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End of Winter

It’s been a very long time between posts – life and work have taken over my blog writing!

But there’s some interesting stuff coming up soon and I’ll be back into it… until then I’ve done a bit of guest blogging – it’s pretty hard core filmy stuff – and it contains Inception spoilers so if you haven’t already seen it – don’t click through.

But if you have and you want to talk about it…  then read my friend Allen’s blog!  It’s a good one for writing geeks.

and until I get back to it – a picture of Bondi from my first week back on Australian soil… the tail end of summer…

Now that I’m finally at the tail end of winter (my third in a row – which is just cruel) I can start looking forward to the days getting longer and my boot collection finally being retired to the back of the cupboard again – which makes me very, very happy.

Roll on sunshine!

Ink

To even the casual reader of this blog it should be clear that my current obsession is all about personal transformation.

How do we change our lives and make them more interesting without losing the integrity of all we’ve built before?

Living in another city it’s easy to feel as though you’ve transformed your life.  Even the mundane activities feel real and exciting.  A trip to the supermarket can be filled with adventure and newness.  Riding a bike around a city filled with different languages and imagining that you half speak some of them and are half happy that you can’t understand anything leads naturally to a sense of being out of context.  And from that feeling it’s a really easy leap to believe that you are in fact changing, growing, becoming someone new and better.

And then you come home.

I remember the first time I lived away from Australia I was 22.  By a fabulous twist of fate I ended up working on a film at the Bavaria Film Studios in Munich.  I had an apartment to myself, 500 Deutschmarks each week (a fortune back then), and a push bike and I spent one of the happiest and loneliest summers of my life on the banks of the river Isar.

I learnt a new language, finally made some new friends (who are still dear to me today) and, I think, changed my life completely.  In many ways it was the loneliness that changed me the most.  These were the days before the internet, before mobile phones, before Facebook…  All I had were letters and cassette tapes that friends and family would make and send through the mail.  If I was lucky I’d get one of these a week.  Phone calls were a rare treat.

For the first time in my life I spent a great deal of time on my own and I learnt to love it.  I discovered the joys of visiting a gallery on a rainy Saturday afternoon, of riding my bike through the small forests along the banks of the Isar and into town and of discovering how much I appreciated the time I could spend with like-minded friends – both old and new.

When I got back after almost a year away I pictured myself with a bright shining light following me everywhere that everyone would see and remark upon – “Wow is that Liz Doran, I hardly recognised her she looks so different” – but of course that didn’t happen.  There was scant interest in my life on the other side of the planet and no one seemed to notice that I was in any way other than the same Perth girl who’d left town a few months previous.

I’ve had many adventures and life changing experiences since then and so I don’t really expect anyone to share my sense of personal change anymore but I did somehow feel the need to mark my change this time.

For some reason I needed to have something physical to show that I felt as though something serious had shifted in me.  Like everything in the past year, I just went with this feeling – I didn’t question it and I tried really hard to just stay with it and follow it wherever it wanted me to go – which was pretty confronting because this time I wanted to get a tattoo.

For whatever reason I’ve always wanted one.  There’s something about the permanence and the way that you transform your skin with something as simple as a little bit of ink that has always fascinated me.  I’m one of those people who will stop people at parties and make them talk about their tattoos.  For years I have collected names and I’ve even gone so far as calling up some of those names and enquiring about getting some ink for myself.

But I’ve never taken it further than that.  I’ve never actually stepped foot inside a tattoo parlour and they’ve remained a dark and mysterious place.

Until two weeks ago.

I found the artist I wanted and talked to the shop.  She normally has an 8 month waiting list (encouraging) but if you come in at 11am on a Sunday morning there’s a chance you can get an appointment and get it done that day.  As I explained what I wanted to the very friendly woman on the other end of the pohone she assured me that a Sunday walk-in was all I needed.

So there we were, my lovely friend Amanda and I on a Sunday morning, queuing up with a surprising number of other prospective tatt customers outside a shop on Crown St.  Once the doors were open we all put our names on a list and waited to speak to our artist.  As soon as I spoke to Megan I knew I was in safe hands.  She was calm and assured with a kind of secretary look (if you ignored the fact that she was literally covered in tattoos – which of course I couldn’t).

My appointment was for three that afternoon and I was required to come back alone – no friends allowed in the studio (but Amanda did come and pick me up afterwards bless her).

I actually feel reluctant to reveal the details of what happened up in Megan’s studio, there’s something about the mystery of getting tattooed that should remain intact for those who have actually committed to this strange activity.  What I will say is that yes, it really did hurt and no, at no stage did I have any regrets.

