Saturday, April 30, 2011

tips for beginners

Day 1 - and I am alone at last!

So far? Fantastic. I move at my own pace, I breathe to my own rhythm, and I do what I want. If there's one thing I can suggest to travelers, it's to make sure you try traveling alone. There is nothing like it. People speak of traveling to find themselves, and this is the surest way to do it. I love it. I ache for it.

Also, honestly, I love the free walking tours. Unless you're already well educated on the history of your destination, or just don't give two hoots, swallow down the it's 'muy touristca' pride and take one of these little segways into the past. I find that taking one of these strolls through the city really opens the doors on the reality of any given city. Sure, wander. God, yes, just wander and get lost. See what you discover. But a little tour will add three dimensional depth to your experience. Also, these tours are often conducted by fellow travelers who are looking to make a little money to support their passion. And I always feel good slipping them a tip to help them do what they love.

And never be afraid to talk to people. There can be some bad apples and sour grapes but there are also fruits beyond imagining. Tastes you've never conceived of. Either that or just a good story!



04.28.11 - Malaga, Spain.

magic ignition

Writers block. Stop and twist. Take a sip. Lost in beer rings and simple things. I take a glance to my left and my eyes linger. Is it the simplicity of travel? Magic ignition. Lights from fire a thousand years old cast wicked sparkles in starstruck expression. Tacit belief in something so brief. Am I living? What I've struggled for. Romance in our breathing, and here I am still thinking in fantasy. A thousand years - a thousand miles - can't change a simple thought. Lips moist, the drink tracing thoughts, cool down my throat. Hm. I think this one will stay unfulfilled. But my minds eye is full. So deliciously full.

04.28.11 - Malaga, Spain.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Snorry McSnorrerson

ahhhhh... snorry mc gooberson is in my room. A creepy old german guy in tighty whities is snoring up a storm. Faaaantastic.

I don't think my earplugs are gonna hold a candle against this fellers bonfire. BRUTAL.

Creepy? I say this because earlier today as I'm sipping on my drink in the hostel bar he saddles up next to me at the bar and - inconspicuously? I think not - presses his knee into mine. Rest assured, there was plenty of room, and this was not an over-reaction to a squishy situation. Oh, no. I'm then thrust into a conversation I don't particularily want to be in - nor can understand very well due to his thick accent and liquored up brain power - but I politely oblige, as long as I can handle it. The problem is that persistantly pervasive knee, yes, but also in his enduring need to lean in to me as he speaks. Sure, you're thinking, he's leaning in, creepy old guy, straying knee, whatever.. he's lookin for a cheap thrill. But his breath.. oh heavens his breath.. smelled a little bit like he'd spent some time praying to the porcelain gods. And every word he speaks has me envisioning chunky bits flying from his mouth.


This is not exactly condusive to productive conversation, let me tell you. I finally politely excuse myself and move along my merry way.

So I enter my room this evening to a symphony of saw worthy snores and a giggling roomate waving his hands in the air like a conductor. Lo and behold, it's my ol' german pal, scantily clad in the tightest pair of underwear a young woman never wants to see a man of that age sporting, doing the best impression of a hacksaw I've ever heard.

Joy, squared.

I've gotten kind of close with a couple of the hostel workers, though, and I'm hoping to maybe sleep elsewhere? It's funny.. it's an 8 bed dorm and this man's going to wake up to a completely empty room. My conductor roomate is paying for his stay by working at the hostel, and is trying to butter up his way out of dodge, too.

Evacuate!!! - I'm thinking - Creepy old snoring german on the loose!

Hmm.. I think I'm SOL on the new room frontier. Farknutters.. joy, cubed? I hope he's only staying one night.. ooh man. Not sure I can go into the fourth dimension of joy with this fella.

Alright, here I go.. earplugs at the ready. Goodnight and sweet dreams! Haha.. riiight.


Rainy Malaga

It's raining here in Malaga.. and so I am bored.

