Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Death Sentences and Executions

Last night I found myself doing some heavy reading before going to sleep.

I’ve started researching and verifying facts about the political and social situation of Iran during 2011, as I’m writing the Iranian chapter of my book.

Yesterday Amnesty International released their annual report “Death sentences and Executions: 2011”. Within hours all major news outlets where lighting up with stories about Iran – always handy when researching!

Though the things I learnt made my hair stand on end. Whilst travelling through Iran in September 2011, I fell in love with the country and the culture. I got the impression that Iran had a violent past and whilst insular was coming forward with it’s human rights policies.

In fact as you can see from the pictures we became so comfortable in Iran. The first picture is a ‘dress rehearsal’, of us in Istanbul, Turkey.

'Dress Rehearsal', Istanbul, Turkey

We had been informed that as foreigners we must always wear black or dark colours. That not a inch of skin or hair must be showing. Women must always keep their gaze adverted from men. You must not sit next to a man, unless he is your husband, in public. Let alone touch another man, even for a handshake. We were told that there would be government police as well as tourist police on constant patrol. To say we were nervous would be something of an understatement!

But as you can see from photo two, my headscarf is loose and I’m so relaxed.

Esfahan, Iran

Women appeared to be held in equal stead in Iran. The rules certainly appeared more lax than first anticipated. We were never stopped by police, let alone by tourist police except for a friendly hello. Plus we were allowed to engage eye contact with men without repercussions!

Though the statistics give an entirely different picture of Iran. Executions rose from 252 in 2010 to 360 in 2011. Iran is statistically to have the second highest execution rate in the world (second to China) though the exact numbers can be shady many countries with capital punishment policies, including Iran, carry out secret executions. The Amnesty international report states that it has creditable information for a 274 ‘secret’ executions in Iran during 2011. Typically crimes rendering execution include adultery, sodomy and religious offenses such as apostasy or “treason against God”.

Hanging is the most common mode of execution. In fact the number of hangings had risen so dramatically, that the use of cranes has become common, so a Japanese crane manufacturing company has ceased their imports of cranes into Iran.

Whilst the people I met in Iran were the some of the warmest and most genuine people I have ever met, the government’s policies are extreme to say the least and rigorously put in place.

With an Iranian family in Masouleh, Iran [Note Amy Winehouse style hair]

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Talkin' about Tolkien

Tolkien employs richly rambunctious turns of phrase. When I first entered Middle-earth as a young pup through the portal of ‘The Hobbit’ it all felt too dense and unattainable. I sensed action occurring yet failed to pick up the nuances of character. Many years have passed since then and this year I thought I would try again – how glad am I have years under my belt! I feel like I would have squandered the journey through Middle Earth with Frodo and Sam, if I had attempted this at a younger age. So far I’ve read the ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and ‘The Two Towers’, I’ve utterly enjoyed both books, much to the annoyance of friends and family as I gabber on about them.

Granted a lot of the language is still out of my depth (Tolkien constructed at least 20 languages including vocabulary and grammar!) the books have reinstated my curiosity for words. My current vocabulary feels stagnant. Even when writing about walking (for the main gist of the story is a rather long walk) Tolkien uses a breath of descriptive words to describe distances – furlongs, fathoms, 'over the sundering leagues of land', 'passing like shadows in the folds of the land' etc.

I’ve become an uber geek about LOTR and started researching the Tolkien’s lexicography. Tolkien didn’t just invent words; many have origins in old English

- Frodo, from fród, meaning wise

- The evil wizard Saruman, searu (cunning) + man

- The hungry monster sized spider, Shelob, takes her name from she + the Old English lobbe (spider).

- Ents, the old speaking, giant tree-creatures get their name from Eoten, an Old English word for giant

I admire Tolkien immensely as a writer, even if I feel utterly intimidated by his board scoop of skill and creativity. I feel like French kissing the words out of the page and liberally sprinkle them into everyday life. I truly appreciate this tidbit of advice he offers on the justification of writing in a ‘high style’:

"We are being at once wisely aware of our own frivolity if we avoid hitting and whacking and prefer 'striking' and 'smiting'; talk and chat and prefer 'speech' and 'discourse'; well-bred, brilliant, or polite noblemen (visions of snobbery columns in the Press, and fat men on the Riviera) and prefer the 'worthy, brave and courteous men' of long ago."

