Eurotrip 2015 – Part 5

COLOGNE / AMSTERDAM / WROCLAW – 16 November

Currently sitting on a bus on the way from Wroclaw to Krakow. While the crimson-coloured PKP (Polish National Railways) trains of old had their charm, this bus is a reminder of how things have changed – zooming along an autobahn on cushy red leather seats, with free wifi, everything so clean it looks like it came off the factory line just this morning. Outside, blanketed in fog under a low grey sky, is the Polish landscape: utterly flat; the only landscape I’ve seen in Europe reminiscent of rural Victoria, with its similarly flat, relatively featureless fields stretching out to the horizon. This is unsurprising given that Poland comes from the word Polanie, meaning ‘people of the fields’… A fantastic piece of territory for farming; not so great for defending against invasions.

I guess I should go back to where I last finished, which, speaking of invasions, was Germany. We had just one more stop to go – Cologne – which I had high hopes for, as a big city with a famously impressive cathedral. Actually it was the most underwhelming destination of the entire cruise. The cathedral is undoubtedly impressive – Gothic on steroids – but the rest is pretty mediocre, like the crappiest parts of Melbourne’s CBD cobbled together. That’s all I gotta say about it really.

At around dawn the next day we got to Amsterdam, world capital of sex and weed. In this way Amsterdam’s very different to your typical European city: it’s gritty, grimy, chaotic, noisy, freakish. Grandiose structures from the glory days of the Dutch Empire are surrounded by American junk food chains, novelty shops selling shishas and sex toys, and of course the infamous ‘coffee houses’ which are far more about cannabis than caffeine. Through the windows you can see ’em packed to the rafters with backpackers, idly sitting around, staring back not so much at you as through you with pink glazed eyes… And as you pass the door you get a strong, sharp whiff of the herb responsible for their vacant expressions.

Both me and Josh were here for the second time, and Josh hated it all over again from the outset. While I can’t say I loved it myself – and Amsterdam’s definitely a culture shock after several days of quaint, quiet little German townships – I was still interested enough to want to walk around and explore. With its endless waves of hobos, freaks and tourists flowing down the city’s main drag and in and out of its ghetto-ish laneways, it’s probably not a place I’d want to live in, but it’s a fascinating urban jungle to get lost for a while– especially in a hemp daze. Unfortunately we didn’t sample any as Josh wasn’t up for it, but I did treat myself to a cannabis ice-cream – basically a vanilla Choc Top infused with ganja – which disappointingly didn’t have much of an effect, if any.

It’s like the 70s never quite died in Amsterdam… Though really, I guess, it’s just a city that famously panders to the weed culture – not just in making cannabis readily available (though contrary to common belief, it’s not actually legal – just tolerated), but in all the associated paraphernalia of that lifestyle, from tie-dyed shirts to iron-on peace signs… Basically everything you’d pack for Rainbow Serpent. And if you’ve ever experienced the munchies after a few joints or cookies, you’d understand why the place is so totally inundated with junk food outlets – from ‘kabab’ (as it’s spelled in Europe) to pizza by the slice, and of course the city’s famous vlaamse frites – thick-cut chips served in a cone with a dollop of delicious yellow mayonnaise.

The next day, Saturday, was a hell of a day. We were up at 6:30am, bags hauled off the ship by 7, then breakfast and farewelling the various people Josh and I had befriended over our two weeks on board. Then it was off to Schiphol Airport by bus, then on to a plane to Frankfurt after a 45-minute delay, then on to another plane to Wroclaw (which I had to run for like a crazy person), then, finally, a drive home to the residential outskirts of the city. It wasn’t even 3 o’clock yet when I stepped through the Machalowskis’ gate and up to the front door, but this was not the time to retreat to a soft private place and crash. It was family reunion time, on for one and all – Uncle Jurek, Aunt Ewa, my cousins Kasia and Milena and their partners Adam and Michael. As luck would have it, Michael was celebrating his 40th in town that night so after some tomato soup, bigos and two shots of wodka, off we went – me still dressed in the stale flanny and jeans I’d been wearing for two days straight now, as my luggage was sitting somewhere back in Frankfurt thanks to a strike at Lufthansa.

