Books, Birthdays and Best Friends

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 22

Book you plan to read next

And with another extended absence I offer my sincerest apologies and propose we turn a blind eye to my blogging indiscretions and continue with the 30 Day Book Challenge.

Agreed?

You rock!

So, onto the book I plan to read next.  I have a few sitting on my shelf and am as yet undecided which I will read next, but there is one amongst them that I’d like to mention: La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales.  A memoir/travel book recounting the author’s “love affair with Italy and the most enchanting language in the world”, I think it’s highly probable that I’m going to enjoy it.  Why?  For four main reasons:

  1. I love Italy
  2. I love Italian
  3. I love travel literature
  4. I love the person who gave it to me

Yep, that’s a pretty good indication that I’m going to like it.  Point number 4 is particularly important.  You see, on Saturday it was my birthday.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ME!

Okay, I’m done.  As I was saying, on Saturday it was my birthday, and herein lies part of the reason for my blogging absence.  To celebrate the big two six, I decided to spend the weekend in the beautiful city of Melbourne and catch up with two of my very good friends, both who I’ve known since High School.  On the night of my birthday the girls took me out to an amazing Italian restaurant in Carlton, where I ate far too much and happily indulged in the magnificent company.

One of these lovely ladies is named Priscilla.  She’s not the queen of the desert, but she is many extraordinary things: a talented music therapist in the making; a fellow Buffy enthusiast; a devoted chicken connoisseur (the girl loves her chicken);  but first and foremost she is one of my best friends in the whole world.  The whole world, I tell you!  I can safely say she has been for quite some time in the top three when it comes to those who have supported and encouraged my writing, and I love her very much for it and am so grateful to have her as a friend.

As it turns out, she always knows, as often only best friends do, just what to get me on my birthday.  This year she gifted me the aforementioned book, with the following inscribed message:

Best Friend Love

Thank you Priscilla.  I’m sure I’ll love it, and even if the book isn’t inspiring, you my friend, are.

~storytelling nomad~

Newcastle, Australia

Newcastle – some love it, some love to hate it.  I, for one, am a lover not a hater.  For my Travel Writing subject last year I had to write a piece on the city that I lived in (at the time), and try to capture some of the energy and stories of that place.  It’s not a brilliant piece of writing by any means, but it does make me nostalgic for the town that was, until very recently, my home for 16 months.

N.B. the photo header for this blog is also of Newcastle.  It was taken last year at Nobby’s Beach.

Looking towards the lighthouse, Newcastle

Newcastle

Newcastle by summers day is typically bathed in sunshine, fresh sea breezes cooling the lazy trickle of bare footed locals and visitors heading to and from any one of the local beaches.  Situated on the East Coast of Australia, it has the rare luxury of being a regional town that also offers all the benefits and amenities of a big city.  Historic Hunter Street stretches over 3 kilometres from the West, extending almost to the sea at the East end of the city. The Cultural Centre, now home to a museum and writer’s centre, once upon a time was the local Police Station, hosting the city’s worst sinners in tiny cells still intact and complete with scratches on the cold stone walls. The streets off Hunter Street are also home to a number of hostels, but the scantily clad backpackers from all over the world spend little time in them, instead treasuring their close proximity to several breathtaking beaches.  Men and women of all ages run eagerly with surfboards under their arms, passing businesswomen and men on their way to work, yearning to catch the first waves of the day.

Near the East end of Hunter Street is Nobby’s Beach, where begins the Newcastle Breakwall that extends right out to sea.  Walking along the historic structure tourists can be seen admiring the glistening water, the horizon lined with distant red coal ships waiting to come in to the harbour.  Locals jog past, savouring a spectacular view for their daily exercise. Cyclists ring their bells to alert their approach to a family taking a stroll.  A group of young friends point to the distance, unsure if they’ve spotted a simple break in the water, or a commonly sighted whale or pod of dolphins.  A couple wander serenely, their German Shepherd beside them happily puffed and extraordinarily drenched from spending the last hour at the neighbouring dog beach; a playground where humans happily observe the joy of their canine companions pursuing dogs three times their size up and down the beach, snapping at the waves and chasing tattered tennis balls.  All of them are at risk of taking off with the enthusiastic wag of their tails.

