Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dropped into a corner of Paradise

It's been a while since I last posted here and about as long since I used a computer with an internet browser in a language I could properly understand. Well, I am finally here in Greece! On the island of Kos to be exact. It is the most beautiful place I've ever had the luck to live in. I wish someone would tell me how to post pictures on here because words can't do it justice and just take too bloody long anyway. I would rather be sitting back enjoying my hot chocolate, which I paid a good 3 Euros for.

The first day here I was shown into a little room which is to be my quarters while I'm here. It used to be a hotel room but had a few kitchen appliances and an extra door added and voila! A new apartment is born! The past 2 weeks have been taken up with trying to squeeze my Australian body into the little European spaces. I now know why there are so few overweight people here and I hope my body catches onto the mentality and shrinks.

People: Very friendly and geared towards tourism. Nannas in black clothing zooming past on motorcycles and lots and LOTS of prams and babies. Must be a great place to raise a family.

Scenery: Full of quaint old buildings, creeping vines and verandahs festooned with pot plants and flowers; lots of tree-lined streets; a great port and marina (or is that the same thing?); good views out to neighbouring islands and Turkey; and all the gorgeously delicious food you could possibly want right on your doorstep.

Lifestyle: Very laid-back and also sophisticated, if that works. You never see old women in Melbourne (at least Greek ones) with make-up on, but here, they all, every age of woman, take care of themselves, which is great to see! I was feeling so vain just by wearing lipstick back home because so many of the women I worked with didn't use it. And for an island, it certainly feels like a part of Athens or Thessaloniki or another big town because of the nice shops and well-taken-care-of streets and people.

So, what have I been up to? Basically, I started at the job I came here for but didn't like it. Or rather, didn't like my employer, which amounts to the same situation. So I left, spent over a week stewing at home and pounding the streets looking for other language schools and finally received a call from one asking me to sit a test of English proficiency which, in their language, means they're interested in hiring me and want to make sure I can speak English before I start. I just sat the written component of the test and next week I find out my result. I hope I get it because my money's running out and I'm going batty at home with nothing but air-head TV chat shows to look at all day. I just can't believe people would want to watch this stuff! It's all blonde women acting like - note, I emphasise acting like - bimbos, frolicking around with their gay male guests and an astrologer or two thrown in. Is it just me or do the models know how to do their jobs better? Is it strange to want to instead curl up with a copy of The Lord of the Rings?

Anyway, it's December and we are having 23 degree days, which those of you who are living in the Patrida will already know about and have discussed at length in either: a). the coffee house; b). the salon; or c). in some boring essay at school.

I wish I had more interesting things to say but the fact is interesting things mostly happen in social situations and since I'm not working my opportunities for social interaction are limited. So apart from nearly burning down my 'kitchen' yesterday as I got used to cooking with an electric element, and my landlady nearly blowing up the neighbourhood as she tried to screw on the bottom of a gas bottle down the street, nothing much worth noting has taken place. I will keep you posted my dear apple drawer readers. And remember, if you never hear from me again after this, you'll know some Onassis character has rocked up, put me on his private plane and whisked me away to his mansion - or for you lovers of the sea, his boat - to do nothing but look pretty and smile all day long for the rest of my lucky life.

P.S. Saki Rouvas does not AGE!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Panic time

Less than 3 days to go and I'm being asked if I'm excited. I wish I could say I am. Really, I just feel numb. I think I'm still in shock at what I've done. The truth is I'm bloody scared. If that's not enough, I was sorting and packing away old stuff today and as I stood in the middle of a room full of boxes and things with an aching back, after a whole day of non-stop activity, I almost fell into despair thinking I'll never get it all done - I'm bloomin' over it! I can't believe I've amassed so much rubbish! I'm killing myself to get it done because I want to spend my last day here just chilling out with my girlfriend. It's also starting to get emotional. The parents are sitting most nights in front of the TV, silently, except when laughing at a funny scene.

Good news on the other end: my employer has found me a place to live. So hopefully, I can go straight there after the trip and totally get unconscious for a good day, since she says there's a bed. It seems to be going okay so far. Fingers crossed...

My next post may be a while coming, depending on how quickly I can get Internet on... Not that anyone is holding their breath, but good Net manners don't hurt, do they dears? ;p

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Land of Serendipity

I'm writing this so everyone who reads it can know that no matter how hopeless a situation looks, you can take heart.

I got up two days ago, not having heard from my prospective employer overseas in regard to my salary and so doubting she was serious about employing me under the verbally-agreed conditions, and I looked around my room thinking, "What the hell am I going to do today?" The day stretched in front of me, a neverending path of boredom and apathy. Then I checked my email and there was a message from said employer - confirming my salary and conditions. A mixture of happiness and frustration washed over me, as I realised that I really did want the job, and also that the showdown with the folkies I had begun to think wouldn't happen, must now take place, and soon.

Right on cue, parents got home from shopping. I volunteered to help unpack and while in the middle of this, I just kind of blurted out something like, "Mum, I'm going to Greece!" It took a couple of affirmations for my mother to believe me (and 2 days later she was still questioning). Then - and I knew this was going to happen - the fireworks started. Right on time. I could have planned a New Year's Eve party with as much accuracy, featuring my mother's voluble eruptions of objection. Every irrational thought was called in for service, as were the gems of negative thinking, pessimism and paranoia. But the show didn't really get on the road until my father discovered what was happening and joined in. Now it was a real show. I walked off to my room, not having the time of day for it. It sounds cold, dear reader, but after a lifetime of hearing c**p, I am tired. No child should have to justify doing something that will be beneficial to both them and their parents and in fact the whole world.

I could hear them from my room, shouting, not at each other, but about me, hoping I could hear them and perhaps come to my senses. I stayed where I was, giving them time. After a couple of hours, the noise had died down and it was safe to re-enter their presence. While having dinner, my father began to go over with me all the things I would need to do once overseas. I was staggered. He was actually helping me! Mum, who never defies him, caught on to his line of thinking, and started offering her own suggestions. And then, Dad suddenly asks her, "Doesn't her aunt's brother live there?" (The town I'm going to). Mum exclaimed, "Why yes! We never thought of that!" I was astonished. I just sat back and watched things unfolding to my advantage, with an amazing feeling of security and hope. So there is a God.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Unfamiliar Feeling

Wednesday. It's never held both so much promise but also so much dread as an individual day before. Now it's looming with all the grimness of a blackened volcanic cliff-face. For it is the day when I will either have the guts to kick-start my life or timidly put an end to my dreams, all with a simple visit (or not) to the travel agent's office.