Unless you're a big museum buff Malaga doesn't boast an exceptional amount to do. Except for beaches and it's Alcazar and the adjoining Gibralfaro - which, to be perfectly honest, don't quite rival the one in Sevilla, and I'm told the one in Granada either - there's only a few things to do to occupy your time. So I've spent my days getting tipsy and enjoying tapas after tapas and sprawling myself spread eagle on the beach. No complaints here, really. But, this means, on a rainy Andalucian day like today, I'm tapping my toes in my hostel and thinking about my next glass of cerveza.

Sitting here bored in the hostel I'm set to reminicing. I've met some exceptional people so far. An old spanish painter who asked me to call him Pepe stikes out the most in me. A perfect example of Spanish charm and friendliness. He saw me limping along in the Alcazar and pulled me over to him. Blasting away at me in spanish and handling the leaves of the bush beside him he finally caught on to the blank expression of incomprehension on my face and switched to a charmingly accented english.

"Smell!" he says. Sure enough, the bush had a lovely herbal-like fragrance. Trust an artist to catch on to something like that. We laughed and chatted for a moment, and then he moved on to start his painting. I wandered around for a while and saw him again later chatting up another stranger. I love that sort of friendliness. There was nothing but happiness in his eyes, and a joy in talking with those who enjoyed life as well.

After this I move on to Granada. And I'm seriously excited. I keep hearing such wonderful things.. I can't wait to experience them for myself.

Cheers, world!

~the wandering quad

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Injury - Beauty Blooms Above the Swamp

Beauty Blooms Above the Swamp

*This is a shorter story of my accident, as compared to my second post in this blog, and how I received my spinal cord injury*

I found myself in midsummer, and in my arsenal I had a car, a lovely new N license, and the perfect sunny weekend I could spend up in Kelowna with my Mom. I was my first long distance drive and I was rearin' and ready to go.

Cruisin’ down the highway in my 'new' little 89 hatchback, I breathed easy and listened to some amazing music at a volume much too loud, (what else is new), with the windows down and the breeze beautiful. I made it to Hope, called my Mom for one of our little check-ups, ate a chocolate bar and checked my simple route for the fiftieth time. Getting back on the road, I slid easily through the Coquihalla tollbooths and enjoyed my first taste of a 110km speed limit.

Somewhere on the connector near Kelowna, something happened. I still don't know how - I must have zoned out, or possibly fell asleep? - but abruptly I'm no longer in my lane; I'm driving on the left shoulder of the road. White plastic pillars are smacking the front of my car, a beating panicked heartbeat. Suddenly the legal limit seems much too fast.

I want to get back on the road.. how did I get here? Smack, Smack, Smack.

I pull right.. Too hard. I'm new at this. I fly across the road.

'Oh god, this is happening.'

There's a jolt and the car is stopped. All I'm aware of is that my head is on the driver’s seat, my left arm curled up around me, and there's a seatbelt tight around my neck cutting off my breath. I try to move, to get up, but only my left arm does this strange little twitch. It then occurs to me I don't know where my body is...

I've broken my neck.

The next thing I knew I was being flown to Vancouver General Hospital with my Mother by my side. I was put into surgery that night after a myriad of MRI’s and other tests. I don’t remember much, but I do remember seeing the tear stricken and seriously frightened faces of my family and friends leaning over me. I saw my father's ragged face and red eyes, my step-mother telling me she loved me, and my friends, shaky and wild eyed.

I came out of surgery with a brand new and expensive neck - my C4 and C5 vertebrae fused together with some fancy new titanium hardware and a small piece of my hip. This, and a chilling diagnoses of an almost completely paralyzed body with a 10% chance of walking again. Safe to say we were all very frightened.

VGH was my home for the next five weeks, four of which I always had someone with me. Someone from my family, or a friend, was near 24/7. They worked in shifts to ensure I was never alone. Honestly, I can attribute a massive amount of my success to their determination and love for me. Any time I tried to get down on myself and lose my resolve or drive to succeed, they were right there with a healthy dose of, "Don't you dare!" and kept me encouraged and motivated. A body doesn't heal well if it's stressed, and we truly are more in control of our bodies than we give ourselves credit for. But we need to try to heal. If not, we will accomplish nothing. I believe this. I am proof of this.

