180 degrees

What have I been doing?  I forgot about the city.  But today I was reminded that there’s more to life than Woolwich.  I remembered how I love those dusty tube tracks and the ferrous air that comes pushing at us as the trains approach.  The sound of iron against iron, the clunking noise travelling down the tiled walls with their poetic Jack Daniels adverts.  I love the variety of people and buildings and shops and absurdities.  I love the people with crazy hats and purple hair.  I love the way the busker’s accordion tunes echo down the tunnels, making me feel like I’m in Amélie.

I love the graffiti and the wall art; people making their mark on the city.  I love the old bricks and the worn cobblestones.  I love the surprises lurking around every corner.

I love the way I can just go and sit by the canal and some crazy girl will talk to me and a bunch of Brazilians will play guitar for us.  I love the way a pint of Noble glints in the afternoon sunlight.  I love the willows gently dipping their branches into the canal, rippling their way through the lock.

camden lock

camden lock

I love the smell of food from every country in the world.  I love meeting Italians and yelling “FIGO!” and “dolce far niente” in their faces and we all laugh.  I love practicing my Spanish with random Colombian ladies who tell me “buena suerte!” and smile at me with their whole being.

I love the lady’s voice on the DLR – “The next stop is West Silvertown” (which always smells like poppers).  Ten years later I’m sitting on the same DLR train, listening to the same Bright Eyes songs about city life and heartbreak, yet everything is different and so much has happened.  I love the many memories that have nestled themselves into the very fabric of this city, in every corner (apart from the west – why would anyone ever go to Shepherd’s Bush?  East side forever, yo.)

kajsas hatI’ve been such a silly girl, hiding in our little penthouse so far away from everyone.  From now on I will spend my days in the city, not in Woolwich with all its drills and cranes and deceiving jippos (personal experience, not prejudice). I’ve met some funny people today, and had some nice conversations in three different languages.  I’ve bought beautiful dresses and finally found the hat I’ve always been looking for.  On the Northern Line, a man in a suit dropped a yellow jelly bean on the train floor and we looked at each other and laughed, and for some reason that felt really nice.  I’ve sung along to Elvis hits in the street and realised that nobody cares.  I can do what I want.  This life is for me.  I’m such a lucky girl.

Even Woolwich looks beautiful in a summer sunset

Even Woolwich looks beautiful in a summer sunset

woolwich

 

June and new beginnings

May disappeared in a thick mist.  Sunny days came and went, and I preferred when it rained.  I love the sound of heavy droplets incessantly pattering against the tin roof of our building.  Lucky to be on the top floor.  I lit candles, different colours for different purposes, while I sat in my jammies and wrote profile after profile to bring in a little spending money for summer.

The city is still a mess.

bus stop

Now my work is finished, and yesterday I finally found my flow again when I spent the afternoon in Jackson, Mississippi; 4,000 words pouring out of me rekindling memories of guns and swamps and sleazy strip clubs.  Still, I feel weak and shy, a hermit recluse sensitive to the daylight.  But I must come out of my hiding place now.  A long holiday is coming up – a month with various family members – and it excites me as much as scares me.  Better start packing; we’re off tomorrow night.

Last weekend we went to visit our dear friends in Kidderminster.  We went on a steam train along the River Severn and life feels very different up there, among woods and wildflowers.  Perhaps we are beginning to plot our escape.

train01train04train03train02train05

Read a blog post today.  It was nice, it had the usual message of ‘let things fall apart, that’s how they come together again’ sort of message.  But there was a particular passage that tickled me and I wanted to keep here for a later day.

“I know mountains grow because of their fault lines. I know lakes turn that gorgeous shade of turquoise because of their silt. I know jewels are formed under pressure. I know trees can grow through rocks, and rivers can break canyons …

I know the earth smells fabulous after a hard rain, and I know she breathes. I know out of the destruction of forest fires, new and stronger ecosystems can emerge. I know there is life in the deepest depths of the ocean and her tides can soften stone.” (Jacquelyn Taylor)

It will be good to get away for a while.  I’ll go breathe in the German mountains and swim in the Swedish lakes and completely refresh myself.  I will nurture my relationship with my book, offering it its due time and respect.  I will regain my strength and stop being such a sorry-ass wimp.  Once I accept that I’m a wimp and that’s okay, maybe then I will finally stop being one.  Ain’t that always the way?

