places + spaces / NYC

Greens sprawling twisting

Enveloping with breath

Eclectic wonder

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Homeward frown

And just like that, my journey home was before me. The only peculiar thing was I wasn’t going home. For those who knew me, this was actually nothing unusual. I was just as good at extending trips as I was at going on them in the first place. The art of life procrastination and travel maximisation.

Ironically, the days before I was originally flying home I no longer felt the pull to travel. 8 weeks on the road had left me tired. My senses were over stimulated. I was over making new friends each day. Over moving. Why was my backpack so full? And my toiletry bag, don’t get me started on that. I was going to throw it all out I kept telling myself, yet my shopping seemed to have the opposite effect.

I’d spent 4 days on the spectacularly beautiful Amalfi Coast. Sleeping in. Lazing about. Lying on the couch at the hostel. Lying on the beach. Willing myself to be more motivated to explore, yet mostly just motivated to try my next pasta dish.

I’d been away for two months, yet no epic travel romance has taken place. I now rolled my eyes at couples passionately making out on the beach. Didn’t they know I was trying to enjoy my lone wandering time and they were cramping my view? Did he actually just take off her bikini top?!!!

And since when was everyone in hostels like so young? And irksome? Had I gotten old without realising it? And did this mean I should perhaps throw in the travel towel? I’d had a good run. 50 countries. Perhaps it was time for the next phase. How did one go about getting a Swedish husband?

Moving to Sweden, now there was an original idea! Or Berlin. Or just go h o m e… For some reason going home never quite excited me as much as I wish it did.

I’d have to decide what exactly it was I was doing with my life. Whether to keep pursuing the film industry. Or something more creative? Writing? A business? And where to base myself for the near future? Auckland? Australia? Or further abroad?

And faced with the prospect of so many big questions was precisely when the next leg of my trip got exciting. I needed more time.

I began to research fervently and with extra care. Looking for hostels not just reviewed by the 18-24 age bracket. Two 25-31 year old Swedish men had stayed there in the last week? Very interesting.

My new itinerary was relatively slow and comparatively unambitious. Three counties, one month. 3-4 days most stops. 3-4 hours travel between places only. Plenty of time to take in the new sights and the sounds. Laze in cafes, meander about and contemplate life.

My budget was €1000 for one month. Easy for those parts I was told. Shopping was officially banned. Deluxe ensuite small dorms a thing of the past. Private rooms out of the question. The much loved Balkans were back in the game.

My last trip before I snapped out of Peter Pan syndrome and grew up! (Although that’s what I told myself before every travel adventure) but yolo’n my way through my 20s had served me well thus far.

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Augustine

I cannot fathom why even the third time around I love Italy so much. Partially I think it’s because it reminds me of my Grandfather, Augustine Koprda.

I’ve travelled extensively over Western and Eastern Europe, including the teeny tiny Slovakian village he grew up in – but strangely the people that remind me of him most are the Italians.

He was the European cliché – tall, dark, charming and too handsome for his own good. Passionate, loud, fiery but with a huge heart. Always a twinkle in his eye, and a spark of mischievousness that three wives perhaps attested to.

His heavy European accent was poetry to my ears. I was always darrrling. Everyone was always darling to him.

Maybe his Europeaness was exaggerated over time, in a fear of losing his culture.

Maybe it was the more than 50 years spent in the Italian communities of Australia, that he seemed to merge so effortlessly into.

Whenever I visited we’d be at the Italian or the Greek club, eating Mediterranean cuisine and I’d be getting lessons on life a la Europe.

“What are these shoes your Mother sends you in? No we must get you proper shoes, Italian leather.”

I know there was never anyone I looked up to or admired more. Maybe I saw a little of myself in him.

I remember as a kid being obsessed with this one book my mum had brought home from Slovakia, searching through the photographs for people that looked like me.

I never felt like I looked like the other kids at my virtually all Caucasian primary school. I was too olive, my hair too unruly, my eye brows too straight and too thick. My face too square, my features not quite dainty enough.

The first time I went to Europe I remember searching for faces like my own. And I found them. In Sleptany. A tiny village. My grandfather’s brothers, and their sons. They had identical eyebrows and eyes. It was uncanny. They cried when they saw me as the resemblance was so strong. I looked like a Slovakian man!

I remember going to Australia to visit my Grandpa a year later. The last time I saw him before he died. I played him a video I’d edited for his birthday. Little clips of his brothers, sisters and family in Slovakia.

I have no idea what they said, but he wept and wept like a broken man. Remorse for the family he’d left behind. The sacrifice he’d made for a new life. The old one he seemed so keen to leave behind.

Maybe that’s why he embraced the Italian way of life. La dolce vita. It was all the best of Europe, the sweetness without the darkness, deaths and horrors that were permanently etched in his mind from Communism and the Soviet rule.