There’s not a great deal to write about my two nights in Wroclaw: it was, like I said, one big long family reunion; a whole lot of sitting around and talking and eating and drinking. It was the typical Polish experience – conversations fueled by shots of ice-cold spirits and an endless procession of hearty meals, cakes and coffee. I reunited not only with relatives but met the next generation of my family – suddenly coming to terms with the fact I’m an uncle – as well as people I’d met on my trip 11 years ago… One of these being Jeremy, an old Brit who lives with his Polish wife (Michael’s mum) in Duszniki, a mountain town near Wroclaw, with whom Paul and I had spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve back in 2004-5.

KRAKOW / WARSZAWA – 22 November

“Krakow is one of my favorite places on earth. It is a medieval city full of young people. A wonderful, striking combination.” – Jonathan Carroll

Our two final destinations were Krakow and Warszawa – the former and current capitals of Poland. Where to begin? To be back in Krakow made my heart soar. It’s a beautiful city full of beautiful young women, as one of its many cultural treasures is the 800-year-old Jagellion University which attracts young people from all over Poland and the world. As a happy result, this immaculately preserved medieval city is also full of bars: reportedly the 800m x 800m market square in the centre of the Old Town has the highest density of bars in Europe. Yet it doesn’t seem that way at first glance; you have to explore a bit… Step curiously through an arched entry-way off the street and walk along until you come across an open wooden door, with the sound of conversation and laughter faintly emanating from below… Step through, down the staircase and suddenly you’re in a gorgeous old subterranean space, a centuries-old brick cellar that’s been converted into a funky bar.

Krakow is the site of what is probably Poland’s single most important monument: the Wawel, a collective term for the old royal castle and cathedral, set atop a hill near the heart of the city. Sadly we didn’t get to go inside – tickets had already sold out the day we went, even though we’d got there around midday – but we did walk around and take in everything from the outside, including the barracks that the Austrians built during Poland’s 19th-century partition, and where Hans Frank later stationed himself as Governor of Nazi-occupied Poland… The building adding to Wawel’s significance, in a way, as a reminder of Poland’s troubled history.

In Warszawa you get even more of a taste of this history, at least the tumultuous last 100 years. It’s a markedly different city to Krakow – the moment you step out into the open from the Metro, you’re immediately struck by this: Warszawa is a modern, bustling city. You emerge into a square full of people and noise and see a skyline of shimmering glass skyscrapers rather than Gothic spires or Baroque towers … Then you turn around and there it is, looming over you: the Palace of Culture and Science, a brooding, majestic building constructed, originally, as an expression of Communist power. The building is therefore as controversial as it is iconic of the city – it used to be derisively called the ‘Russian wedding cake’ – and in the 90s, I believe there was even debate about whether it should be torn down. But like the initially maligned Eiffel Tower, most Varsovians these days no longer see the Palace as a blight on the city’s skyline, and have embraced it as an emblematic landmark which adds to Warszawa’s unique historical tapestry. I took this picture on our way to the Palace because it summed up Warszawa for me (and innumerable shots like this can be taken from various parts of the city): the old, the new and the Soviet Realist, all co-existing in a city that’s still rebuilding.

IMG_0131

(That’s a temporary Christmas installation in the foreground, by the way.)

