Levavi oculos meos in montes, unde veniet auxilium mihi?

It was a wonderful week for my part of the Festival of the Scorpio. My workmates took me out for coffee and cake, I had a fantastic dinner on Friday with Good People that I’m very happy to have in my life, and I had tradition birthday High Tea with an incredible bunch of ladies (and Hywel). I topped it off by watching The Arrival with another new friend I adopted about a month ago, and made it home around 11 last night.

And then I learnt something about myself.

At 12:02am my bed started to rock gently. I don’t usually feel earthquakes in my apartment so I made note of it, and waited for this one to settle down, as they usually do. Only, this one didn’t. It got more insistent, my bedroom roller blind shot up and there was a sort of thump before all hell let loose. This was the first time I’ve lunged for the doorway. The shaking was so bad that I was actually flung backwards into hallway wall. I managed to steady myself in the doorway for what seemed like an eternity – staring outside and waiting of the quake to finish. I watched the beautiful blue lights flash high up in the clouds above the Hutt Valley, and then the green flashes along the Petone foreshore as the transponders all shorted – leaving darkness behind them. Then the shaking stopped, but I didn’t stop shaking. Not for another 5 minutes anyway.

One always wonders how you would act in case of emergency. I know now. While I was braced desperately in the doorway in terror (I’m not afraid to say that – I was terrified), the 12 storeys of apartment block groaning above me and the noise the walls were making, there was a very clear, very lucid part of me that was assessing the situation. It was making a note of where my wallet and passport were, how close was I to my shoes, that I had a backpack just around the corner (in fact I could have reached it with my foot) with water and some energy bars in it. That I had my walking gear in the cupboard near my left hand and a torch next to my bed. It also sighed internally and said I really don’t want to do that walk to Paremata again. And that part of me turned to thinking about my people in this part of the world, and if they were all okay. You can tell a great deal about who you think of first in such situations. I surprised myself. And then I grabbed the phone at 12:04am and called my mother: waking my parents up in time for the earthquake to roll through the Bay of Plenty.

There wasn’t much sleep last night. I think I managed about 4 hours all up, waking up with sandpapered eyes to the sounds of people examining the staircase and lobby on the other side of my front door (the joys of ground floor living). It took a little while to survey the scene. The support struts that dominate my hallway (I have the Harry Potter apartment) have new cracks, and some of them had clearly shifted. There’s a significant crack inside my built in wardrobe and there was a howling gale whistling through it. It looks like there’s a wee bit of structural damage to the external walls (some of them are now weeping in the rain) and there’s a fair bit of cracking around the place. It’s made for a nervous day with the countless aftershocks. The damage to these same struts that also run along outside and into the lobby looked far worse for wear than the parts in my flat. The significant cleaning that was taking place in the lobby made sense when I went out to look.

But I did the Long walk home last weekend. I managed 42km of the 50 before the marshals bundled me into a car and dropped me off at the nearest railway station (Paekakariki). In case of emergency I wouldn’t need to walk all the way to Kapiti: Titahi Bay or Paremata would suffice, boats can launch from either. The point of the exercise was an earthquake drill for those living in Kapiti who would need to get home from Wellington, should something like last night happen when they were at work. I did it because it would be good to know how to get out of Wellington if/when a mass evacuation will take place. People were encouraged to take their emergency pack with them on the walk, so they would know what it would be like.

That is probably why I was flicking through a mental inventory last night while the earth groaned. I put it all in a bag today: the things that can stay there in case of emergency. When you really think about it, it’s amazing what you would take with you. I had all last weekend to think about it, and today to clean up the broken crockery (I lost a few plates ), plaster, and bits of stuff I had lying around. Spoke to Apartment board members, took photos and submitted them to my rental manager, and felt generally frazzled, feeling horror at the stories coming out of North Canterbury and the epicentre. And then I saw the photos. I hate feeling helpless – I wish I could go down south and do something: dig trenches, clear trees, look after sprogs so their parents can rest, cook meals, anything. And in this weather I just hope things settle down soon – but with three hot spots playing tag, I don’t think that’s going to happen soon.

