Antibes

Sculpture by Jaume Plensa

Spanish sculptor

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The land of the gecko

The girl and the boy have started their journey. Their journey thus far has taken them through some wonderful and tiresome places. Their first encounter in the strange lands was in ‘The land of the Gecko’. It was the boy that remembers the tale most vividly.

***

The gecko perches up in a strange, colourful garden.

Splashes of blue.

Splashes of pink.

Splashes of white.

It is obvious to the boy that the gecko is the controller of this land. The stairs bow to it. The ferns nod to it. Even the flowers whistle to it. Despite its majesty, the boy could hear the shouts, “Dragon! Dragon! Beware!” But the boy knows better. This creature is not a dragon.

This is a gecko.

The gecko peacefully overlooks the garden below, while the boy playfully strokes its head. He smiles and nods while others gasp at it. Filled with fear, other people stand stiffly beside it – grimacing. The boy laughs. He turns once more to the gecko and admires him. His beauty. His poise. His strength.

The gecko tells the boy he has been in this garden a long time. He tells of a time when he was ridiculed. A time when he feared for his home and his precious garden. Periods of solitude. He often longs for that solitude, but rarely finds it in the age of the statue people.

The boy could listen to the gecko all day, but in the distance he can hear the girl calling. As he turns to leave, the gecko  shares his secrets with the gleeful boy. The boy thanks the gecko. He has learnt much from it and must prepare for the rest of his journey.

The Land of the Sultan and the Castles

The boy and girl had already seen so much, but their journey was only really beginning.

They gingerly approached a new land where they could hear the delighted cries of children and smell the sweet scent of lollipops. They trudged through the green gates with the plastic arches, while the stern men and women pointed them toward the pink tower in the distance.

A pink castle kissed the sky, coated in what looked like pink marshmallow and coconut frosting. It must be a mirage they thought. How could a castle so large be made of sweets?

Unlike the other lands, the perils here were difficult to find. The sun shone brightly. The buildings were singing. The people smiled. Nodded. Danced.

As they rushed to enter this abundant land, they unwittingly fell under the Sultan’s spell. Lured by the bright colours and fluffy toys they became lost in a land with no start or finish. Their eyes glazed over, as the spell took its hold they gravitated to the red and black colours in the Far East wing of the Sultan’s abode.

“ELASTIGIRL,” the girl chanted.

The boy mirrored her cry, “SNAPPER!”
Time moved slowly. Unable to control themselves they clutched the red and black objects in desperation.

Elastigirl winked to the girl from beneath her shiny window, and whispered gently, “Follow me and you will be free.”

The girl obeyed, still under the Sultan’s trance. As she exited the Sultan’s cave into the light, the warmth returned to the girl’s eyes. She turned to the boy and shouted, “Elastigirl saved us from the Sultan”.


With Elastigirl by their side, the girl and boy walked more confidently through this land. This was the land of:

Flying elephants.

Dancing horses.

Racing cars.

Mazes.

Castles –  big and small.

As the sun began to tire, and their little legs began to slow, one last obstacle remained. The evil witch had captured Snow White. The girl and the boy knew they must confront the evil witch, and help Snow White. The boy was uncertain, but the girl urged him forward.

The girl stood tall. Her eyes wide open. She was ready for the challenge.

The boy made it to the dark forest and but he was unable to go on.

She turned to him, “Stay here, I will return for you when Snow White is free.”

So the boy crouched in the shadows of the trees, waiting for his sister’s return. The girl trudged on with out him.

She knew that courage meant doing things even when you are scared.

She did not flinch when the forest became darker. The evil witch’s traps did not deter her. She could see the crocodiles ahead. Wide-eyed she carried on.

The final hurdle.

The Boulder.

She heaved with all her might. The Boulder must have been twice her height. She heaved once. Twice. Thrice. The Boulder hurtled toward the evil witch. The girl heard the seven dwarves cheering nearby.

The girl broke the curse, and saved Snow White. Snow White’s kingdom became covered by a golden glow. Admiring the glow, the girl was reluctant to leave but she knew she could not stay, there were too many more adventures awaiting her.