Warszawa was completely destroyed in World War 2 – systematically dynamited and flame-throwered to the ground by German forces in 1944, following the ill-fated Uprising to liberate the city – and when US forces inspected the rubble in 1945, they suggested the Poles move their capital back to Krakow. But this would have meant Hitler won, in a sense: the Nazis demolished the city on his orders so that it could no longer function as a ferocious, unrelenting bull-ant’s nest of Polish nationalism and defiance. And so the laborious task of postwar reconstruction began, under Soviet watch, without any of the monetary aid Germany and other European countries enjoyed from America… Domino-style mass housing; utilitarian office buildings; everything made of beige stone and grey concrete – colourless, devoid of the decoration that once defined this ‘Paris of eastern Europe’. For better or worse, these Communist-era buildings still form the bulk of Warszawa’s infrastructure, interspersed with the odd reminder of the city’s former beauty… And now, increasingly, shiny glass testaments to its status as the capital of one of Europe’s fastest-growing and most promising economies.

So anyway. There’s probably not much point in a day-by-day narrative of what we did – essentially it was sight-seeing, eating, drinking and acting like retards to amuse ourselves. Josh fell in love with pierogi so we ingested plenty of these hearty ravioli-style dumplings, at the expense of our waistline – perfect for the cold temperatures that had kicked in by this time. On our last night we went out with Piotr – a family friend of mine, a few years younger than us and a Warsaw local – which perfectly wrapped up our boozy bachelors’ tour of Europe.

(ALMOST) MELBOURNE – 22 November

That night and indeed our whole stay in Poland made me realise that while I’m Polish and love hearing the Polish language around me, and seeing the red-and-white flag everywhere and being in these places with their incredible history which I’ve read so much about… At the end of the day, I’m a foreigner in Poland. People pick up on my accent straightaway and sometimes even switch over to English, assuming (not incorrectly, I guess) that I’d be more comfortable conversing in that. I may have a name few can spell and even fewer can pronounce; I may have the hair and cheekbones of someone who’s clearly from the north of Europe; and several of my closest friends are Polish, our shared heritage an important catalyst for our friendship. But I’m Aussie before I am Polish; Australian English is my primary language; and the Australian way of life is the one I live – the only one I know, in fact, having lived my whole life in Melbourne bar a half-year in Poland when I was 5. And while I have friends from all backgrounds – Serbian to Swedish, Chinese to Peruvian – they are all, at the end of the day, Aussies too. And so it’s great to be coming back. Just a few minutes ago, Josh interrupted me to point out the Martian red landscape outside the plane window: that surefire sign we’re flying over ‘Straya, the great rust-coloured continent so very, very far from the ornate lamp-posts and cobbled squares of Krakow. And as deeply as I miss those things already, I’m also happy to be coming home.

EPILOGUE – 3 December

So it’s been over a week since we’ve got back, and I wanted to add this before publishing the above coz I feel reflecting back is perhaps what’s most important in a journal.

The final week, in Poland, definitely cranked up the emotion-meter: catching up with relatives, seeing nephews for the first time, seeing my grandma for possibly the last time, and then finishing off the trip with five nights in the two great cities of my ancestral homeland – the cultural treasure chest of Krakow and the hero city with myriad faces, Warszawa. I still recall the feeling of joy I got when I opened up the windows of our flat in Krakow, smelling the crisp icy air and looking out over Dietla (the main drag we were on) with its rows of oak trees, shedding the last of their yellow leaves onto the footpath and tram tracks below. I got the same feeling three days later, when we’d lugged our luggage up the stairs to the top floor of an apartment building on Warszawa’s Old Town Market Square, and looked out: over the square (at that point a construction zone as preparations were underway for the Christmas market) to the red-tiled roofs and fresco-painted facades of the Old Town; and beyond that, a series of lit-up skyscrapers and the ever-present Palace of Culture and Science. It seriously tripped me out to wake up at 5am on Monday and remember I’m now back in little ol’ Elsternwick on the eastern side of sunny, suburban Melbourne, half a planet and an entire reality away.

I feel, therefore I am.

It’s an artist’s take on Descarte’s famous statement, and it vaguely encapsulates what travel does to me. Because undoubtedly there was emotion, in fact as soon as I went for my first walk around Budapest I was almost moved to tears, swept up in the staggering beauty and history all around me. It felt almost surreal, like being sucked into a movie you love but haven’t seen in ages.