The thing is, I have booked my plane ticket overseas. I have until Wednesday to pay for it in full and hence start the clock counting down to a definite departure.

I feel like I've gone crazy.

A thousand little voices in my head keep crying out to me all through the day, begging me to reconsider my decision, to understand that people like me don't do these things. A chill wind blows through my mind every time I stop to think about just what will be involved in such a move. And I'm having an interesting time trying to work out how I intend to make it work. And, understanding that, trying to convince my parents that I haven't gone bananas.

I came home tonight and knew that my mother could tell from my behaviour that I'm planning on leaving. A dark cloud descended upon us as we prepared dinner. She started up again about the negative things she usually brings up about me leaving, in fact me doing anything that is not in the itinerary she keeps in her heart, which I've never seen. I know it is hurting her more than she can express to have to let me go. I sometimes feel like I've stabbed her with a dagger, all the while telling her not to worry and things will be alright, even as the dagger plunges in deeper. This is the pain of emotional blackmail. I love my mother too much to be a victim to it any longer.

I haven't told my parents yet about my intention to go overseas. I know it will come as a shock and I'm not looking forward to it because I know I'm in for fireworks the likes of which Gandalf has never dreamt. But I'm prepared because I want to change my life. I'm nearly 30 and if not now, then shame on me. If I go through with it, it will be good to have this on record. If I don't, I'll know there were valid reasons why I finally didn't.

Here's praying I will.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

I've been away for awhile and for very good reason. Nothing's been happening. It's been one of those periods where people have just been content to do the normal everyday things, you know, get up, get ready for work, deal with the usual bullshit, meet friends for coffee, hang out, watch movies, get drugged on routine etc etc. Now suddenly, that has all changed. I have received an offer to teach overseas!


Finally, it's happened; what I've been waiting and praying for for 3 whole years. It's happening in 2 WEEKS! Yikes! And here I am, sitting here, typing away, not having done a thing to plan for it, not having even told my family. Deep down I'm still wondering if it's actually going to happen. And also, if I really want it to happen. It will take me away from my home, family and friends. It will change everything about my life, from what I eat to where I sleep, to what I see when I step out my front door.

Reader, don't hate me, but I have to say, I'm feeling a little less than thrilled right now. I feel like a hobbit that's been too long accustomed to her little hobbit hole and is scared of what the world will dish up for her if she takes the step to go yonder. I feel utterly sick inside. It's the first time I've actually planned something without parental approval, the first time I'm going overseas alone. It's just scaring the living daylights out of me!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cast Away

The funny thing about being stranded on a desert island is that it polarises reality. Things go from being normal, everyday stuff of the blah kind to being absolutely horrible (the event that makes the person be stranded in the first place - in this case, a plane crash) and then absolutely awesome (the person is in a place probably none of his friends will ever get to experience in the same way he has). It's not surprising that the film Cast Away starring Tom Hanks grossed nearly half a billion dollars at the box office. At least, not to me.

It's one of those films that you can go back and watch again and again and never seem to get sick of. It's what I call philosophically rich, because each time you watch it you discover something new; not about the screenplay but about yourself. About human nature and the world.

The film is a love story at its most basic level. Man is about to propose to the woman he loves but has to leave on a plane for his work as a FedEx analyst. Cue tragedy. He winds up on a rocky, isolated, totally deserted island in the middle of the Pacific with no hope of getting away on his own, thanks to the suicidal reef chain which completely surrounds the island. Meanwhile, his true love, back home in Memphis, USA, believes she has lost him forever.

From the beginning, you don't expect it to be a fairytale of any sort. It's a relief, in our Know-it-All age, actually, that the movie is never set up romantically but in fact reeks of reality. And that reality imparts a peace and a space in which to think. You can really put yourself in the poor man's shoes as he tries to break open his first coconut and light his first fire. Things most of us have never had to do before. He contends with Nature for his most basic needs, while trying not to lose his sanity to the utter vacuum of loneliness that is forced upon him.

In the middle of this One Man Land is the tiny feeling, like a hope, that maybe he is not alone. It is the hope of being reunited with his loved ones, of being a human among humans again. This is what is kept alive in his bruised body when he gazes at the picture of his pretty fiancée (Helen Hunt) and transforms a volleyball into the head of a person he can have intimate fireside chats with. And Tom Hanks can still, even in a nightmarish situation, make a harmony of comedy out of the littlest actions. He takes all that we are in today's world and successfully strands it on a beach in the middle of nowhere. From his stumblings on the seashore as he goes after shipwrecked FedEx packages, to his use of an ice skate to chop his trousers into shorts, to the beautifully inarticulate way he hollers at the wind after gashing his palm in an unsuccessful fire-starting attempt. And I haven't even mentioned the most noteworthy aspects (the ones you really can't be eating when you watch them; just biting down on something).

Aside from the great story, this film parades a series of wonderful images through our minds. There is so much packed into every tiny scene. For instance, when Hank's character Jack Noland, hits a breakthrough when starting his first fire, he is stunned and actually stops mid-action to look, almost questioningly, at his 'mate' volleyball, whom he calls 'Wilson'. Almost as if he expects the volleyball to come alive and shout, "Surprise! It was me that did it!" At the summit of the island, his failed attempt to test-drive a self-hanging with a heavy tree trunk turns to triumph when later, realising he needs the extra rope to build his raft, he sets the trunk - in the shape of a man with arms outstretched in love or worship - down on the summit in full view of the sea and anyone travelling on it.

Robert Zemeckis (director) has found a way to create an intimate dialogue between the character and the audience. When we see Jack back home in civilisation and he picks up one of those snazzy lighters you use for the stove, and repeatedly presses the trigger to ignite and re-ignite it and watches the perfect flame dance into existence, we, the audience, are in his thoughts and heart. We are with him as he travels in his mind from his one world of almost unconscious convenience and privilege, to the beautiful but savage world where he bleeds, blisters and hungers for hours to light his first fire on that desolate island. We understand his feelings and sense that wrenching feeling that comes from being torn from one reality to another with all meaning and context distorted like the particles in some Einsteinian cosmic phenomenon.