I’m posting a picture – this was taken the day after I had it done so my ink is much darker than it is now, it’s settled in exactly as Megan said it would to a series of shades of grey and her work is detailed and (I think) quite beautiful.  I’ve also been told it looks much bigger than it actually is in this photo – for the record it’s 10 centimeters long.

But what does it mean?  Why this image?  Why this spot on my body?  Why not somewhere more private?

Well I’m now one of those people who you meet at a party and if you have a fascination for why people go through the pain it takes to have an indelible image inked onto their skin – then I will tell you all about it.

For now, it simply does exactly what I wanted, it marks a time of change.

And celebrates the actuality of transformation.

(I hope!)

Finding Space

People ask me how I know what to write in this blog and I’ve been thinking about it.  Because even though this is about me, it’s kind of not – it’s an abstract version of the things I’m thinking about.  The way that posts get to the page is that an idea bubbles up and hangs around at the back of my brain for a few days and then one day it’s there – right at the front, begging to be written about.  And so I do.

I like the process, it’s a creative act that doesn’t need to have any commercial result.  There’s a loose thematic link to everything in here, but there doesn’t have to be.  I like the simplicity of it, the creative space it creates in my day.

And then some mornings something lands in your inbox and you think – ah – that’s great, why don’t I just share that.

So here it is – something pretty cool that landed in my inbox this morning.

Penelope Trunk – Finding Space

Fertile Ground

I bought a house once with a tiny backyard made entirely out of concrete and ugly colourbond fencing – like a prison yard.

and I spent the next year and a half planting and and painting and digging and watering until it was green and bright and calm.

I love to garden, it’s peaceful and simple – it’s something I share with most of my family and a few dear friends and, with equal parts of sadness and a sense of freedom, for the last year I have lived completely without one.

My dad lives in Perth, Western Australia – home to one of the most consistently hottest driest summers in the whole country, but found it really difficult to give up his English country garden.  His rose garden is amazing – but requires a LOT of water.  I love Australian natives and I love the idea of a sustainable garden that doesn’t need watering and we have had many discussions over the years about how his garden is quite simply in the wrong country.

This year he decided not to water over the summer, see what would survive and rethink his garden along more sustainable lines (although I’m not sure we’ll ever convince him of the subtle beauty of many Australian plants).  A couple of weeks ago there was a massive storm in Perth, rain, hail the whole disaster – quite unseasonal and perhaps a sign of the kind of climate change that should make all Australian gardeners rethink their plots.

This is an extract from an email that he sent me last week:

“I have ignored the garden for most of the summer, giving it minimum amouts of water, knowing that this is going to be the way things are going. I decided that any plants that couln’t survive the regime would just have to die. After the big storm I have found that many plants which I thought just about dead, including quite a number of roses have suddenly sprung to life. Bulbs have sprung out of the ground and the whole place is looking a hundred %. My interest is renewed, so another growing season beckons. Maybe I shouldn’t mention gardens to you as I’m sure that you are very disappointed and disiilusioned about losing your garden, but I tell you this story because one of these days when you get your next garden your enthusiasm will be be regenerated just like my roses. In the meantime it will be no harm letting it lie dormant for a while.”

I found this little passage about the garden surprisingly moving and completely pertinent to my current situation.

It’s been a month since I arrived back in Sydney and I’ve spent most of that month getting my life organised again and trying to recover from the culture shock.  It’s incredible how even six months somewhere else can make your home country feel foreign and strange and there have been days where all I wanted was to walk out of my door and ride down the canal to visit friends or go to the movies or just watch the passing parade and it’s been incredibly sad that I haven’t been able to do that.

Like almost everyone I’ve spoken to who’s had a similar experience I’m finding it difficult to be back.

The thing that people complain about mostly when they talk about returning to Australia is the lack of culture, the dryness of the intellectual life, the desert of ideas and the impossibility of the tyranny of distance that makes it so much harder to travel around and exchange ideas.  The dead brown garden of Australia needing the water of Europe to bring it to life…

But surely that’s just nonsense.  This is fertile land – it just needs something dramatic to wake it up – a massive unseasonal storm or a bushfire.

And these are things we can create ourselves.  An intellectual life is only dead if you let it die, the land is only barren if you see it through European eyes, the beauty is subtle but tough and ancient.  Just like a garden there are times when everything looks so brown and dead you think you’ll never see anything green again – and then the storm comes or the fire sweeps through and the shoots start to burst from the ground, the bright chartreuse buds appear amongst the blackness of a burnt out tree and suddenly something especially Australian starts to happen.

