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Modern Romance

Last time I was in Athens, I went out for dinner with a lovely French guy.  He was staying in my hostel room, and as I told him in my traditionally tactful and indirect way, the ‘least creepy French guy I’ve ever met’.  He laughed when he heard this and shrugged.  “I’ve been living in Sweden,” he explained.  This naturally led to a discussion about how incredibly difficult it is to get boy-girl relations right when you move between different places.

After finally getting sort-of used to things in Russia, Greece was a massive shock to the system.  And that’s ignoring the fact that Greek guys were so hot by comparison that I was having heart palpitations.  So the French guy C and I sat down and talked about the hilarious experiences I’d had, from the guy swimming after me out to sea, to the guy who did not take rejection well, to the guy who busted out some naked selfies to show me.  I said how difficult it was to know how to reject people politely, or at least to not encourage them.  In the UK, avoiding eye contact with a guy will cause him to leave you alone; in Russia you have to be outright rude; in numerous places people will see your hair and eye colour and try to buy you (and you’ll hope for a handy guy nearby to explain that you’re not for sale); and in other places you’ll be completely left alone unless you first show interest in the man.  I don’t want to hurt people, but at the same time I don’t want to be hassled, and it’s really hard to walk the line when you seemingly have to figure it all out instantly upon arriving in a country.

The French guy found the same.  For him, in France, it was of course usual to hit on women; but then in Sweden, it wasn’t really acceptable to act like that.  He went as far as to say that some of his female friends there found it really hard to find anyone, like they felt sexless in a way, because everybody was a little too reasonable and nothing ever got done.  So to speak.

This is something I really notice about Western culture, at least at its extremes.  Everything is so PC and reasonable that sometimes I don’t know how I’m supposed to act.  Men can’t hit on us if it can be seen as objectification, but likewise if a guy offers to buy you dinner, isn’t that you reducing him to the price of a meal and therefore objectification as well?  And when there’s no objectification in that traditional sort of way, roles are very poorly defined.  I completely don’t get it.  Russia I understood, even if I disagreed with it.  To recap, women look 1000% stunning at all times in order to attract men; men are chivalrous and flower-buying sources of income; it’s normal to get married very very young.  Generalisations galore, but pretty significantly true.  Roles are intensely clearly defined, and so it’s pretty easy to see where you stand.  At the same time though, (and obviously not having been a Russian person in a Russian-style relationship), it all seemed so incredibly devoid of friendship.  Then again, how can you be friends if you’re not equals?  I don’t know, it’s all very weird.

I guess I wrote quite a few times about how women go to gyms etc in full make-up in Russia to find a boyfriend, and how mothers and grandmothers mind the house so that the younger women can spend their time getting ready and primping themselves to meet a man.  I’m quite sure I spoke about seeing 8-year-olds in heels and make-up because that’s what women are for, and how the appearance of men isn’t important (mono-brows mullets bad teeth vom vom vom).  It’s all so incredibly different—but so easy to understand.  Everybody has their role to play.

In the West, on the other hand, we seem so precious about individuality and equality—which obviously, I think are super-important—that we don’t always know what roles we’re supposed to be fulfilling (not even the first time I’ve mentioned anomie in this blog).  And our working lives are skewed so far above our personal or romantic lives that it’s all speed dating, online dating, hooking up with strangers in bars.  Even speed dating I’ve noticed is different in Russia and Australia—when I hosted the event in St Petersburg, everybody took part with this extreme romanticism and open desire to find someone to love, whereas here we’re all efficiency and cynicism and this sort of harsh pragmatism.  Then you’ve got things like Tinder, which one of my friends tried sooo hard to get me onto.  That is, of course, until she ended up on a date with a guy who stabbed somebody.  But I guess overall it’s like we’re applying this fast-food mentality to people: a quick surface judgement, and a snap decision as to whether ‘they’ll do’.  Eugh and then there’s hooking up with randoms.  I’m sure I can’t be the only one who feels insanely pressured to hook up with someone the moment I meet them, as if the only ‘normal’ thing to do is to have sex with someone and see what it turns into.  This just hurts my brain.  Where is the room for trust?  Beautiful men lead to bad decisions—and of course, they’re pretty much all beautiful.  At the end of the day it’s people I like, not faces, and I’ve had some pretty serious disagreements with friends who’ve tried to coerce me into making out with drunk guys I don’t know—least attractive thing going.  And yet this is how so many people end up together.