A man goes from being a servant of his beeper and his watch, to being ruled by the sun, the tides, the wind and the primary forces of nature. You can't help feeling excitement at his triumphs and victories as he learns more about the world and how to cohabit with his surroundings in a sustainable manner. And in that excitement there is also a tinge of sadness, because who among us will ever have such a life-changing and enlightening experience? Sure, we could all visit that little rocky island in Fiji, but it would be as tourists or members of a community that would sustain us. How many people today actually go out and learn things on their own? How many people meet a whale face-to-face and glance into its eyes while all alone in the middle of the open sea, and sensing the chances of survival are not much better, if not much worse, than those of imminent death?

Cast Away is a fantastic movie because it makes us think about those questions. It interrogates what happens to a person's perception and understanding when they have had an experience very few people have. It is a movie about reality and a movie about possible reality.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


It was a sunny, blindingly-golden day when I first saw him. He sprang out from behind a corner on the heels of my young nephew who was answering my call. Perhaps he thought I was calling him. Or her. I couldn't tell because my new friend was a young goat. The cutest little goat you ever saw. All white with a skinny little neck and ears that stuck out and twitched the flies and insects away.

It was one of those moments when you know something interesting is about to happen. You just have a feeling. I knew Kid Billy and I would share some minutes. Whether good or bad I'll let you decide.

Nephew took off for town with mum and dad leaving me alone with ol' Billy. Could I just leave him there and go home? No, he pretty much wanted to follow me around wherever I went. The thing that was bugging me was I didn't actually know who he belonged to. I'm not so up on goat knowledge that I can distinguish goats by sight and be able to say confidently, "Oh there you are Kostaki! I thought you were Marika coming up to play another trick on me. Where's your sister?"

So up and down the village streets I roamed, Billy on my heels, looking for some old granny in black or a hardened old man with a telltale worried look about the brows that would enable me to dispose gracefully of my charge before enjoying a cold frappé back home. But the streets were deserted. I'm thinking, "Great. These people let their animals roam about and just assume they'll come home when they get hungry."

As it turned out, Billy wouldn't get hungry at all; he was finding quite a lot to nibble and munch on at the side of the road, among wild grasses and the feet of twisted olive trees in abandoned lots. Sometimes he looked completely engrossed in his feeding and I took the opportunity to try and make a quick getaway and leave the little bugger for someone else to find. But no sooner would I step away a metre than the little smart-ass would suddenly lift up its head and come running after me.

I decided it couldn't be helped. I would lead him to my auntie's goats which were tethered a short way up the winding street in a wild patch of raised grass among thorns and bushes. I knew she only had 2 goats of her own. Maybe this one was a relative that was being fattened up by a neighbour. Who cares? I thought. They all know each other anyway. The place was too small for a spider to get lost. Old Billy would get home somehow.

So up the road we trudged, me leading the way, cute little kid following some metres behind. Every so often he would stop at the side of the road to graze and poke. The sun was making me impatient and I now knew his tricks, so I didn't stop to wait for him. "Ela! Ela! Come on! We're not stopping here. Come!" and back running after me he would come. We finally reached the copse whereupon I realised a scrambling climb was in store, if we wanted to get up to where the other goats were tethered. On the slippery, scratchy, huffy, puffy and, of course, dirty, way up, I silently marvelled at the unsung courage and toughness of women in villages everywhere, Greek or otherwise, that they could live like this every day, tending their animals, scrambling up impossible slopes so they could find suitable grazing places. I suddenly understood why I hadn't been able to find a manicurist in nearby Kalamata; they weren't needed.

Finally, Billy was face to face with 2 of his own kind. They were a mother and child team, both older than him, and perhaps disposed to act mercifully. For, after a few moments of carefully and curiously sniffing his backside, they took him into their fold. Hooray! He was accepted. I felt a marvellous sense of achievement. While the 3 were exchanging introductory pleasantries, I made a quick, slippy getaway down the other side of the hill. Looking back, I saw that Billy had finally stopped looking for me or trying to follow me. He was happily gorging himself on the thick clumps of grass while mother and child team looked on in amusement before going for seconds themselves.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I don't care if people think I'm precious. The thing is, I love my cleanliness and my little daily rituals and routines and little, neaty thingies. I will now finally admit - online and so not boasting of the slightest ounce of pluck - that I am a bloody, prissy, fussy, uptight, nervous, fluttery, fastidious piece of poncy PRECIOUS.

There are a couple of possible explanations for my current predicament. One, and the most obvious, is my mother (who I love to bits, just to make it clear early on) and her absolutely maniacal, pathological abhorrence of any germ matter of any kind anywhere near the vicinity where she or her immediate family draw breath. From a young age, from the flower of my puddle-splashingly enthusiastic youth, I was brought to the unpleasant realisation that there were certain things that I must avoid at all costs. Mud, public swimming pools, friends' houses for sleepovers and cats and dogs ranked at the top, as did food prepared by strangers (especially if they were not as pathologically maniacal towards hygiene as herself). Perhaps there was a time when I could still have grown up to be adventurous enough to use public toilets without first covering the seats with wads of toilet paper, but through the fanatically anti-germ child-rearing process, that point quickly disappeared, like a half-glimpsed train station from the window of a dizzy express.

The second possible cause is heredity. I come from a long line of Nazi cleaning ladies on my father's side and an even longer and more fanatical one on my mother's. One of my mother's sisters once stayed with us for a while and I can still remember the way she used to interrupt some of her tete-a-tetes with my mother to bend down and pick up absolutely nothing from the floor to throw into a waiting decorative ashtray on the coffee table. "What is it, kháti?" Mum would ask. Auntie would tell her in their language that it was some crumb or speck (which she herself had not dropped, as that would make world headlines), while I looked on with a mixture of bewilderment and exasperated affection.

So to get back to the topic, these are may see it or they may not, but simply typing it makes me feel better. Or maybe I just want to believe that. Nothing is really certain. Life is a risky parade of inconvenient events, sometimes masquerading as serendipities.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Set Time Co-ordinates to ... the Year 500!"

Why is it that my best thoughts come to me in the shower? I wish I had a dollar for every time I've wished I had a water-proof whiteboard! Seriously, are my brain cells just being jazzed up by chemicals in the tiles or does it have something to do with taking off my clothes? Maybe being forced to look at my naked body under that flattering fluorescent bathroom light is making my subconscious mind think, "Better get to work brain, 'cos she definitely can't use anything else to her advantage in this lifetime. GiddeUP!"