This was not a relaxing trip, by any means. It raised questions rather than answered them; put gaps and issues in my life that I’d swept under the carpet back to centre stage. Burned into my mind’s eye is my grandma’s face when she asked me, a mere minute into seeing me for the first time in 11 years… “Mateusz, when are you going to get married? Why haven’t you got a girl? It’s such a shame for you not to have a girl.”

We’ve heard it before, ol’ gran’ma telling you to eat more and hurry up and get married. It’s a cliche we like to chuckle at. But the way she said it to me, face scrunched up with worry and slight disapproval, was like the way you’d ask someone when they’re going to straighten the fuck out and give up heroin. She looked pained by the situation. And the more I reflected on it, the more I realised maybe she’s got a point. Maybe our Australian culture of hooking up and going out and dating endlessly through your teens, 20s and well into your 30s is bullshit. Maybe our Tinder/Snapchat generation is heading for a middle age of hollowness and loneliness, having never committed ourselves to true love when we had the chance – playing the grasshopper when we should’ve started playing the ant, setting the foundations for a supportive family life. This is going down a totally different path – and there’s a reason why I’ve personally missed the marriage bus so far – but it’s the question this trip raised perhaps above all: Why aren’t I married? Why aren’t I taking that more seriously? As I sat beside my grandma – now a fragile shell of her former self, ravaged by old age and Parkinson’s – I realised the clock is always ticking, slowly but relentlessly… That life is passing all of us by, and it’s dangerous to forget this as you go about the same old shit back home day after day, week after week, very slowly progressing towards… Well, what? Not much at all, if you don’t bother to stop, examine your life and consciously set it on course for love, fulfillment and meaning.

The answer doesn’t necessarily in a new place – as tempted as I am to spend 6-12 months back in Krakow and see how that life goes. But absolutely, at least as a start, it demands a deep, fresh, charged, big-picture outlook… And that, I believe, is the real purpose of travel: to reset your mind and soul and put you back in tune with yourself and your destiny. In which case, I can happily say that this trip was a great success 🙂

Advertisements

What 2014 taught me (Part 1)

With the new year just a couple of days away, I thought I’d look back on 2014 and try to capture, tangibly in written words, some of the things it taught me. There are two things that made this year unique for me: it was the first time I’d been in a serious relationship, which ‘became official’ in March and fell apart at the end of November, and it was a year of travels – some for business, some for pleasure, all enjoyable and eye-opening in some way. It’s this latter aspect I want to focus on, so I’m going to break up this blog entry into a series of mini-chapters – one for each trip – and hopefully draw some kind of lesson or insight from each.

February   |   Century mine, Queensland, Australia

The travel motif started not long after the year did. When I returned to the office in January, the main thing I had to get working on was a research piece examining how MMG’s intranet could be improved – i.e. made more practical and user-friendly – for our blue-collar employees. (In case anyone reading this doesn’t know me, MMG’s a mining company whose head office I work at.) It was soon decided that this project called for a visit to one of our operations, and that I was to accompany the two consultants we’d engaged to help facilitate the consultation, build relationships within the company and get a taste of Life on Site.

We decided straightaway on Century, one of MMG’s three Australian mines and the biggest open-pit zinc mine in the country. It’s located in a very remote part of Queensland somewhere near Mount Isa, which is somewhere in the Gulf of Carpentaria which is that top bit of Australia that juts out trying to touch Papua New Guinea across the sea. To get there I had to fly up to Townsville from Melbourne, spend the night there then catch a charter flight with about 50 miners at some ungodly hour the next morning, the radio in the taxi already preparing me for what was to come…

“God made the sugar cane grow where it’s hot,
And teetotal abstainers to grow where it’s not.
Let the sin bosun warn of perdition to come;
We’ll drink it and chance it, so bring on the rum…”