Besides giving me an appetite for words, the books are simply thrilling to read. Tolkien builds tension and propels the story forth. Occasionally the poems/songs feel longwinded, but that’s only a by-product of creating such a fascinating premise of ‘One ring’ of ultimate power that needs to be destroyed. Even though I know the ending thanks to the films, I am peachy keen to experience the final chapter of the trilogy in the written form.

There's thunder in our hearts

I've been a busy bee this week - I started a year-long pilates instructor course. Most of the class members are either practicing or ex-professional dancers. Whilst I'm enjoying it immensely, I've literally never felt so stocky and stuck to the ground in all my days! The dancers elegantly plie in-between lectures, go on point and float their arms out during chats in the corridor. Absolutely gorgeous, yet utterly intimidating! After a year without regular exercise I'm very much in an deconditioned state! This clip captures all the grace and strength of dancers in movement, I'm hoping osmosis will kick in and suddenly I'll be kicking my heels up!

Another reason for my obsession with Kate Bush this week, is that I've literally been running up hills! As I race from the train station up through the rather geographically well endowed North Shore (ie. hilly) to get to class in time. So I've been arriving in class looking like a sweaty betty- oh how I wish I had the poise of a dancer!

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Since reading about Patti Miller's term 'composting' - I’ve been more consciously shifting and ruminating over certain aspects of my trip.

Mud bath, Glastonbury 2011

Though I haven't really mentioned much about my trip at all! Basically I left Australia at the end of May 2011 for a European summer. I chose my destinations based on if I could nab free accommodation, but more importantly fitting in as many music festivals and gigs as possible - including Glastonbury (UK), Benicassim (Spain), Sziget (Hungry) and a host of gigs in and around London.

In August I boarded a bright orange truck and travelled with a group of strangers from London to Sydney. We drove through Europe camping along the way. We mainly pitched our tents in the back paddock of farms out of the prying eyes of the farmer – though an 8x8 orange semi-trailer is somewhat hard to unnoticed!By the end of the six months we had camped on an abandoned airstrip, in old quarries, mountainsides, farm yards, freshly ploughed fields, swamps, car parks, an old train station, on beaches or even just pitched on the shoulder of roads.

All the passengers on board became firm friends by the time we drove across Turkey into Iran, In fact I now count the majority as family.

Masuleh, Iran

The truck continued through Pakistan and I flew onto India, where I later met up with truck after a share of strange and wonderful experiences in South India – including getting scouted for a Bollywood film. From there we drove into Nepal, crossing the Himalayans in Tibet, then down the Yunnan province in China into Laos. Leaving the truck behind we crammed onto public transport, with chicken coops balanced on our laps and boxes beneath our feet, as we travelled through Vietnam. Before island hopping thru Thailand, getting stuck in monsoonal Malaysia, celebrating Chinese New Year in Singapore and then sailing to Indonesia. We drove through the centre of Australia before arriving in Sydney travel worn and possibly distastefully unkempt.

Some things have bubbled to the surface of my compost heap, including:

- Nightclubbing in thermals in Lhasa, as military police played poker and sung karaoke in the next room. I should add that by this stage we had been wearing these thermals day and night for ten days straight!

- Been shown the secret trails of bird nest poachers on the small islands off Thailand

Sailing in Thailand

- Discovering a choking fear of claustrophobia in the dark depths of the underground city in Turkey

- Almost tripping over the edge of a volcanic crater in Indonesia – all because I was trying to get ‘the perfect shot’

Before climbing the crater of Mt Bromo

- Getting locked below deck on a 36hr ferry journey though Indonesia. This was slightly disturbing, but the situation became unnerving after remembering that they evacuated 1st and 2nd classes first on the sinking Titanic. The situation became even more nerve wrecking when we realised that the life jacket boxes were empty

Clutching onto a buoy for dear life once we were allowed above deck

- Somehow managing not to contract a full body fungal infection after a visit to a grimy Turkish spa bath. Lesson learnt - saving five lira is not worth the experience of getting boisterously pummeled with a rag by a very naked, middle aged Turkish woman

Istanbul in bloom

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The rot sets in

Community garden, Highgate Hill, London

Lately I’ve been thinking about bodies. And compost. But mainly bodies.