See, I'll be happily relaxing under a guilt-evoking stream of hot water, imagining that I'm soaping some other woman's homely body while mine has actually been stolen on account of its great beauty, leaving behind only its mental brain counterpart... when suddenly, thoughts will come to me. Sometimes stupid, often stimulating, sometimes damn brilliant. Today, such a thought occurred to me. Not a very happy one either.

What I thought was this: What are the things we really need in life to be happy? Apart from food, water and shelter, you would say family, friends and a job, right? A connection to society, a purpose to our life, a sense of continuity in our relationships. Well, if you take a look through history, no matter how rich or poor people were, they always had those things. Even the poor man sweeping the chimney, if he had a family, had a great end to his day. Maybe he would only get to eat watery cabbage for supper, but he would eat it hungrily and in peace. A worker on a lord's farm in the Dark Ages would have to work very hard but at moments he would take a stretch, look up and see the blue sky and breathe deeply of the fresh, clean air. He would enjoy the same nature as the rich lady, walking along the country lane to visit her friends. Rich and poor alike could still enjoy the world around them. For the rich man, it was an embellishment for his rich life; for the poor man, it was perhaps his only comfort in his poor one.

Fast forward to today. Most things have changed dramatically. One of the most dramatic is that what previously only the rich could enjoy the poor can now enjoy as well. For example, cars, nice shoes and meat to eat. Even the poorest among us can hope for some of these things today. Indeed, the world has become a place abounding in 'previously only for the rich' things. Many of us have appreciated this. Don't tell me you haven't, because you're either lying or you're a religious ascetic of some kind. We all drive our cars, catch our fast trains, take our trips overseas, take in a film or gallery, eat a sumptuous dinner, buy nice clothes, cars, furniture, electronics and cosmetics. This has become our way of life. Sometimes, it even overshadows what should be our way of life. For example, maybe we want to be reading up on a subject we love of an evening, but there's a really good movie or documentary on TV we can't miss. Or perhaps somebody at work has greatly annoyed or upset us and next thing we know we're spending that money we were intending to save for a house on clothes or shoes to make us feel better. Or heck, maybe we're the type who can just ease the boredom of a Friday night by jetting off to another part of the country to take in an opera, like Richard Gere does in 'Pretty Woman'. These luxuries have become our emotional crutches. But why do we need them?

Before TV, what did families do? Have your kids ever asked you this? I wish more kids would ask this question. Yes guys, families did used to actually sit together in the evenings and talk. Fathers would tell stories of their younger days to their sons and mothers would teach songs and poems to their daughters. Children would see their parents as fountains of knowledge, not black holes of shame. The extra time meant that families would get together with other families and connections would be maintained at a higher level than today. For example, you would see your cousins at a wedding, experience great times with them, and a couple of days later you would see them again in a different setting and you could debrief. This is what I mean by a sense of continuity. There was the feeling that life continued; there wasn't a sense of having to have a great time because you wouldn't see this person again for another 6 months or more. There wasn't stress on the job because this was a job you would be taught how to do slowly and surely by a true master (maybe your father), not as a cutthroat competition between you and 3 others trying to impress a boss who didn't know you and couldn't care less where you'd be in a year's time. You would have to save for a year for a decent pair of shoes but at least you had the hope and the vision that one day they'd be yours and that they'd be just as wonderful as you'd imagined. Today you buy them on your card because who knows if they'll be available in even a month's time or if you'll even want them if they are. And after you've bought them, they go into a cupboard full of other shoes that are in that slow, making-their-way-to-the-back of the closet queue.

Pleasures. Life today is full of them. But PLEASURE. Deep and lasting satisfaction, the kind you get from a 30+ year marriage or becoming really skilled in your job... where is that today?

Which leads me to an anarchic conclusion. We've all been fooled. The big rich guy has fooled us into accepting a whole lot of things that originally were intended only as embellishments to a normal, healthy life, but in return, we have lost our normal, healthy life. The condition in the fine print which we didn't read was that we would accept these things in exchange for our normal, healthy life. Because it occurs to me that a normal, healthy life needs 3 things: a belief in a higher power (granted, for many this takes the form of spirituality or belief in self or a higher calling or the higher virtues); a family (again, this has many forms); and a job (something to do). Without even one of these 3 things, we don't seem to be as happy as we could be. The thing is that in the past, these things could be enjoyed by both king and peasant. Today, our families, our jobs and our relationship to the higher things are all being ripped apart. Divorces, breakdown of churches, unemployment, disconnectedness to neighbours, ugly, blocklike buildings in imaginationless cities... etcetera. They're all illustrations of this breakdown. But now I come to my point. The reason I'm writing today. The thing that came to me as I gazed at my oh-so-not-like-Venus-de-Milo body in the bathroom mirror this morning.

This breakdown is hitting rich and poor alike. Yet the rich don't have to sit there and take it. They can board a plane to another country, buy a new car, meet a famous person, have someone throw them a party to console them... Diversion. They can gorge their diverténte bug until it's stuffed and forget their pain. But the poor man, he has to get up, start his car in the freezing cold morning, forget his woes and get ready to face his working day. Or go out and get a job, if he's unemployed; all the while feeling like a burden on society. His wife may have left him, he may have lost money gambling at the myriad places the rich have supplied for this purpose, or become a drunk by drinking the alcohol big rich companies have manufactured and his family has broken down, but he can't just leave it, get on a plane and leave his worries behind. He has to get up day after day and face them. Then, when it just becomes too hard, because nobody around him is interested in the plight of a sad, lonely bugger like him and none of his good-time mates come round to visit anymore, he gets depressed. His daugher, drunk herself on a steady diet of attitude TV and music, tells him to snap out of it. His son left home long ago to pursue his 'dreams', just like all those Hollywood movies inspired him to, and is now working odd jobs while holding an armful of degrees and diplomas and scoffing at the unromantic mediocrity of the average working life.

So here's our old man now, alone, depressed and feeling damn cheated. He goes to a therapist for help and is diagnosed with depression, put on drugs. Poor sick fella, his body doesn't make enough endorphins to keep him on top of things; not his fault, it's all to do with genetics. Some people just aren't built with the optimistic streak.

And here's where I set poor little old men and women looking anxiously out of their windows for the source of the animal-like ferocious hollering noise...