I made the rookie mistake of getting all jacked up on coffee at Townsville airport, unlike the miners who lumbered onto the plane, exchanging g’days after a few weeks of R&R apart, then as soon as the thing took off, slumped their heads back on the seat or against the window and promptly dozed off for the next 1.5 hours. I didn’t regret it though. While these blokes had obviously seen it all before, it was my first time ever seeing the Great Australian Landscape from a charter-flight altitude, which is substantially lower than a commercial aircraft and gives you an amazing view of what’s passing by below unfettered by clouds or excessive distance – an abstract painting of red and brown hues with patches of dark green, veined blue with little rivers and creeks… At points, breath-taking sights like this shimmering opal-like lake:

1658156_10151993314502058_716872403_o

As I watched this topographic artwork roll past below me I felt genuinely moved; the primeval grumble of didgeridoo began playing through my head, overlaid with the lilting flute melodies of those early Anglo-Irish settlers who explored and set up industry in this wide brown land… Industry which I was about to witness on a truly colossal, mechanized 21st-century scale.

An open-cut mine the size of Century’s is an impressive sight to behold, a man-made Grand Canyon so vast you can’t actually see the whole thing from any one vantage point. Beyond this Titanic crevice on the earth’s crust, from the top of the pit where the yellow trucks below look like Micro Machines, you see the same Martian terrain stretching out as far as the eye can see – flat, red-brown, barren… Epic.

1658156_10151993314512058_2077855535_o

It’s not the most interesting or original revelation, but I guess this little trip reminded me how damn big the world is. I hadn’t even left Australia, yet in less than 24 hours I’d travelled roughly 3000 kilometres into a completely different climate and environment – from temperate Melbourne to tropical Townsville then north-west into Queensland’s semi-arid gateway to the Outback. But I’m not so much talking physical scales and distances as the fact that even around this colossal hole in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of people toil like an army of bull ants every single day – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for weeks on end before catching that charter plane out again… Driving trucks, taking tea breaks in ‘cribs’, necking beers post-shift before showering and settling down in little jail cell-like rooms called ‘dongas’, perhaps calling their partner and kids on Skype before passing out on a creaky bed that was someone else’s just a week or day before…

“The world turns, but we don’t feel it move.”

This quote from Gangs of New York kind of sums up the sentiment. As individuals we tend to get locked inside of our own little reality, our awareness confined to the immediate place and present. But the world is incomprehensibly bigger than that, and that’s something worth remembering. Every single second there are billions of people on this planet doing something: chopping up vegetables for soup or sipping wine on a plane; weeping at funerals or celebrating as a newborn baby’s brought home from the maternity ward; fulfilling lifelong dreams or beginning an endeavour or adventure or relationship that will change their lives, even if they’re not aware of it yet…

This is a good thing. Whatever you’re feeling or going through, be mindful that you’re not alone in it, nor is it the end of the world. Life goes on. Important and valued though we are in our own little spheres, we’re just a tiny part of an incredible production that spans many continents, cultures and centuries. “No man is an island,” as John Donne wrote, so take heart: If life’s a roller-coaster, there are many others on the ride along with you, experiencing the same ups and downs, thrills and spills.

I left Century mine after three days. I’d ridden around in a truck the size of a house, in a hole the size of a meteorite crater; pigged out nightly on choc mousse and jelly at the all-you-can-eat dessert buffet (see my first-ever food pic below); and joked freely, discussed seriously and drank heavily with people whose lives are very different to mine and with whom I’ll probably never cross paths again, but I’m glad I did. Because realising the world is a busy and enormous place that goes on regardless of you, peppered all over with individuals from all walks of life, each carrying their own reality and story inside of them… This is a humbling, even calming realisation that helps put things in perspective. Indeed: Even as I’m writing this, somewhere out there right now, hundreds of people in orange vests are digging up ore from the ground and transporting it and putting it through a processor, and that big beautiful world I saw from the plane keeps turning slowly but surely without end…

