Ithaka

A lawyer gave me this poem yesterday. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything more apt. 

As you set out for Ithaka hope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. 
Laistrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: you’ll never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare excitement stirs your spirit and your body. 

Laistrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you. 

Hope the voyage is a long one.

May there be many a summer morning when, with what pleasure, what joy, you come into harbors seen for the first time; 

May you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfume of every kind— as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars. 

Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you would not have set out. She has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.



(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992) 

Giving Notice

Time is moving on and I’m two weeks away from handing in my notice at work. It’s been an interesting time mentally because it seems like a huge step. And it’s looming… A timely email update to a travel blogger has led to a taking stock of where I am and where I have been.

Certain changes in personal circumstances have led to a decision regarding getting to Split. My flatmate and I are spending the last week in February 2016 driving to Croatia. February is not an ideal time to be driving over the Alps so we are going through France and into Italy, to take the ferry from Ancona to Split. Given the political situation a friend is going to be meeting us there and then driving back with my flatmate. The thought of a woman driving back north alone makes us all a little nervous.

The Idea

Where did my idea come from? Well, it was partially my flatmate, partially my ex-boyfriend, and partially by father. My flatmate is a programmer and whilst working on a job, she went to Cyprus alone for 6 months to get away from the noise of family life. She rented a farmhouse just outside a tiny village and was able to really concentrate. But fortunately she also learned a little of the culture, the locals, the language…and I wanted to experience that for myself. She planted the seed.

My father spent the last 10 years of his retirement in an isolated spot in northern Spain. It was a stunning location and a very happy time, something which I’d like to recreate for myself. Being a practical and resourceful person he managed to make it work. I want to test my limits and see what happens when I am left to my own – rather limited – resources. Unlike him I cannot build stuff , make an illegal distillery, assist the local farmer in the grape harvest etc. I can only write. Will I sink or swim?

My ex and I have had some incredible times in Croatia. It is a place of romance, beauty, healing, and fascination. As I wrote at the time:

Sometimes the colours are just there
Waiting for you to stop and stare.
They wave and shout, a call to care
You will be back, you say, do not despair…

But there were also family times there which had an impact on my future life and direction. I was there in the late 80s at a time when Europe was on the cusp of a historic moment; the formation of a collection of new old countries, changing the map, bringing war, and eventually leading to the looking East of the EU. And this counteracts my romantic notions of the region! I am eminently practical.

The Planning

I’m not a planner by nature. This has been the first time ever that I’ve saved, planned, considered, and made something truly momentous happen. I was always academic and theoretical by preference but never really had to think about my route through my late teens and early 20s. A levels to University and straight into a really incredible career in law librarianship. Working in some of the best places in the City of London and sometimes I am seriously startled at how I managed to get here.

As I have written before, ‘How often do you get the opportunity to get from A to B via ZYX? How often have you been told that the journey is more important than the destination? How often is the longest journey one that takes place in your head? My entire trip away will be a journey of sorts because I don’t – yet – have anything planned.

Planning isn’t really one of my strong points and as a result, everything in my head is in a jumble. By setting things down on paper here, I hope to make sense of my mental post-it notes and their total disarray. The feeling of chaos has been exacerbated by the completion of my structure-giving MA. Now I don’t have that to hold on to, I feel strangely directionless.

Why is it my imagination only flies within the constraints of an academic essay? Why is the lively spark of a poem initiated by the stern rhythmic metre of a first line? Why does my chaotically creative insight only appear when I am tied by deadlines, pressure and plans? Which I know I’m terrible at starting.’

So to stray off this highway and deliberately get lost amongst foreign country roads – or islets – is interesting. And terrifying. Mentally, I wonder if doing a navigation course was a sign that I needed some direction! I now have my Royal Yacht Association skipper theory certificate which will support the practical sailing I want to do there. Is it best to save all the scary practical stuff for when I’m so out of my comfort zone?!

Accommodation

The priority two years ago was money so I’ve been saving and saving and I’m confident that I have enough to be comfortable. My accommodation is sorted and whether it is adequate that’s always a gamble – for both Sipan and Split.

I went with my gut instinct for a tiny apartment in a small fishing village called Sudurad. Sipan is part of the Elaphite Islands and although I’ve been to Lopud and Kolocep nearby, I’ve never been so it’s a bit of an unknown. I reserved it for 6 months but they seem really flexible and laid back! I think because I’ve paid the rent in full in advance, they are extremely happy. Either that or the apartment doesn’t exist and I’m going to be homeless. Still, it’s all part of the fun.

The place in Split was recently booked through AirBnB which I hadn’t heard of last year. If I had thought about it more, there would have been cheaper ways of doing it, but I’d rather be certain and secure. If I get to Zagreb, it could be more homely as I have a contact and an invite to spend time there!

