It's not a perfect metaphor.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Should've said no.

Can you tell me what it's like to be deeply in love? Can you? Because I am so curious, but I think my curiosity leaves me like a puzzled Anthropologist; studying a culture forever and still not quite getting it because I'm so far removed.

Thoughts like this keep popping into my head these days. I've been spending too much time alone, perhaps, and in all honesty I'm a little depressed. I've set out on a couple of mini-pilgrimages in the last couple of days and come up with nothing so I'm tempted to just go and sit in Central Park for 72 hours or so until my flight leaves. Today I was walking through Queens and someone made a nice, loud remark about my wearing shorts. I had heard about women being harassed on the street in Queens but being chosen myself as a target just gave the whole issue a nice personal touch for me. I immediately went and bought a cheap pair of men's jeans so I could, I don't know, have some peace while I wandered through this place. The incident just made me ask myself why I'd come to Queens. The answer? I wanted to see a museum that's closed for renovation. But hey, at least now I have a nice pair of ill-fitting pants with which to deflect male attention.

Since I wrote last I've done a few things. Went for a melancholy walk along the beach at Coney Island. Walked through the rooms of down-on-their-luck immigrants at the Lower East Side Tenements Museum. Lost myself in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Brooklyn yesterday was kind of nice. Queens today was okay. But it all feels smaller and smaller as I wait to go home. Maybe someday I'll regret being so down on things when I should be relishing these last days. But honestly; I'm tired of this. I'm done. I want to go home.

Tonight I'm going to the show Promises Promises on Broadway. It seems like it'll be interesting and I needed an upper. Tomorrow I'd like to spend a day in the Bronx and get away from Manhattan Madness. We'll see how all my big plans go.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In the Middle of Nothing.

So I saw this movie last night. It's not that great. It's entirely mediocre, actually, which is maybe why it reminds me of me (see how second-rate I am; I make cheap shots at myself). I'd been in the same clothes for around 36 hours when I wrote the draft to this blog, just to let you know where my head was at, so please don't judge me for the weird stuff I write next. I'll start at the end.

The end to which I refer is the end of new places. When I left Ottawa (which, to recap, was perfectly fine. I liked the museums and I ate in a bakery that Barack Obama once- literally, once- frequented), I had officially ended the "unknown" portion of my trip. I headed back to Peterborough to hang with two very wonderful Canadian gals who, between them, fed me well; took me rummage-saling; provided me with Glee; took me out non-drinking (I dunno why but it looks like my sobriety is back); convinced me to climb a tree for the first time in, I reckon, a decade; brainstormed about my future career with far more imagination than I could bring to the task; and took several pictures of me smiling at the camera. It was a great weekend that felt fresh and familiar all at once.

On Sunday I ended up in Toronto with K which was a really relieving experience. The travel exhaustion that landed me back in Ontario really helped me with visiting these two very positive influences on my recent life when previously I had been worried that I would barely ever- or never- see them again. K showed me around her old college and we walked and chatted or had coffee and chatted or sat in a park and chatted. Or all of the above. I got around four hours of K-time. I think I needed it, needed those hours to feel okay about my self-imposed week of solitude.

The 12-hour bus ride was therapeutic in some ways. I mean, I was miserable but I knew what I was in for this time and I could just focus on the fact that it'll be my last bus ride for a while. There was a whole gang of foreign exchange students from a university in Peterborough on board-which was a little eerie- and one was from Australia. He commented on my "Canadian-Australian" accent that was "so cool". You know, he's the first one to think so.

A lot of things in New York feel the same and a lot feel different. Last time, when I arrived, I felt the weight of possibility and expectation, and, simultaneously, the conflicting effervescence of excitement. This time I'm calm. I want for nothing from this city, I just want to exist in it. Today all I did was re-visit spots that I or we saw last time. Central Park, bookshops, the Lower East Side. I had an epiphany while semi-sleeping in the park; last time I was in the middle of everything. Now I'm in the middle of nothing. It's all about where my head's at and right now it's still. There's so much in there but it's locked into place for a little while, frozen by fatigue and the knowledge that I'm in a city that can make even the way I think seem ordered and acceptable. I'm carrying a lot of books with me and my hostel is right by the park. I could spend my week reading my life away. But that damn movie has me reconsidering whether I want to do absolutely nothing this week.

