Suism

Art mimics life.

The roads we take

It seems I’ve developed a rather interesting and expensive habit. Every 5 years I go to Rome. Seriously, in October for the last 10 years I have made 3 visits there. And interestingly enough, despite thousands of years of history, it seems to grow with me. A very compassionate city to take such a small insignificant being into account. Of course I’m being facetious, but it really does feel that way.

The first time I went to Rome I was 30 kilos overweight and about the same amount lacking in self-confidence. I had just deferred uni, switched courses and took 10 weeks in Europe to find myself. Unfortunately, I had a budget of only 6 euros a day which meant sleeping wherever I could find a spot and “finding myself” had to be squeezed in between finding a cheap place to stay, someone kind enough to share a meal with and of course cheep booze. Italy with its kind people and cheap (excellent) pizzas and wine made a great spot and I spent a lot of time there. Remarkably, the Rome I saw then was boldly naive and full of nervous excitement. Vibrant cobble stones streets, gold lamp light masked an underlying sense of awe at the first real glimpse of Europe. Full of white-marble majesty and monolithic skeletons with stories, histories and ghosts that I was just beginning to understand.

The second time I went to Rome- bizarrely I can barely remember it at all. But this is often the case when one doesn’t want to remember. It was foggy, rainy and I was sharing a dorm room with my then fiancé and 3 Spanish dudes who would turn the light on at 5 am after a serious night partying. My mind was foggy, confused and I had no more idea where I was going in my life than I did wandering those ancient streets. I remember being cold and wanting to pretend everything was fuzzy and warm when it wasn’t. I solved the problem of being woken up by unscrewing the light bulb on the second night, leaving me with my thoughts as the Spaniards fumbled around confused by the lack of light. A few months later I flicked off the switch on that period in my life. I have to fumble around in the recesses of my mind for something that at one time probably felt real and lucid. But such it is with all ancient history. We choose what it was, what should be remembered and what can be let go of. 

Third time’s a charm, so they say and this time I again saw my own reflection in Rome. Mostly I smiled, when clutching a glass of processco in a quaint, friendly bar or with the first bite into the fluffy white heaven of fresh foccaccia. I laughed with the loud, incomprehensible, irrepressible Italians. I got irritated at the pushy rose salesmen or my inability to stay calm and live fully in the moment. Always pushing myself to see more, walk further and not accept maybe I was in the best part of my trip - even when I usually was. I saw Rome’s flaws and beauty that were both skin deep- flaky stucco and torn-up roads hit by dazzling light- and at the same time as eternal as the monuments which litter the streets and make Rome the intriguing, unique space it is. It’s a place where you can feel the immensity of eternity and your own insignificant human mortality fully, immediately and beautifully.

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The Autumn Matron

Like the ice queen she is, Autumn has swept in regardless of the fact we were all still busy enjoying summer. Extending her icy hands to every corner of Amsterdam, she taunts and teases us that her partner in crime, the merciless Winter, is not far behind her. Rattling the cobblestone streets with a cool breath, she will aid you if you go her way and push you back relentlessly against your humble human deadlines if you cross her.

For five years I have crossed this cold hard matron. And for five years, she has laughed at my frozen hands and exposed face, breaking my bare skin with her biting lips. There was no room in my heart for Autumn, while everyone around me seemed excited as she worked her magic. They would say in tones of jubilation, “can’t you just smell Autumn in the air?” Their world was a bright swirling mass of vibrant reds, burnt oranges and glorious golds fuelled by warm drinks, snug boots, glistening wet window panes and gezelligheid, while I sunk self pityingly in to a fog of grey.

As old as the years, who was I to fight this strong all encompassing lady. She owns this city permanently and knows the moons and suns to live by, she knows her place, owns her place. And I will endevour to know her better this year. For the first year, I know her smell of wet cobblestones, fallen leaves, soft earth and an undefined excitement. It has become a part of my nostalgic repertoire and will no doubt be conjured up unbidden at later times returning me back to my second home.

Summer, my dear friend, my closest alley and one I could always depend upon before, has a smaller role to play here. He has taken a bow, accepted the glory of putting on the best show of his life this year and bounced off with his boundless enthusiasm to other parts of the world. His ears are ringing with the success of having lightened our heart. I know where he is going, I know his secret, a bigger and more exciting role has just opened up for him full of crashing waves, glittering concrete and row upon row of sunglass-wearing smiling faces.