We just have to wait for the storm.

Or maybe we need to create it ourselves.

Edible Sunshine

So

I must apologise for the tardiness of my blog lately, I’ve been preparing to come back to Sydney, finding long lost relatives in a beautiful little pocket of Italy and experiencing severe culture shock at the sight of the sunshine, beach, bare brown legs and thongs as everyday footwear.

So until my soul arrives in Bondi (I think it’s still puffing its way somewhere over the Middle East) I’m just re-posting my gorgeous friend Pia’s blog about some sweet marmalade made by my Cousin Hilda in Lecce, Italy, Edible Sunshine.

There’s so much to say about food and how it connects us to a sense of place.  This marmalade and the home-made olive oil and the local mozzarella and the sunshine and sea air and sandstone soil that contribute to the produce of this ancient and starkly beautiful part of Italy totally enriched my sense of joy and happiness whilst I was there.

Since coming back to Sydney one of the biggest pleasures has been tasting this country again.  A swim at 7am followed by perfect coffee and eggs (eaten with sandy feet and an old bikini slowly seeping a damp imprint into my t-shirt), a glass of white white overlooking the ocean with prawn, mango and mint salad, artisan bread with Hilda’s marmalade – Apulia and NSW working together…  The flavours of a late Australian summer bright and strong like the bright blue sky and green ocean.

So there’s much to say but until my battered and confused soul flutters its way through the bedroom window and worms its way back through my ear and into my body (that’s how souls roll isn’t it?), some pictures of Italy and a redirection to one of my favourite blogs.

and finally… some local sunshine food.  Pasticioto, filled with a plain custard, pastry buttery, sweet and crumbly.  Delicious!

Amsterdam 1947, Chinese in the Binnen Bantammerstraat, Hairdressing salon ‘Oost en West’ (East and West), Chan Ching Hing family. Photo: Sem Presser/MAI

I’m superstitious.

I own not just one, but seven tarot decks and yes I know how to read them.  This trip is the first time in my life that I have travelled without my favourite tarot pack in my luggage.  Then at Christmas my lovely sister and niece came back from a day out in Amsterdam with a Tarot of the Dwarves for my collection!  Not my most mysterious deck, but we gave them a go anyway.

I left my cards at home this time because I wanted to just live my life without any predictions for a while.  I just wanted to “be”,  just let myself slip into the rip and be swept wherever it took me.  I know I’m a strong swimmer, I wasn’t afraid and it seemed like anywhere would be better than the place all my hard paddling and conscientious Australian Crawl had landed me – and I was right.  So much of life is pre-determined.  We have jobs, mortgages, responsibilities.  It’s so rare to be in a position where you can put those aside, even for a short time – but if you haven’t already got this message – I thoroughly recommend it.

Last night I was at a crowded, smokey party and got talking to two lovely Americans who have lived in Amsterdam now for 22 years.  They were from that breed of inspiring American – you know the sort – smart, interested, engaged, creative – the kind that give you hope.  Anyway we started talking about how I was living in a street called Binnen Bantamerstraat.

When I was searching for a place to live in Amsterdam I had lots of trouble finding somewhere.  I’d try for a flat and find out it had gone the day before.  Or I’d find somewhere then look at the map and discover it was practically in Utrecht (and let’s not even go down the Chinese Craig’s List Scam of 2009).  Anyway, I came to the realisation that if I just spent a bit more money, life might be easier – and viola – to no small surprise, this turned out to be true.  After months of frustration I found an agency who found me a flat within a day, I said yes, started a friendly email chat with the real estate agent that has continued to this day and moved into Amsterdam’s tiny but still quite wonderful Chinatown district.

Now another small deviation from my topic – trust me it all relates – the script I’ve been writing here is called Chinese Whispers.  It’s an intricate and complicated murder mystery with a very sexy love/betrayal/coming of age story and it’s set in Sydney in 1925.  A very important subplot revolves around the opium and cocaine trade of 1920’s Sydney (significant, profitable and bitterly and violently fought over).  I’ve lived in this very exotic, violent and exciting imaginary world the whole time I’ve been in Amsterdam.

Then, there I was at what will undoubtedly be one of my last parties here and these great people started telling me about how the very street I’d been living on for the last six months was, up until 30 or so years ago, the epicenter of the Dutch/Chinese opium trade and that in my very short street there where several notorious opium dens, Mahjong gambling dens, boarding houses filled with Chinese, a flourishing Chinese community and of course – several famous Chinese restaurants.  The photos in this post are of my street in 1947 and a second one of Josephine Baker outside a restaurant in 1932.

