Sunday 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween

P lump orange head, pretty ugly
U nusually shaped, so undainty.
M ust I look inside to see the
P erson you could really be?
K issing is out of the question
I turn in the opposite direction.
N ever could I ever see past
S uch ugliness - will it last?
O h no it won't. I take the knife
U p to me it is to cook tonight:
P umpkin soup - what a fright!

Saturday 30 October 2010

Crunch time

There's a new sound on the streets of London. It's a sound which has many colours attached to it. It is a sound you can predict as you see it fall through the air and land on the pavement before you step on it.


Autumn is in full swing. When the skies are blue, the reflections in the canal and park lakes are those of jigsaw pictures: a stirring scene of green, yellow, red, amber, orange, chestnut all mingled together against the shining sky and again in the water below. When the skies are grey and churning with rain, those colours glisten in a patchwork quilt on the pavements. Leaves are caught in headlights as they drift down; Autumn's baubles.

There are two things about this autumn in London, my first in England for quite some time, which are having a huge impression on me: firstly, how beautiful it is. Gardeners really have nothing to do right now as they let the trees turn these brilliant shades and create a carpet of colour on the paths and lawns of the city. The second, however, is how cold it is. It is cold enough for toffee apples, bonfire night, for hats, gloves and scarves. And I keep having to remind myself 'It's only autumn!'

There is no doubt that this winter is going to be a challenge. Whereas the plunging temperatures of Buenos Aires were bone chillingly cold, they lasted a mere three weeks at their lowest. Here, we are staring into some four to five months of dark nights, thick duvets and waking up to frosty mornings. It's enough to make you shiver in your cosy apartment.

I have to thank Nature for letting me down gently and rather beautifully. Walking the streets with the crunch, crunch, crunch or swishing through the piles of leaves which have amounted is delightful and exhilarating.

I just have to forget what come after crunch time.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Losing one's marbles

Last week I popped in to the British Museum. Actually, that's a lie. You can't just 'pop in' to the British Museum. Rather, you have to take a tent, emergency supplies, that stubborn British way of attacking great, enormous things and a camera with long, long, long battery life.

You could be there for weeks. And as I walked round I thanked my lucky stars my dad wasn't with me. He's one of those museum types that reads every little card of information, while my mum breezes through and stands at the end of each room waiting with her pleasant museum smile. She knows she's in a place that's good for her, but why does it have to take so long? And I'm a more of my dad in that respect.

Anyway, I had decided beforehand to attack the British Museum in parts. That day I would 'do Greece'. Having been to Greece some twelve years previously, it was about time I saw the rest of the Parthenon.

There's something very magical and romantic about Greek history (when you ignore all the tragedy). The funny wrestling games depicted on bulging vases; the interesting names; the amount of grapes as amorous food; the fact that many of the men have these beautiful, womanly faces, even the fighters getting attacked by centaurs. There are the gold necklaces, simply elegant and the statues, simply grand. Stepping through each room in the Greece section of the museum and you are hit with the enormity of their culture, intellect and design.

At the very end of this section is the huge Duveen Gallery which houses most of the Elgin Marbles. I was immediately impressed as I slowly followed the marbles and the stories they showed. The explanations help to show what is happening, and the larger statues at each end of the gallery help to emphasise the scope and size of where they came from.

However, another sensation which impacts is that of something is missing. This comes from two avenues: one, that no marble is completely in tact. Heads, bodies, arms, legs, horses, spears have long ago succumbed to weather, movement and age. When you're looking at such things, which are so old and have travelled that far, you hardly expect perfection, but there is still some sadness from their breaks. The second is that they sit here in London, beautifully presented and explained. But you do want to be able to look out of the window and see (pollution permitting) the acropolis hill, connecting the stones, placing them.

I finished my tour of ancient Greece and skipped through the first Egypt room to exit, resisting the urge to walk round that too. Another day, another day.

I sat outside the museum on the steps in the sun, surrounded by French teenagers, German couples, a Japanese tour group and some Brazilians debating whether to enjoy the sun after lunch or go back in and get some more culture and history. I thought about what it meant to bring the marbles here, how the museum has learnt to care for them during those 200 hundred years and the amount of people that can see them for free each year. I also thought about what was left in Greece and how long it took to take the remaining marbles away from the risks of earthquakes and the natural elements. It took until 1993 to remove the last of the frieze to safety.

All things considered, I don't think it's a case of returning lost marbles as much as preserving them. 

Something we should all do.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

The Laughter Revolution

They say that laughter is the best medicine. When you've had one of those belly-bursting giggle fits, you know that's true. You come up for air feeling like your whole body has been thoroughly dusted and vacuumed. It's like having done the downward dog for two hours. Yet you've reached this state of balance through the dizzying heights of, um, simply laughing.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I walked home from the swimming pool. I had done wonders to my body by swimming, then spending time in a sauna and finally the steam room. All of these relax me, and when I'm sitting in those hot, steamy cabins I always feel how good a life I must have to be able to do this.