Trying to date as a traveller is something I find very difficult.  One or the other of you is always leaving, and there’s always a predefined end-date—just a smidge destructive.  Then throw in the cultural differences and this loss of roles and it’s like you end up pitching to the lowest common denominator: don’t ask for anything, don’t expect anything, just take what you can get.  One of my friends is entirely blasé about guys buying her flowers, or travelling to see her, or calling her because they miss her: and these are things that I just don’t ever experience.  I remember that once a guy I was seeing hung out with me even though I had a cold, and that’s far and away the nicest thing any guy I’ve been involved with has done for me.  The bar’s pretty low.  I mean you could probably fall over it drunk.  Or sober.  There would definitely be falling and bars.

On the other hand, there’s the perfect romanticism of my travelling life, and it was ten years this last Saturday.  There’s the snippets of people I meet along the way; the perfection and poignancy of things that never happened; and the occasional person you’ll meet who you may never end up seeing again, but who you have for hours or a day at a time, and who makes all the wanders worth it.  My life hasn’t allowed me to fall in love, but it’s allowed me instead a perfect tapestry of might-have-beens.  And of course, maybe someday I’ll find this a world away.

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I’ve been on a 2500km road-trip in SE Australia this last week and will post about that in the next few days.  ‘At last!  She’ll stop drivelling about her love life!’.  There may even be kangaroos.

The Road

Last weekend was my ten-year travelversary.  As I used to keep a diary, I actually have a record of it: on 10/5/04, I wrote an entry entitled ‘Je suis prest’, saying that

I’m off!!
Thus did “Laura’s Big Adventure” begin.

My friend Luke was actually standing behind me at the time, and when he saw the title—’I’m ready’ in French—he started laughing.  I wasn’t even moderately packed.  Some things don’t change..!

To sort of celebrate the ten-year mark and because, obviously, it’s awesome, I spent 5 days last week with two of my best girlfriends, doing a nearly 2500km road trip in south-eastern Australia.  We started in Melbourne, where we stayed with my friend V, before camping in Mildura the next night (Thursday), spending Friday and Saturday in Mungo National Park, Saturday night in (R)Adelaide, Sunday tripping to Mt Gambier, and Monday along the Great Ocean Road back to Melbourne.  I live in New South Wales, Jess in the ACT, and Nikky in Queensland, and we travelled through NSW, Victoria and South Australia—so we had all of the eastern Australian states covered between us!

Jess picked up the car and drove until we were half clear of Melbourne, and then it was my turn.  Haha and my turn didn’t stop—I didn’t relinquish the wheel thereafter.  I love to drive!  I mean seriously, is there any freedom like it?  I love that there’s no ‘last bus’, and almost no reason to stop at all.  When I’m driving I feel like I could go forever!  I’d love to drive across Asia and Europe someday perhaps, if I find someone to do it with.  Of course, that begs the question—car or bike?

I love trains too, incidentally.  I love that the moment you’re on board, you completely relinquish control, and you get there when you get there.  Haha which is I guess how I meant to get a train from Prague to Vienna, and found myself so unwilling to de-train that I wound up in Romania.

Travel by both train and car is way better than by plane—it’s more tangible.  Getting on a plane, you leave one world and find yourself in another like travelling from red to blue; by road, rail or river you get to see the shades in between, and it feels more real somehow.

Considering the roads we’d be driving on (everything from winding ocean roads to gravel to rutted dirt tracks), we hired a Nissan X-Trail.  It reminded me of my friend Karl, who lent me his 4wd for the second snow season I did.  I have no idea what type of car it was, can’t tell you what colour, and actually could never recognise it in the car park until I walked around the back to check for beer cans and shotgun shells.  Oh Karl.  I had such a love-hate relationship with him.  He was one of my flat-mates, and there would be weeks at a time where I was too pissed to even look at him.  He was always drunk or hungover; had right-wing political views; watched 4 Corners just to get angry at it—he’s one of the angriest people I’ve ever met.  When I wouldn’t do what he told me to, he’d sit on me until I submitted, and he was a freaking giant.  Sometimes I’d forget how massive he was until he was nearby, then find myself sort of gaping up at him exclaiming “you’re so big!” without even making a dick joke.  I mean come on.  80% hatred, but the rest is all love.  I mean, if there were some kind of apocalypse, and I was a magical genie, he’d be one of the first people I’d save.  I’d be such a good samaritan of a genie.  I like to think I’d be purple.