I haven’t been thinking about body deposable techniques. Rather I’ve been dredging my brain for everything I learnt in uni about anatomy and musculoskeletal conditions*. My neurones are synapsing over time. I’m left dull witted and entirely at risk of falling asleep on the train after work. Once home I’m house hunting, training for a half marathon**, reacquainting myself with friends and family (so they don’t wonder who the strange redhead is sleeping in their daughter’s bed) and starting two separate yearlong diplomas.

After a nine months of having little worries and no responsibilities other then occasionally wearing clean clothes and eating vegetables - I’ve somehow piled a whole lot of responsibilities onto my plate so that I can’t even see the plate anymore.

Needless to say I haven’t been writing much, other a couple of letters and what you see on this blog. Whilst I’m happy with the blog, it’s been sliding into mainly book reviews. I’ve only vaguely mentioned writing my travelogue but not to any real extent. I love doing book reviews, but the original intent of the blog was to focus on developing my writing and have a manuscript written, edited and good to go by the year’s end.

So this last month I’ve been ‘composting’. According to Patti Miller author of ‘The Memoir Book’ -

“often, experience feels monolithic and can take time to break down into usable elements…tackle events which are too recent, and not only are they (writing students) overwhelmed by the events emotionally, they also find their writing ‘lumpy’ and raw, much like the original materials of a compost heap.”

Because I like plans and lists, I’m taking on Miller’s advice to do some ‘pre-writing’, which is not posing with your pen poised as if you are just about to write something. Rather

“You are not writing the memoir, you are writing about it. This pre-writing is a ramble, a kind of scaffolding, from which you explore the general territory.”

This week I’m going to figure out my approach to my travelogue – I’m half thinking of creating a chapter/personal essay for each country I travelled to***. But I want to figure out themes, intent, tone and style. Hopefully I develop a strong base so my compost heap sprouts a small seedling which grows into a heaving tree

'Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven', Secret Garden, Islington, London

I realise I’ve taken Miller’s metaphor and completely changed it’s meaning, but I think the idea of trees more appealing then rotting banana skins..

* I’m a physiotherapist

**I once read a study that if you visual yourself exercising this has a positive physiological affect on your cardiovascular health, minor at best, but at the minute I’m risking crow’s feet as I concentrate super hard on imagining myself running. I’ll hopefully squeeze in a spot of actual running this week .

*** England, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Belgium + Hungry + Bulgaria + Romania + Prague + Austria (in one essay as I spent I fleeting time in each), Turkey, Iran, India, Tibet + China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia

Tunesday #4: Little Red

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Hunger Games

I am in no way highbrow. I think this probably goes without saying, as I’ve already mentioned bowel motions and toilets far too many times in the rather short life of this blog. I swear I don’t have an affinity for potty talk; rather I'm just somewhat juvenile. Whilst my personality is less than refined, my reading habits have always erred towards being a self-proclaimed snobby toffee-nosed twat. I’ll be honest I’ve openly turned my nose up to sci-fi and fantasy in the past, without actually reading any such books. Someone slap some sense into my younger self please!

Since realizing that this attitude is appalling I’ve been trying hard to break this habit. So I’ve been branching out and exploring all the genres I’ve slagged off in the past - youth adult fiction, comics and sappy romances.

I do want to make it clear that I am truly armored by Austen, besotted by Bronte, amiss by Amis. I’ve poured over Perec and smitten by Steinbeck. I love a good classic, but it turns out that I love a bit of fantasy. I’m halfway through the Lord of the Rings trilogy and have just gobbled up ‘The Hunger Games’. They’re both rollicking good reads, featuring a hero’s journey.

‘The Hunger Games’ is splashed all over the internet in the lead up to the film’s release, but it was my sister who turned me onto the trilogy after she read it in a week.

The basic gist of it is in a post-apocalyptic world, America is a dictatorship run by ‘The Capitol’. To ensure the general population is reminded of how powerful the capitol is one boy and one girl is selected from each of the twelve districts to participate in the annual hunger games. A televised event where there is only one winner – the last person standing. It features such a strong storyline and bizarre premise that you can dissociate from the sometimes-whiny narration from 16 year old Katniss Everdeen.

I’ve started the next book in the series; so far I’m not as keen on it as the pace is all over the place as the plot is being set up, but I highly recommend book one.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sunday's sunshine

Gosh darn it's a beautiful sunny Sunday!

