There is NO WAY I could have navigated some big cities with such ease and confidence if not for this life-changing invention. I mean, it’s brilliant. You just key in your destination and then follow the little blue dot until it reaches the little red bubble– trains, metros, overgrounds, buses, trams… when it’s hooked up to a comprehensive, working city transport system, this thing is genius! I’m pretty sure the area of my brain that reads maps has shrunk and atrophied since I
sold my soul to Apple first bought an iPhone.
I would have called this post “Toulouse, My Way”, except that I do have a sensitive corny radar. :) I have been living in Toulouse for a few months now, and am about to leave it for an English speaking reprieve and to the welcoming arms of my best friend in Europe and my darling cousins and goddaughter.
This is the prettiest city I have ever lived in, and I’ve lived in a few in my not-very-long life. I can never “get used” to this place– each time I set out, I feel as though I see new things in these old, cobblestone streets. I look up and it’s all pastel wooden-slatted shutters and Juliet balconies skirting the windows, all painted curly wrought-iron; every giant heavy wooden double-door on the street on which I live opens into a courtyard, some glorious and big and primly-trimmed, some small, walls of disparate buildings cobbled untidily together, but warm, friendly, some that look like tiny micro-cities of building facades and stairways, carved stone bannisters… Narrow streets of terracotta and orange and warm colours, brick and old, old wooden beams.
And the people? Warm, friendly, kind… earthy, grounded. The guy at the ice cream shop knows my favourite flavour; the lady at the patisserie around the corner knows my name (and my favourite pastry in the whole world), the owner of the tea shop (with the wifi) in which I do my work some days remarks on how my French has improved, and speaks to me only in French. In the other tea shop around the corner (how can one not love a city that loves its tea?), I met one of my best friends in Toulouse. Once, when I was on the airport shuttle coming home, and struggled with my wheelie bag, a lady immediately came to my aid. When I thanked her profusely, she replied, in French, a little confused, “but… of course.” As someone who treasures kindness deeply, and who has lived mainly in large cities, I have been touched by how unassuming the Toulousains are.
I chose this city completely at random. It was by a process of elimination, and I knew nothing about this place except that it was called “the pink city”, because of the stone that the old buildings are made of. When the setting sun strikes the walls in some quartiers/suburbs, they bathe their surrounds in a warm pinkness. I love it.
This place brought me back to life. And I mean, from the dead. Shatter your own heart and life and you never fear death again, but the process to come back from that in-between zombie world of numbness, depression and paralysis can be formidable. And I don’t mean in the French meaning of the word. Toulouse was a catalyst, a balm, a risk, a hope, a break from life…. and the unlikeliest place on earth that I finally pursued my childhood dream of being French-speaking (ok, sort of. I suppose I officially have “working knowledge” now). But, most of all, Toulouse reminded me that there is goodness in people that will shine through when you choose to see it.
Toulouse, mon amour, je vais revenir. :)
Ahh, standup comedy. When everything is grey, bleak and dreary, it is like emotional comfort-food for the soul, the way one eats pasta or soup noodles or buttery mash potato on a cold winter day. A reprieve from real-life by laughing at real-life; a way to beat the demons down with belly-aching, rip-roaring, face-cramping laughter. I absolutely love to laugh. I’ve attended at least nine Melbourne International Comedy Festivals throughout my life, since I was 16, diligently booking tickets ahead of time; and, pretty much anywhere I am in the world, if a famous or up-and-coming or favourite or recommended comedian is doing a show in town, I’m there, even if I have to buy the cheapest tickets at the time. This is one of my favourite comedians, Danny Bhoy, at the Melbourne Athenaeum (I love it when comedians localise humour!):
I also really enjoyed Maz Jobrani, Russell Peters, Kitty Flanagan, Paul McDermott and his crew, Steve McIntyre…
I’m so grateful for standup comedy, and to standup comedians for being willing to expose their insecurities, vulnerabilities, griefs, sorrows and daily mundane grind to turn them into laughter and perspective, throwing them in such beautiful comic relief.
I’m pretty sure I’ve already done an entry on random acts of kindness, but I really had to share this. I burst into tears at one point (you’ll see!), I was so moved.
I know I’ve let this blog lag a little, but it’s not because I haven’t been actively being grateful for all the little and big things in my life, because I really have been. It’s just that some days I’m grateful for things I’ve already written about.
When you are as naturally nomadic as I am, random acts of kindness mean so much more because very often, they’ll be carried out by strangers, or by people I’d barely met, by people who haven’t been a part of my journey for very long; and because in new places, life often starts out as a whole series of random acts of kindness. All of that makes these kindnesses so much more precious. Each time, they reinforce my deep, practically delusional, optimistic instinct to believe in the best in people, not just because it gives people the chance to show you their best selves, but also because it makes my own world a much more hopeful one, filled with possibility, connection, love and new beginnings.
1. Live in different countries. There’s nothing like building your identity through embracing and rebelling against elements in a few different cultures, including your own– but the only way to see your own culture and conditioning clearly is to get out of it.
2. Make huge mistakes. Fix them. Decide not to fix them. Realise that there are some you can’t fix. Learn to move on from them. Allow yourself to make mistakes.
3. Have huge fights with your friends. Make up. Decide not to make up. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn to forgive other people. Learn to let go. Understand that you can outgrow people and places, or they can outgrow you.
4. Be disliked, slandered, hated, gossiped about, and stabbed in the back. After a while, you realise that you are still standing, or that you got back up again, or that in the end, you must just be you, follow your own convictions, and stand on your own side. Yes, you must consider other people’s opinions, but yours must count the most to you– even against your family’s, friends’, partner’s and parents’. Nobody else knows what is best for you. There is no endeavour in the world worth pursuing that will not have its critics and backseat drivers.
