Monday, 15 June 2015

Coming Home at Last

Once upon a time, there was a curious girl. A girl who wanted to see the whole world by the age of thirty and be her own mistress.

This girl was me, the twenty-three years old version of me who lived in the moment and dreamt of nothing but traveling the world from one end to the other. And yes, to make a living as a writer doing so.

In this aspect little has changed. I still long to see the world and be part of it. I still want to explore all parts of the world but at the same time, I have come to understand the importance of appreciating the places that move me and where I feel at home.

One of the few countries to stir these strong feelings within me was Greece, and in particular the Cyclades island of Ios.

I was only 23 years old when I first sailed into the small port town of Ios. I immediately sensed that I was coming home, this island called to me; her unique charm with the light breeze that greeted me by bringing the fragrant of the isles to me for the very first time.

I was home and I knew it. 

My first job was at the Indian restaurant in the port. I had never waitressed before and I was terrible at it. The hours were long and the appropriators sometimes harsh to a novice waitress. I lived in a house in the port, a house with a gate, low white brick fence and a garden with wild vegetation growing freely.

I lived with my friend Eva and an Australian we met on the ferry out to Ios. Ios was chosen for the mere sake that it was suggested to us. And it was a good suggestion.

I fell in love with the island immediately. We bonded and I felt as if I was the luckiest girl on the planet because I was staying for the whole summer. 

I had walked into a beautiful dream and made it my reality. My daily life consisted of quiet and sometimes jamming days on the magnificent beaches that inhabit the shores of Ios. 

After a month, my friend Eva left for Cuba but I stayed behind. I knew I had found a place where I belonged and I couldn't leave this magical world that was now mine to make my own.

For most of the season, I worked in a nightclub on the main road that was called Star and worked there with the best co-workers a girl can ask for.

I returned the next year for another season and to my surprise that second season was even better. A heaven on earth where I blossomed. 

I returned in 2006 for a holiday and as was to expected I struggled to leave after only two weeks. I was home and I couldn't imagine leaving. I stayed an extra day that year and yet it was excruciatingly hard to leave. So hard my heart quenched as I watched it disappear into the horizon. 

At the time I lived in London so it wasn't like I was returning to a hellhole of any kind. It was just so hard to say goodbye to where my heart felt at home.

That was also the year I fell in love with the love of my life. He was already in my heart, and there were times I wished he was there with me.

Twelve years later, this dream is finally coming true. The love of my life goes to Ios with me tomorrow night and my heart is bursting with excitement.

But first, yes first, we came to an island of which I had heard many good things, Folegandros, a mere half an hour - if that - on the ferry from Ios. 

This is his first island, the island with which he has fallen in love and I know it will always be his first love of all the Greek islands. He now understands how it was possible for me to stay in the island that immediately inhabited my heart for three months and more without ever feeling the slightest urge to return to the outside world.

Greece is truly the temptress of Europe. 
The land that draws us to her shores through reputation and pure visual stimulation. 

The beaches are as beautiful and actually far more beautiful than they look on the pictures. The villages and the incense-scent that fills the streets delights the senses. 

To be here with my husband, the love of my life, and see him fall in love with Folegandros fills my heart with joy. I know now that we will return to Greece over and over in the years to come. 

The spell has been cast and he too is now its avid lover.

I, the long lost lover of the isles, simply wonder how I could ever stay away for so long. 

Greece is a place of magic, a place where magic lives in the air. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Aroma before the Storm

When the season of darkness is upon us and a storm strikes on cold night, nature's omen awakens the senses with the intense aroma of the sea's native drifter, the seaweed. 

The heartless blizzard on the horizon threatens a ruthless attack on the shores of man's city fortress and only the curious and the cautiously reckless venture to the forefront of the storm as it prepares to violently slap the weak population. 

The temptation to venture to the forefront of the watery land is too sweet to resist when the alluring aroma of the seaweed calls for attention.

The curious and cautiously reckless indeed venture to the forefront of the storm, briefly before the heart of the storm overwhelms the world with the harsh whistle that penetrates the inner ear, and then slams the rain and snow to the fortresses of man's inhabitation. 

The dark sea in response to the rising wind is rowdy, frightening the living from entering its world by forcefully warning the powerless from entering a world that is not for the faint-hearted. 