 

Disconnected and alone

I’ve forgotten what this blog was all about.  Finding Fleur – finding that awesome girl who’s hiding on the other side of this neurotic pile of self-obsessions, misinterpretations, desperations, and the pain arising from the opposing forces of people-pleasing compulsions and self-realisation desires.

There’s me.  And there’s Fleur.

“Don’t look down; just cross the bridge
And when you get there, you’ll be glad did
There’s a better life on the other side”

Today is a sunny, beautiful, gorgeous, absolutely summery-flowery-wonderful day outside, yet I am sitting inside ticking off to-do lists (or at least, somehow, trying to), and riding out the inner battles of what must be done, what should be done, what others want to be done, and desperately trying to find that one stream of consciousness that tells me what I actually want, and then feeling guilty for focusing of self-interests. Whereas Fleur would just don a flowery dress and run out into the sunshine and play, embracing everything and everyone, and get her daily dose of healing sunshine, and not give a flying fuck what anyone thinks.

Melody Fletcher says, “Stop comparing yourself to your Higher Self.”  Well, it’s hard, but I’m very grateful for that advice.  Our human selves could never fully live up to the image of our divine selves.  I can seek and apply and integrate aspects of Fleur, but I will never be her.  And I mustn’t let that discourage me.

But for now, I’ll just have a good cry and watch Louise’s cat stomp all over me and not give a fuck (because the only emotion she understands is her own anxiety) and maybe have a soothing drink at antisocial hours.  After all, life is just an illusion, right?

coco

 

Don’t want to sleep

It’s 2 a.m., and Mike is snoring lightly by my side, snug in our new bed. Our bedroom still smells of fresh paint (with an added hint of popcorn and Sainsbury’s prawn layered salad). Zoe got on the 380 bus about an hour ago, after a giggly day of inventions and good intentions, and I’ve spent hours browsing WordPress themes and used my best endeavours to turn her emotional journeys into comedic entertainment for our new project.

The third wine bottle has just been emptied, and with everyone gone I’m rounding off the evening with some comforting tunes from the best voice in Sweden. I still can’t decide if I prefer the magic of late night quietude or the vigour of early morning sunshine. I guess the answer is to just stay awake all the time.

greenwich night

The order of things

The other day I escaped the DIY clean-up operations at home and met up with sweet Zoe again at our favourite hang, the Dial Arch. Since we last saw each other, it had been made clear that I had read and been influenced by male journalist travel writers only, and was obviously not being as honest and authentic in my writing as I should, so Zoe had put me on Eat, Pray, Love duty.  It was a bit of an eye opener, and I realised that I’m not a dry, witty, researching journalist type writer, but more of an emotional observer and analytical explorer. While I’ve been reading Liz Gilbert (not without shame – always making sure to hide the book cover when reading in public, and feeling extremely silly for doing so), the USA book has faded away to be revisited at a later time, because I think the tale of my first backpacking trip is eager to be born first. She will be the elder sibling, the laying down of the foundation. That was when I was all alone for five months and truly had to face myself and all the ugly stuff inside, as well as the beautiful treasures and surprising resources I found within me. I feel like if I figure out the arc of that first journey, then I will be able to see the shape of the second one. This might be how it wants to happen.

zoe and bella

Zoe and Bella at Dial Arch

 

Anyhow, Zoe got stuck in traffic so I ordered a black coffee and sat down to write. I opened the USA book and nothing came. I couldn’t even look at it. So I opened a blank document and began writing about the first trip, and before long my heart was pounding hard in my chest as the words positively poured out of me. I must have looked like a lunatic, staring intently at the screen and mouthing words as I wrote dialogue, my face contorting along with the emotions that arose with the words. When the barman came to pick up my coffee mug I was so buzzy I couldn’t speak to him.

“You done with your coffee?” he asked and began to clean up.

I surprised myself by shouting “Yes please!” and went on to stammer something about how I would order another coffee but will wait for friend because sorry just really into this!