I’ve lost the SD card with photos and video from the first two days of the trip, but will do a follow-up post with photos and actually talking about where we went instead of wildly warbling.  In the interim, here’s a video playlist of the final three days:

 

My favourite videos from the playlist:

Heading off on the Zanci Homestead/Heritage walk

Leaving Mungo NP

The three of us at Tom’s place

Adelaide CBD and Nikky’s impressions thereof

Leaving Adelaide again

Driving into Coorong NP

Not Beach Weather (swimming in the Southern Ocean)

Units of Measure near the Arch

Bikinis and trees

The Twelve Apostles

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Security

I nearly accidentally punched the marketing director this week.  I mean, I’m sure that happens to a lot of people, but this was very much a close thing.  My work has just moved premises, and my new desk has me standing with my back to several passageways.  Apparently my colleagues have ninja skills, as I often don’t hear them coming until they suddenly appear behind me, scaring the daylights out of me.

That’s pretty much what happened with the marketing director.  I was working away when suddenly her voice popped up behind me, and I spun around with my fists up because apparently a boxing stance is a reflex for me.  Hmmm, and I wonder how that happened.

When I arrived back in Australia at the end of last September, I spent my first night pretty randomly at a friend’s dad’s house (my house-mate-to-be was away so couldn’t let me into the apartment).  We were having a discussion about the idea of safety while travelling.  A couple of weeks beforehand, a guy had said to me a little condescendingly that “I guess that’s a difference between men and women; you need to feel secure.”  What an incredibly stupid thing to say.  Firstly, because things like food security—which I hadn’t had for a lot of my time in Russia—are essential to everybody.  I’ve been a traveller for over ten years now, and I can’t say things like budgets or not having somewhere to stay phase me (obviously again, I made reference to financial security a lot in Russia, but that’s because I didn’t have any).  There’s a certain degree of emotional security involved, it’s true, especially once you pass the year mark: but moreover, it’s physical security.

My friend’s dad was pretty much face palming.  “Well obviously,” he said.  “Look at you—you’re a commodity in most of the world.  If I lived over [wherever], it’d be straight off to the harem with you!”  In some ways, this is a misunderstanding.

‘I wonder what ways she’s talking about,’ you might be wondering, while simultaneously worrying that I might be about to rant. Allow me to address both concerns, and say that the misunderstanding is in thinking that one country or culture is safe.  Another is that anything you can do can make you feel safe within yourself: the unpredictability of travelling heightens the lack of ability to feel safe, but it’s certainly not just inherent there.

I haven’t written about my experiences the first time I went to Turkey yet, and it’s now getting on toward 2.5 years, so it mayyyy not happen.  But basically I was there during the off-season, I was white-blonde at the time, and every single guy on the street made a comment to me.  It was exhausting.  I ended up hiring a male walking tour guide for a few days, just to help tone down the amount of harassment.  Of course, he’d finish at 3pm each day, and I’d last until about 4pm before I couldn’t take it any more and would return to hide in my hostel.  I didn’t even go out for dinner, I ordered in.

Or of course, there’s the one particularly persistent guy in Colombia who followed me down the street for a kilometre or so, saying obscene things to me.  (Or that other guy I mentioned).  In Russia, there was the guy who groped me on the trolley-bus: you couldn’t even call it ‘upper thigh’ any more.  Or the big group of ‘Stan guys I found myself in the midst of on NYE in Piter, one of whom grabbed my ass as they all jeered at me.  My reflex on that occasion was to lean back and smash my elbow into his solar plexus, before having the instant terror of ‘what now, I’m surrounded?’