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Peter Rabbit, my trusted stuff toy for 28 years.

And now the wind is howling and I realise the windows may be leaking too with the horizontal rain and the almost constant aftershocks. But I have power, and hot water; friends who care, and my lovely mother and brother on the other end of the phone when I need to be distracted.

I pleasantly surprised myself with how the rational side of my brain took over before the hysterical wobbly side was let loose once I realised I wasn’t in any danger. I’m happy to know that I would have the ability to act should I ever be in such a situation again – and that I have a go bag prepped now.

I hope I will get some sleep tonight. I’ve been running on adrenaline all day and feel it. One thing is for sure though: my toy rabbit, Peter, is keeping me company tonight.

Another leaf to be turned.

My life is packed in boxes, as I count down the hours to move into a space of my own on Saturday morning. I went and dropped some more stuff at what will be my new abode after work, and while it still looks like something out of Changing Rooms (sans Laurence’s kitsch touches), every time I duck in and visit, I get a little lighter and happier. This is going to be a good space. A creative space. A sanctuary. A place that I can relax in, but is also big enough for me to have friends around for dinner, and be social. I haven’t really had that yet, and I’m looking forward to the possibilities of having a place to entertain in.

Having more than a shoebox in which to exist, with clearly defined living areas, my thoughts have been drifting to cuddling up on a beanbag under the pi blanket I’m going to knit in the baby alpaca yarn I’ve been saving for a clapotis for the past 5 years. It’s going to be light as a feather and very warm, I’m looking forward to knitting it, and to using it.

Despite the chaos and uncertainty that the next few months are going to bring career-wise, etc, I’ve just had to sit back and marvel at how amazingly lucky I am to have the friends I do. I still don’t know what I did to deserve some of them, but it must have been something good. 30 has been great to me so far. And for everything else, I’m just going to see where the wind blows me through all these unknowns. I have an anchor now, so I’m not afraid of being blown about. It’s an adventure this time. Like my tattoo tells me: there are no endings, only more beginnings. I’ve absolutely loved my time with my library, but the contract is coming to an end – and the horrors of trying to navigate the job market at the moment are just soul-crushing. I’ve had some real disappointments, but it can only be because there is something out there for me – I just haven’t found it yet. Or, it hasn’t found me.

And yes, I do actually believe that. And while I look, and ask, and apply, and wait, I have other things to dream about instead.

I am plotting and planning what I do want to do, and who I want to see, and when, if possible, I am able to do it next year. There are some non-negotiables, and some real wishlist bits and bobs. More on that later. For now, I’m just contemplating boxes, bookshelves, and knitting. Oh, and test cricket.

So time to sleep, perchance to dream, (Shakespeare has been seeping through the cracks at the moment, don’t ask me why). And I’ll see you again in my new place.

With tendrils of possibility…

Weeks of silence, and suddenly I’m posting twice in consecutive days! What’s that about? Possibly the fact that I’m actually sleeping again, or that I’ve just (fingers crossed) finished a cover letter for possibly the biggest job application of my life, or maybe going through my knitting library online and the books I have here (I need to bring the rest of my paper library with me when I come back after Christmas) has inspired me.

I was quite stunned when I went through my favourites on Ravelry. Some of them date back to 2008. Yet, I can remember putting them there like it was yesterday. I was looking at some of the dates going, No… that can’t be right. Can it? And then mentally re-jigging my project yarn. I can see some decent organisation of projects on the horizon… Knitting with Woolen Mill St Yarns now, and having just finished some socks in Tash’s amazing Knitsch sock has just reminded me how much I love making things, and how much I enjoy creating things for other people. Although, there are some big projects on the horizon pour moi. I haven’t done too much this year. But I need to make more time for the things I love to do, and re-addressing my needles more often is definitely something I look forward to doing.