Over the following weeks I met some amazing doctors, therapists and nurses - some of whom helped me more than they know – and gradually arms began to move, my legs began to move, and every new movement, however slight, was a cause for bountiful tears of excitement and hope.

I have what’s called an ‘incomplete’ spinal cord injury. This means my spinal cord was only pinched and bruised, not severed. It’s for this reason that I recovered at all and am not still laying motionless on that distasteful hospital bed. A complete injury reveals itself in someone who has absolutely no sensation or movement below the level of their break. An incomplete injury, however, is challenging in a different way: the damage is mysterious, and so the recovery is unpredictable. There can be a lot of hope, and painfully, no results.

For me, amazingly enough, my results were nothing short of phenomenal.

I then spent seven weeks at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre. Two weeks into my stay I was given the all clear, and I stood up for the first time.

I cannot tell you the feeling. After having been bed and chair-ridden for weeks, and after all the fear and worry that the 90% chance I wouldn't walk would be the winning side of the ratio; I stood. And seeing the world from my height - such a simple thing - just standing at my height and looking around, I couldn't stop crying. In fact, I had pretty much the entire physio gym in tears; in celebration, in envy, and in an inspired resolve to get where I was. They talk of miracles... The word doesn't hold the weight of how incredible I felt.

From then on my therapists had a rough time keeping me in my chair. I had, and still do have, difficulty pacing myself to avoid the fatigue issues that plague spinal cord injured patients. My body has to work harder than the average bear in order to do the same amount of work as a healthy person. But I couldn't - and still can't - stop. At first they tried to have me use walking aids, but I threw them off as annoyances, my desire to heal outweighing their need for safety. And what did I say to them with a mischievous little wink? “Don’t worry, I’ll be running in no time. Imagine trying to stop me, then.”

So here I am today, almost three years later. I do still have a limp and (okay, okay), I’m unable to run, (for now!), but all things considered, I’m beyond lucky. It was hard work. Incredibly hard. But with belief, passion, and determination, (and a whole lot of love from family and friends), I blew that 10% chance out of the water. I am convinced that if you don’t push yourself past your limits, you’ll never know where those limits truly lie. And I can guarantee you they are further than you may realize. Again, I am proof of this.

My rehabilitation wasn’t all candy and popcorn, though. Complete functionality didn’t magically come back and I didn’t hop, skip and sing my way back to my old life. I had to give up dreams, and make new ones. I had to struggle and compromise: scream, kick, yell at, and finally give in to some things. But I learned incredible lessons. I learned that there is so much more strength in me than I realized. That when you give up dreams the world doesn’t come crashing down. Instead, new possibilities emerge. Fantastic people you’d never meet are found, new passions and desires emerge from the woodwork of your life, and an inner strength that may have been hidden, but was always there, blossoms right before your eyes. Beauty does bloom above the swamp.

Believe in yourself. Push yourself. Be amazed by yourself.

But please, for heavens sake.. don’t break your neck figuring it out! It’s in all of us. It's in you. Right now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Semana Santa en Sevilla

A rhythmic thrum pulls me from my sleep. My eyes flutter open and there is a thick scent of incense coating the air. I half sit up, still groggy and confused from an afternoon powernap. I don't understand what is going on.

There it is again, a deep bassy percussive boom, rhythmically pulsing through the air. My eyes widen. Semana Santa. I bolt out of bed, my heart thudding with the beat. I was told I had missed all the processions.

Racing to the window I am surrounded by the thick musk of the ceremonial incense. I can't see anything, though.. just what looks like a normal crowd down in the street. But I still hear the drums pulse somewhere to my left, not far off. And even though I am not particularily religious, I feel it in deep. There is something inexpressible about this.

I whip out my camera and race downstairs. I must see this. Everywhere there is all at once crackling excitement and a deep solemnity. The juxtaposition of emotion entrances me. Or maybe it is the incense. Or the continuous thrumming of the drums. I am enthralled.