Like an old lover, sometimes I feel a pang of loss in my heart. But Autumn has crept in there too and filled the gap with something undefined, something warm and enduring. A feeling of all being in it together which is lacking in the hedonism of Australian weather. It’s as grey as the soft wing of a dove today, and Autumn is pelting my window with bitter tears, but inside my heart is a little ray of gold.

Turning 30

A huge milestone will be achieved tomorrow and remarkably, like so few things in life, I will have done almost nothing to attain the glory. Yep the big 3-0. I’m going to have lived for 30 whole years.

This is an age which holds sparkly hope for one between the ages of say 13-18, when you aspire to all the fantastic things you will have achieved by now. For me this meant becoming a famous fashion designer, a millionaire, married, with kids and living on Sydney’s posh, tree-lined streets in the Nothern Shore ( I know this because I wrote my 30-year old self a letter when I was 15).

That hope kind of disappears for a while while you study, drink to excess, make the best friends, travel wildly, make bad choices in men, get engaged recklessly, cry a lot, figure it all out over and over again and have altogether way to much fun to think that it will ever end.

Then around the age of 28 back it comes. This impeding sense of doom hangs omnipresent over you until the days just before you turn 30. Luckily, this is about the time when you start talking to other 30-years old and realise how happy they seem. I don’t know any fashion designers, a surprisingly few married people and only a couple of kids. I may know millionaires, but if I do they haven’t disclosed the extent of their wealth to me, because this is the age of quietly nodding acceptance of one’s self.

Not wanting to dismiss how confronting 30 can be, I must acknowledge that I called my sister in a blind moment of panic about not so much turning 30, but whether I’d achieved enough to warrant being excited about the development. And she reassured me that when you’re 30 it’s a wonderful sparkly age. You have enough experience to be assured of where you’re heading, but plenty more experiences to look forward to. You may have a bit more money, and not yet too many responsibilities so sometimes you can still spend it recklessly. You’re body might be a bit saggier than it was, but you can still get away with young clothes because you know now how to dress it. And ultimately you feel like you know yourself and where you’re heading.

Plus when you’re 30 the party hasn’t stopped; the drinks have just improved. And that’s sure as hell something I can tip a glass of champagne to. Let Sue-fest 2013 begin :)

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When life takes over

There were so many conscious and unconscious reasons I started this blog. And like so many writing pursuits the main reasons you begin something are rarely the source of satisfaction that can be derived out of a final product. I guess what I like so much about continuing with this is that it is a reflection of a journey rather than the frustrating object of finalising something.

What I realised when chatting to friend last night was that I have lived my entire adult life in Europe. This will be obvious to my family and friends who miss me in Australia, but the thought of such a monumental decision honestly stopped me in my tracks. I can’t believe this has been my choice. I certainly have no regrets and I love my life. Having lived here for so long now though strangely enough those initial feelings and thoughts have blurred into a vague awareness that I was once new here. Once I was surprised you couldn’t order a take-away coffee (times have changed!), the streets were foreign, I felt lonely because everyone was whizzing about on bikes and not walking the streets. I felt small, insignificant and foreign. I know this, but I can’t really picture it because now I am confident. I own the streets, I can give good tips and rarely get lost despite a rather lacking sense of direction.

What I am so grateful for was that a few years into the move I started this blog. It gave me then a sense of purpose and order to what was a chaotic time of figuring out a career, love and the coming and going of so many new faces and personalities. What it gives me know is a clear picture of how I felt then. Yes, this was real, this is my life and my story.

Where did this all come from? From the simple fact that I have sort of stopped telling my story because it seems a little dull. I’m not living a great adventure now so much as revelling in the normalcy of daily tasks. Take for example this morning. I have started boldly training for a marathon. So every Saturday morning I’m hitting the pavement with determination. Sometimes, like last week, the hours (yes hours) fly by. I feel strong fit and smug at being the first of Amsterdam to wake. I smile at the paper dudes (not always a good idea), I notice the swan sleeping on the lake with his head tucked under a wing, the trees dip and bend, the city yawns to life with clean streets, a gleaming harbour and windows full of lives I will never know. Other days (like today) my legs are leaden, my heart is heavy and my stomach gnaws for food. The streets remain filled with last night’s vomit and waste, the paper dudes leer at me (one actually nearly ran me over this morning but anyway) and the seconds on the clock last for hours. Not a pretty picture, but in the final moment of despair I run past a market, my favourite market filled with summer flowers. When I get home (our home, one filled with love and beautiful things chosen by us) it’s straight back to that market to fill our home with reminders of what is so great about living in Europe. The streets have now been cleaned. And as I whiz home on my bike with lilies and roses tucked under my arm, I remember that my life is unique. That most people, even if they travel, live in and visit other places, will not always be so lucky as me to get comfortable in a foreign place. And that is a story sometimes worth sharing, and at the very least worth remembering.

