lessons from the waves

From the sand of Dee Why beach, there’s a plethora of sounds to be heard. Sometimes, it’s the giggles of small children; sometimes it’s the incessant, eclectic ramblings of foreign tourists, or the boom of the lifesavers over the loudspeaker telling that bunch of dudes to get back between the flags. The most consistent sound is the gentle pounding of the waves.

Before today, I can’t recall a visit of the past fortnight where the waves came tumbling in with the intensity or rapidity of the waves this afternoon. Today, the waves were larger than normal and consistent. I bobbed around with my oceanic companions, grateful for the blue sky and the irrefutable satisfaction that comes from springing yourself up through the water in time with the rise of a wave.

Back on the sand, there were some less than savoury characters (think: the sort of people who intentionally leave their trash wedged between sand mounds, or don’t shake their towels in a considerate manner – that is, don’t adhere to the practice of softly shaking it a few centimetres from the ground to avoid the runaway daggers of sand particles moving at breakneck speed towards the next guy’s ears or – worse – nose). For the most part, it was absolutely wonderful.

I was on the beach because I needed to be reminded of my minuteness. It has been an entirely insane summer period over here, with many visitors (and some terrific memories), lots of hosting, work, departures of those near and dear, and the descent from the “rush” that is university. There was at least one pavlova, and a plentiful selection of my lovely neighbour’s baked desserts. With all this change, and celebration, has come my uncontrollable appetite for filling my schedule back up again.

That’s when I have to remind myself that it’s time to go to the beach.

The waves at Dee Why beach, as at all beaches, don’t stop. They don’t take a break one day and then decide to come another day. They don’t run themselves into the ground (except… literally) and then spend a few days sick in bed, refusing to believe they’re sick. Nay. They move in ebbs and flows. There’s a distinctive balance between when they’re full throttle, and when they’re re-centering with the swell, but they’re consistent. There’s a lesson in that. The oceans have been trying to make their way to the shore for billions of years, and they’re still working on it. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

 

R.

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signs from purple skies

Last week:

The sky turned purple on my way home from work last night, and ruptured into vivid shades of orange and pink. Hidden in the tendrils of sun-studded colour was the biggest moon I have seen in a long time. It hung in the sky like a saucer, and it smiled at me as I made my way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a semi-packed bus full of weekend-ready strangers.

Purple is a colour that has played a significant role in my life in recent years. It represents an incredibly difficult period, and some of the greatest resilience and strength. I look at it now, years on, and see the latter.

Earlier this week, I lost a purple baseball cap. I’m pretty sure I lost it in the back of a cab on my way home from the night shift. The cabbie had removed the headrests from the back seats and I think it fell off backwards, straight into the trunk, while I was stretching my neck after eight hours producing the news. (I’ve called the cabbie in an attempt to retrieve the hat but he hasn’t returned my calls.) The cap was branded with “NYU”, and was purchased when we were last in the Big Apple. It was a tangible connection with a place that I miss greatly, a place that I adore, and a place that I have long devised I would return to.

Perhaps the loss of that hat, then, was a sign.

Because last night, as I crossed the bridge to the backdrop of a purple sky, it became entirely clear to me that this city — this complex, creative, challenging city — is where I want to be. And while there is no confirmation as to what the future holds, it became resoundingly clear to me yesterday that the work that I have put in since returning to this city nearly three years ago is coming full circle.

In two months time, I will be leaving Sydney again for three weeks, taking to Japan for another incredible, unbelievable opportunity. I will return the day after a formative birthday. And I will, again, look at this city with new eyes – saucer-sized eyes, as big as the moon that looked down on its purple sky – eager and ecstatic and awake.

This week:

Last night, this happened:

photo-37

The view from here. Photo by R.

And tonight, I sat at my desk and watched the sun set while kookaburras sang out across the city. And while I’m still 100% convinced that Sydney is where it’s at, I also found my hat.

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slowing down

I’ve been sent a fair few messages from the Universe these past few weeks.

About a fortnight ago, Sydney was hit with some of the wildest weather we’ve seen in recent decades. Rain and wind slammed the city, the shoreline, and the greater state, and we were warned to stay indoors and avoid non-essential travel. So, pulling through the end of exam period, boxed up inside and ready to be done with uni, I had to take things at a bit of a slower pace.

Yesterday, I slipped and fell (into the splits) as I was walking through an intersection, causing me to stick one leg out and slam onto the knee of the other. I was walking (quickly) home from work in an attempt to catch a bus, and I have the bruises to prove how hilariously intense the landing was; I was physically slowed in my tracks.

Then today, I was walking to another bus stop to catch another bus, in an attempt to get home and pack dinner before heading out again for work, and the entire length of Oxford Street (up to Taylor Sqaure) was at a standstill. A protest had taken over the road. I walked for twenty minutes, up and around the protest and beyond, in pursuit of the next available bus stop. Despite my best attempts to get home quick sticks, I was forced to slow down.

Granted, the Universe has been trying to send this message for some time. It’s only now that I’m finally in a position to listen (literally, in an awkward splits situation in the middle of a street).

See, it’s been a busy four months. In February, I started my second-to-last semester of university and last week, I finished it. Currently, I’m working and filling up my schedule with meetings set for later this year. In less than 10 days, I head to South Korea on a media scholarship as one of 11 students nationwide. Then I’m back, and uni starts again.

Phew.

But if nearly falling on my face, hiking up Oxford Street, on being holed up inside during one of the worst storms in Sydney’s recent past are signs trying to tell me anything, it’s that it’s time to slow the heck down.