Then I see, coming down the small road right where I am staying, there is a crowd moving towards me. I see the tips of the pointed green Semana Santa hats gathered at the end of the walkway, swaying slightly in their slow movement. I realize quickly they're coming directly my way. I am on the parade route. I look up and see Kristin's head poking out our hostel window off the miniature balcony of our second story room. I can't believe my good fortune. It is the perfect view.

I dash back upstairs, (or, at least as fast as my gimpy body can take me. I'm limping, lurching, laughing and forcing my body to climb the steps), and burst into our room. My friends immediately move out of the way of the window, (how wonderful they are), and there it is. The procession slowly and stately moving up the street beneath me. A brass marching band strikes up, a blaring trumpet tenure that pulls at the heart in a strange way.

I start to click my shutter, awkwardly adjusting the settings as I amaturely express one of passions.

It is beautiful, exciting, solemn, wonderous.

I can't stop photographing this. The drums continue to pulse deep, hitting my heartbeat.

I am in Sevilla during Semana Santa.

I can't believe this.

Sevilla, Spain - 04.23.11

Memories from Atocha

I was in Madrid so briefly last time the only thing I remember was this train station. So I sit here chancing brief glimpses through the pupil of my memory. This escalator.. that ticket booth.. that garbage pail in which I frantically unloaded my.. ahem.. Amsterdam merchandise before moving through baggage check.. you know.. routine stuff :p Oh the memories.

Madrid, Spain - 04.22.11

The streets of Madrid

Madrid, Espana. The streets were quiet this morning, another peaceful awakening for those native to Madrid. The week long semana santa, (easter), holiday affording them a sleepy start to the day. Shops in the trendy Chueca district opened lazily, if at all. Looking up the sky was cloudy and gray - this, I am told by a local, is an anomaly for Madrid this time of year - I suppose we brought a little of Vancouver with us.

We drifted back to the hotel for a seista, (spain is perfect for me, and my need for constant midday naps. It's like they designed life specifically around my injured needs), and then left for a fantastic evening otu with a wonderful man named Gonzales, (Gon-thal-es). Being a business contact of one of my travel friends he was happy to drive us around his city, our own personal tour guide. We stopped for a peek at the Palace and it's cathedral, and then made our way to stand breifly in the direct geographical center of Spain. As a tourist, this was pretty nifty. As an artist, I was bored.

By this time the streets were full and bustling, the celebrators of Semana Santa out in full force. Occasionally someone dressed in the iconic garb; tall pointed hats with only small eyeholes through which to see - not unlike those seen on people in the kkk, but, worn for completely different reasons - could be seen dotting the crowd.

We moved through, dancing with the crowd until we reached Plaza Mayor. Rich in history this large and open square has always been a hub for activity. In the past, bullfights, trials, executions, markets and theatre all presented themselves there. Today it stands bordered by tapas bars and restaurants, their patios spilling out into the square. Here street performers make their living, and I sat romanced by the feeling and indulged in a glass of sangria while listening to Gonzales' stories. Here the artist in me sang.

Soon we tipsily giggled our way to Botin, reputed to be the oldest restaurant in the world. Guided by the forsight of our gracious host, our reservation directed us to the most beautiful section of the time rich building. Down "in the cave" as Gonzales put it, we sat in wonder. It wasn't a cave, so much as a time capsule built of old brick stones and thick rich wooden beaming. Artistically placed lanterns and plates adorned the siimple brick walls, and the romantic lighting lent a relaxed and comfortable feel to our dinner.

We laughed over wine and gazpacho, (which is, by the way, an incredibly fantastic cold soup that I definitely invite you to try, if you ever chose to eat there..) and tripped over the language barrier with the good grace of alcohol and high spirits.

1735. This place has been open as an inn and eatery since 1735. I am still reeling from the thought. My mind drifted as I sat there letting the indulgant red wine settle onto my tastebuds, to how many souls have been in that very spot, enjoying their own Spanish cuisine and company.

History, delicious food and glorious company.. Salud. To experiencing life.

Madrid, Spain - 04.21.11

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

new york - business class

It feels so good to feel human again. I'm finally in Spain. It's been three years in the making and I'm finally here. After a red eye flight - during which I did sleep, but might as well have been doing jumping jacks the whole time for all the rest I felt from it - I made it into Madrid bleary eyed and brain dead. What little Spanish I do know remained drowned in the empty wine glasses left astrewn in the new york hotels.