The easy road, whatever that is…

Every now and then someone, when you least expect it hits on a nugget of truth so relevant to your life that it’s hard to comprehend why you haven’t thought of it yourself.

During a casual, though interesting, conversation with a colleague during my lunch break yesterday I was outlaying several major sequences and relationships in my life which had brought me to the point where I am at currently. A story so tired to myself that I barely think anymore as I explain the major turning point which has sent me through 3 different countries, something like 20 different houses, multiple cities, (embarrassingly) boyfriends and countless jobs.

But interestingly enough her reaction to my story was completely new.

I’m in awe a little bit of this particular colleague. She has a way of speaking which throws you completely off guard. There are pauses thrown in where you are hanging on what will come next and, whatever it is, it never even closely resembles what you anticipated from all that had gone before. As a result I find myself surprisingly open and honest with her. There’s no point trying to be someone you’re not because she appears impervious to deception.

After I finished my story, she leant in and places both hands around her glass of water looked straight at me and delivered one of her powerful little pauses. Then she said (paraphrased):

“You know Sue, as I go through life I find myself making life harder for myself, because often the right choice seems too obvious.”

I literally sat back in my chair completely in awe of how this person quite disconnected to me had managed to expose this aspect of my life so clearly.

Throughout university I learned that it really was as simple as taking what I’d been taught and reconfiguring it into my own words in order to get a distinction. But I felt as if I was cheating. Surely to study at a high level, some kind genius was required. A new idea surely should spring into your head and rock the academic world. Similarly, at work I’m often surprised that coming in and doing your job well, or even in some cases just doing your job, is all that is required of you. Living my whole life in Australia was never an option for me, due to some misguided belief that life had to be hard. That in order to live a fulfilling life you had to miss people, struggle and challenge yourself every day to do more, see more, achieve more.

I can’t say that I don’t believe that anymore; and I can’t say the struggle hasn’t been worth it. But when I look back on my 20s now, I’m a little bit: “What the hell was that Sue?” A mishmash of intense experiences, relationships, phases, trends, decisions, moves and a whole lot of instability.

The one thing which has stayed constant has been my writing. I’ve never stopped and questioned it, but it seemed too easy and fun to be something to consider as a career. Now how crazy does that sound? And if my writing is the one thing which has stayed constant, the one thing I’ve worked on year after year, it goes to show how invalid this “idea” philosophy is. Ideas coming at people out of nowhere just doesn’t happen. Just as maintaining this blog didn’t just happen. Just as some of my most successful friends didn’t become a manager, business owner, or parent overnight.

It could be that by being true to ourselves we will find happiness. Not rocket science, but it took me 30 year to figure out.

Could the easy road also be the one less travelled?

A small dose of culture shock

Coming from the great IAMsterdam and being a self-professed pun addict, I have to confess I am always more than mildly excited to see what delightful slogans city’s have chosen to depict their culture. I <3 NY, LondON and the “Poor but sexy” Berlin make all these cities even cooler to me, even if that makes me decidedly less cool to you.

What then, I wondered, could Instanbul have in store for me. I was predicting something Aladdin chique with a twist of modernity (probably a terrifying insight to how I waste spend my time and imagination).  However, cramped into our tiny seats on Turkish Airlines and discovering that they had just won “Best Airline in Europe” did make me slightly dubious of any further self-proclaimed title. But upon arrival “IstanCOOL” did seem to match the reports I had heard from all previous visitors.

Eagerly I awaited a visa (easily obtained if you were European and willing to hand over 15 bucks- check and check!) and then endured the long line through passport control, followed by an endless search for the metro which took an hour longer than anticipated. But then the glorious and impossibly big Blue Mosque and  Hagia Sofia loomed up above us, the squares were almost empty and a comfortable 25 degrees settled down on our shoulders.

This was the apt beginning of a trip of extreme ups and downs.