I was talking to a good friend the other day when I told her- she was the first one I've admitted this to, actually- that I have a "Hope List" for when I come home. Just some stuff I'm looking forward to; simple concept but really comforting at times or mildly intimidating at others. And in the film I saw last night, this kid basically had the same thing. That really hit me because I feel... powerless, compared with this character. Fictional character. Who seemingly is putting his plans into action with the people around him while I'm alone and weirdly introspective in New York. There were other things that also shocked me by how much they... shocked me. Considering how, well, not-great the movie is. One guy just loses it at one point, physicalises everything he is going through and starts throwing stuff around and screaming. Another guy draws and paints away his crazy. I wish I could do either. But even when I'm subdued and internally working on my issues, they feel so much bigger than I can ever express or banish. I have brief moments of being completely overcome and others of knowing they'll always be in the background. Not centre stage, thankfully, but ever-partially-there.

For now, I focus on my week in New York that may need its own Hope List. But for now, I'll leave you with an abridged list for when I come home.

My Hope List

1. Sleep in my own bed.
2. Bake in my own kitchen.
3. Make a scrapbook of my journey.
4. Go bike riding around Melbourne.
5. Visit all of my city's markets.
6. Start attending a yoga class.
7. Write more often and with more discipline.
8. Watch an entire TV series on DVD over a week or weekend (depending on length of series, of course).
9. Plant a small garden.
10. Swim more.
11. Get contacts and grow my hair out.
12. Go for more walks.
13. Drink lots of tea out of big mugs while sitting with beloved people.
14. Decide what I want to study next year (second language? Anthro? Lit? Writing?).
15. Go to New Zealand.
16. Go on day trips to other parts of Victoria.
17. Give more random gifts to people.
18. Clear out all of my unwanted things. My backpack is an example of how this can be done.
19. See more live music.
20. Go to events and museums in my city the way I did in so many others.
21. Keep in touch with friends, both those from pre-trip and post.
22. Treat men with more respect.
23. Dance and do social activities without constantly feeling conscious of the reluctant, Daria-esque persona I feel compelled to maintain.
24. See myself as beautiful the way certain people in my life- or transience- have told me to do. See my journey, and journeys, as such.
25. Buy a new pair of sneakers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Take me back.

The rest of my time in Quebec was, thankfully, fairly low-key. I made a friend on my last couple of days in Quebec City who was actually a fellow Melbournite and was really fun to hang out with. I was, weirdly, able to show her around the city I'd unwillingly gotten to know and we had fun catching the ferry just for the opportunity to take photos of the (already) most-photographed hotel in the world. We did all the requisite things like drink hot chocolate out of a bowl (well, that was me but she was kind enough to take a picture of me) and eat crepes in a cute little cafe. It was nice to spend time with someone who could compare everywhere we went to somewhere in Melbourne or talk about what Oz was like with curious shop-keepers and ticket-sellers.

I ended up in Montreal on a Friday and was, admittedly, somewhat relieved that people there are a tad more bilingual. Not that I didn't adore the Quebecois but I felt like an arsehole whenever I had to ask them to switch languages, it was just making me desperate to learn any language other than English so that I'm no longer a walking traveller stereotype. But Montreal was nice, I stayed with Cheesecake Friend and her sister and they were amahzing hosts. Saturday night we went to see OK Go at this tiny, beautiful, shabby venue and they were incredible and fun. Sunday I got to see the city's seriously well-put together Botanical Gardens and much-hated Olympic Stadium, plus Old Port and the raccoons and view (both great) at the top of Mont Royal. Monday I wandered Plateau- Mont Royal and shopped like the bad traveller that I am, and was then taken to get cheesecake which was fun for old times' sake. Tuesday I went downtown to see a truly interesting city and got to spend some time in the Chapel where Celine Dion got married. Because that's very, very important to me. Wednesday I got on a bus and came here.