I wrote 2,000 words in the hour it took Zoe to get there, and by the time she arrived I was out of breath and trembling. I’ve been very pleased with certain parts of the USA book, but never has the process of writing felt like that – it has more been like carefully assembling an IKEA corner desk, whereas this was more like a child let loose with oil paints.

I pounded out 3,000 more words that afternoon, and I think it’s actually quite good – but the verdict will come at the Greenwich Writers’ meetup next week. My stomach turns thinking about it.

IMG_5454rs

A weekend with Swedes

Veronica is my crazy, colourful, all-over-the-place, vain, contemplative, scatterbrained friend from school.  She is a mother of three, and an amazing artist – the stuff that pours from her head onto paper is just beautiful and completely insane. She’s been to visit me six or seven times, and each time I am reminded of why I love London.

Veronica Levin

Naturally we headed to Camden, not only because it always delivers, but also because Veronica’s man Markus had never been and it’s always great fun to bring a freshman to experience the madness for the first time.

As always, it was busy and noisy and full of tasty food and colourful crafts, and Cyberdog still awakens the raver within me. The lights and the tunes remind me of epic nights spent in pimped-up warehouses and obscure vaults, dancing for hours and having the best conversations with strangers. Like Magnus, a guy I met in a balloon queue once. He had slaved away in the same office for twenty years, and one day he had walked up to his desk and just couldn’t bring himself to sit down. So he didn’t – instead he moved to London, got a mohawk, and started raving. We high-fived and felt smug about our respective escapes.

(Spring is coming – perhaps it’s time again? I still haven’t been to Whirl-y-Gig…)

It was bitterly cold and we had to keep moving, so after a brief amble through the main parts of the market we headed for the bars.

camden

IMG_4654rs

camden shops

We met up with old friends from around the UK and caught up on each other’s lives in the Blues Kitchen.

Once upon a time Veronica, our splendid photographer and philosopher friend Sarah, and I were stumbling home from a Greenwich adventure, and one of those chance meetings happened when we ran into two friendly chaps whom we later got to know as Rus the Viking and Henrik the German. They were getting on a bus to the eastern docks, and we spontaneously hopped on and spent that night in convivial company and fervent discussions about life, the universe and everything.  The following night they brought us to the Wibbly Wobbly, a boat pub (which has now sunk, boo!) where we wobbled with pints and the pub cat and yet more intriguing conversations with Rus and his cheery housemate, Kamil.

(That’s Rus below, but he’s hiding behind a mystery cloak of viking hair and is thus difficult to capture on camera.)

blues kitchen camden

So we reunited and drank and were merry, and bumbled from bar to bar.

camden pubs

blues kitchen camden

Once, some years ago, we met Veronica’s KAW friends, and we all sat on top of Primrose Hill and laughed and drank ourselves silly to the most perfect sunset over the glinting city lights. Two girls from that splendid evening, Kayley and Erica, also joined us for our Camden outing.

friends in camden

As the night wore on, people said their goodbyes and got their last trains. Veronica, Markus, Mike and I took a stroll along the canal and ended up in World’s End. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I can’t wait for warmer weather so that I can spend more long nights along these canals, which reflect the city and attract vibrant picnicers and other such fun folk with whom one could spend a carefree summer’s eve and never meet again. Ah, the sweet magic of summer.

camden lockworlds endThe next day it was just the four of us, and after a Full English spiced with Gammeldansk (“Gør godt om morgenen”) we strolled through the spraycanned streets of Shoreditch, went to the Backyard Market and bought ridiculous necklaces, and Veronica drooled over vintage art while I stared in horror at empty-eyed taxidermy creations.
shoreditch streetWhen it got dark and cold, 93 Feet East called us in with their generous seating areas and comforting heating lamps. I quizzed Markus on what it’s like to tour with a band in America, as he has done more than once, and I took mental notes for a novel which is brewing somewhere in my brain, to be fully formed at a later date.
93 Feet East

And as naturally as flow follows ebb, we ended up in Café 1001 because that’s just what we do. This is my old hood – this is where, before the smoking ban was enforced, the big chill boys of East London would sit sprawling in leather chairs and smoke spliffs to the relaxing beat of Jamaican reggae, and Karin and I would sit here with our cans of Red Stripe and feel young and free.