As the sun sets and the night becomes cooler the streets become bare.  The markets in Hunter Street are packed up, with little left but the aroma of wood fired pizzas, fresh flowers and the sparkle of a sequin on the pavement to verify their earlier presence.  The backpackers retreat to their hostels, and cafes and restaurants light candles to welcome hungry diners. Scents of Balinese cuisine, international flavours, and fresh seafood make mouths water, and sun kissed faces enjoy drinks looking onto the moon glistened waves of the sea they earlier bathed in.  Hunter Street Mall becomes strangely silent, waiting for the late night crowds to pass through on their way home from one of the local pubs, their singing and merriment occasionally disturbing sleeping residents nearby.  Eventually darkness envelops the streets and silence prevails once more.  The wind carries only a distant sound of the roaring waves.  A tiny speck on the horizon earlier in the day, the titanic presence of a coal ship now slips silently into the harbour, the disguise of night finally failing as its soundlessness is betrayed by the tremendous blare of its horn.

~storytelling nomad~

Review: The Khareef by Pico Iyer

Travel literature is often regarded as boring and unvaried. Personal tales of “getting off the beaten path”, discovering the “inner journey”, finding romance on a moonlit night in Paris, or being rendered speechless by one of the many colossal icons across the globe have been overdone, and the small shelf allocated for travel literature in bookstores bears testament to its limited demand. With readers often slightly bewildered by a genre that offers an obscure mix of fiction and non-fiction and few fresh ideas to spark interest, travel literature seems to have been becoming a forgotten genre.

Thankfully, Pico Iyer offers a refreshing change amongst the underdogs with his enchanting tale The Khareef. This piece, from his collection of travel stories Sun After Dark, details Iyer’s 2001 trip to Oman. As he reflects on the Oman as it was, as it is, and later as it will come to be, Iyer illustrates a place far removed from the rest of the world, triggering colourful images of a magical, otherworldly and far away land, somewhat stuck in the past, but juxtaposed with snapshots of contemporary influences.

Those unfamiliar with the travel writing genre, may be unacquainted with the British born novelist, who in 1995 was named by the Utne Reader as “one of the 100 visionaries worldwide who could change your life”, next to the likes of Noam Chomsky and Václav Havel. A regular essayist for renowned Time magazine since 1986, Iyer has also made a name for himself contributing to prominent publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic and Harper’s. He is also the author of Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul, to name a few.

With all this behind him, The Khareef doesn’t disappoint as a travel piece to outshine travel pieces. The word khareef refers to the south-western monsoon that passes through the southern tip of Arabia each year, and it is with this image that begins visions of a “heavy chill mist” falling over Oman with its veiled women, “only their mascara’ed eyes looking out”.

There is a distinct feeling of isolation highlighted through vast desert images, abandoned hotels and little to no connection or intimacy with any people or of the place itself. Little dialogue gives the impression that Iyer is simply observing and reporting what he sees rather than interacting or becoming a part of it. He describes a place somewhat resistant to receiving foreigners as its own, stuck in an odd limbo between past and present, yet ironically destined to continually and dramatically change and transform within the restrictions of its isolation. There is little magic in Oman, but Pico Iyer shares with his readers the enchantment that veils this far away place.

Without warning, readers are led on an unexpected path of deeply thoughtful explorations as Iyer begins his piece far from where it finally ends. Late night encounters with young boys and their guns “guarding their turf as in East L.A.”, black veiled women tapping away on their slow computers “linked to a world no one really believes in.” Curiously, his detached voice offers a distinct undertone of discontentment with Oman as Iyer passes through, observing but never engaging. He evokes the feeling that foreigners are from too different a world to ever truly belong there or understand it, and yet despite this, sanctions a deep appreciation for its uniqueness, antiquity and detached charm.

Iyer’s command for language is flawless. The words roll off your tongue like poetry, each line evoking an image that draws you further into the desert, carrying you along as if swept up in the khareef. In an interview with travel writer Rolf Potts, Iyer stated that the writing process for him involves trying “to catch the feelings — the sound, the smell, the tang, of a place” (cited in Potts n.d. ⁋10) Indeed, colourful images of the landscape, the sounds, the people, all contribute to a read which takes all the senses on a memorable ride.

The Khareef liberates itself from the more mundane in travel writing. In a rare moment, it succeeds in delivering a place both desolate and neglected, yet also alluring and irresistible. It is hard to say how exactly Iyer manages to make his readers both distance themselves further from Oman and at the same time yearn a closeness to it.