WHO THE FUCK IS ?!?!?!?!?

We have managed to allow the creation of a society where, if you're rich and privileged, you are operating at a normal level. Just normal. If you have family problems, self-esteem issues or bad friends, you can still come out even - IF you've got money. You will be living life at approximately the same level of enjoyment as a peasant back in the year 500 AD. Unhappy about some things, happy about others, accepting most of it. But if you're poor today, you are to be pitied more than anyone who has ever lived before. Because at least the poor of history had their close families, their close-knit communities who gave a shit about them, their good sense of self-esteem, their knowledge that children would respect them as they got older and wiser. Today's poor truly have nothing. Their flashes of genius are wasted away and rot in front of brainwashing TV programs; their relationships are dictated by what the rich think and want for the world (why can't your husband accept your hairy legs? why should you wear heels?); they could go out for a walk to clear their heads if the polluted air, noisy streets and dull cement-coloured surroundings allowed it. They could enjoy the sense of being human if every step they took they weren't confronted with some stranger's blank, unfriendly face avoiding their gaze, some impossible woman's half-naked figure on the side of a bus or some rude group of teenagers trying to push them out of the way just because they're there. Poor people have no way of getting away from the underbelly of all the marvellous things the rich have lavished upon the world, while not getting to enjoy even the simple pleasures that have always been the boon of the poor and the glory of their humility, because the lavish pleasures, like technology, have made these things (a satisfying job, a happy family that communicates, faith in a good future) seem secondary to happiness and productivity. The blindingly exultant things of today have completely eclipsed everything else; we've shut the curtains on the sun to enjoy the amazing miracle of electric light, not realising that this humble sun is the source of everything.

Perhaps one day it will all break down. All the contraptions, devices, new-fangledisms and technological innovations will just disappear. We'll be left alone; just us, our empty brains and our earth and sun. We'll have to learn everything all over again. Maybe we'll have fun doing it.

There's always a silver lining.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Don't Read If You're Still Reading (or want to read) the Final Harry Potter Book!

Well, it's finally over. One of the saddest and strangest days of my life has finally arrived because today, on a dreary, cold Sunday afternoon, I finally finished reading the final Harry Potter book. I blame university for everything; one of the subjects I was doing in English Literature had as required reading the first Harry Potter book, 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'. Once I read that, I had to read the rest of them.

This is not going to be a review of the book; just a review of my thoughts on having completed it. In general, it was - what can I say - a simply fantastic read. J. K. Rowling is an ecstatic writer and can take her reader on a breathtaking rollercoaster ride of emotions. She is witty, funny, deep, insightful and extremely intelligent. Half the words I've ever looked up in my Oxford Minidictionary I first read in the Harry Potter books (and I've had the dictionary for 15 years, there!).

The main problem I had while reading this last book ('Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows') is that the information from all the previous books kind of snowballed and quite a bit of foreknowledge was assumed, yet I was too lazy to go back and read the previous books to completely understand the finer points of the plot; maybe I just didn't want to slacken my pace. The energy you get and the lift, the absolute adrenaline rush of reading rapidly towards the dénouement of a great novel is like nothing else; your senses are sharpened and your whole brain hangs on every line, every new page... it's elemental. I always say the best kind of book is an invisible one; because it's only when everything else disappears from around you that you really know you're holding a powerful narrative.

And Rowling has achieved such a narrative. And now I know for sure why (though I suspected it several books ago). She, like C. S. Lewis, has used the concept of the Saviour and the Chosen One, a Messiah or sacrificial figure, to hold together the story and maintain its attraction. Not that I disagree with this; it's kind of what I was hoping for. I'm sure many of us out there were aching to read in the final chapters, where everything is explained, that Harry is, actually, invincible and cannot be killed by his arch-enemy, Voldemort. That it wasn't an accident that he survived the first killing curse as an infant in the cot. That he is, actually, chosen. That he can conquer death. This is what makes him such a hero and an idol to the younger generation.

The truth is we all want to believe in such things. We need a rallying point, a central figure that we can all believe in, trust in, adore and give our service to. Harry Potter is that; a mythological superman who possesses the keys to eternity. Not because we believe that he won't ever die, because he is obviously mortal in the story and will age as we do. But because the story makes out that, reasonable circumstances assumed, his life will always be spared, as though he is covered by some protective mantle that ordinary mortals lack. Perhaps this is what attracts so many people to these books (you know what I mean, you see them on the train when you go to work). The kids love the magic and the spells; but the adults love it for a totally different reason. They love what it implies, the sense of the extraordinary that it revolves around. The belief that the universe can decide to focus its energies upon ONE individual, not many. This is the yearning of our modern society: the 'me' factor. And Harry Potter strikes that chord masterfully.

Apart from storyline, the characters in the books are simply mind-bogglingly amazing. Not just the variety of characters and the imagination gone into creating them but the sheer believability of some of them is staggering, so that most of us who have followed the story on through the whole 7 books have been left with a very sad feeling at leaving them. On the one hand, we rejoice that the series ended so well and fittingly, but on the other, some part of us hopes we have not seen the last of dear Ron, Harry and Hermione. They are real in every sense except actual flesh and blood.

What do you think? Have you read any of the books? All of them? Do you ever intend to? Do you just not understand the whole fuss? I welcome your input. I am not, I would say, a real fanatical fan of the literature, more a temporarily interested reader. Every book I've read of the series I've always bought at least a year after it came out; I'm not one of those who camped outside Borders waiting for the doors to open at 9.01am so I could rush in and buy my copy as soon as it came out. But in part, the controversy surrounding the books made me determined to read them all for myself so that I could decide for myself what I thought of them. I think it's important to have one's own reasons for one's beliefs and you can't praise or criticise something on hearsay, if you respect yourself. I can now say, as an educated graduate (as well as a Christian), that I approve. Maybe not wholeheartedly with everything in the books (because there are some terrifying moments I wouldn't read to my children or dwell on before bed), but overall, I agree with the basic message Rowling has put across. This is the 21st Century and we can't expect authors to write like Enid Blyton or Hans Christian Anderson anymore. We are living in different times and our literature will reflect that. But even in these difficult times we have need of a strong message. More than anything, I think the Potter story is one of sacrifice and love. I don't think everyone needs to see that to appreciate the books but I saw it and it is enough for me. I am satisfied.