Oh sure, these aren’t Western countries.  Well, here’s the article from the US that set off today’s rant (when I meant to write about the epic event I went to last night, or to do the overdue ‘road trip’ posts).  There’s the time that a friend’s brother came up from behind me and licked my face ‘as a joke’.  Yup, reflexes saw his face bleeding everywhere and me crying my heart out in the middle of the club.  Or speaking of clubs, the time I danced with one guy briefly—something I don’t do in Western countries any more because of all the grinding—and when I wanted to leave he held me there, furious that I wasn’t going to fuck him.  There’s the time when I went for a massage here in Australia, and the masseuse was a guy who proceeded to wrap my hand around his dick and start jerking off.

Then there’s the cat-calls, the anxiety about walking past building sites, the constant groping in clubs or bars.  This is not a thing that is part of travelling, and it’s not a thing which is relegated to just one place or just one culture.  This is part of every single day of being a woman.

Sure, some people feel less threatened than I do.  Some people feel safe to dress up, or to wear heels they can’t run in, or invite male attention.  I feel better by putting a lot of effort into being as invisible as possible (other than having an extreme love of bright colours, it has to be said).  And it hasn’t always been this bad: for a few years up until I was 18, (having been a girl of 5’9″, 52kg when I finished school at 18, braces, glasses, bad skin, pragmatically short hair, no EQ and apparently too smart f or my own good) I got a real kick out of it.  Every time a cute guy perved on me, it was like something to be celebrated.  But then everything changed, I realised that it wasn’t always innocuous, and from 19 until I was around 23 I didn’t feel safe going out in the day time, when people could see me.

And the thing is, this is why I’m a feminist.  Not because I think men and women are the same (because I’m not freaking retarded (oh PC!!)), but because any world where I have to feel threatened because I’m a girl is just not good enough.  I’m not saying all men are bad, or predators, or anything so ridiculous.  I’m likewise not saying that being a woman is bad, nor how you choose to express it.  Nor is liking the way the opposite (or same!) sex looks.  But this physical insecurity seems invariably a part of the world we live in, and until people are treated as people rather than things, decorations or conveniences, then I’m probably always going to be a little bit angry.

The smallest of vices

I went out with Dasha on Thursday night, and thankfully, this time there were fewer disasters.  (Her car is now fixed, by the way; apparently it was $3k of damage, but happily she had comprehensive insurance—and had forgotten about it—so it cost ‘only’ $600 to repair.)

The event we were going to was a launch of some kind.  I knew very little about it, other than ‘something mini, something dance floor’, but had happily been given free tickets by Vice.  Man I love Vice.  I mean, their content is pretty inconsistent, but there’re some real gems in there.  I remember I started reading it (in hard-copy magazine form!  omg!) when I was living in this ramshackle old townhouse in central Sydney, age 19 and at least 3000x more conservative.  Vice was kind of this guilty trip, this magazine full of everything that good girls weren’t supposed to think about—drugs, sex, music, politics.  At the time I used to find it vaguely shocking and a little risqué—now it’s just kind of the world I live in.

After once more realising we make a horrible team as far as directions go, I met up with Dasha (and her car, let’s not forget her car) by Redfern Station.  We then spent 40 minutes driving round, trying to find a park: all of the on-street parking was 1hr until 10pm, and the carparks were closed.  We found a couple of spots and Dasha was trying to convince herself that we wouldn’t get caught, so I googled to find out how much fines were, and the nearly $200 was enough to send us further on our quest.  Oh yes, it had become a quest by this point.

We found ourselves back near the station, when all of a sudden I saw a spot under a 2hr sign and that it was now one past 8.  “Stop!  Stop the car!” I said, and Dasha happily complied in the middle of the busy road.  Huzzah!  And off to the gig.

I hadn’t been feeling particularly enthused to begin with, as I’ve been verrrry stressed slash bored slash exhausted lately, and going to some half-assed gig in the middle of the ‘Fern didn’t sound tempting at all.  The driving around looking for a park hadn’t helped.  But things started to pick up significantly when we entered the area where the event was being held.

We were following a couple in incredibly glamorous attire, the man in a very well-cut suit and the woman in a backless and extremely expensive-looking dress.  They were being given directions by the ushers who stood at key vantage points in front of us, and so we trailed them deeper into the disused rail sheds of the district, avoiding the occasional dead rat.