I’ve also slurped several Camino-relevant blog posts to Blurb to tinker with and add photos from our trip to make a decent photo book. I’m badgering James to do something about the 20-odd pages of notes he still has to post to add to said book, but it’s coming along nicely. I’m looking forward to getting it finished and showing it off. I may need to actually print some photos in the meanwhile, but he at least didn’t look at me as though I was insane when I casually mentioned I want to walk it again (in a few years). Okay, maybe he did when I said I wanted to start in France. But that’s besides the point. Never mind. I’ll give ya’ll a sneak peak of my pretty book when it’s nearing the end of its creative process.

I’m going to the Mumford & Sons concert tonight. I am still loathe to call them folk. Indie, yes. Folk… meh. Maybe in some cases. I am terribly excited about this concert. They’re not on my bucketlist of bands to see live, but they sure as hell should be. They use a double bass. This makes me exceedingly happy. I have a soft spot for the double bass. Any band that is going to use one is automatically awesome in my books. From all accounts too, these guys are amazing live. Okay, I’m going to put the fangirl away for a little while. Still. Teeheehee.

A piece I did for Sally. It came dangerously close to becoming an Oscar acceptance speech…

FINDING HEROES

By Shelley Gurney (Twitter, Linkedin)

I was never not going to be a librarian. From the cradle – it was all about books. When I was a toddler, you had to forcibly remove me – kicking and screaming – from the stacks of the local library, and when I discovered how to read… lordy! The saints preserve us all. I was unstoppable.

At the end of 2nd form, we had a “most likely to” competition in class. My peers unanimously voted that I (surprise, surprise), would be a librarian. And so my time, if not on a sports field or in a classroom was in a library, as an assistant, or as a patron. That simple.

But I never actually seriously thought I’d *be* a librarian.  Libraries were all I had known, and were as familiar to me as my own home. DDC numbers, processing books, shelving…

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What I learnt from the French, part 1.

It is with untold joy that I begin this post sitting in my favourite coffee bar, listening to their LP collection, and drinking my first decent cup of coffee in weeks.

A brief break between Europe and Wellington in a beautiful part of the Coromandel, feet up, watching the waves, and spending time with Very Good People was the perfect end to my travels, and the welcome home that is the lights of Wellington was all the sweeter for it.

So this morning, in my own place, doing the one load of laundry (the joys of a small bag of luggage), I started thinking about how my three weeks overseas (or even 3 weeks of proper holiday) has altered my attitude towards life.

And yes, it has.

I’ve mentioned briefly in a previous post how little is actually needed to live a good life, which I learnt in Spain, and there will be more on that soon, but it’s my aim for a year of living simply that got me thinking as I was hanging up my clothes.

There is going to be quite a bit of de-cluttering over the next few weeks as I part with a good deal of clothes that don’t fit, or aren’t worn, and things I have kept “just in case”. I’m going to need to be brutal. And it will be hard, but life will be better for it.

After this post, I’m going to sit down and re-evaluate my goals for the next 12 months, think about what I want to achieve, and what I want to do with a rested mind. I couldn’t have done this objectively before I left: I was simply too exhausted and too overstimulated by work, injury, and the desire to have a break to really think about the long game.

But now, I can.

So while I gather my thoughts, from a completely sartorial perspective, I give you the first instalment of what I learnt from the French:

1. Do not leave home without a scarf of some description. (men and women).

2. Women wear heels or ballet pumps. The few renegades wear sneakers, but you are either in heels or ballet pumps. Nothing else.

3. You don’t leave home without lipstick on.

4. You wear jackets (trench/peacoat/leather/denim/blazer/etc) with everything, and teamed with a scarf. Turning up the cuffs is also acceptable.

5. Jeans, heels, and a dressy blazer is perfectly acceptable business attire. (this I noted with great interest).

6. People don’t care about body shape, etc, it’s not a big deal: just go to a beach or look at their reaction to the Kate Middleton fiasco for proof of this. As long as you’re well-kempt, that’s all that matters. The only obese people I saw in France and Spain were tourists.