Barcelona – toddlers in tow

Hits

  • Barcelona, like NYC, boasts many small, gated playgrounds throughout the city.
  • Seeing Superman atop of Museo of Cera.
  • Chasing bubbles in the park across from La Sagrada Familia.
  • Park Guell. The park land surrounding the monument include lovely greenery and a great view of the city.
  • CASA Battlo – great because kids can touch and move around quite freely.
  • Taxis in front of La Sagrada Familia.
  • Evening walks into the Gothic Quarter.
  • Polaroid camera for the 4.5 year old.
  • Scrapbook for the 4.5 year old to regularly write in.

Misses

  • Blood noses in the heat.
  • Casa Battlo at a three year old’s pace.
  • Pushing two strollers up the ridiculous hill to Park Guell only to be told it was sold out for the day. (Book ahead).
  • No comparative Polaroid camera for the 2.5 year old. Master B “I want a blue one camera” announces at every turn.
  • Finding time to write in the scrapbook.
  • Packing lightly with little people.
  • Toys, toys, toys.
  • Wanting toys.
  • Losing toys.
  • Sharing toys.
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Me heart belongs to Tamariu

(Picture courtesy of nickognenis.net)

We all travel for different reasons. For some it’s the idea of travel – the promise it offers. An escape from our mundane existence. The day-to-day. The monotonous. What can sometimes feel like a grind to accomplish errands, duties, the ‘roles’ assigned to us.Travel offers an opportunity for a fresh start. A different you. As Alain De Botton (in The Art of Travel) comments, though, we often have to bring ourselves along for the journey, which means we inevitably also travel to escape the everyday but cannot truly escape ourselves or our own neuroses.

I have often found that the anticipation of travel is just as much a part of the experience of travel itself. The wondering, imagining another place, another me in that place. At the commencement of our journey to Spain I slowly felt my neuroses easing in Barcelona, momentarily escaping the everyday in front of a building or artwork. Swept up by its magic.These moments seem to be more plentiful on holidays, forced to look beyond the ordinary and witness the extraordinary.In Barcelona these moments were quite sporadic. Interrupted by pushing strollers in the heat, crowds and lines at every turn. (Particularly in Western Europe in August I might add.)Tamariu (Costa Brava Spain)

For me, though, I really experienced the transformative power of travel when we strode into the little town of Tamariu. A town nestled along the rugged Spanish coast. It’s name Costa Brava means rugged coast, hints at the terrain that winds along this part of Spain. In equal measure beautiful and challenging. Rock faces and slippery walking terrain, make way for turquoise bays ideal for swimming. Entering many of the towns along this coast (in August) is a feat in itself. A byproduct of landscape and popularity. The tight streets wind down from perilous heights. Once you have survived the twists and turns to the beaches, do not be dismayed by the volume of cars at every turn. If the drive did not make you nervous, attempting to find a parking is sure to affect your blood pressure. Be prepared to walk and be prepared to park within kissing distance of another vehicle. This is no time to be shy, the Costa Brava awaits.

Our base town was Tamariu. I must declare my bias here: my daughter and I have certainly left a little piece of our hearts behind in the ragged edges of the town and the tender caresses of the bay. It is here I found solace in the early morning snorkels with the small fish darting through the rocky shores. It is here that my daughter found delight in the lapping water and the tiny schools of fish. 

The town is filled to the brim with many Spanish and English travellers during this time, so the tranquility of the bay is best found in the mornings before the crowds find their plot on the beach, or quiet hikes along the rocks. As one enters the hike the noisiness of the crowds recedes gently replaced by the waves slapping the jagged rocks, the trees whistling or your own feet slipping down the sandy embankments. The rocks encase everything here. They enclose small bays. They are ever present on your walks. They are always underfoot. Yet the cliffs also form a part of the beauty of the landscape. There is a wildness here.

This town is not operational all months of the year, it is holiday destination, usually operational until about November depending when the rain starts. The young man running the local store tells me he longs for October when there are no longer crowds and it is still warm enough to swim.

 My heart belongs to Tamariu but we did also flirt with neighbouring towns.


Lloret del Mar

This town was not for us. We did enjoy a lovely English breakfast and a swim at a pretty beach. The beach was far less tranquil than the bay at Tamariu. There was an old fort that we walked to, but beware there are very limited times available to visit the fort itself. However,the rest of the town had a 1970s feeling, combined with souvenir or market-style shopping reminiscent of Thailand.