The beauty of Hagia Sofia was diminished by punishing queues in the hot sun and her faded beauty seems as if it won’t last forever with the once luminescent mosaics now mostly replaced by painted versions of its former glories. But the beauty and sheer enormity will still take your breath away. The overpriced beer is soon forgotten as swallows dip and glide to the sounds of the haunting call-to-prayer and time seems to stand still. The vibrant boats bobbing on the Bosphorous are counteracted by pollution and wafts of fish, and the delight of watching hundreds of fishermen pulling up the fish before your eyes is slightly off putting when considering it will probably make up your dinner that night.

We ate the best food in tucked away gems and the worst food when caught in a tourist trap with growling bellies and tired feet. We single-handedly kept the economy afloat by purchasing a tonne of over-sweet baklava and Turkish delight. Each bite, more delicious than the last, left our tummies crawling with regret. Everywhere was a contradiction.

There we were nestled in a comfortable meyhane admiring the decor and the next moment the barmen are jumping over the bar slamming down windows and shutters against the tear gas which seeped into our nostrils and choked our lungs. We’d somehow ended up in a protest. “Welcome to Turkey” muttered a man behind us.

The city of 2 continents didn’t seem to know which way it was turning. Or perhaps it was just moving so damned fast we got churned up in the current.

We delighted in our bargaining skills but the vendors always seemed to come out on top. 

I saw the largest diamond I will probably ever see in a surprisingly run-down palace. It was beautiful. 

We were pushed and pulled to the point of exasperation, but the whole time we were laughing. I hadn’t expected such an enormous sense of humour as the one I found behind carts, in trams and on the streets.

Ultimately we were reluctant to leave this exciting city, this old city, this knocked about, tourist filled, loud and beautiful city. Like a diamond in the rough polished with only steel wool I felt like I’d seen glimpses of what Istanbul could be, but know that there’s oh so much more.

Go to Istanbul, experience this city. But be prepared, it’s much more “I-stumble” than IstanCOOL.

No Bul

I’m about to embark on a brief adventure to the city where east meets west. Somewhere I never really though about until rumours started to drift to me on a waft of spicy air about amazing markets, delicious food (dips people, DIPS!- I really love dips) incredible architecture and warmth which lingers in streets long after the gold sun has set across the Bosphorus.

Yep, Istanbul looms on the horizon and needless to say I’m excited about this for a multitude of reasons. The top three are listed below:

Firstly, it’s somewhere Easyjet doesn’t fly to! Now don’t get me wrong I love that I can pop over to London and Berlin every year if I like and have undoubtedly taken advantage of booking tickets to Prague 6 months in advance for a mere 40 bucks (yes, yes I know it’s euros really). But as one likes to envisage one’s self as an intrepid traveller, and let’s be honest we all think that 30 years ago it would have been us founding Lonely Planet, Easyjet tickets just don’t sit right with the image. It’s hard to feel you’re about to venture off the beaten track when you’re pushing grannies and young children out of the way to get “prime” seats near the exit. Or when you pray that the already/still drunk football team won’t be seated near enough to projectile vomit on you. So yes we’re still flying with Turkish Airlines which is a far cry from that combi van adventure across Europe we all dream of, but it’s a hell of a step in the right direction off the usual Euro track.

Secondly, I’m finally going to get a new stamp in my passport! For someone who has travelled to 18 countries I have disturbingly few stamps in ye old passport! I still remember my disappointment on arriving in Greece and handing over my passport expectantly and then actually requesting a stamp when they just looked at it and handed it back. Ok that makes me blush now, but as a dual citizen I’m afraid I can only boast 1 stamp in each passport! The joy that my parents passports gave me as a child filled with exotic and elaborate stamps in different languages (after I had finished marvelling at the sheer amount of beard my dad had in the 70s) is something I won’t be able to replicate should I ever have kids (not just because I don’t have a beard …yet)

The last point, and of course the real source of excitement, lies in exploring a city I know almost nothing about. I’ve never read up on the history, mosques and markets of Istanbul. I don’t know where to go, what to try or how it will feel. I am completely free from expectation. I know about 5 people who have been there and all say it’s fabulous and the public transport is surprisingly good (ok so I have one expectation). But I don’t know if the people are friendly, the street are clean or how to order a raki (probably rookie error number one). Nor do I have much inclination to read up to much on it. As I approach my 30s I realise these cities I see now I will probably never see again. But rather than madly trying to create bucket lists I’m ready to be swept away by Istanbul and whatever he has planned for me!

(editors note: I’m sitting here due to my usual 6am excitement before anything great happens, brushing up on all things Istanbul- more excited than ever!
Photos to follow.)

Oh to be home… (where is that again?)

This blog, much like my life, has taken a turn of it’s own. Originally intended as a motivation to produce more art, it has become the artwork itself.