Being in Croatia in London

I’ve been rather haphazardly making contacts in the Croatian expat world in London. I’m sure I could make even more effort but it can be hard fitting it all in. I’ve been to some British Croatian Society events and I actually have a photo in their next exhibition at the Embassy. Given my passion is art, it has been fortuitous two of their events have been art related – Contemporary art in Croatia and then ‘English artists inspired by Croatia’.

What’s next

It takes 3 months to get a temporary residents visa for Croatia. My renewed UK passport has been issued and is already to go off with the application form, photo and other paperwork. I need to include proof of health insurance, evidence of my savings, and where I’m staying whilst away. How this is going to work in practice, given they are holiday flats, I’ve no clue…I’m going to throw myself on the mercy of the Ambassador and point at my artistic photo as proof of my good character.

I’ve had a clear out of my wardrobe and started to think about the books that I want to take. I’ve been pondering telling my bank and letting the tax office know. I’ve even considered telling my pension scheme. But, you know what, it’s a year. it will all be here when I get back, and I will only be a ferry – plane ride away!

I started this with a panic about giving notice at work, so it seems a good place to end. It’s been good to write and take stock of where I am. It’s a flavour of my incredibly random thought processes and demonstrates that there has been very little in the way of planning. If anyone asks me, how are the plans coming along, I’m replying with a plea for ‘what should I be doing?’ because I’m at a loss!

Moments/Memories

In good times when the moment is being lived, the memories fade. They fade in order to make memory of the moments.

In bad times when the memory is being lived, the moments fade. They fade in order to make eternal moment of the memories. 

Distracted by abstracts

It’s been a while since I wrote something here. It’s not that I’ve forgotten my quest, but actually because I’m gathering information to fulfil my quest. Digesting and assimilating such unfamiliar unconnected knowledge takes time hence a period of quiet reflection.

The language classes continue apace and my biggest triumph to date is greeting my landlord to be in his own language. The discomfort of speaking will never go away. However the joy of hearing and recognising a single word makes up for any oral fears.

How does someone prepare for such a move? Having seen family live and die in Spain, I’m vaguely aware of the need to fit in, take on a new way of life and thinking.

I’m struggling with the over intellectualising of attending events ‘just because they are Croatian’. I’ve recently enjoyed a play and a pianist but I would have enjoyed them regardless of my plans. I’m grateful to the British Croatian Society for their abstract contribution to my experience.

But that is my current issue. My experiences are all in the abstract. Until I’m there screaming at the bureaucracy, champing at the isolation bit, and overcoming homesickness, I don’t see what more I can do.

As if to assuage my doubt, a gentleman in the ‘what does Yugoslavia mean?’ conference, has just emphasised the importance of popular culture in finding and understanding a place. I stand by my determination to see as many Croatian events that London can offer.

No matter how shallow and meaningless.

So with this in mind, learning and preparation is always the key even if it’s only in the abstract. Getting to grips with the history,and accessing and sharing the memories of others is a messy, informative and unifying experience.

Looking Up

I’ve done it. Actually done it.

The language, the research, the planning…all of those are mere dreams. To actually put your money where your mouth is and to pay cold hard electronic euros into a bank in Croatia, is to actually solidify your plans.

Three months rent has ben paid. From here on in, this jaunt is for real.

Looking Down

It occurs to me recently that I’ve been too kindly treated and overly nurtured. I only say this because it seems that various people around me are struggling. Struggling with jobs that don’t pay; jobs that suddenly don’t exist anymore; struggling with circumstances beyond their control.

Everything I have is miraculously intact, despite my best intentions to hurl insults at fate. And what the heck am I planning to do? To take a year out and live on savings, with barely a thought as to what I’ll do on my return.

It’s not the most sensible thing to do, granted, especially against the backdrop of various life dramas that are taking place. To not take this opportunity would be a shame. Once you’ve embraced the shallowness of first world existence, I suppose it’s just another day on the paradise island of unthinking pleasure…

How bloody lucky am I?

Učim jezik…

*splash* 

Is the sound of me in at the deep end in a language class. Amongst the people who are familialy and ancestrially connected with a small Balkan country, I was there in a linguistic fug. Never have I felt more in need of a glass of prošec. (Hard sh sound)

I set out on this linguistic brain yoga lightly equipped. Still, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Given I’ve been working furiously on the MA over the summer, I’ve not had the leisure to immerse myself in the sounds of Croatian. So I will be having a read of some exercises this week to feel less like the class dunce. 