And 7. Dogs go everywhere. Trains, markets, beach, restaurants, hotels. Everywhere.

And so, I will start the clean up once I get home, and my goals ordered. To physio to inspect the damage done first though. Here’s hoping I’ll be back in the gym next week…

Until next time…

Au revoir, France. It’s been grand.

So I’m sitting at Charles du Gaulle (sha-do-gu, as pronounced in these parts), having checked in 6 hours before just to be in a warm place with comfy seats.

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my view for some of the morning

I have said so before, and will do so again: I’m not a fan of Paris, and therefore do not have much time for her. After some reading in the Jardin du Luxembourg, I had a galette at the Pantheon, and went to visit Le Bon Marche – and their prices for Noro and Rowan were double what we pay in the antipodes. I was stunned. But it surely must be all about the store name in the case… Surely.

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autumn comes to Paris

But after a morning of frustration, it’s good to be en route home.

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The Medici fountain

I think James shares my sentiments. We can now avoid each other until the therapy sessions from the trauma of travelling together have ended, our bank balances have recovered, and more plots are planned. I know I’ll need therapy from his singing in public everywhere. (I’ve told him, he says that my words cut deep). But he has some soapbox sessions to write, and I have linen to knit.

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Queen Mathilda, duchess of Normandy, wife of William the Conqueror

So, that’s it from France. Thanks for reading! Normal transmissions about mundane things such as life in Wellington, books, knitting, food, and other sundry items will commence, with a few recap posts added, as soon as the jet lag has been dealt with. Stay tuned however, there are still plenty of mad cap adventures before the year ends.

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let's hear it for awesome graffiti!

A bientôt!

Yet another church, and what will be a year of living simply.

Today was shopping day. There were things I’d seen in Paris at the start of our trip, that I was going to get. There were also things that needed to be done today, before we ran out of time.

Like visit the Sacré-Cœur, if for nothing else but the view. And it was another “walk the length and breadth of Paris while we’re at it” day.

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Paris, from the Sacré-Cœur.

Today was the first day this trip that hadn’t been sunny, and the temp topped out at 21. We even got drizzle. Thanks Paris. Autumn is coming to northern France, and where James is revelling in the cooler weather (he did not like the heat), I’m morosely accepting that I’m going to freeze in Wellington, especially if I’m complaining that 21 is cold.

So, we walked the backstreets of the 18th arr. and climbed the stairs to the Basilica that looms over Paris.

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the Sacré-Cœur

It’s a modern building, they ask for no photos inside, but that didn’t stop the majority of doing just that. The artwork is impressive, but, like the 99% of churches I have visited, this one left me cold and unimpressed. There’s no character, no… life in many of these places, so I feel for all those pilgrims who visit, only to be disappointed, especially as an observer who found the ambiance severely lacking.

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the high alter, taken from outside.

But church done, views appreciated, more west African con artists avoided, and it was business time. But first things first.

I have abused my feet something horrific this year, and after abandoning my boots in Santiago de Compostela, I have been living in a single pair of sandals. It’s been great. But, I have needed to apologise to said feet, so they had their first pedicure since January.  And some serious work was needed too. But I think we’re on the road to forgiveness now. Until I do something stupid again.

Then, it was yarn time. iKnit in London was disappointing, and I spent all my yarn money in John Lewis when I was there. But La Droguerie was a happy experience all by itself, and I’m not joking when I say I broke my bank account on linen, cotton  alpaca, alpaca-silk, and the most gorgeous buttons I could find.

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isn't it just beautiful?

The price was eye-watering, but that there is 1kg of the most stunning stuff out. It was worth every cent. And then I checked my bank balance.

I can’t believe how expensive some of the real dives we have stayed at have been. The vast majority of my money has been spent on bad service and rickety hotels with delusions of grandeur. But, it is all part of the experience.