And yes, the mousse. Ohh the mousse.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

Henry W. Beecher

1966684_10151981354692058_939996662_n

April   |   Kinsevere mine, Katanga province, Democratic Republic of Congo

The second trip brought this home too. It sent me to a part of the world that, as remote as Century is, made it seem like your local corner milk bar by comparison. This was the Congo – a place where you see more machine guns than computers, in a continent known to us mainly through grim stories on the evening news… This year of course it was Ebola, its resurgence wiping out almost 8000 Africans since March.

The outbreak hit the mainstream media around the same time Peter and I (Peter being the consultant I was dispatched with) landed in South Africa at the start of April. The first I heard of it was when we were sitting in the lounge at Johannesburg airport, trying in vain to connect to the wifi, when an alarming story on the TV above us caught my attention: Ebola was spreading like wildfire through west Africa. I knew three basic things about Ebola: it was highly contagious, it killed quickly, and it originated in exactly the place where me and Peter were heading: the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I didn’t end up catching Ebola, although I did develop something nasty during my final week which turned my three-week absence from the office into a four-week one. (Peter himself ended up being hospitalized, with what doctors said was “either pneumonia or malaria” – probably the latter, and probably what I had as well.)

As I wrote in previous blog entries, the Congo wasn’t necessarily what the imagination conjures up. There’s little jungle or gorillas, at least in the south-east where I was – in fact there were very few trees at all, since poor people everywhere have cut them down to get charcoal for either fuel or money. You see these same people trudging down the long dirt road between Kinsevere and Lubumbashi, the regional capital, where they head daily – huge sacks on head or on an old bike bent under the strain, alongside which they walk for up to 20 kilometres a day… A scene that correlates a lot more closely with the Africa we see on TV.

Like I said, this trip definitely impressed upon me how vast and contrasting the world is too. There’s nothing like chilling in the business lounge at Perth airport, sipping scotch & Cokes next to some polo shirt-clad dude, deeply tanned from his ’business meetings’ at the golf course with Sharon Stone-esque wife in tow… then roughly 24 hours later, finding yourself in a mini-van bouncing along a sometimes-paved road past shantytowns full of half-naked black kids sitting on barrels staring in to what you realise is an equally exotic sight for them: a pale white Westerner with hay-blonde hair and denim jeans.

DSC_0531 v2

It made me realise how lucky I am as one of those Westerners – lucky, above all, to have opportunity in my life. Of course there’s food and water and shelter to be grateful for too, no doubt, but even in these shanty-towns people have that – which, not to belittle their situation, I’m happy to say, ’cause it would’ve been heart-breaking to pass malnourished or hopelessly crippled people, especially on the way to a place where food and medical attention are available 24/7.

What’s awful though is that even though these people have things to eat and drink, and some rudimentary roof over their heads – even self-styled shanty medical clinics – what they definitely don’t have is opportunity. They’re doomed to eat more or less the same shit and carry sacks twice their own body weight up and down that endless road, half of it made of dust or mud depending on the weather, forever, like Sisyphus and his rock. Without education, without welfare, without a relative who can loan them some money or do some hustling to get them a job, these shanty-town inhabitants have virtually zero chance of improving their lot in life or getting some lucky break.

It’s unpleasant to even think about but in another life, that could be me or you staring into the windows of that white mini-van as it whizzes past a few times a day, carrying people with their well-paid jobs afforded by their education afforded by their parents afforded by their citizenship in a country where these things are ‘rights’, not hopes and dreams. I distinctly remember sitting in the taxi on the way home from Melbourne Airport, after three weeks of tough meat and lukewarm veg, and being excited – literally excited – about the prospect of eating a ramen: hot and buttery with a Japanese-style boiled egg. Having the opportunity to do, back in this city with all manner of cuisines ready to be served up in front of you, delicious and affordable and fresh, felt like winning Tattslotto… And indeed, all of us who live here have.