The aroma of the storm is that of the seaweed, salty and savory but delicately sweet. Too tempting to resist. But then, when the rage of the storm is imminent even the bravest and reckless escape to safety. 


Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Path in Life

1st of January, the first day of the year 2015, and the day after we bid farewell to 2014.

When the year ends, the gate to the year that is about to pass into the void of time is closed and the gate to the next year opens up before us. Even though we can always look through the rails to cast a glance at the years that are behind us, there is nothing that we can do to change the decisions that led to our actions in the years that is now behind us. 

Some believe in destiny, that we are meant to take one path rather than another because the universe intended us to do so. The ideology is appealing because it is romantic and gives meaning to our lives. It is no surprise that destiny is a source of great writing for many writers.

To me, destiny is more than anything the consequence of a decision. One decision leads to another, and often these decisions are defined by an event. This event is usually one that touches us deeply and affects the next big decision we make in life.

After I began reading Kate Atkinson's new novel, Life after Life, I found myself deeply contemplating the many paths that are before each one of us as we live our lives.

Often, we base our decisions on events we plan for in the future, events such as studying a certain subject on a university level, traveling, moving somewhere new or old, getting married or having children or pets. We are thinking about an empty slot in time, a slot for which we have build a skeleton to the story of our lives. 

Kate Atkinson in Life After Life raises many questions about life and why it is that our life is the way it is, and how our decisions affect the world in which we live. It took me a long time to finish the book because a part of me did not want to finish it. It seemed impossible for there to be an answer to this riddle of life and I liked the riddle to remain unresolved. 

I always found myself thinking about my latest reading session for days afterwards. While most days I couldn't wait to make time to keep reading, there were others I needed a few days to mend my broken heart after a sorrowful chapter. I finally finished the book the day before New Years Eve, and to the questions that had an answer - an answer as absolute as it can be seeing how vague and open to interpretation the questions her story raised in my own mind - I found the answer for which I looked. 

An answer to one of my questions is that the great often die young because to achieve greatness great sacrifices must be made.
The answer to another is that we have choice. As much as we rely on plans for the future, we must too rely on our feelings and intuition and let life happen rather than organizing it far in advance.

The answer to the question of how violence affects lives and whether one act of violence is likely to lead to another is one that I still wonder about. Are we doomed to a life of violence because one person inflicted violence upon us, or is it a circle that we can escape? Does it depend on the state of mind, or the support we receive, or the lack thereof, that we overcome the experience? Do we bury it on the inside or speak out against the person who violated us? 

And how does the world around us affect our personal relationship? Can the mood in society be so dominating and all-empowering that the people we love change and become someone else? Someone who perhaps does everything in his or her power to control our lives and condemn us to death without knowing so themselves? When does the assumption of doing the right thing become a selfish act?

To neither one of these questions do I have an answer. They are so tightly bound to the individuals to whom it happens and the circumstances in which they find themselves. 

What I do know, and what I don't take for granted, is that I am not bound to one destiny above  all others. I am responsible for the decisions I make and once I have made a decision, I can stand by it or change my mind altogether if the decision is not yet set in stone.

When I woke up this morning, I found myself looking back to January 1st 2005. On that day, I woke up in a cold, unheated apartment with an old friend of mine after working late at a Scottish bar near Pont du Neuf in Paris, France. We were both pretty broke but we were very young and we still lived for the moment. That year brought love and heartbreak into my life, both of which taught me a great deal and eventually led me to find the love of my life with whom I celebrate nine years in the summer of 2015.

In life, mistakes are made along the way but no mistake is so great that there is no point of return. Life is after all not only black, gray and white. It is a magnificent rainbow arrayed in all the colours of the world, and not only those we can see.

The more colours we see in the rainbow, the more we open ourselves up to all the wonderful things life has to offer. The best of memories are made when all our senses are wide open to the magic of life.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Bucket List

I have always liked the concept of the bucket list.

The bucket list follows no rule other than writing down all the crazy dreams that live within me. These are the dreams that are unrealistic, silly and even naive in the sometimes-too-narrow-for-its-own-good world of adulthood. 