Svetlana, our teacher, was reassuringly direct. This wasn’t going to be easy, and frankly, if she said it was, I wouldn’t have believed her. She set rules – 2 hours exercises a week and participation in class. Then she went over some basics concerning the alphabet and cases. 

Each letter in a word is is pronounced and doesn’t change. There are some cheeky characters which I’m sure will become less subtle, eg., ć and č, a ch and a ch sound. Being one of ‘those’ languages, it also has cases. Seven of them. Happily we will only need to worry about four…

Interesting political distinctions were drawn and reflected in the composition and layout of the classroom. It’s a joint Croatian and Serbian class, so both are taught concurrently. Svetlana made it clear that despite the split, they are more like dialects of the same language, polycentric in nature. 

And then we got down to business.

Outsider

My parents were outsiders. I’ve only come to appreciate how much recently. My mum is borderline personality disordered, whilst my dad was a stubborn overprotective person who revelled in going against the grain. If it was unfashionable, unthinkable or plain difficult, between them they would choose the hardest option, which made growing up in the strange cultural island of their making, quite interesting.

Living miles from my schools and living on a small holding was a contributing factor to being an outsider in my formative years. I would occasionally escape to my friends’ houses which were modern, welcoming, and reassuringly normal. Given that my home was in a state of restoration having variously no roof, no floor, or no utilities, this was a refreshing change. The story of my parents’ housing project probably deserves telling someday. The families of friends I enjoyed visiting were part of the village community, and they were involved with everything. 

As newcomers to a close knit village, it was hard for us all. With a strange accent and an outlook distinctly foreign to a small community, my family were definitely outsiders. Dad was appropriately cynical about the whole integration and no doubt ruffled feathers as he refused to conform to village life. I tried to fit in, what else can you do? I was five years old and heading to a school where generations of village families had been educated. I’d already done a year of school in the north, so being ahead also didn’t help either.

It was hard. And it didn’t really improve into secondary school, where distance and over protectiveness meant I couldn’t participate in after school events. So it would be straight home to our bucolic haven. All the same time I was being told to embrace my differences and pity the kids who were popular and unbullied. I played to my quirkiness and spent most of my time alone – apart from two friends, one of whom was more of an outsider than me. 

Towards the end of my school life and on into sixth form, other people moved into the area, which was becoming quite fashionable and well to do. I made friends with these other newcomers and my social life blossomed. I can’t help thinking that it was the same for my parents, who also enjoyed a broader circle of contacts. There was more opportunity for them because they had finished the house they were building and life was easier. 

The various groups of people who accepted – and continue to accept me – will probably never realise how surprised I am when I find myself part of something. The downside is that when people inevitably move on, I’ve been devastated and long for those happy times again. I started thinking more about this after a horrific conversation with my mother who was clearly having some kind of episode. In an exchange later when I was satisfactory numbed, my flatmate called me an outsider, a description of myself which I’ve never considered. 

It was hurtful but it prompted me to words. Clearly history is doomed to repeat itself with generational variations, and my parents were outsiders who ensured I was equipped with the same determination and strength as they were. To never become anything other than an outsider.

 

The End and Beginning

How often do you get the opportunity to get from A to B via ZYX? How often have you been told that the journey is more important than the destination? How often is the longest journey one that takes place in your head? My entire trip away will be a journey of sorts because I don’t – yet – have anything planned.

Planning isn’t really one of my strong points and as a result, everything in my head is in a jumble. By setting things down on paper here, I hope to make sense of my mental post-it notes and their total disarray. The feeling of chaos has been exacerbated by the completion of my structure-giving MA. Now I don’t have that to hold on to, I feel strangely directionless.

Surely a sense of freedom after the stress of writing on demand should be welcome? But clearly not, I’ve struggled to come up with anything slightly sparky this week. If I lack direction and structure, the result is a surprisingly imaginational rigidity. By trying to take control myself and do what is perceived to be the right thing, or go about things the right way in a vague pretence at being an adult, my thinking goes annoyingly stale.

Why is it my imagination only flies within the constraints of an academic essay? Why is the lively spark of a poem initiated by the stern rhythmic metre of a first line? Why does my chaotically creative insight only appear when I am tied by deadlines, pressure and plans? Which I know I’m terrible at starting.

Seriously, this is enough to drive anyone to martinis and chunky chips.

So I was given a verbal shake yesterday when I was reminded that the journey to the island of my dreams was a way of providing mental focus. Although driving is clearly the sensible way of getting belongings to a new home, it gives us the freedom to explore as we head south.

It is this freedom which is making my head scream and post-it notes whirl. Therefore I’ve taken the security blanket of some books, a paper map, and started to draft some places which we need to take in on the way. My head has already diverged and I have a practical list and a dreamy floating unreality list.

So situation normal and my head is already feeling better.