“I have a very good life – I’m lucky enough not to be deprived.” – Meryl Streep

DSC_0529v2

DSC_0522v2

May   |   Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Like Century, Sydney was just a three-day thing, a short trip to attend an intranet conference at a big posh hotel in the CBD (the Amora, if anyone cares). It’s hard to articulate or even understand in concrete terms what the ‘meaning’ of this trip was, but I felt it very intensely – walking along King St Wharf the first two nights, eventually settling on one of the harbourside restaurants for dinner, ordering a table-for-one and a beer, and soaking up the ambience of this dazzling world-class city so close yet so different to Melbourne… Then wandering aimlessly some more, before returning at around 10pm to my little room at the Ibis hotel, with its window overlooking a highway and a bunch of high-rises.

There was a sort of intense, uplifting loneliness to this stay in Sydney, and looking back on it, it seems distinctly longer than three days – as if three days doesn’t seem long enough to generate that sort of intensity. I felt it too at Kinsevere, of course – in that miniscule dot of light in a vast, pitch-black ocean of grassland-wilderness at the bottom of the Congo. But I was there with a consultant who practically became a buddy of mine, along with dozens of expats whose faces and names I got to know either through the training room where I spent most of my day or, more commonly, at the bar afterwards where most of us wound down for the night. Even a total stranger doesn’t feel like a total stranger when he’s wearing the same bright-orange shirt with the same familiar red logo as you, not to mention his full name.

In Sydney though, once the conference concluded at 4 or 5pm each day, the hours afterwards were all mine and mine alone… And so I’d go wandering, along George St and King St and Pitt St, through glitzy shopping centres and past waterfront casinos the size of ancient wonders and bars busting at the seams with people, the smokers and drunks noisily congregated outside… And towering over all this, when you step back far enough from the music and traffic and humanity and look up, you see looming over you like a mountain range clusters of skyscrapers adorned with hundreds of tiny lit windows and crowned with neon signs, spectacular and silent in their glory… And high above even them, hundreds more tiny lights that form the equally spectacular and silent night sky.

”You are alive. And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder… And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite.”

– Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Vivid city 3

2649003456_f4315dd4b7_b

Dining at the waterfront and exploring the city by myself after my day at the Amora was done felt like a Hemingway short story at times: the meaning is far from obvious; it’s much more about the atmosphere and that strange, deep, bittersweet feeling you’re left with…

I remember messaging my girlfriend at the time, ‘Wish you were here’ and all that stuff… and I did, very much. I had my own hotel room in this gorgeous part of town, dinners and taxis paid for… And as I strolled for hours along that King St boulevard past all the parked boats and fancy restaurants with people wining and dining, conversing and laughing, I wished she could be there with me, so that together we could be like so many of the other young people I passed – hand in hand or arm over shoulder, perhaps sitting on the wooden decking by the water, taking in the magical ambience during pauses between make-out sessions.

Again, it’s a hard thing to describe, and kind of a paradox – because although I was yearning for romantic company, I loved that being so alone – this tiny atom of consciousness in this awe-inspiring metropolis with all of its grit and glamour – gave me such power of introspection, allowed me to dive right into my core and nurture and embrace this yearning, and use it to imagine what could be and in doing so, perhaps manifest it and relish it all the more if and when it does… If that makes any sense.

For many of those young (and not-so-young) people I passed, it was probably just another night, the same way I march down Southbank boulevard at half past 5 every weekday to catch the train from Flinders St station. But for me, on those three nights, it was like a conversation took place deep inside me between me and the world, and everything seemed intense and full of beauty like a van Gogh painting, there was soul in everything, and the entire evening glowed with a vibrant magic that I learned will make itself quietly apparent to you if you just tune into the right frequency.

“That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”

–    Ricky Fitts, American Beauty