancy, formal, fashionable feline.

Typing this out makes me feel like I’m jinxing myself, and yet… I want to put it down here. FutureCat may have already been born. This daydream could be real!

I’m excited.

Just you wait. Six months from now I’ll be building a miniature yurt for FutureCat complete with fairylights and a kitty couch.

The Ever-More-Reluctant Omnivore

315inm1

So, I am not a vegetarian.

I enjoy food immensely. All kinds of food, with few exceptions. I am not a picky eater. In fact, I’m fairly adventurous when it comes to trying unidentifiable foods. Of course, there are a few foods that are just completely unnacceptable; foods that I find so repulsive, the facial expression I unwittingly make after tasting them makes me look like I’m turning my face inside out.

  • Liquorice/aniseed/fennel
  • Almond paste/marzipan

Then there are foods that I don’t find quite so objectionable taste-wise, but the texture just makes me shudder from the top of my head right down to my toes, like quince paste or cabello de ángel (a type of pumpkin jam).  If it’s soft and sweet with a weird grainy texture and the grainy bits aren’t sugar, I’m naturally suspicious. Up until recently, I was a cheerful omnivore, eating everything before me. I am still trying to be an omnivore, but for the past year and a half, it has been a struggle.

I never understood vegetarians. I understood the reasoning behind it, but I didn’t feel any kind of way about it. Yes, I love animals, and no, I would never kill one myself, but meat is delicious and we are designed to eat all kinds of everything, so how could you give up all that edible enjoyment for some ethical ideal? For me, my love of animals was entirely disconnected to the meals I ate.

For the past year and a half, however, something has been happening. Feelings are seeping into my mealtimes. The more I read, the more feelings I have, and the less I’m able to enjoy my meals in the thoughtless, ignorance-is-bliss way I did before… Honestly, it’s kind of killing my buzz. I read a comment by Peter Dinklage where he said,

“I like animals – all animals. I wouldn’t hurt a cat or a dog, or a chicken or a cow. And I wouldn’t ask someone else to hurt them for me. That’s why I’m a vegetarian.”

… and I thought, Well, damn it.

I love chorizo. I love jamon serrano. I love seafood and shellfish and chicken noodle soup. I love chili con carne and sushi and bibimbap and winter stews. All of this is true.

It’s also true that the one time my father ever brought me fishing, I caught one and then bawled my eyes out when a man came up behind me and dashed the fish’s head against a tree stump.

It’s also true that, while staying in a house with a chicken run in the garden, one of the chickens got sick, stopped laying eggs and grew a strange fungus that made it look like one of her legs was turning into a tree branch. I took the time every day to grab Sick Chicken, gently wash her leg and smear it with vaseline until she got better.

It’s also true that as a child, I would make my father stop the car every time we spotted roadkill so I could cimb out and check if it could be rescued. Most of the time the answer was no, no it could not, but on the rare occasion the animal was still breathing I would insist on it being put in the car and brought home for “medical attention” (food, water, and a blanketed cardboard box in the garden shed).

These are not, as it turns out, wholly compatible mentalities. There is now food that I actively feel guilt while eating (pork, in particular), which greatly diminishes my enjoyment of it. I’m still fine with fish and shellfish, but I never thought it would ever happen to me with meat so the question is… for how long? How long can I hold out? How long more will my enjoyment of food outweigh the feeling of being a selfish hypocrite? And why now? Why have I suddenly developed this late-onset vegetarianism?

It blows.

I am torn by my love of food, and my feeling that I shouldn’t eat anything I wouldn’t be able to kill myself. Which is basically nothing. I can’t even kill Lenny, what hope do I have of killing something sentient? Left to my own devices in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, I’d have to become a woodland forager, surviving on questionable mushrooms and bits of seaweed…

So, I am not a vegetarian.

Yet.