Everest's Epic tale

Apparently prosciutto without fat is like a kiss without a cuddle. I reckon reading ‘Into Thin Air’ without ‘The Climb’, would be like watching a David Attenborough documentary without the volume turned up. Sure you get the images and you can sort of figure out that something important is happening to the sleeping newt as it’s been on screen for thirty minutes. But you miss out on Attenborough’s docile tones giving rich insights into why it’s so important that the newt just flicked its tail. Is it because they're alleviating themselves of gas? Having a bad dream? Does it stem from the primordial soup? Are they sending out mating signals? I won't get sidetracked on Newts, I'm not even entirely certain if they have tails, but I will say that you won't get the full gist of what went down on Mountain Everest in 1996 unless you read both books.

In 1996 eight climbers were killed attempting to climb Mt Everest. Was it the weather conditions? Poor altitude acclimatization? Poor communication? Poor leadership? Both authors achieved submit Everest that day and through interviews, radio transcripts & experience they try to breakdown the events leading up to and during the tragedy. So if both books attempt the same thing, why read both?

Jon Krakauer is a born storyteller; ‘Into Thin Air’ is a white knuckled ride of terror. He delves into the characters of each of the climbers, their motivations of attempting this extreme feat, so when they are in peril you fret for their survival. I became utterly consumed by their attempts of survival against the sudden white out from a fast moving weather system.

Whilst the book went on to become a best seller, there was backlash amongst the climbing community against Krakauer. It was suggested that he transformed the climbers into characters and was more concerned with creating storytelling drama then recounting facts.

One climber in particular who’s their reputation was severely tainted by Krakauer’s account was Russian guide Anatoli Boukreev. Krakauer suggests that Boukreev demonstrated a lack of leadership and questionable concern for the climbers he was guiding.

Boukreev subsequently released ‘The Climb’ partly in response to ‘Into Thin Air’, but also to deal with his feelings after the tragedy. It definitely lacks the slick storytelling style of Krakauer as it did feel like I was wadding through facts and transcripts, but this adds to the authenticity and authority in Boukreev’s evaluation of the events. To be honest I thought Boukreev was a bit of a cold-hearted man prior to reading ‘The Climb’, but I think I was definitely skewed towards this option by Krakauer’s characterization of him. By reading ‘The Climb’ I learnt a great deal of Boukreev’s solo rescue attempts of some of the stranded climbers on the mountain. It made me feel somewhat cheated by ‘Into Thin Air’ as I went on to question a lot of what was present in the book. Yet I enjoyed reading it so much I would heartily recommend it to anyone – on the condition they read ‘The Climb’. I agree that it is a bit of Everest overload but it is such a fascinating topic.

I suppose the only reason I initially had any bit of interest in the books was because I travelled to Everest Base Camp (the Tibetan side) last year. Standing in the subzero temperatures with wispy oxygen thin air floating around me, I became armored by the mountain with it’s hauntingly crooked peak, shrouded in clouds. To be honest I felt the desire of having climbing it. Reading both books has since cured me of any desire to attempt submit. In fact I'm probably happy to just say that I've used the highest public toilets in the world (which is that concrete bunker in front of the mountain).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An ode to trains

I once had a job that was a twelve-minute walk from my house. Seven minutes at a push. I had a handful of jobs during uni that were within a fifteen car commute. Now I trundle along the train tracks for forty minutes to get to work and I've never been happier.

School children slouch along, schlepping their ignoramus school bags through the narrow aisles. Office workers with dower expressions pull at their neckties. The occasional loner has an animated conversation with the crowd of voices in their head. Teenagers desperately suck at one another's faces or pick at bulbous pimples. Shift workers snore from their seats, stirring at the rustle of board-sheet newspapers being wrestled into more readable origami-sized proportions. I love every minute.

Sure the Sydney train timetable is scant, the vinyl seats grimy and ticket prices shockingly steep. But I still love it. It’s like being back in primary school and having ‘reading time’, an entire hour dedicated to slipping into the pages of a book or catching up on correspondence. This week I’ve been roaming through Middle-earth and scribbling notes for a novella.

But probably the train journey that takes the cake was a 35 hour-long train journey across India on the 'Golden Temple Mail'. Bliss. Though the thought of Bombay mix makes me queasy. I suppose that is the consequence of consuming a kilo of it single-handedly.