Suddenly we could hear music.  Next we saw red carpet, guide ropes and light, leading into one of the old warehouses.  We went straight up to the entrance and were confronted by the world’s biggest disco ball, spinning lazily against a background wave of golden glitter.  It was bigger than the average bathroom!  We may or may not have played with the shiny for quite a long time.  I mean, it’s hardly our fault that the ball was hanging at playing height, right?

Once we rounded the corner into the room proper, we saw a couple of Minis and the lights you can see in today’s featured image.  So it turned out the launch was the launch of the new Mini in Australia.  And mannn did they go all out!

There were lights galore, cars for people to play in everywhere, glowing cubes for seats and a DJ booth.  There was a dance floor which was like a giant kaleidoscope, with the colours and shapes constantly changing.  And did I mention that I was handed a free burger on walking in?  Free burgers and drinks everywhere!  Yes!

Beyond all of that though were the people.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an incredible-looking bunch of people in my life.  There were the usual Nordic-looking ones of course, and half- and Asian girls who were so painfully beautiful they looked air-brushed (Dasha and I spent a little time pointing out various people and ‘wow’ing).  There was a guy with the most spectaculr dreads I’ve ever seen (think like the be-dreaded guy in the Matrix), hipster beards, modely people, people in flannel, leather, lace, tie dye, fur, suits, jeans—it was a superlatively opulent and decadent feast for the eyes.  My brain is still struggling a little to cope with it all!

Above the way everyone looked though, the outstanding impression that was everyone was having a good time.  It wasn’t like when you have a night out and there are the bitchy girls, and couples passive aggressiving each other, and people getting too drunk, and people taking their sadness to the bar, and the constant one-upmanship.  Everybody was buzzing with a happy excitement: I’ve never seen anything like it.  Awesome event!

Other impressions:

  • Borrowing these glasses from people on the dfloor which made everything turn into a psychedelic hallucination (‘find us on facebook!  we have tie-dye and beanies!’—also, I just found their online store)

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=715057355204313&set=a.344431748933544.76047.243608779015842&type=1
    youronlyblackswan.blogspot.com
  • Meeting some people while playing in aforementioned golden glitter.  Dasha and I later went and got our photos taken in front of the ‘Mini VIP’ backdrop, and they rushed over to see how our photos had turned out.  “My boobs are pointy,” I observed, with my usual decorum.  The guy laughs.  “They are!  That’s gonna be great for you!  It’s just my face that’s perky.”
    2014-05-31 18.45.58
  • People doing the most obvious deal in front of the bathrooms.  And speaking of the bathrooms, I’m infinitely proud of my MacGyver-like skills in fixing a broken door using only my cardigan.  Self five!
  • Taking photos of a couple for them, and them being so overwhelmed with the result that they were almost crying while cuddling.  One of the cutest things I’ve ever seen!
  • I feel like the dance floor was pretty enough to deserve another mention:
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  • Hugs and puppies on the walk out of the venue.  For the win!

Finally, you’ll be glad to know that this time, Dasha set up her GPS and we didn’t get locked into any carparks on the way home.  Result!

What an amazing and unexpected evening—thanks again to Mini Australia and Vice <3.

The Mungo Road Trip (days 1 and 2)

This particular road trip came about after I saw a photo taken in Mungo National Park on a Central Coast train, and immediately texted Jess saying that our attendance was compulsory.  I didn’t first check where it was of course, so it was quite a surprise to find out that it was 1000 km away.

The plan sort of drifted along, as plans I’m involved in tend to do, and somewhere along the way Nikky got involved as well.  Haha the three of us pretty much have the entire spectrum of plan-age covered: Nikky never plans anything, I plan the bare minimum to allow for spontaneity, and Jess told me today that she’s already booked her flights for her Germany trip next freaking April.  Jess and I are both hyper-organised control freaks in general, but I like a bit more wiggle room, as I always change my mind.  Then again, Jess likes to do things in a fairly leisurely fashion, and it’s taken her a while to adjust to my tendency to come out with things like “oh, I’ll just catch a train from Russia down through the Ukraine and pop out somewhere near Italy a couple of days later”.

Finally it was time to head off, and off to Melbourne we went.  We were each flying from different states, Jess living in the ACT, me in NSW, and Nikky in Queensland, and actually we ended up visiting both Victoria and South Australia, so we had a lot of the country covered.