Tossa de MarThis town seemed to have a lot more character than Lloret deal Mar. While it still had requisite restaurants and an incredibly long beachfront for tourists to enjoy, it also maintained a fortress and accompanying old town style. Here the shopping seemed to maintain more authenticity and less mass produced goods.Cadaqués What a lovely place this was. We only travelled here in the afternoon, and it was a rainy day.  After taking over an hour’s drive from Tamariu, largely due to the winding streets the effort was worth it. The rain cleared as made our walk into town, allowing us to enjoy the picturesque place. Cobbled streets. A large beachfront promenade littered with restaurants. The food here was well priced and cooked just like home (exactly what we needed two weeks into travel).


Sa TunaA beautiful bay that is very close to Tamariu. Sunken below the wild coast line is a tiny bay with traditional Spanish terrace houses that hug the outer edge of the bay. A must visit. Better yet, I would love to stay here in the future. A lovely little place for a swim or ice cream stop.

Another Gaudi adventure

Barcelona August 2018

It was nine years ago when I first met Barcelona. We met late one evening, a Black Wolf 60L backpack on my back. We, Nick and I, ascended from the guts of the city – the metro – into the chaos of La Ramblas. Nine years later I also found myself visiting La Ramblas, this time at seven in the morning. The backpack had been replaced by two strollers. The same handsome man by my side. Entering the city at this time was in stark contrast to my first taste all those years ago. Calm, quiet, familiar.  

Returning to Barcelona was like meeting an old friend. Places encountered in the past conjured memories of another time, another self. Then there were the places encountered that took my breath away all over again. La Sagrada Familia with its new additions. What a magnificent creation. The first time I was enchanted by the shift in style from other prominent cathedrals we had seen in Spain. This time I was enchanted by the feat that was being built in my lifetime. So often, as an Australian, I have been drawn to the old towns and magnificence of old world charm of European historical architecture – design, detail and craftsmanship. Old towns are in stark contrast to the ‘ending is better than mending’ approach of so much construction in Australia. Houses, apartments, even hotels are built within the year. Homes older than twenty years are knocked down for shinier versions. Demolition is our fine art. La Sagrada Familia is a reminder that good things take time. Even in its design stages Gaudi knew this cathedral would not be completed in his lifetime. He was prepared to gift his vision to generations that followed to complete his project. Thankfully for us, the Catalans have committed to the vision he had in the early 1900s. Gaudi, like many artists, was criticised and derided in his time. Barcelona is a reminder that imagination must not be lost in the pursuit of pragmatism.
 

Reflections on Clementine Ford and beauty in the digital age

Recently I began reading Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl and I was surprised by how much her story resonated with me. In the early parts of her book, she examines patriarchy from a highly personal vantage point.
It begins as an intimate exploration of women’s issues, rather than an academic one. 
Ford describes herself as a joyous, bolshy primary-aged girl only to become an insecure adolescent. At some point in her transition from childhood to adolescence she recounts feeling increasingly worthless. This worthlessness she attributes to patriarchal ideas of femininity. That in order to be feminine one must be beautiful, passive and pleasing to men. She recounts painful memories, including the development of an eating disorder. A girl unable to identify or understand herself as she did not fit the mould that her society had laid out for her. A story that I suspect rings true for many adolescents. In particular girls as they try and understand who they are and their role in the world around them. As I was reading, it was as though Ford was inside my own mind, her insecurities and doubts paralleling many of my own in adolescents and even in womanhood.

I read this as a woman. A woman with the rational understanding of patriarchy and all its mechanisms. Yet, emotionally the effects of our narrow versions of femininity still have a strong hold on my own inner monologue.

If as a 30-something woman, a mother of two, I am still plagued by the power of the male gaze in our western society what hope do the adolescents of today have? Ford and I grew up in a time where patriarchal values were prominent yes, but we were also free from the trappings of the visual culture girls are stuck in today. No Facebook. No Instagram. No Snapchat. No filters. No self-portraits. No Kim Kardashian.  

I cannot help but be concerned by the way young women reconstruct their own identifies online with utilising the patriarchal gaze as their own tool for comparison and construction? How can they possibly escape this gaze if they are also the mechanics behind it?

We know that this restrictive version of femininity keeps girls/women oppressed. Instead of dreaming of parliament, CEO positions, philanthropic work, girls are adjusting their filters, re-shooting their portraits, and re-constructing their identities one snapshot at a time.  

Despite all we have learned through the first two waves of feminism, the global beauty industry keeps women in the pursuit of illusory versions of beauty.

Western women cannot escape it. In the digital age, girls now proliferate it.