There is nothing wrong with dreaming big. In fact, the bigger the dreams, the better the imagination. the bucket list is the list where we write the things we want to say, the things we're even too afraid to say out loud. So we say them on paper. Or in a Word document. Or an app even.

My bucket list has a few crazy things I'd like to do in life. One of these things is to see an active volcano erupt. Don't ask my why, but for some crazy reason I have always been fascinated by this wonder of nature, this extraordinary erupting beauty that is the maker of this world.

Seeing that I grew up on an island that is known for erupting volcanoes, earthquakes and melting glaciers at spring, it's probably best to call it natural curiosity. Not to forget the blizzards and the strong winds that are rarely silent. Those I don't love but they make for incredible companions to the raving mad nature.

Iceland is a place for craziness. 

And so, when the third volcanic eruption in less than five years commenced just over a month ago, I knew I had to eat a slice of that cake. And so, to celebrate my partner's 34th birthday, I booked a sightseeing flight from the most beautiful place in Iceland, Mývatn, that is, Lake Midge, with Mýflug, a small local flight service. 

Beautiful Mývatn. Photo by JB.
The shores of Mývatn. Photo by JB.
The extraordinary landscape in Mývatn. Photo by JB.

The Hverfjall crater. Photo by JB.
Mývatn seen from the skies. Photo by JB.
In the late afternoon on September 20th - after a lovely walk by the lake - my partner and I embarked upon the adventure of our lifetime, a sightseeing flight over the volcanic eruption at Holuhraun near the great Vatnajökull glacier (The Water glacier). 

The magnetic Krafla crater. Photo by JB.
The journey to our destination was extraordinary. Shortly before we arrived at the sight of the eruption, we flew over the beautiful Krafla crater, a crater that is known for powerful eruptions. 
The Vatnajökull glacier from a distance. Photo by JB.
The glacier looked upon us from a distance but our destination was not the glacier. It was the amazing eruption.
The great eruption in Holuhraun. Photo by JB.
To capture the great moment, I couldn't resist the urge to film it on my iPhone 4s. 

Our vessel on this journey was a small six-seater flown by a young but capable pilot, a woman with a great future in the aviation industry. And quite possibly the best job in the world… I mean, she gets to fly near an erupting volcano for a living. How incredible is that.
The vessel of my dreams. Photo by JB.
This vessel lives in my memory as the grandest ride of my life… it was the vessel that made a dream of mine come true.

And so it happened that my craziest dream came true. 
A true bucket list moment.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Utopia That Will Be

Emma Watson's incredible opening speech for the He For She campaign broke the ice and started a dialogue about feminism.

The twelve minute long speech broke the silence about what it is to be a feminist, and how important it is that we work together as a whole to make the world a better place.

I am only 34 years old, but twenty-three years ago, I went with the girls in my class to see the school nurse for a talk about our procreational organs and the biology of womanhood. We listened to the nurse talk about our periods and the monthly cycle, and how to avoid getting pregnant. 

The second part, how to avoid getting pregnant is not the lecture the boys heard. They were not told about periods or how the female body functions. And I too never heard the lecture they were given about how puberty affects them.

This was the first sign of the segregation of the sexes. Girls learned about their part in the procreational cycle and boys about their part. 

Then came the time when I experienced sexism first hand for the very first time. As a little girl, I understood the world didn't view me in the same light as the boys in my class. The sex education class was not even the first hint. But up until that point, I had been sheltered by doting parents who saw only the individual in their little girl.

I was 12 years old and the new school year was about to start. That year we got a new PE teacher. Up until then, I'd had the same PE teachers since first grade, a married couple who taught together and kept it fun and interesting.

In the first PE class of the new semester, the class was an assembly of curious pre-teens. The new teacher was a man probably in his mid to late twenties, perhaps early thirties. He was someone who was only interested in sports involving balls, that is, handball, football and basketball. I can't remember the very first time I realized he viewed the boys as superior sportsmen, but it happened early enough in the semester. 

Every single time football, handball or basketball was played in class, he split the class in two, boys on one side of the room and girls on the other. He told the girls to play ball and that he would check upon us every now and then. For most of the class, he focused his attention on the boys. He was quite explicit, and even said so once, that girls were inferior sportsmen than boys. 