Check it out – Josephine Baker – on my street!

To say I was excited is well – just not knowing me.  I feel like the cat that got the cream.

Because I’m superstitious.

To me this was an omen – a “sign” that I am living my life exactly right.  I ended up on this street because I was meant to come to Amsterdam last year.  I was meant to pull this script out of the bottom drawer where it had languished for years – I was meant to take myself away from my normal life in Sydney because the fact that I just ended up on exactly the right street for my project, the fact that the external spaces that have so determined my time here are imbued with the psychic memory (oh yes I did indeed just say psychic memory – 7 tarot decks remember…) of the very people and activities I’ve been trying to conjure up inside my head – it’s a sign.  And these kind of signs have always been, for me, the best way to determine if I’m on the right track.

It’s always been that way, if I’m doing something that isn’t right, no matter how much I want it to be, things won’t gel.  I won’t get the work I want, the work I do myself won’t have the kind of flukey revelations that just seem to lift off the page without any effort, I won’t get that lucky park, that perfect break, the good and coincidental connection…

But that said, I’m not completely stupid.  I don’t throw runes, check tea leaves, avoid pavement cracks, consult my horoscope before I leave the house – I also know that our lives are determined just as much by the things we say no – or yes – to as by the tides of fate.  And so also this week I said no to a bunch of work offers back in Sydney and every time that small word came out of my mouth I felt just a little bit lighter.

Because it’s Chinese New Year tomorrow – the Year of the Tiger.  And my script has always ended with a scene during the Chinese New Year festivities – The Year of the Tiger, 1926.  And if you are the kind of person who looks for signs, then that’s one that you might consider.

Or if you’re just a person looking to hold onto the feeling of freedom that came from travelling without the safety net of a favourite deck of tarot cards in your luggage, who let herself get pulled out by the rip and, once you were out beyond the break, started liking the feeling of being lifted up by the swell of a wave without the fear of it crashing onto you, then maybe you don’t need signs to know that saying no to a whole load of things that don’t make your heart sing just leaves the space in your life that you need to let the right ones in.

Gong Hey Fat Choy!

3am Walk

There aren’t many cities where a single woman can walk home at 3 in the morning and feel perfectly safe.

But Amsterdam is one of those places.  I’m sure there are places in this town where that wouldn’t be true but for the most part I put my iPod in (something I wouldn’t do in Sydney) and just wander home.  I’ve never in any way felt scared or even cautious here, which is such a nice way to live.

I even stopped the other night to take pictures because it was just so lovely and misty.  It’d just snowed but already the big thaw is in and the streets have stopped being frozen and slippery (which is a relief).  I’d just been to a party, one of the last we’ll have together as a group – well okay so there’s a few weeks and a film festival between now and the end of the Binger Lab so there will be many, many parties before we all go our separate ways, but still there’s a sense of “the end” hanging over us.

I was standing at this party on Saturday night looking out the window in one of those precious quiet party moments just thinking about all the parties I’d been to and all the windows around the world I’d looked out of at a certain quiet moment and thought – I’m so glad to be here.  I was so glad to be able to turn around and see a room filled with bright, funny people – friends.

There’s nothing quite like old friends, people who have known and loved you through everything – bad haircuts, unsuitable boyfriends, family tragedy, absolute happiness, silliness, crazy dancing, good jobs, bad jobs, birthdays, tears, swims, meals, marriages, babies, holidays…  But making new friends is how we exercise our “friend” muscle.  New friends allow you to reinvent yourself in a way that old friends don’t.  The comfort of never having to explain the backstory to an old friend is replaced by the opportunity to re-examine your life and re-tell the story to yourself as you tell it to them.  What is shared history to an old friend is virgin ground for a new one.

I’m not advocating lying to make yourself seem more glamourous or interesting (let’s face it – we’d all fail that test pretty quickly) but rather it’s taking the opportunity to hear your own stories/life through fresh eyes and ears.  And when you find yourself telling a story the same way you’ve told it for years and hear that little voice inside your head say “really, is that what you still think?”, there’s this very thrilling moment where you realise that not only can you change your story – you can be this new person with your new friend!

Of course, the best kind of old friends are the ones with whom you can change – and watch and support them changing at the same time.

But sometimes, in a quiet moment at a party in a strange city, or walking home early in the morning on a crisp Dutch night – there’s an opportunity to savour the moment.  To feel absolutely present.  Unafraid.  Happy.  Changed.