*Sniff sniff* It's really over. No more books about the boy wizard. My heartfelt hugs to all the diehard Potter fans out there who are missing an arm; it will grow back, don't worry. It will just take time! :)

Peace to all the bloggers/readers.

P.S. And yeah, I forgot, Harry Potter does kick Voldemort's butt in the end - of course! ;-)

Friday, June 27, 2008

La Mia Passione Eterna

I can't go any longer without confessing this; I think I've done a wow job keeping it to myself this long in fact... But I have an enduring passion that will just not go away. I'm not even sure if it's a passion - more like an obsession. The fact that I just now typed the word 'obsession' as 'exception' also indicates that this passion/obsession has also grown to such a degree that it is now seriously threatening my mental capacity. In other words, I can't think straight anymore. The thing is, since the moment it first touched my lips, surprising, delighting and transforming me forever, I have loved chocolate. I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't eating it. The only two times I remember being without it (Orthodox Easter holy week aside), were last autumn and 10 years ago, both times for 3-month detox periods - and I hated it. So I've decided to accept this fatal flaw in my character, rather like I accept that I am a cat, not a bird person, and that no matter what time I get up in the morning I will always stay up late.

Ah mysterious, exotic, powerful, sexy CHOCOLATE! No matter what you're eating, drinking or smearing over your body, chocolate always adds that something 'extra' to the mix. It turns boring biscuits into choc-chip cookies, boring housewives into sex cookies and rebellious children into PUTTY. If I had my way, there would be an International Chocolate Day, a chocolaterie in every town and a chocolate dessert after every restaurant meal. Instead of attaching cards to gifts, I would make it proper etiquette to strap on a box of Ferrero Rocher instead. Instead of champagne (or, actually, as well as champagne) at the start of fancy parties... you guessed it, chocolate pralines; passed around by the trayful. Even wedding vows would begin, "I do solemnly eclair..."

I wish I had a suitably delicious chocolate recipe to add right here but unfortunately I'm an expert at the eating, not the making. However, if you've ever tried mixing mascarpone cream with Nutella, throwing in ground hazelnuts and eating with vanilla ice-cream, you would be trying one of my specialties. If poor, you could try mixing MILO powder with milk to make a thick paste, then mix in ground wallnuts and refrigerate. That makes something you could suck and munch on for hours. And if you're after something more refined, you have to try the dark chocolate Callebaut makes. Smooth and earthy and probably full of endorphins and aphrodisiac properties (I'm guessing, because unfortunately I have no man at the moment that I can jump on after eating it to really put its chemical prowess to the test).

I don't need to tell anyone I'm pathetic when it comes to recipes. It's evident! I just like to eat the stuff. And to be honest, whenever I've got my hands on a nice chunk of choc, passion and lust take over so intensely that it disappears before I've had time to think up some new ways to serve it. So if anyone reading this has the self-control and patience that I lack and has some nice chocky recipes you'd like to share, I promise I won't bite until I've given what you suggest a try. Original ideas are welcomed. I invite you to gain fame by plastering your chocolate knowledge and experience across the Blogosphere; which, if I had my way, would be the Chocosphere.

I'm so bloody predictable.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sex, Sex and More Sex!

WELL! Here I am back in Melbourne. Holiday over. Winter well and truly decided to make me aware of her chilly presence. I say 'her' because I can more easily picture winter as a female (Ice Queen, White Witch and so forth) than a male (because somehow, even if a man seems cold, it only - at least for me - seems to make him more damn attractive - Mr Darcy from Pride & Prejudice a notable case in point).

But perhaps I should also write holiday as 'holiday' here. The reason, as the intuitive among you have probably already figured out, is that if it was a holiday without the apostrophes, if it was a proper, apostropheless holiday, then by now you should have seen, on hitting TheAppleDrawer-dot-com, enviously gorgeous pictures of amazing Greek islands or majestic ancient buildings with scary big columns and huge pieces of marble scattered all around them; each barrage of photographs punctuating a different stage in this journey I - for reasons I will never clearly understand but that will never fail to prove a vital life lesson to me or others - naively took ... with my parents.

Let me start with this word of advice (especially to all you 'good girls and boys' out there, cos you're the ones most at risk): Are you listening? Okay. Are you sure? Right. Here is the advice: Don't travel with your parents if you want to have an apostropheless holiday.

I don't think I need to say any more. Sooner or later the young adult grows up. It's not when you get your licence, when you sleep with someone for the first time or even when you have your first baby that you grow up. It's not about the physical part of your life at all. It's the point at which you say to yourself, "From now on, I choose to be held responsible for my own decisions, actions and lifestyle." It's the moment at which you decide to stop trying to live the life that was cut out for you by others and start cutting out your own life in the shape that you want it to have. It's having the guts to go after your dream when everything in your past is screaming at you that it's nothing but a stupid fantasy. It's having the chutzpah to try on a dress that looks doubtful on the rack because you believe it will look good on you. It's drawing a picture and showing it to the world and knowing that the world could think it incongruous or ugly and drawing it nonetheless. It's doing something for no great reason at all except.... that you thought to do it. It's having the confidence to do something because you want to do it. It's the moment at which you start valuing yourself. It's the moment at which you become a person. You develop a spine. Your inside becomes something different to your outside, a place where others can afterwards find shelter. Your spiritual umbilical cord to your parents is cut and you become capable of forming and maintaining your own family, whether through marriage or great friendship groups.

Unfortunately it took a bad trip away for me to go through this process. Until now, I hadn't realised how attached to my parents I'd been, how hungry for their approval. How much I had constantly, again and again, put my dreams and hopes on the shelf just to win imaginary stars from their school of rational, wise, responsible decision-making. I realised it because the trip home was a small death. It wasn't so much that I wanted to live in Greece. It was that I was given a chance to make it on my own and I didn't take it.