If you are looking for a travel story that strives valiantly to set itself aside from the rest, look to The Khareef. Let Iyer take you on a magical journey to a particular kind of cheerless hell that leaves you wanting more, without suffering the reality of it. And brace yourself for the ending. It will undoubtedly remind you that despite our absolute dislocation from Oman, it really isn’t that far away at all.

~storytelling nomad~

Ben Lomond, Tasmania

Bag End Lodge

A view of our ski lodge, Bag End, at Ben Lomond

A quiet day left me staring upwards. Clouds sailed by with an alarming speed in what seemed to be awfully low gusts of wind, occasionally breaking to let through a patch or two of kingfisher blue sky. The fresh air invaded every inch of my body, deep breaths cleansing my lungs before escaping in small fleeting mists of hot air as I exhaled. I felt both invigorated and mildly concerned about the cold chill, even despite the layers upon layers of clothing, some of which I wouldn’t be caught wearing dead at any other time (hello thermal underwear!). But there it was okay, expected even. I did a little foot-to-foot shuffle to keep my blood moving, the crunch crunch of the snow under my boots keeping the rhythm.

When I first applied for the job as a ski lift attendant at Ben Lomond Alpine Village, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had only just moved to Tasmania and really knew nothing more about the apple isle than the following: people supposedly had two heads, it was freezing cold, and not a lot of ‘mainlanders’ went there. Not a very encouraging review, but I made the move nonetheless and thought that if that wasn’t change of scenery enough, working at the snow would be.

Ben Lomond soon became one of my favourite places in Australia. I say ‘one of’ because, let’s face it, Australia is one country where you can have many favourite places. But in light of the insufferable heat wave that recently passed through NSW I have found myself thinking a lot lately about the cool days on the small mountain just an hour’s drive from Launceston. It’s no ordinary drive either. Jacobs Ladder is the appropriately named narrow road that weaves precariously up the cliff side of Ben Lomond, the only access road to the slopes, and requires a certain amount of courage to attempt. The trick is to not look out the driver side window – the jagged rocks below are known to be a bit off-putting.

The absence of phone reception doesn’t help the nerves either. Ben Lomond is practically a technology-free sanctuary, so you can leave your mobile at home. Your hair straightener too (much to the dismay of a friend of mine who came to visit). You see, there’s also no electricity on Ben Lomond. I can assure all is forgiven, however, once you reach the top and are rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery that Tasmania has to offer. Not only that, but as it is a protected National Park, Ben Lomond is also home to many of Australia’s favourite native wildlife. I was surprised if a day went by when I didn’t spot a wallaby bouncing by or a wombat wobbling past the ski lodges.

I know some may think that a no reception, no electricity, freezing cold, two headed Tasmanian getaway sounds a tad disconcerting, but I for one can vouch that the two months I spent on that mountain were two of the most enjoyable I’ve spent anywhere. Even on the miserably cold and wet days when I was stuck doing my fascinating snow shuffle, dreaming of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays (another of my favourite places in Australia), the nameless face of one committed skier or another with only an icy red nose visible beneath goggles, hat and neck warmer would appear out of the hazy fog, hand outstretched offering me a hot chocolate. In those moments I would smile, quickly reminded that I was working in one of the friendliest and most beautiful places in the world. A small community of skiers passionate and proud of their little mountain return every year to brave the elements, a testament to the enchantment of a mountain that in many ways can’t compete with the big guns, and frankly doesn’t care.

I can also since confirm that all the Tasmanians I met had only one head, it was cold (but not always), and the mainlanders that don’t go there, are quite simply missing out.

~storytelling nomad~

Getting Published

I knew this was never going to be easy. I used to work at Penguin Books in Sydney as the receptionist/office administrator, and so it happened that I was the first point of contact for all incoming unsolicited manuscripts. Basically, if the publishing house isn’t accepting unsolicited (or solicited, for that matter) work, then it isn’t even getting past reception. I was told to send them straight back. So I knew from the beginning that if I wanted to be a writer, it was probably going to be an epic journey before gaining any recognition or money for my work. So, to begin with I set my sights low, submitting my work to magazines and websites looking for voluntary contributions. I know that any writing I do is good practice, and that getting published, even if only for a small online mag, is a stepping stone to (I hope) bigger success in the future.

So, here’s where you can see my name so far:

Belonging (2010):

The Australian Reader

Off in the Distance (Dec 2010 issue)

So, Where are you from? (2010)

Biscuit Magazine (June 2011 issue)

~storytelling nomad~