My journey to the Netherlands had a specific purpose too. To marry the man I loved at the time. When that quickly didn’t work out, the Neds had already captured my heart. And then I stayed. And then I fell truly, madly deeply in love. And we bought a house (well, ok, an apartment if you must split hairs, but house just sounds much more romantic I think).

But just as it is important for me to remember the roots of my passion for art and stay connected to it (hard to do amidst life sometimes), it’s equally important for me to recognise my roots back where I came from. I am not running from anything in Australia. In fact being away from my beloved homeland is the hardest day to day thing I have to deal with. My life has taken a path of its own and I don’t regret the adventure it has given me (or that I have perhaps chosen). However, needless to say, trips home (which only happen once every two years) make my heart leap up- in the words of that old romantic Wordsworth.

After the gloomiest of winters how could I not fall in love again with the endless blue. And even better, when the sun sets the warmth stays. The feeling of a cosy darkness and impenetrable freedom which wraps around you as cicadas chirp and scent of eucalypt wafts down from the high silver branches above is sublimity itself.

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Love. That’s what its all about right? The feeling of my soulmate sister being in the same house, always ready for kind words, gently hugs and knowing laughs, is an experience I treasure after living in different countries for almost 10 years. Not to mention feeling the love of my many dedicated friends, who still support me despite the miles of ocean which separate us.

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And let’s not even mention the foodie culture which abounds. Freshly and perfectly made coffee every morning from the Butchers cafe, salted caramel cupcakes from Sparkle and pulled pork burgers from the Shakey in Surrey Hills (that’s The Shakespeare Hotels for non-locals).  Soup dumplings to make your mouth water and spicy Thai to make you cry. Endless laughs and chats during happy hours at the Beresford and gourmet dining at Hugos…

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And then there was my amazing parents and my dear Grandma who have made me who I am. And are remarkably proud of who I have become. Gotta love that!

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Wordsworth may have been beholding rainbows and daffodils, but the golden beaches and sunny skies of the great southern land will have my heart forever. As I return home from my return home, I am incredibly sad and homesick. It is what it is. But this crazy life of mine no doubt has plenty of surprises in store. All I have to do is open the door to them. I guess that’s the secret to an adventurous life, no matter where you live.

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I love you Australia!

No, I don’t have any regrets (about Paris)

As someone who constantly is seeking new places and feels like they will never see and do as much as they would like because life is just too damned short, I try as hard as I can to use every travelling penny and second I have on seeing new places and discovering new things. 

Except when it come to Paris.

My Paris, the stuff my dreams have been made of ever since I can remember.

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On my fifth trip just gone I discovered Rue Mouffetard. A foodie’s haven of roasting chickens, wine shops, fresh produce. Pineapples in little baskets I tell you- those French know their food!

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I discovered that travelling with girlfriends in Paris is absolutely delightful as we sipped cocktails at the Experimental Cocktail Club.

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I discovered that it’s totally fun to sit in the same place as Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris and wait to be whisked away to the 1920s.

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I discovered that I had come far enough in my life to be able to afford an extortionately expensive glass of red wine served by models in Le Georges on top of the Pompidou Centre.

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But mostly I discovered that you can’t have to much time in brasseries, boulangeries and bars in Paris. You can’t eat too many Oysters, drink to much red wine or take too long to decide which cake will make you utterly and entirely complete.

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Only in Paris will you delivered a red rose by a handsome stranger.

Only in Paris will you feel alive and in a dream at the same time.

Only in Paris can you say with conviction, ” Non, je ne regrette rien…”

Love

For most people I think the jury is still out on romance. Love is only “in” with those in love. And Valentine’s Day is unquestionably devoid of charm.

I can’t say my opinion is fixedly positive on any of the above- unless I’m watching Midnight in Paris (which I am) or reading Austen (which I just finished) or looking at Monet (which I do as often as I can).

But as I woke up alone, the man is suffering from jetlag and went into the office early, I felt happy but nothing extrodinary. I worked and then worked out. So far the mundane routine of life. I unlocked my bike as quickly as my frozen hands would allow beside a snowy canal. And I was captured by romance for a few moments in the softly lit reflection of a yellow street light. I was the third in a vignette of a young woman in pyjamas looking down from her balcony upon a young man holding the biggest bunch of red roses I have ever seen.

They both looked so happy. And I realised that whether you are in or out or in between love- love is love and that is something.

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Paris… proof clichés exist for a reason