Café 1001 always works because it has everything you need for a good day and night – start in the outside seating area where you can have a barbecue, a smoke and a chat while the sun set betweens the tall brick walls. As it gets busier, move inside and buy yourself a vegan dessert in the downstairs seating area. When evening hits, go up the stairs and hang in the chill-out area for a bit, chat, drink, warm up. And then go through the rabbit hole to the dance floor in the back, where you can easily disappear in rhythmic beats until the wee hours. Sorted.
Cafe 1001My favourite Café 1001 wall art:
cafe 1001 wall artCafe 1001Cafe 1001Veronica Levin

It was fun and beautiful and busy and educational and utterly exhausting, and after they had gone home life felt a bit empty for a while, with nothing left but a bottle of Gammeldansk and a delicious Marabou Mjölkchoklad. I went back upstairs and carried on painting the skirting boards.

I’m sure it won’t be long before Veronica swings by again – she just can’t resist the primal calling of ol’ London town…

london is calling

Interlude of nostalgia

And then I was going to write about the rest of the weekend and all that it entailed, but things came between, so that will have to wait.

Natalie floating

Natalie floating through Australia

This morning, out of the blue, I received a Skype call from Natalie, my sunshine pal and close friend who is currently having the time of her life on the other side of the world. She packed up and left for Australia, ditching schedules and deadlines and musts, and is now traversing that vast continent while piecing herself together like a great big jigsaw puzzle with the most perfect blueprint. I’m so happy for her, it sounds so amazing when she describes the adventures they face every day, the bright stars at night; and over the phone I could hear the raging winds along the Adelaide coast.

Naturally, it reminded me of my own travel days. They began at age 14, when I broke out of my sheltered Swedish childhood and flew to Zambia to visit Karin and see where exactly my cousin-slash-best-friend was growing up. What a contrast; what an eye-opener! It was all savannahs and fireflies and roaring waterfalls, shy lions and graceful impalas, friendly market traders and fresh watermelons. Some of the memories are still crystal clear in my mind, and there are not enough words to describe the magic of it. That’s when I realised how much world there is to experience.

Then at 23, I left everything behind and spent the most enchanting five months in Africa and South America, where I simply had to turn and face myself, and I cracked open like a rock to expose a geode of glinting crystals. Every day was an adventure, a painful one at times, but an adventure nonetheless, and that’s how I always wanted life to be. I hula-hooped on São Paulo’s rooftops, was robbed in the streets of Mendoza, saw my reflection in the great Bolivian salt desert, danced around a beach fire under the Isla Grande moonlight, and flew with shamans in Rurrenabaque – oh, my love affair with Rurre… I spent many lazy afternoons there in the depths of the Bolivian jungle, swaying in a hammock next to Río Beni that floated quietly through the unassuming village, while writing in my journal or playing some soft and melanchonic tunes on my xaphoon, and life was so easy.

Rurre 3

Our Rurrenabaque paradise

I spent wild nights in Rio de Janeiro, long and lonely nights on islands and in mountain hamlets, played pool with bewildered villagers who had never before seen a gringa, fished for piranhas in the jungle, got homesick in the desert, and most of all I remember the long busrides where I could take a moment to relax and reflect, and let it all sink in while watching the ever-changing landscape fly past.

I went from a clueless child who had been scared to go to town on her own, to a guitar-carrying, Spanish-speaking, easy-going backpacker wandering the selva alone, occasionally exchanging words with an inquisitive local, or just incredulously drinking in the freedom and beauty and perfection.

bus in peru

On a bus through the Peruvian mountains

A few years later I went again, this time with Mike, and it was marvellous to breathe in the sandy, smoky air of Lima once again, to feel the heat from the ground seeping in through my Havaíanas. To get on a bus and not know where we would end up. To amble breathless (altitude!) up and down the cobbled streets of Cusco, to once again stand on top of Machu Picchu, nothing but green peaks and clouds all around. To sleep in threadbare hostel beds and make friends from all over the world. To always be moving.