Where is here? Ottawa. Everybody told me I'd be bored but I find it wonderful. Goodness knows I'm not interested in living here, but I've figured out that I'm pretty much only interested in living in Melbourne so that's hardly something that sets this city apart. The National Gallery is seriously impressive and some of the buildings are stunning and make for a really nice skyline. I'm staying in a hostel where my (thankfully private) room is a jail cell and there's a kitchen so I can cook mountains and mountains of kale and pretend that eating vending machine breakfasts and cheap diner meals for the past five weeks hasn't ruined my body and my taste buds forever. Tomorrow afternoon I get the bus to go see my favourite farming intern in the whole wide world who, I hope, can help me get my Glee fix for the first time in months (it's genuinely hurting me to go without).

I head to NYC from TO (again) on Sunday night and in a bit over a week I fly home. I've got to be honest, I'm counting the days. If not for the friends I've made in Canada, I would already be so super-keen to come home that I would sneak into somebody's luggage (I picture one of those horrific over-sized, wheeled suitcases. Probably black or bright pink. Comfy.) just to get back to Melbourne faster. But the thought of seeing my maple syrup-drinking, snow-indifferent Ontarian buddies is enough to keep me happy for a little longer. In the meantime, I should probably go take a squiz at Canada's national parliament, just to keep me occupied. I'ma do that now.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where dreams and ice-cream are made.

I spent a week in Vermont. Two nights in Brattleboro, home of hippie America (Can you say eco? Can you say organic? Can you say fair trade? Get out.) proved nice and laidback. I stayed in my first all-American motel and giggled at the perplexed receptionist's look when I said I didn't have a car (I walked two miles uphill in the rain out of town with my backpack and no raincoat to get to the motel at 7pm). I got weirdly into watching TV in that room, probably because for perhaps the first time since I started travelling I had possession of the remote control. It was such an easy couple of days, I just walked and looked at beautiful trees and fog and lakes and shopped for nothing at all.

I got the train to Burlington where, thankfully for my wallet, there is a new youth hostel. It's rather zen and interesting; in a warehouse space with canvas curtains hung for privacy and Eastern style furnishings and decorations in the common areas (and chilled-out music playing all the time except when one of the employees decides to put on the Chicago soundtrack at 10 at night). There was an awesome receptionist there that I really liked who loved to travel and thus had situated herself in a place where travellers would come to her (it reminded me of my hostess at the Heavenly Farm in a really nice way). The town was cute but small and I had so many things to figure out that I think I spent my mother's gift money on internet. The rest I spent on going to movies to stave off boredom and homesickness because I was in that kind of mood. It worked, to some extent, and on my last night I met some 30-something year old metal-crafters that were super cool and one of them had a kind of Fargo-like accent which I won't pretend I didn't adore. Along with the lovely receptionist, neither of the metal-crafters acted like it was weird that I stayed in on a Saturday night to read about Canada. Nice people, those.

So after sampling college towns and hippie enclaves in Vermont, I decided it was time for Quebec City. My heart had been back in Canada all along, I think, and thus far this place has no disappointed. It's beautiful physically and though those folks in Ontario warned me that the Quebecois can be snooty, everyone has been amazingly kind to me. I've browsed medieval shops and eaten crepes in cramped cafes, walked along the waterfront and glimpsed the lights of Place Royale twinkling in the early evening. I'm hoping to go museuming today and maybe learn a little something.

Could it be? Is my blog up-to-date? Oh my.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Athens of America?

N was in Boston. Or she wasn't yet but she would be soon. So I caught a bus from Pittsburgh to NYC, where I arrived at midnight. I would only have known that because of my clock; the city looked basically the same as any other time I'd been there. Waiting at Penn Station for an hour proved fine; I was almost just happy to be there again. And then I had another experience that took my mind back to Glasgow, of all places.