Anyway, I finished and went to the changing room, which was empty. I started thinking about what I could whip up for dinner, with the Tesco delivery still twelve hours away. As I was drying off, another girl walked in and started getting undressed opposite me. I started moisturising and heard her laughing. I looked up. She was just looking at the wall, putting on her swimsuit. I continued putting cream on my face and I heard her giggling again. I checked myself. Did I have my knickers on back to front? Did I have smears of cream around my nipples? Did I just look . . . bizarre? I seemed normal as far as I could make out. What was making her laugh?

As she stood in front of the mirror, putting on her swimming hat, she kept up her little laughs and I realised her laughing was nothing to do with me. Off she went to the pool and I headed out into the night to walk home. I thought about her. There she was, laughing her head off, seemingly for no reason at all, but of course there was a reason.

This is the great thing about it. That girl was thinking back to something or someone and it made her laugh in the present. It could still affect a different moment with the same delight. It could have been a ridiculous text message, a funny face, a crazy situation or a tried and tested fool proof joke which never fails to bring on a chuckle. Brilliant. This must be the way to not have to do the downward dog for hours on end. Clean yourself out by thinking back and simply laughing at something. And there's a million more things we can laugh at with the power of hindsight. I once took my parents and brother on an off-road adventure in Patagonia. The road was rocky, seriously muddy, as curvaceous as a Brazilian catwalk show and in the middle of nowhere. I had never driven it like that before and the atmosphere in the car turned to one of absolute terror rather than high-spirited adventure. However, if you were to ask my mum about it now, she'd laugh her head off. That's what I'm talking about. Broken bones, now healed: hilarious. Awkward, blush-inducing moments long gone: side-splitting. Wrong turns and hours being lost way back when: comical.

So, here we should start a laughter revolution. Sit on the bus, in the office, on your couch, in the bath and just think of something that's funny and laugh. You'll feel great.

And if you seriously can't think of anything funny, then think about what you're trying to do to make yourself laugh. That's pretty funny in itself and the fact you can't think of anything, more so.


Saturday 2 October 2010

Eat Run Love

I'm two thirds through eat pray love, which we are told is a 'woman's search for everything'. I, for one, don't have the desire, time, money or patience to search for 'everything' and I am pretty sure that 'everything' does not fit under those three words.

I loved Gilbert's gluttony, passion and learning in Rome. I ate most of that food with her and enjoyed learning, as she did, the Italian way of speaking, eating and living. I warmed to her learning to meander, indulge herself (in some ways) and find grandeur in the simplest things: a new phrase, a divine cappuccino, an olive. She captured it magically and amusingly. She kept it real; she kept it human.

Now, I have just come out of the meditation caves with her in part two of the book. I have this strange sensation that parents must get after sitting through a primary school performance of 'Spring'. Children become chickens, songs rhyme for the sake of it, the piano teacher somehow holds it all together and after all that, the cardboard sunflowers fall backwards and all those mums and dads are in serious need of a drink. As she lands in Bali, this is how I, her reader, am feeling. I understand why she needed to mildly self-mock her tree-kissing behaviour, as a wide-eyed citizen of the world. She knows what her friends in New York and those like myself are thinking.

But there is no need to cherry-pick or choose anything. I am not choosing to tie myself to a thread, hoping that at some point before I die, this knot will pull me out of the world's darkness and "into the next realm." The world has many dark corners (mediation caves in India, for one), but what makes them dark is the light, the beauty and the magic which happen every day. These are, as her life in Italy was, amazingly simple: little girls giggling, an honest answer, the first glimpse of the sun over the ocean, kindness, touch, a warm daydream, the list goes on. It seems a shame to look for god so far and painfully deep inside yourself, when so much of his 'everything' is all around us. I am not saying that taking a good look at yourself is bad. To look inside yourself for something other that what and who you are, is.

So I was trying to think what my second part to her book might be, instead of pray. Last Tuesday I had to run after work. It was dark, nippy and sheets of rain belted London. If I was to look inside myself, I would have seen that I didn't want to go. But I did. I went out donned in my 'waterproof' running gear and ran my five miles. My body and legs were quite enjoying it and, after the first mile, my mind caught up. I started smiling. The joy I got from running those miles, alone on the soaking London streets, not caring that the buses drenched me further, or that the hill was full of puddles, was immense. It was beyond having got something done. It was a joy of the whole process, something which I believe was close to Gilbert's tree-kissing euphoria. I didn't see god all around me. I just saw me, in my life, loving it despite the contradictions and dark corners. My joy was raining down, each droplet lighting the dark road as it passed the street lamps. And I had just run it, as Gilbert had run in her meadow.

It's interesting how two completely different experiences, continents, people, moments can capture something which makes them feel the same. I'm waiting to see how Gilbert moves on in Bali and why she calls that section love.

But I know that to complete this tripod of discovery, I would have had to name it something different that encapsulates a search I do every time I put my trainers on. Runners, you know this.

Eat. RUN. Love.