Natalie’s call, her stories and photos, sent me into a fit of nostalgia. I love the memories so much, and I also love my life now, writing and learning and hopefully building a career of sorts, and redecorating our lovely flat and making it our home. But sometimes my tummy aches for times past, and then I really do miss that feeling of the wind in my hair and the endless road ahead.

machu picchu 2

On top of the world

 

 

The weekend begins

Friday night I was buzzing all the way to town, literally grinning and skipping my way down Gray’s Inn Road towards the arcade dive bar PimpShuei, where the legendary Clinton Cawood was celebrating his birthday:

clinton cawoodClint is a living legend, because he is a machine of parties and love. There are no limits to whom he can love and what he can drink. Eight years ago he walked into the bar where I was working and my life in London completely changed. And now he has the most amazing other half, Jeanne who is deliciously care-taking and plan-making and always glows with beauty:

jeanne kajsa debi

We danced and drank and shouted storied that could only be half-understood over the noise, and I felt free and alive and bubbly with joy and love for all these people.

“And disappear again into a summer’s bliss,
Of staying out and sleeping in and getting drunk with my friends”

Then Veronica and Markus came with their suitcases straight from Gatwick to the basement technicolor dunka-dunka madness.

veronica markus

veronica levinBetween arcade games and cigarette breaks, Elvis and Bruce Lee, catching up with old friends and making new ones, at some point the birthday boy got behind the bar and suddenly the price for tequila was no longer £5 but a bared chest, so shirts flew off and sticky liquor was poured straight into people’s faces.bar shotsAnd then everyone looked like this:friends

good friends

IMG

tequila face

friends

Much too early the night wore off and people dispersed, and Mike and I grabbed our two Swedish guests and stumbled our way to a hotdog place. Clinton’s generous tequila servings had made Mike rather floppy and when waiting for his hotdog he looked like this:
cute mike

What an adorable creature.

Then Uber came and took us all the way home (I love taxis, what an amazing concept), and in the midst of the DIY chaos we settled down for a Gammeldansk nightcap before gratefully crashing into bed, saving some energy for the rest of the big weekend.

 

Free

Ikajsa can see now how old and deeply ingrained patterns are still affecting my life. Which means I can now break free from them. It’s already starting, and it feels exciting! Imagine a life with less worrying and self-enforced responsibilities that have nothing to do with me, really; an easy existence where I can float along with life’s unpredictable currents and swim towards the sweeter waters, and just be and do what I want.

I’ve been polyfilling and sandpapering and taping and painting and untaping, climbing up and down the stepladder until I got dizzy, and now the walls are fresh and clean and bright, perfectly in line with the new beginnings of 2015. Then I cleaned myself up, and now I’m in a pretty dress with a flowy skirt, and there’s glitter on my eyelashes that makes everything sparkle. Everything is happening at once and I’m not even worried, just excited. I just don my Vans and hit the streets, smile at people, chat with shopkeepers, a mini wine bottle in my pocket for the train ride. The city is glittering and beckoning and there’s a freeing sense that everything will be fine, and anything can happen.

 

Changes in the skyline

These days are pigeon feeding and weekly planning, health board activities and dodged gym sessions, hoarding then decluttering, filling in holes and drilling new ones and painting over them.  In between, I sit down to try and find the centre of myself, because if I want to be a great writer I must.  There are so many copycats and so few genuine voices.  All my life, I’ve let everyone else’s voice scream so loud in my head that my own is all but silenced.  How can I identify it through the noise?  It changes, too.  Like the seasons or the tides, it’s never consistent, and its fluidity makes it hard to grasp and channel.  Each new impression or suggestion brings a new flow and inevitably changes the direction.

The London skyline has changed so much since I moved here ten years ago.  I remember when the Gherkin (“the dildo” as we knew it back then) was the most prominent building in the City, rising proud and round from a low-rise, unassuming city.  Now it’s been swallowed up by a forest of skinny skyscrapers, and overshadowed by the aggressive Shard which sits on top of the vaults where we once danced from dusk till dawn and caught the bus home in the scarlet light of morning, against the backdrop of Tower Bridge casting its reflection in the choppy waters of the Thames.

But now the vaults are closed and life is something else.  I suppose ten years is a long time.  Ten years ago I was an entirely different person, so it would make sense if the city, too, has changed.  Hopefully when the old makes way for the new we don’t lose too much of who we were.

It’s still cold and grey and I stay in with my DIY and podcasts, and hold out for springtime and new adventures.  “April, come she will…”

kajsa-city