I hadn’t slept in approximately forever and was probably the grumpiest person in the world upon arrival in Melbourne: I was already down 2 nights’ sleep for the week, and this was a situation that only deteriorated as time went on.  I didn’t sleep that night, and had an average of 2-3 hours’ sleep for the entire trip.  Needless to say, I was kind of a psychotic bitch (because ‘kind of’ and ‘psychotic bitch’ aren’t inconsistent at all).  In saying that, I was very happy to be doing all the driving, and given that I had my music and an ample supply of coffee (and wasn’t subjected to too many questions), I managed to rein in the psychopathy.

Jess and I stayed with my lovely friend V, who upon Jess’ arrival, announced that “I’ve fed her pizza and she’s not quite as angry any more”, as though I weren’t standing right in front of them.  Haha I felt like a bit of a high maintenance pet.

The next morning we got underway, with our first stop as Big W on the outskirts of town.  We needed to stock up on useful things like fuel jerry cans, food, and around 40L of water.  Also a unicorn outfit.  And some bowls which we underhandedly acquired.  Then it was a 6-hour drive to Mildura, with a short stops for lunch and photos on the way.

Our first night’s camp was in Mildura, and we quickly got into a routine of Jess and Nikky setting up the tent and bedding while I cooked.  Jess had tried to tell me that we could eat canned soup or something while camping, and I asked her what kind of culinary heathen she was.  Instead, we had veggie korma the first night, pumpkin ravioli with fresh sage-butter sauce the second, the next night was on the road, and finally an extraordinarily successful blend of wild mushroom risotto and cous-cous.  Canned soup my bottom!

(I should also mention that I lost my SD card with photos and footage of the first two days, so quite a few of the below photos are Jess’):

Day two was a fairly early start as we raided a bakery and then headed off for the national park.  Within the first 20km we were on unsurfaced road, which led to some interesting times.  Sometimes it was gravel, sometimes it was rutted mud.  Sometimes it was narrow, and others it was about as wide as a 5-lane highway.  I hadn’t driven on anything so messy in ages, so it was quite fun!

Once we reached the park, we stopped to check out a viewpoint at the edge of the dried-up lake.  If there’s one overall impression I have from the trip, visually speaking, it’s how incredibly vast everything was.  We were driving around dried up ancient lakes, with fossil records of human habitation and visits going back 40,000 years and more.  Everything was so flat and so infinite: it’s what you imagine the Serengeti would be like, and certainly, animals abounded (though not lions).  Kangaroos were everywhere of course, as well as giant running flocks of emus.  For our first afternoon, we decided to drive the 70km one-way ring road, and save a park tour for the next day.

We had lots of little stops on the way, learning about Aboriginal culture and natural foods and remedies from the signs, and moreover taking a lot of photos.  I’d told the girls to pack some ‘incongruous clothing’ as we’d do some random photos in the desert.  I have a lot of dresses I’m not planning on taking with me back to Europe, so was happy to trash them.  As it turned out, I had a long dress, Nikky had a dragon outfit, and as I’ve already mentioned, we scored a unicorn onesie for Jess.  We were set.  And I would love to show you, but almost everything was on my SD card.  🙁

lmsnr nrjf

I feel pretty strongly that everyone (who’s in Aus, at least), should check out this park for themselves.  It’s freaking unbelievable.

On the way back to the camp-site for the night, it was growing dusk (aka kangaroo-o’clock) and so I was keeping a very close eye out for anything bouncing near the road.  I was tootling along when suddenly I saw some emus hanging out looking clueless and dithering about the place.  I slowed down just in case, when bam they scared some kangaroos onto the road.  Omg.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to hitting an animal and not actually doing it.  There was like a centimetre between the roo and the car, and happily its joey wasn’t following it too closely so stopped before it got smooshed.  I definitely self-fived.  My self-five was then joined by multiple other fives.  For those who’ve never seen what a roo does to a car:

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/woman-escapes-with-life-after-hitting-roo-rolling-4wd-on-remote-road/story-e6freoof-1226200434100
http://goo.gl/kRWs4t

This is why I was self-congratulatory.

After that, it was off to the camp-site, dinner and a camp-fire.

Days 3-5 coming soon 🙂