Well - I could dwell on such heavy thoughts on this blog or I could remember the positives. Positives such as the amazingly friendly people I encountered and the feeling that everything and everyone is connected to each other and the land. Positives like shopping. Somehow, every time I've been in Greece, though short on money, I've always found theee perfect thing just when I needed it. It seems to be a Providential compensation for the fact that you have 4 times less there than in Spoil-Me-Rotten, 5-Of-Everything, 2-Showers-a-Day, Convenience-Oozing, Tim Tam-munching Australia. Maybe it's because you have less that what you do have is such a treasure. But there are also those times when you can't help but feel blessed with unnatural good luck. For example, in Australia, I can never seem to find shoes I like. Athens: I walked into a shoe shop and immediately found a pair of blingy sandals that were perfect for me, in looks and comfort. I'm talking Cinderella Glass Slipper level of comfort. As in I was made for those sandals and nobody else could look as good in them as me. That scary. Just for some background, I look at the activity of buying shoes kind of like studying for a really boring and difficult university exam: I hate it. And especially strappy, open, flimsy numbers.... not me! So to buy a pair of summery, glittery, sexy, hardly-there sandals in downtown Athens within 10 minutes of walking hesitantly into a store full of summery, glittery, sexy, hardly-there shoes that make my ingrown toenails twinge at the mere sight of them... it gave me hope, dear reader. In modern-day terms, I would say it's better than sex. Because I could realistically expect a good pair of shoes to be with me longer than a man in this day and age.

And that brings me to my main topic. Sex. Yes, it was inevitable that, as a 20-something female, unhitched, I would go to see the Sex and the City movie. I went tonight with my best girlfriend who is the ultimate chick-flick companion (as all best girlfriends are). I had always thought the show Sex and the City beyond me, culturally. Too New York. Too fast. Too much sex. But I was surprised to find myself tearing up at certain points in the movie and I don't tear up easily. It hit a chord. The fact is that the film touched on a major question I've been asking the universe for the past few years, as couples and friends have drifted in and out of my life. What is it that makes a man ask a woman to marry him?

I mean, I think of many young married couples I know. People who married because of preference, not parental coercion or circumstances or what we call in Greek proxenió. I think of these people who in many ways remind me of myself and the whole fact of these people being in a committed relationship fascinates me. The idea of the man being at work and knowing that he will be coming home to his wife, who may also be working, and they will both be together and be primarily with each other in the evening, is strange to me. The nature of the marital relationship is strange to me. What is it that makes two people say forever? Is it that they love each other so much that they can't bear to be away from each other for more than 12 hours at a time, or is it that they've never found a better person to be with and have settled for a person who they at least know will care about them when the rest of the world tells them it couldn't give a rat's?

As this thought whirrs the wheels of my mind, another thought butts in equally as forcefully from time to time. Why aren't I, at 29, married? Most of the people I know got hitched at 28 or younger. The rest are mostly in committed relationships, or at least long-term ones. A smattering is drifting about looking for a loving relationship. Now here's the thing: I used to always assume I wasn't married or in a long-term relationship because I was ugly. It had been drummed into me at school. I was awkward, I was ugly, I did not look like the other girls, I would never fit in and bla bla bla. So I believed that was why I hadn't found anybody yet. But that theory was thrown out a while ago when, in the same week, 2 men, salespeople I was chatting to in the city, asked me why I didn't have a boyfriend. And actually wanted to know the answer, as if there was an explanation there that they couldn't access just by looking at me. So I decided the problem couldn't be physical. Apparently Cleopatra of Egypt was an unattractive woman physically. Yet she twitched and powerful, handsome men came running.

So it's not the looks that get the man. What is it then? I happen to know women who can get a boyfriend as easily as most of us can get take-away pizza. I have never known them to be out of a relationship. And long relationships too. Sometimes with marriage included. All the time, the men with them seem blissfully and contentedly happy. These women, when I think about it, have always been the ones who have never ever said anything to me to hurt or offend me. They don't talk much and rarely insist on having things their own way. In fact, they seem to live to please others. Yet they drift from one relationship to another, endlessly searching. I also know other women who have been the opposite: demanding, loud, individualistic, take-me-or-leave-me types... and they have found one man and stayed with that one man; the only man, perhaps, who has been able to live with them and accept them for who they are.

One of my favourite pastimes is to ask how older generation women met and fell in love with their husbands. I'm getting the feeling that the most important element of their stories is the one they leave out. The element that made them commit. I'm starting to think it has a little something to do with danger. Strife. Difficulty. Fighting. Struggle. Because for some weird reason, I think the only thing that could make me want to commit to somebody for life and tie that knot is something that would test me and that other person to such an extent that to live our life afterwards without each other would be meaningless.

I wish I could go on but my brain is starting to fog up. I will leave with this small conviction. After watching Sarah Jessica Parker in all her vital life force finery tonight, I am sure there is love out there. I mean miracle love. The kind of love that makes a man stay with the same woman for 5 years claiming he's not interested in marriage, but makes him walk down the aisle 6 months after their break-up to marry a woman he's virtually just met. The miraculous force that makes two people notice each other across a room and know that, marriage or not, their futures will be somehow entwined. I believe in this. I know this force is divine. The love part is divine; everything else revolving around this - marriage, de facto, make-up-break-up circles - is all man-made. It's all decorations. It's only the love part that's real. And it seems to me that whenever people put the love part first, everything else just falls into place.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Departure Day

I know now why travelling is such a joy for children. I have never been so overwhelmed with preparations, organisations and visitations in my life. I don't remember feeling this run off my feet when travelling at 20. Apparently, you really do get set in your ways with the passing of time. You're just about set and then you see something sitting on a shelf and you think, 'Oh, I really can't go without that!' And in it goes. It kind of defeats the purpose of why one is going to a secluded little Greek village in the first place. How spoilt we Aussies are!

So here I am now, about 3 hours away from airport time. Miraculously, the packing is finished. Now, just relax and enjoy the ride...

Monday, March 10, 2008


With barely 3 sleeps to go until departure day, I am wondering at my inactiveness. I haven't packed anything and everything I intend to take with me is sitting around the house. Meanwhile, I am sitting around doing nothing to improve the situation. For nearly a week we have been going through an unseasonal heatwave which has slowed down my brain and body. All I want is to go to sleep and have a cold, peaceful world around me with no hassles.

The truth is that I am not looking forward to this trip. I should be feeling excited, elated. I have waited 3 years. Every day has been like a painful eternity. And now, just days away, I seem to be frozen inside. My brain has stopped thinking and my heart feels empty. All I can think of is how much I want to get away from this place for good. How the time has come to make some big decisions that will affect the rest of my life. But also, there is so much uncertainty. I look around me at my safe world and I wonder if I can ever actually leave it. People with adventurous, encouraging parents could probably do it, if they really wanted to. But my parents are so adamant that I don't move away that they have said such things to me that have embittered my spirit and robbed me of all joy, courage, hope and optimism. Now all I see around me is darkness and despair. I don't know which way to turn; nobody is reaching out a helping hand to me, I am completely alone. I know my own strength; if only someone else could see it too and guide me and give me encouragement to follow my dreams, instead of making me feel like a fool.