A man completely stoned off his face approached me. He wanted to know what I was reading and offered me some of his food, or to buy me some food of my own. I declined but talked politely with him for a while when he said he'd like to take me out for steak, so long as I wasn't married. Damnation, I wish I was a better liar. I said that no, I wasn't married but I was going to Boston. Boston? he said, Maybe I'll come see you in Boston. But, I replied, I'm visiting a friend. So he told me he'd take me and my friend out for steaks. I thought I'd best not tell him we were both vegetarians for fear of hurting his feelings. Then he wanted a hug, which I granted him partially due to it being beyond my ability to stop him at that point. I only got serious when he then kissed my neck. I shoved him away and at this point he said that he didn't mean to make me uncomfortable. I believed him but didn't forgive. He chattered a little longer before saying he had to go but he needed the bus fare. I gave him a few dollars to accelerate his exit but then he said he was going to kiss me. I simply put up my hands in a pseudo-defensive gesture and said that I wanted us to part as friends. As soon as I'd asserted myself, he muttered that we were and walked off.

The whole situation made me reappraise the person who freaked out six months ago because a man may or may not have been making sexual advances toward her. She was within her rights to be upset, sure, but here I am now; calmly, even humorously (I hope), telling the story of a man who stated fairly explicitly that he wanted to give me steak for sex. And I wasn't scared at the time, either, or all that angry. I was just there. I didn't want to be and in a perfect world, I wouldn't have been- no woman would- but I saw it as nothing more than mild bad luck. Wrong place, wrong time, oh well. The message I took from it all; I can handle this. All of this. It was an amazing feeling. I've grown up, at least a little. And in six months time I'll be able to cope with even more. I'm so curious to see that.

I arrived in Boston at six in the morning after another sleepless night on a bus. I called my Mum for the first time in a while and spoke to her for over an hour while trying to stay awake (thank goddess she's home on a Friday night). I spent the morning doing more of the same, wandering around Boston. A nice city, I think. The parks are nice to sleep in, anyway. I surprised N at the bus station in the afternoon and her father gave us a lift back to Cambridge, which we relished, and we got to shower, talk and eat. I'd missed her. Between N and her home, I'd found a comfortable place. Her family, especially her younger sister, were very kind and friendly and took care of me. N, her sister and I spent a few days wandering Cambridge (Harvard Square is kind of cool and it sort of freaks me out that the two movies I saw this weekend both featured it but whatevz, since I went there I suppose it's become a happening place) watching Hook for the old times' sake and Merlin because it's so wonderfully subtexty. We were just taking a break. And then again it was a hard goodbye and she was off to a farm in Georgia.

I spent my last day in Massachusetts visiting Salem which was amahzing if only because of the infectious combination of tacky, gothic and kitsch that characterises so much of the town. Yes, I bought a t-shirt.

And then it was on to Brattleboro.


I went to Philadelphia. It's not a city deserving of a particularly long sentence. I had fun my first day; less on my second. One massively disappointing thing was going to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and being so thoroughly underwhelmed by the sparse exhibits. It's my fault for being passionate about something though, that never leads anywhere good. And that Museum- I forget what it's called but I know Rocky ran up the steps that one time- was something of a yawn after the Met. Snobby of me to say, I know, and there were bright spots but mostly it was a waste of money for me. Some things did catch my interest; the African American Museum was great and the Meeting House of Friends was the largest in the world. Interesting place. I stayed at a hostel ages out of the city that was an old mansion which was fun; walking from the bus stop under beautiful trees and past a working stable was a treat. And one morning my server for "brunch" (ugh, what a pointless meal. But hey, I woke up late; I deserve the punishment) could have been Jack McFarland- he was that camp and adorabubble. And I made a friend in my hostel who was Russian ethical vegetarian (gasp!) and who had spent her summer by the beach in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ash, you better appreciate how excited that made me. My friend was insanely intelligent and composed. It's tempting to go to Russia just to see her again and get to know her better.