As the story goes, he was almost shot when he escaped the border, swimming down the Danube river into Austria. His father was tortured by officials trying to get his whereabouts. It’s all hearsay now, as the very person I could’ve asked found it too painful to talk about.

But sitting in a square in Italy I think about him for the first time in years. He comes back so vividly, playing through my mind. Ironically he hated my love of travel, always telling me to stop wasting my money.

But the lure was too strong, the pull to explore this side of my heritage. There’s a darkness and sadness to his past that contrasts so starkly to Italy’s flamboyant lightness that would best be described as bitter sweet. My favourite type of gelato.20150802-093011-34211362.jpg

Wise as a toothless owl

The one advantage of getting all 4 wisdom teeth extracted at once, is that it’s something I never have to experience again. I’m quite pleased as I dwell on this fact.

Here’s one insomniac night owl’s recollection of the whole ordeal.

I was on edge from the get go. People are oh so sympathetic when they hear you’re getting your wisdom teeth out. It isn’t exactly reassuring. Particularly from people who have already had their teeth out.

And then there’s that thing about going to the dentist. Most people dislike it at the best of times. I’m sure getting 4 impacted teeth cut out isn’t quite classified as the best of times.

The room seemed geared with extra gadgets and wires for the extraction. It’s like walking into a hospital horror movie, starring yourself.

Luckily the surgeon had smiley eyes. He was a kind soul. And there was also a lovely photo of One Tree Hill hanging directly in front of me.

My nerves were at an all time high as the sedatives were injected.  I remember thinking I should focus on the photo in front of me. As I zoned in on it, I became more and more aware of how beautiful it was. My nerves slowly evaporated. This must be what meditation is like.

“Kesha, how are you feeling?” the nurse enquired. I deflected from myself, enlightening the nurse on just how beautiful the painting was. I must have incoherently murmured about it  for quite sometime, because the next thing I knew I was awake.

The nurse guided me as we walked to my friend’s car. I remember wondering why everyone was staring at me so weirdly. Only later did I realise I was shaking uncontrollably and I had dried blood staining my front teeth. How charming.

As the anesthetic wore off the pain really started to kick in. It was like a pain I’ve never felt before, not piercing but a constant aching — certainly with its own vibrance.

In the midst of all the painkillers, pumpkin soup and distraction TV; I did wonder why in fact they were called wisdom teeth at all. I’m guessing it’s because they grow later in life, but I’m not quite satisfied by this explanation.

And now I’ve had them extracted what does that do in terms of my level of wisdom? Am I now less wise? Or wiser still? And can I attribute the fact I cried like a baby in foetal position (when no one was watching) to the fact I still have two baby teeth?

I have a feeling teeth and wisdom may not be related at all.

The remains of my wisdom teeth

The remains of my wisdom teeth

Culinary Wizardry

While I’m on the topic of food, my culinary wizardry (I mean that in a totally non egotistical way) is really taking off.

I love food. I love to eat. I love to eat food cooked by people. But until now, I’ve never really been into cooking.

It’s the start of a new era, and I’m rather excited.  “Kesha’s food blog” flashed through my mind, followed by my face beaming up from the cover of my own cookbook.

Then I realised no one else is excited as me that I’m cooking Beef Stroganoff for the first time tonight.

And while this new found hobby is great, I’m still extremely amateur. Still, the last few weeks have been a gourmand’s dream.

I’ve tried my hand at prawn korma; pumpkin, basil and feta risotto; Moroccan chicken (with apricots, olives and almonds). There have been entrees of balsamic roasted beetroot, cauliflower puree and fried potato cakes. Even sweets have caught my fancy with lavishing’s of banoffee cheese cake, rhubarb crumble, and smoothies almost every colour of the rainbow.

Our flat has a dinner roster; we all cook one night a week, which leaves you with five nights to enjoy the cuisine (and a week to day dream of what your next dish will be)

From veggie stir fry 7 nights of the week to gourmet chef? The cynics among you may wonder what could spark such a sudden change. I give you two words: love and competition.

First there’s the love of my new flat mates. They’re such lovely men and new found friends. My inner house wife has finally emerged (better late than never) in an attempt to win their hearts through their bellies.

They are also the perfect guinea pigs. They taste, they assist and they critique. And four hungry men to feed ensure that I’m not the one finishing the entire banoffee pie in a fit of despair.

I should also mention I’m ever so slightly competitive. With my flat mates presenting delicious 2 course meals every night I can’t be showed up by a bunch of guys. And so my competitive streak inspires cuisine creativity.

I love it! It’s creative: I delight in the different flavours, colours and textures. Despite the stereotype, I’m happiest at the end of a long day of work with a chopping board, new recipe and fresh herbs in hand.

And I’m amazed at the culinary goddess that’s been hidden all this time. I hate to get on the positivity band wagon, but I urge you all to find your inner culinary wizard.

Then let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya over a roast chicken with lemon stuffed up its bum.

IMG_0069Okay, maybe I did finish off the banoffee pie in a mild fit of despair