Call my desire to live in Greece for awhile a foolish one. I actually believe it is, myself. Foolish. But the alternative is to stay where I am and that has been making me so depressed I want to die. I look around me and nobody cares. People are anywhere but here. There is no-one, no-one. This whole place is one big dead-end.

If I can be bothered before I chop my Internet connection, I will post again before I leave. Hopefully the next post will be a bit more cheerful. I wish all my readers well.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Simple Life

It was a hot, hectic day back in 2005 when I was working as an emergency teacher in various schools in Melbourne, that the idea first came into my head. Or rather, the idea was already there but the events of that particular day brought it out of my head and into my reality; thus, it was hatched into action.

I was returning from a drive somewhere I don't really remember, maybe the beach. I often went there when life became too complicated and difficult. I went to be alone and to think with the help of the waves. Although the beach is an hour's drive from my house, it was always worth the hassle of going because after sitting at the water's edge I always felt refreshed; everything seemed clearer and problems didn't seem so insurmountable. It's hard to feel afraid when you're facing that blue. It speaks courage to your soul.

So anyway, I was driving through the nicest suburbs I could work out a route through to lessen my homeward-bound stress, and the heat, the sun, the traffic, the noise, my car's lack of an air-conditioner or radio and my lack of inner peace suddenly got to me. I thought, 'What am I doing here? This is crazy! I'm spending the best hours of my life stuck in a little metal box on a road full of toxins of every kind. I've got to get out of here!' At that moment, even my grandmother's little village in Greece seemed like a paradise compared to this daily chaos. Something inside me snapped and I stopped the car at the side of the road next to the next phone box I came across. I got out, grabbed a phone book from the nearby milkbar and dialed the number for the Greek consulate in Melbourne. I was going to get myself a Greek passport and go and live in Greece. I didn't care if I had to farm olives and tend bars in the off season to support myself; I wanted peace. Or at least space to breathe.

Well, it didn't happen that very day but that was the first step. Many problems, negotiations, hassles and chaotic days later, I am now days away from boarding that long-awaited plane. Yet to all outward appearances, I am only taking a holiday. That's what I've told everyone around me, anyway. It really all depends on what I find at the other end of my journey across the oceans. If you've ever travelled with the 50/50 uncertainty of whether you intend to return or not, you'll know that packing for such a trip is one big bee-ai-tee-see-aich. What do I take? What do I leave? Is it easier to bring stuff I don't need back, should I intend to return, or to have stuff I need sent over, should I intend to stay on? And what about extending the actual return date? Health and travel insurance? Bank accounts? Telephone connections? Friends? My whole world??

I've often noticed that the best changes take place one small step at a time and are so exciting that everything falls into place relatively painlessly for people. Things that are missing are patiently waited for because so much else is going fantastically well (maybe for the first time ever). How else could we adapt to new life situations? If we don't believe in what we're doing, everything's a hassle. How else can we put up with the daily obstacles? We need that excitement for life to make everything else less annoying, to put life into perspective. Living in the Western world, especially a country like Australia, where the government makes so many things easy for us, makes us develop a warped sense of perspective. Our parents can huff and puff in vain; we won't make changes according to their advice unless we live the reality they came from. We can't understand them from our little box of comfort with its messages that the world is our oyster and we should just get out there and live our dreams. We just won't get the importance of what they're telling us every day: don't trust everybody, study hard, find someone to marry and save, save, SAVE.

Surely that's not a bad way to go. But what gave them this perspective was the world they came from. And that means their world was healthy. Simple and uncomplicated. They had exactly what they needed and no more. They survived. They brought their dreams with them wherever they went and many of them made them a reality. But dreams have many forms. We, the city generation, have been raised in the noise and hubbub of places our parents used to have romantic fantasies about. But many of us dream of places our parents left and often fondly reminisce about. Are our dreams any less valid or responsible? Is wanting to live a healthier, quieter life in a small village or town any worse a goal than wanting to move to a big, busy city with all of life's modern conveniences?

I sign off this entry with this hope: I hope everyone who has a dream, whatever it may be, finds the courage and hope inside them to make their dream a reality. Where there is a will, there IS a way. We are ships of hope that are equipped with everything we need to reach our destinations. Only those who have found a way to penetrate into our inward parts through our ears - penetrate with doubtful, fearful and critical thoughts - have the power to sink us. So don't let anyone get to you. Nothing can be more right, more correct, than the energy and passion that keeps you getting out of bed in the morning. Everything in your life should revolve around this force of will.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Apple Drawer

This blog is called The Apple Drawer, in memory of my grandmother, who died many years ago and who I miss more and more as the years go by. She used to always keep an apple in her bedside table drawer and when I'd open it surreptitiously to look for sweets, a wonderful, fresh smell would waft up to me, as if the drawer were somehow hiding a sunny meadow in some old, dark, wooden corner, instead of old papers and coins.

There were many wise little things like that which my gran did and knew about but didn't have time to properly pass down to me before she died. A wealth of knowledge, wisdom and culture was lost, never to be retrieved.

My blog will record a journey, or try to. I am going to go back to the place where my grandmother was born. There in her sleepy little village in the south of Greece, she learned to cook beans, grow flowers and get by in a man's world. That's where her unquenchable spirit was forged and her love of God grew into an almost daily obsession. That's where she lost a child, watched the Nazis overtake her town, raised two sons and waved goodbye to one of them, not knowing if she would ever see him again.

I can visit my grandmother's grave, here in Australia, any time I like. It's great for someone who likes to keep the marble looking clean and shiny and the flowers tended. But I want more. I want to sit once more on the ground where she was sitting when she was dreaming her secret dreams at my age. I want to feel her spirit, which is so tied to the spirit of her native land, so that I can't think of one without the other. So I'm planning to board a plane to Greece in March and visit her humble home one last time. The first time was as a child: no thoughts of anything but to swim and play. The second time brought culture shock, as I realised this was not a place that catered to the whims of a university student. The third time, I am hoping, will be lucky. I am hoping to find her spirit there and with it, meaning for my own life and future.