I understood this was not right. It was misogyny, a word I didn't know at the time. But the concept was no longer foreign to me. 

For the duration of the school year, the girls were excluded from playing sports with the boys, apart from the rare occasion when we played sports that did not require a ball to kick or throw.

Seeing that I grew up in a town where football, otherwise known as soccer, was the number one sport for both girls and boys, this was an odd arrangement. Our previous PE teachers had not divided us in teams based on our gender, but rather by number. 

In the following school yeara new PE teacher took his place and once again, we were divided into teams by number.

This first encounter with gender discrimination may seem harmless enough, and I may come across as petulant for recalling it still, but it is nonetheless no more acceptable than any other form of discrimination. 

Yes, we were not force-fed while imprisoned as our foresisters were in their battle for women's right to vote. But we did not deserve to be treated this way. We were young girls, only just beginning our journey to womanhood, and yet already battered by sexism.

Generations of women fought in body and mind to achieve equal rights for themselves and future generations of women. For their mothers, sisters, girlfriends and daughters, they fought and they achieved great many things. For some of these women, that meant a great personal sacrifice; exclusion, imprisonment, violence and hatred toward them was the day to day life.

Thanks to them, I started my life with a blank page.   

Generations of women throughout the ages were not so fortunate. The story of their lives was written for them, their life a script for which they claimed no authorship. Women were expected to read their lines like the good little girls they were, and for all of their existence be the dutiful daughters, wives and mothers.

The summary of their life was written by the men in their lives. A woman wed to a good man was perhaps protected from the violence she otherwise could be exposed to, and she may have been happy.
After all, men are not evil as a gender (and neither are women). Many husbands, and I'd like to believe that most did, loved their wives and daughters in all sincerity, and wanted nothing but the best for them.

The curse of the vast inequality of previous ages is simply that a woman was not believed to be capable of knowing what was best for her, or her children. She was as much a child as her own children.

Therefore, the real curse of men and women is the society that breeds a hierarchy of the sexes, the traditions and the beliefs that fuel society's standards, that are the devil. The rivalry of the sexes, the gender-biasism of stereotyping (and therefore condemning) each other into roles we are taught to believe are normal, is the great divider.

It is truly my belief that neither men or women can claim to be better than the other on the mere basis of their sex.  

To me, sex is the biological term for the body we are born with, and yes, as such men and women are different in various ways.

Gender on the other hand to me implies a notion, an idea of the sexes, of what they represent and of their supposed qualities. It's a neutral word with potentially explosive effects. 

To evaporate the explosive side of an otherwise perfectly neutral term, we need to investigate our prejudices, that is, the futile stereotyping of one another, and begin to see ourselves as people, as individuals of the human race. As such, we are allies. 

Our goal should be to build a society where we encourage individualism, where the belief in the good that is within us overpowers the poison of evil deeds in the name of gender. To be good, fair and kind should be the fuel that powers society.

My feminist ideal is simply the reinvigoration of the individual, and of liberating ourselves from the confinement of gender-based stereotyping.  

To give birth to such a society will require efforts to silence the prejudice that thrives in all societies (or so it seems), and to teach new generations - as well as firmly reiterate to generations already exposed to it - to always see the person before the gender.

It may seem futile to hold onto this utopian dream where humans exist without prejudice, but it seems to me that in order to see any progress at all, two steps are needed instead of just the one. 

As Emma Watson so beautifully reminded us, feminism is not the foe of men. The foe of men and women is inequality because whether we like to admit it or not, both women and men suffer for it while we let it exist. 

Feminism is but a word, a powerful word for a belief system that seeks to balance the inequality of this world. It is a word with historical reference to a movement that has truly changed the world for the better. Last but not least, it is an academic word for an ideology, an umbrella term for many different branches of thought.

Feminism explores the roles of genders in our society, and seeks now as always to even out the inequality. As such, the quest for individuals to be authentic in their own unique way, and to be the only writers to the story of their life, is fueled by feminist beliefs. 

It may seem futile to sign the pledge and declare your support for women's rights. But it isn't if all who sign act accordingly. If all of us, men and women, actively rebel against sexism either way it goes, we are making a worthwhile effort. 