Still, I acquired all but 1 of my new working wardrobe, and I am happy with all the pieces. And I’ve managed to get the souvenirs that have been specifically requested. It’s the finding things for people who haven’t asked that has been tricky. There are few people who will get nothing because of the lack of things that remind me of them. I guess they’re not of the French style. C’est la vie.

But my bags are packed, and I’m ready to go. We’ve done what we want in Paris, and it looks like it’s going to be another drizzly day in the capital tomorrow. And then it’s home time.

It’s been great, but I cannot wait to be back in Aotearoa.

And then, it’s going to be years of living like a student again. Just to pay this trip off. It’s been great though. It really has.

Of flying buttresses and a shade of blue.

While James may not be comfortable in cars in Europe, or planes anywhere, the bastard can sleep on trains. He will be unconscious within 3 minutes of the train leaving the platform, whereas I am wide awake.

Like for almost the entire trip from Nice to Paris last night, and the trip from Paris to Chartres and back again. It’s unbelievable.

But Chartres. I have wanted to visit this cathedral since I learnt about flying buttresses, and Chartres blue. And with 2 days left on our rail pass, there was no way I wasn’t going to visit this place.

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the sundial angel

We caught the 10:09 from Montparnasse with a coach full of yanks, and 50 min later, there we were. Though golden wheat fields (of which James now has a pathological fear), the cathedral rises high above the landscape. When its copper roof hadn’t oxidised, it must have shone like a beacon for miles.

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Chartres

It is truly a magnificent sight. And the windows… The blue is something to behold, it is, for want of a better phrase, Sacre Bleu. The labyrinth was chaired over (they only open it to walk on a Friday), but that didn’t stop me from plopping myself in its heart, and getting my picture taken. Can’t wait to see how it turned out.

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the heart of the labyrinth

And they are currently cleaning it, so in 2 or 3 years time, it is going to look remarkable: light, airy, grand. But the ambience was quite something that I’ll not be able to articulate.

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one of the three rose windows

But even funnier was the all too familiar sign on the sidewalk that greeted us as we approached the cathedral. It turns out that James is Jacques in French, and that the Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle is the Camino de Santiago. So. We were back on the trail. With much mirth, amusement, and “haven’t we already done this?!”

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wait a minute...

It was a relief to be out of Paris, and while it is significantly cooler, the sun did come out for us while we took a ride on the ferris wheel. I can’t justify a carousel, but I can a ferris wheel, and it has been 24 years since I last went on one of those…

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this was fun

So I can now cross Chartres of my list. I’d love to come back when the restoration is complete. And we’re halfway back to Paris, with James warily eyeing the wheatfields, and me laughing at him.

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Chartres, from the ferris wheel

We’ve a few more hours of sunlight, so we’ll see what we can see when we get back.

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one of the most serene churches I have visited.

A little piece of paradise

It was our last day on the Côte d’Azur, and we decided to spend it at the beach. James had gone to Villefranche-sur-mer while I had been at the freediving, and I was determined have one last day with the sea and the sand. And so I did.

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my view into the beach filled up

I managed quite a bit of swimming, a fair way out, and a great deal of just floating in silence. Nothing but me and the water, and it was glorious. If I had remembered to pack a mask, I would have gone for a walk on the bottom, but just being in the water was good enough.

The weather up north doesn’t look too promising, but we have been so lucky with close to 3 weeks of cloudless days, and I have loved being in hot weather again.

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boats and yachts in the harbour

After 4 hours on the beach, we decided to park ourselves at a harbourside cafe for a while, and then explored the old town.

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peeking at the harbour from the old town

Villefranche-sur-mer is stunning. It’s quiet and secluded, but 1 stop out of Nice. It was the best of my trips so far. Just for the swimming.

And then, with time to kill, I may have hit a few shops. So did James. I was far too poor when I visited the UK in ’08 to buy anything, but the clothing here is cheaper, more colourful, and well made than what we get at home. So I’ve been stocking up on basics. And dresses, for some unknown reason, I’ve been buying dresses.