5. Take risks you are uncomfortable with. That’s how you learn that not all risks are suitable for you. Learn which risks, which kinds of risks, and what level of risk is best for YOU.
6. Violate your values once in a while. There’s nothing like having the rug pulled out from under you and having to consciously DECIDE on which values you want to live by, not simply accepting what you’ve been conditioned, trained and brainwashed to believe.
7. Be a part of seeing your organisation through at least one professional crisis or three– a health crisis, an environmental crisis, a plane crash, a failed, public negotiations round, a bank crisis, an Enron. That’s the fastest way to understanding your professional worth.
8. Have at least one deeply personal crisis. That’s the fastest way to understanding just how strong and flexible you are.
9. Have ideals in love and romance. Watch Disney, read Mills and Boon, immerse in the old classics. That way, you have three things: something to aspire to, something to dream about, and something to tear down one at a time and replace with standards. When ideals collapse, in their place stand boundaries and standards, particularly for those of us who do not emulate our own parents’ unions.
10. Confront your fears head on– the fears that hold you back from doing what you want to do in the world. Afraid of public speaking? Do a course in journalism, volunteer to host stage shows, take acting and drama classes. Afraid of heights? Bungee jump, freefall out of a plane, stand on a glass floor hundreds of feet in the air, abseil 100m into a lush tropical cave. Claustrophobic? Go on caving trips and expeditions. (yup, done ALL that.)
11. Be ugly. Be jealous, be bitter, be angry, be frustrated, be weird, be stupid, be “blonde”, be all the dark and erupting emotions that society has taught you were “bad” or unacceptable”. Be ok with that. Whether we want to acknowledge them or not, they are a part of us and each of our unique stories– part of the paradox that is all human beings– strong and vulnerable, generous and selfish, big-hearted and guarded, intelligent and autistic, crafty and stupid, optimistic and depressed, pessimistic and idealistic, and so on. Whether we fight them or not, those emotions are there, and the more you fight something, the more solid you make it. A dear Finnish friend, Tina, once put it this way, “they’re just emotions. Look at them. Watch them. Let them play. Then go on with your life.”
12. Stick your foot in your mouth many times and in different contexts. That’s how instinctive diplomacy and grace in unfamiliar contexts come to those of us not born with a silver spoon in our mouths. You learn to recover, you learn to listen carefully, you learn that sometimes it’s ok to stay silent and be thought ignorant than speak and confirm your ignorance. :)
13. Travel until you’re sick of travelling, until you’re so stuffed and spoiled and fat on travel that you go to any city and begin to recognise familiar patterns. Find home that way. Find your best self that way.
14. Eat and be interested in what you put into your body. It is the most primal need we have, goes directly into our system and bloodstream, and we have given over the right to choose what to put into our bodies to corporations, politics and franchises. It is also one of life’s purest joys. Caring about the food you eat is caring for yourself.
15. Experience obsession. Ballet, choir, classical music, rock-climbing, travelling, an organisation, a person, a cause… it shows you the extent of your own ability to be passionate and the importance of passion, and your own capacity to come alive, to breathe and live what you love, and to know what– deep down– you need, you want and you crave, what is important to you. It will also show you what you lack, what you are running from, and what you are covering up.
16. Demand that which you desire. If you get it, well and good– you learn to live with the responsibility of getting what you want, you learn that humans are seldom satisfied with that, you learn to become better at loving what you have. If you don’t get it, you learn to deal with lack and loss. Either way, you learn. But demand it– demand it of yourself, demand it of others. And learn that you are not perfect, nobody is perfect, and therefore that there are no perfect systems in the world, whether that applies to organisations or economic theory or relationships. That way, you slowly begin to understand and put together the best imperfect life for you.
17. Be lonely at least once in your life. Bone-achingly, soul-draining-ly, desperately lonely. So lonely you shiver in the cold because there’s nothing left inside you to keep you warm. You’ll look at the homeless, artists, poor little rich kids, expats and so many other people with so much more compassion when you see them. It’s different from being alone. It’s loneliness. Learn to appreciate how important it is to be ok with yourself and take care of yourself. The only constant in this life is you.
18. Have your heart broken at least once (once is enough, but for some of us, apparently it is not). Learn to internalise and apply all the theoretical good stuff that never got beyond the intellect.
Done all that.
Wow, I’ve really let this one lapse, haven’t I? *sheepish look* Thank goodness I didn’t start the 100 Days of Gratitude (#100daysofgratitude) when I was tempted to. So, life got a little hectic, as life does. Nothing major, just lots of little bits and medium-sized things.
So I shall strive for one post a week, to be realistic. Here’s to a chance to pick that up again.
I was thinking about chances, about second, third chances. About this line from (of all things in the whole world!) Neighbours or Home and Away– one of those shows no one ever publicly admits to watching at some point in their lives: “That’s the thing about life. The more you screw up, the more chances it gives you to get it right.”
Or something like that. It’s been more than a decade now. I can’t even Google it to verify it, and I can find pretty much anything online if you give me a day, a large pot of tea and a piece of cake. I’m like a tea-fuelled gopher.
I’m grateful for chances to get it right, and every single person who has played some part in giving me those chances.
Fluffy duvets with soft white cotton covers… mmmm. Not the most practical thing in the summer, but soooo comfy and cosy when it gets a little chilly. They make every muscle in my body relax and all worries melt away. I tend to sleep like a baby when burrowed under one of these.
Ahhh I’m grateful for fluffy duvets!