Emma Watson gave us all a reason to join the movement of change in her launching speech for the He for She campaign. She asked herself who was she to launch such a big campaign. How could a 24 years old actress be the one to start such an important campaign. Well, if not her, then who, and if not at the age of 24, then when. 

And the same goes for all us, regardless of our age and sex. It's never too late to make a difference.

Next time I encounter sexism and hesitate before protesting, I shall ask myself that very same question, "if not me, who and if not now, when".

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Heart Has a Way

I once wrote that it was not my destiny to fall in love, to find a soulmate to share the ups and downs of life with. I was only 22 and only just starting out my life as a young adult. Life was a black hole of opportunities, and yet in my naivety, I had written off companionship.

The reason was simple. A broken heart, an illusion of the one and only, and youth's impatience for all of life's answers to reveal themselves to me, not just the moments along the way. 

The paragraphs of my writing at the time paint a picture of a vivacious but shy, hopeful but sad, happy but confused and yet already brave enough to take a risk and make a dream come true.

A few pages of dwelling in the past, of looking back in time and meeting me, a young and insecure me with a beautiful independent spirit. It's funny to look straight into the raw centre of the self and discover how early I found my two passions, traveling and writing. 

It seems it was always meant to be. Those two passions gave life a meaning before I understood how they've shaped my every step in life.

In writing, it's not just the act of writing. It's the act of reading, of bathing in words that are attached to a white slender sheet or a soft beige page on which words, sentences and paragraphs decipher the mysteries of this world.

A single word moves the soul across the horizon and all the way to the sun. Even though this universe is but a reflection of the past, a glimpse into a past, life happens in the moment. This life is reflected on the pages of great literature, and moves the soul. It brings joy, sadness and amusement - a roller coaster of emotions as the eyes scan the pages to find the answer to the mystery, finiteness to the story.

Traveling on the other hand is a curious journey with no predefined end. And one ending often leads to another beginning. It's the journey of continuity, one that answers the questions I didn't think I wanted an answer to.

It's a mirror for the soul. On the road that is travelled the light of knowledge glows brighter than ever, and the senses are wide awake. Each day is a new adventure, a new dimension, a new look on life and this incredible planet of ours, and the extraordinary people on it.

Both passions are still as strong as they were twelve years ago. The urge to explore and the urge to express is bursting within, like a bubble about to burst from excitement. 

Much has changed since I took my first steps into adulthood. I no longer live in Paris even though my love for Paris is as strong as ever. I have seen more of the world and learnt to land on my feet no matter what with relative ease. I have travelled down the road of literary academia, and fallen deeper in love with words and their infinity. 

The one thing I learnt along the way is that life has a way. The map is not mapped out by fate or a plan that is decided for us. It's the decisions that we make along the way, followed by the one after that, and so on. 

The only compass is the heart, and thankfully, I listened to mine and found myself on a path that is entirely mine. I share it with the love of my life, who celebrates his 34th birthday for another  half hour or so, and encourages me to pursue the passions that still give my life a greater meaning - as I encourage him. 

At 22, I didn't know true companionship, the kind where mutual respect and deeply rooted affection for one another - one that is born out of love and continues to thrive in love - and this as it turned out to be,   is the surprise I treasure the most.

Life is indeed a beautiful journey of unpredictability with no fated end. 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Erupting Bang of the Bunga

As the world knows by now, the awesome forces of nature are at work in the remote highlands of Iceland. This is an extraordinary event, something so unspeakably beautiful that finding a word powerful enough to describe its magnitude is nigh-impossible. 

Many want to travel to the site of this great event, and there are those who have tried. It's understandable but it's unacceptable, and high fines are the price to pay. The site is only for scientists and journalists whose job it is to research and report on the ongoing activity.

Sightseeing tours to the eruption by air - in a safe distance - is probably the closest look the general public can expect to get of this dramatic display of nature. 

And how wondrous that would be!

But with journalists on site we, the public, catch a distant glimpse of this amazing perfection of nature. Images and video clips of the eruption  bring awe to our bodies and soul, leaving a permanent impression of the grandeur of this world of ours. 

This footage by Jón Gústafsson and this footage from the Icelandic Broadcasting Company is truly magnificent.

How insignificant we are in the presence of such greatness! 

How small and unimportant in comparison to this true wonder of nature!