Maybe it’s because French women in their heels, shift dresses, made up just so with the hair, the tan and the scarf, are just so masterful at making you feel frumpy. I’m sure they take classes in it. But I got dress envy. It has become a problem, and with Tuesday being shopping day in Paris (Banana Republic, here I come), things could get interesting.

But, we’re in a first class couchette – a 4 bed bunk for the 11-hour trip on the TGV to Paris. No showers, no hot water, no plugs to charge phones. At least our terminus, Paris Austerlitz, has hot showers – it’s going to be a long night.

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Nice, towards Antibes and Cannes

So a bientôt, Provence, it’s been an experience. Tomorrow it will be Chartres and Paris, and good old Aotearoa on Friday. I’m excited.

The home of freediving.

Over the past several years, I have met several members of a particular breed of people known as freedivers. It is an activity as old as man has fished, and 20 years ago some French in Nice set up an association to promote freediving as a competitive sport, developing rules and guidelines for athletes, and holding regional, national, and international events world wide.

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The 50m pool being used for the DYN.

Freedivers are an amazingly disciplined bunch of people, and those I have had the pleasure of meeting are a wacky, but great hearted group, who, due to the nature of the sport, see the world differently to the rest of us. New Zealand’s freedivers are among the best in the world across all the sport’s disciplines, and are a highly regarded group internationally.

But I digress. I have had this sport explained to me in great detail over many years, and as a result, I have followed the competitions, the records and the developments with some interest. The technical aspects are absolutely fascinating.

So, I found myself in Nice, with a day to spare, and it just so happened that the final day of the AIDA world team championships was being held a few blocks from my hotel, and it was the dynamic with fins discipline (simply put: how many laps of a 50m pool can you do on a single breathe without surfacing using either bi-fins or a monofin – like a giant fishtail – and without passing out or not completing a regimented set of actions – surface protocol – when you come up for air, and thus finish your dive). Being the last of a 9 day competition, and being team rather than individual this year, everything was based on points, and while the Japanese were set to take the women’s comp going into the last day, it was quite a different matter with the men: the French and the Croats were neck and neck. The kiwis could unfortunately not send a team this year, otherwise I’m sure they would have been challenging too.

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not your normal monofin

So I found myself up, and waiting for a fellow kiwi, the lovely Julia -just beginning in the sport* – at half six this morning, to try and find this place, and watch the comp. We needed 45 min to do that, but managed to get in, and get seats at the 25m mark before the top time (start) at 8am.

And it was great. This was my first freediving competition to watch, and will probably be my last for a long while (I’m superstitious), and I really enjoyed putting faces to names, seeing the different techniques in action, and who cracked under the pressure, and who kept their calm. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the poolside antics, and music playlist, were just as entertaining as the dives themselves.

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post-comp fun, after 2 false starts...

The only irksome aspect was the complete lack of information given, no updates or results were given anywhere  and some athletes were not announced. I ended up counting the metre points on the lane ropes to guesstimate distances.

Julia and I ended up leaving after waiting for an hour for the final results after the protests (athletes have the right to appeal results), and the athletes were being let out lunch with no end to the deliberations in sight. So, when we left, the Japanese women had taken out their comp, and the French men were allegedly the provisional champions with 2 phenomenal 210+ metre dives in the last set of the day. Facebook now tells me, however, that Croatia took the title so I must find out what happened there.

Having several hours to kill after the comp, and having bid Julia au revoir as she headed back to Aix, I took the opportunity to wander around parts of Nice such as the Vieille Ville, Le Port, and the ruins of the Parc Château. It was beautifully warm, the sea was calm, and the skies clear. All in all, a fantastic day, and I’m lucky to have had seen some top athletes in action, and soaked up some more Cote d’Azur sun.

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would you look at that water?

Tomorrow is our last day in Provence, and since France closes on a Sunday, it will be a day at the Villefranche-sur-mer, before the night train to Paris.

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Nice Ville

So much to do, and little time to do it. Au revoir!

*I don’t freedive, I would learn to judge before I would swim.