Though my heart still belongs to the London underground. I was so enamoured by the tube, particularly the 1980's geometric fabric covered seats, I started a small photo album featuring a selection of the 'party printed' seats on the different lines.

Victoria Line

The Bakerloo Line

The Metropolitan Line


For all the bells and whistles of returning home there also the thistles and thorns, namely serve declines in snacking and napping. Through these blood sugar crashing lows and forced daytime alertness, one woman has cushioned the blow - Tina Fey.

I've just finished her memoirs now very much wholeheartedly consider Fey as a bosom buddy. It's hard not to consider someone a close, personal friend once you've heard all the awkward details of their first period, acne scars, boyfriends gone astray or lack thereof. Yup, confidences have been shared. Sure it's only a one-way street and said confidences were bound in the covers of a bright yellow, hard spine book - but I still feel the bond.

My new BFF has gently but firmly kicked me up the arse about my bitching about stress. As my cortisone levels skyrocket whilst I stumble about in a blind panic over having to do a couple loads of laundry, submit an overdue tax return and making it home in time for dinner - Tina Fey is the bossypants of 200 people, has a kid, works a gazillion hours writing a TV show, has the added stress of getting Oprah in the can* or perfecting Sarah Palin's accent. On top of that she wrote a book. A damn funny book.

However 'Bossypants' not just a book bemoaning her work life, Fey recounts how is worked her way through the ropes of improv** to SNL and how this has helped her become a better person. These are handy dandy life tips and believe it or not don’t include carrying a banana peel in your pocket or other comedy props.

The book isn't about how to lead the ideal life, nor is it meant to empower the reader (I now have a morbid fear of Fey's feet and cruise ship entertainers). The book is a series of heart warming vignettes strung together including the blissfully awkward 'suburban girl seeks urban healthcare'. Which is possibly the most cringe worthy Pap smear episode ever recorded in a memoir.

Tina Fey’s self deprecating deadpan humor sucks you in. You care about her life story, as it’s full of foibles. In fact you may even begin to care a bit too much. I admit I started google image stalking her. Like any good mate would do, right?

* This is of course a reference to the Oprah episode of 30rock NOT to Tina popping a can of whoop ass on Oprah

** Though perhaps theses ropes she worked her way up suddenly turned into spaghetti. But then suddenly the monkeys start attacking the spaghetti – such is the scope of improvising comedy scenes.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Committed to correspondence

Whilst on the road I followed a fairly haphazard approach to journaling; fluctuating between overzealous devotion to showing less commitment then a one-night stand. Thankfully I kept more than one style of journal. Besides the ol’ fashioned notebook, I was far more successful at journaling via postcards.

Before leaving I promised everyone from street cleaners, to hairdressers to the little old woman up the road, that I would send them postcards from every country. That was before I discovered the cost of postcards and stamps. So I pretended that I never make such promises, and instead sent endless emails to the promised. My pennies were spent on (cocktails and art) postcards to my bombastically charming Irish grandparents* and parents.

My parents thought I was just being conciseness in updating them in my whereabouts. My siblings thought I was boasting about my endless summer. Nope, I had far greedier intentions. To sooth my inner scourge, I crammed these tiny pieces of cardboard with long-winded stories, so they became diary entries on the fly.

But other then recording my trip, I discovered that I truly enjoy correspondence. I’m enamored by emailing and putty with postcards. Since returning home my journaling has fallen by the wayside in the most dramatic fashion** so I’m resurrecting my commitment to correspondence. I’ve bought a stack of envelopes and I’m going to aim to send at least one letter a fortnight****

Knowing that writings about my day/life will have an audience (including a nosy postman) is enough for me to put the extra effort in making stories interesting, readable and grammatically correct. Elements I can guarantee are severely lacking in my journal!

*Who are STILL running a farm in their nineties – if that doesn’t give me confidence to abuse my gene pool every weekend don’t know what else will.

** More like fallen into a gapping hole of oblivion – akin to Gandalf plummeting into the depths of Moria in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring”. Yup a LOTR reference, I’m totally zer***

*** And I’m clearly far too addicted to urban dictionary and footnotes (seriously footnotes IN footnotes?!)

**** Yay for semi-realistic goals! Pft imagine if I claimed I would send one letter a week – we all know that would be an outrageous lie!

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