What a trip New York was. Ritzy hotels, rooftop patios, bottle service., I have never been treated so good. I had Alecia Key's "new york" on repeat in my head the entire time. I don't think I saw a single morning without the hazey fog of the remnants of a drunken night dewing my eyes. I was treated to dinner, drinks, passion and fury. It was chaos and hedonism, Anarchy of pleasure. New york - business class.

After the intense hustle and bustle of those crowded streets, I welcome the relative calm of Spainish Madrid. There is a quiet lingering hush whispering in my ears from the absence of the car horn music. I already feel a calm spreading through my nerves, a slow tidal movement. It is why I love Spain. There is magic here, I swear. An instant feeling of home. Of welcome. It's such a complete contradiction from the cacaphonous frenzy of NY.

I feel beautiful here. I can't wait for morning.

-Madrid, Spain. 10pm - 04.20.11

Horn melody. Cacaphony of metropolitan music. Jazz in the streets as we dance - glare - laugh - ..move.. Sway in time to the rhythm of the city. The lights strobe us into action. We glitter as the diamonds that bring life to this. The soul and truth of vitality in detonation. Reviving and surviving. Returning and learning. Lost in the swirling. I pulse my fingers to this percussion, slowing down the night. It is a good night, for this. Hedonism sings a siren lullaby and I am entranced by the fantasy. The alternate reality. For the moment, I am New York.

NY, 04.17.11

I seem to attract those that can't love but for a night. A moment in their history. I am their exotic release from reality. My eyelashes stray to the side, glassy eyed. Doll faced in this empty place. I am not your toy. Do not play with me.

NY, 04.11

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I feel it every time

I feel it every time. The engine starts with a rush of noise, and a burning excitement blushes radiantly from my heart. It spreads through my body - a pebble in my pond. My eyes sparkle as we bounce and bob down the tarmac, and a permasmile advertising the thrill pulsing in me is plastered on my face. I don't know what it is exactly that blossoms this excitement.. but just sitting there, feeling the plane hum and vibrate.. drifting forward.. every cell in my body knows one thing.. I'm going somewhere. Somewhere new.

The lights flicker off sparking another flutter of anticipation. We've reached our runway. It's time.

Then it happens.. The engine swells in a crescendo of wild new vigor and we're pressed bodily back into our seats from the sudden burst of power surging us forward. My smile is sunlight.

We're rushing ahead, now. A brief press of pressure sinks us down into our seats as the plane launches off, and then an almost giddy weightlessness lifts us calmly before we settle into the flight. Angling up and away I peer wild eyed and endorphine ridden out the window, down at the gloriousness of my city, glowing beautifully as it fades away into the glittering pre-dawn light.

The tingling sensation subsides. A sense of normalcy returns. Drinks are served and chatter fills the cabin. Routine.

But the quirk of a smile to my lips remains.

I am going somewhere. Somewhere new.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Married to Murphy

Goooood grief.

So many things have gone wrong during March and now going into April, it's unreal. Murphy and his laws have been snuggled up to me like a love-sick puppy with no manners. I've come dangerously close to canceling my trip multiple times but somehow, by some indeterminable grace, I've managed to avoid such a catastrophe by the skin of my teeth.

I could not need this trip more. And, almost masochistically, I'm even more inspired to travel than ever. With all of it's inevitable trials and tribulations things are bound to go wrong when you travel. But this is part of the excitement, the adventure, and the discovery of ones own ability to conquer anything. This is life, non? We battle our demons and whatever the world can throw at us like the champions we are. And travel, well that just proves how courageous and capable we can be. And as icing and sprinkles on the cake - because we love our icing - it throws in priceless adventures t'boot.

So here I am. Just a mere week from lift off, dodging the feces that's being hurled at the fan with the unearthed finesse of a seasoned pro. My sleeves are rolled up, the bull horns of stubborness are on, and I'm armed with ink and paper.

Come on universe, bring it.