Pittsburgh proved a bit more fun. I stayed with friends of friends; newlyweds that moved there so Mrs. could study library science. Mr. was around a fair bit so between me going on my infamously ambitious tourist walks (from one side of the city to the other and back again... what?! I wanted to go shopping in the South Side) and leaving on an overnight bus a few days later, we hung out a fair bit. I spent more time with Husband but both halves of this couple (or both hosts, if I'm emotionally healthy about my naming of these two individuals) were super friendly, intriguing people. They took me on a tour of the Cathedral of Learning (awesome Hogwarts-esque building that makes me want to study at the University of Pittsburgh so that I can do my required reading while sitting on a throne like I saw one girl doing.) and the Phipps Conservatory that the WWOOFer in me judged kind of harshly but the girly girl rejoiced in (Orchids! Fountains! Eee!). On my last night we attended a bike advocacy presentation that got me itching to get back on my bike in Melbourne and get better at cycling in the city. I'm so glad I'm not a cyclist in Pittsburgh, the City of Mountains. Though I guess I'd have killer calves. My only regret about Pittsburgh is that I didn't have more time to get to know the Newlyweds. But I had to get to Boston!

Friday, October 8, 2010

You were the only person I knew.

I realise that I haven't written since before K and I went to Noo Yawk in September. There's no real excuse for this because I probably could have found the time if I'd tried harder. But I'm glad I didn't. Things have been somewhat crazy and calm all at once; this strange state was preserved by a practice of reflection, I think. I've been keeping a journal again, a doing which had gone undone while I was farming. I plead exhaustion, emotional and otherwise. But now I feel ready to write, at least for a while.

K and I left for New York at 9pm from Toronto. We were both fairly fresh and excited; such was our enthusiasm that even another nightmarish run-in with US border jerks officials couldn't entirely quash our spirits. We arrived in the city-famous-enough-to-have-too-many-quirky-monikers-for-me-to-pick-just-one twelve hours later. That first day feels blurry- mostly because neither of us slept the night before- but I know we were enchanted. That didn't last.

Being in New York for the first time is like experiencing your first crush or relationship. You find everything endearing at first; every crowded street, every corner of Central Park, every tiny and slightly overpriced cafe, the vintage stores littering every block of the Lower East Side. It's all splendid. And then you get to know it a little better. Those charming subway rides feel longer and sweatier. The museums aren't quite what you were expecting. Broadway is as tacky as it is long. Poverty and obscene wealth exist side by side to the most excruciating degree. The streets are tinged with ugly. And then, after you spend a little while being disillusioned and feeling betrayed in an odd way, you see something. A feature you didn't notice before, even when you were first so clearly enamoured. People sell used books on every corner. The city noise is constant; the varying absurd emergency sirens make you laugh. Every little neighbourhood has its own distinct flavour, in no way manufactured or even homegrown but instead created by the exact shape of every single person currently standing within its geographical limits. And suddenly, all things considered, you decide that maybe you do- kind of, sort of, a little bit- heart New York.

Something else I discovered in that city was a friend. I thought I knew K before we left the farm and perhaps to some extent I did but I only knew the real person after seven days of New York madness. I can genuinely say now that I love her. We both saw each others' ups and downs and collectively experienced the shock to the system that big city/travel living gives you after months of organic farming. We lamented how our clothes, hair and bodies stank, how crowded the subway was, how everything felt so loud. We couldn't seem to sleep in (I certainly couldn't stay up) and we unabashedly judged the over-sized, unnatural-looking fruit that was sold by street vendors. We appeased each others' bad moods and bitched about hostels and their abominable prices and worse receptionists. I don't mean to give the impression that we only bonded over bad stuff; we also had a hell of a lot of good stuff. On our first morning we wandered the ridiculously large Times Square Toys "R" Us while eating over-sized cupcakes for breakfast.We hung out every night and chatted about anything and everything in a weirdly Woody Allen-way with a Manhattan setting and respective clusters of neuroses. We went to amazing museums like the Met (and the Cloisters; K's favourite) and searched out used bookstores and Jewish delights (knishes, bialys, pickles... love). On our last night we caught the Staten Island ferry at sunset and ate cheap pretzels with mustard in the ferry terminal. Saying goodbye to K was maybe the hardest goodbye yet; knowing I might never see people again has made getting close to them sort of painful but this was on another level. Here was a girl I could imagine being in my life for years that I had to somehow say goodbye to; face to face. I've noticed that when I say "so long", I have serious trouble looking people in the eye and more trouble saying something meaningful or eloquent. This situation proved no exception. But she had a bus to catch and so did I.

[Mammoth blog catch-up to be continued...]


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