It’s just a matter of figuring out how to do that. Does that mean I need to finally start getting through the pile of books that have been accumulating on my coffee table? Does it mean that I should try to conquer a new recipe daily, and find Zen in the method and processes? Does it mean that I need to explore a change of scenery and revel in the unknown? Perhaps it’s all that and more: once we get used to a circumstance or situation, we often forget to appreciate the minutiae of that experience; what makes it important, or useful, or great, or vital.

I think that’s the main message the Universe has been sending me. That it’s time to remember the most important parts of the day-to-day, and the bigger picture. That despite all of the meetings and classrooms and pitches, at any point in time we could reach an impenetrable blockade (or protest), or be struck with unavoidable delays (or weather). That, sometimes, I’m going to have to wait 45 minutes for a bus, because they’re “just running a little behind tonight”. That every day is 24 hours long, and that we have the active choice to decide how we’re going to spend every minute of it. That despite my best attempts to plan, plan, prepare, prepare, maximise the minutes and be everywhere on time, it rarely ever works out that way. And that sometimes, a change of scenery just means trying to see something differently.

So in an ode to “slowing down”, I’m committed to taking the time to reflect on TWSW on a more consistent basis. Hopefully I’ll have plenty of stories to share from South Korea, but in the meantime I’ll aim to share some stories from the day-to-day. After all, it’s those days – tomorrow; Tuesday next week; a Friday 3 months from now – that inspire the best, most important stories.

And I don’t want to have to fall over – dramatically, hilariously, incredibly uncomfortably – in the middle of a street to remember that again.

twelve sunsets

Earlier this month, a visitor came to stay with me. She had (and, I think it is important to note, still does have) long, brown hair and a penchant for singing in public spaces. She had never eaten an avocado and found directions with the word “-town” in them slightly confusing.

Two flights brought her to Sydney, and the countdown began the moment she landed. We only had 12 days.

That’s something I’ve found endlessly fascinating about those who visit from the United States (she was visiting from the United States): they only stick around for a little while. They make the huge trek to this island in the Southern Hemisphere, and then stick around only long enough to see a handful of moons, and eat at a very basic amount of Asian-inspired brunch spots. Alas. We knew this, and we tried our best to make the most of it.

We went to many restaurants and visited many Sydney “must do”‘s while she was here. We tried to go for a surf lesson three consecutive times, but only the third time was the weather acceptable (no lightning) and the beach clear (no sharks).

One day, our plans went awry. We were supposed to have a beach walk in the morning, then catch a ferry to the other side of the harbour, meet up with Madre and Hermano, and have a surf lesson where we would all – in perfect synchronicity – become Layne Beachley like it was no big deal.

But the weather was wonky and the rips were too strong, so we postponed the surf. Instead, we four drove to another beach around the way.

We arrived around sunset. The wind was picking up, but not unpleasantly, and the locals were walking home. The parking areas had freed up, and the tide was moving in.

Riley Wilson_Beach_Sydney

Madre had us go buy fish and chips while she and Hermano manned the one free bench atop the cliff face. My visitor and I collected potato scallops and grilled fish and brought our dinner back to the cliff. The waves pooled in rocks below, and the colours in the sky began to change. The sunset – pinks, mauves, iridescent blues – rolled in. I’d look down and back up again, and the colours would be different, darker and brighter and louder and softer. It was an inescapable, unavoidable change. We couldn’t do anything about it, so we sat there and laughed and ate our fish and chips. (They were good fish and chips too, covered in chicken salt and decorated with chip-shop lemon.)

My visitor was only in Sydney for 12 days. Prior to that, we hadn’t seen each other for eight months. Prior to that, three, and prior to that, a year. We had stayed in touch via letters and emails, never matching the right timezones and never quite catching each other. We had been ships in the night for a long time.

In that moment atop the cliff, we were together looking at them.

Something about that night hit me very hard. It wasn’t the end of her trip, and we had had nothing but great times. There was nothing overly sentimental about the spot, or the fish, or that beach in particular. It was the sunset, and I’m sure of it. The sunset only lasted twenty minutes, and I look back on that evening and question why it made such a lasting, motivating, decisive impression on me. I wonder why we get so caught up in sunsets. They’re always destined to return again, and we know that. One day, tomorrow even, we’ll get the chance to fully enjoy them, viscerally and intentionally, again. They’re living art that lasts only twenty minutes, but it’s never about that. We love sunsets because they pause time; because they’re beautiful; and because they come back.

The colours in that particular sunset seemed sharper and the shadows seemed brighter, and here – to my left – sat a person who had willingly crossed the Pacific Ocean for the first time (her second time crossing an ocean, ever) just to be there. Her trip was only for 12 days, and – looking back – I wonder why I was so sentimental how little time we had.

It’s never about that.

We had twelve sunsets, and – one day, soon – we’ll have twelve more.

 

R.

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eating, radio silence + laminated maps

I’ve been doing a lot lately.

Especially eating. Not more than I normally do – in a food-to-consumption kind of ratio – but a lot in the sense that I’ve been eating a lot lately because it’s becoming my job (which I love, and think of less as a job and more as the most incredible privilege), and it’s been keeping me busy. I’ve also been meeting lots of exceptionally cool eaters, creators, and cuisine-inclined individuals with such exceptional stories to tell. It has been fabulous. On top of that, I’m right in the middle of exam period and I often feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to drink all of the cups of tea that I’d like to.

But I’m working on that.

DSCF2464

 

On Monday, I bought a food magazine just because I loved the fact that it had great typography and a gold-foiled ampersand. And I seriously considered asking the bookseller to wrap it, but then I thought, “How often do people gift magazines?” (And then I thought, “Maybe that’s something that should start happening immediately,” if not just to encourage normalcy in my own wrapping/unwrapping of print publications then to start something pretty magical.)

It’s the little things.

And the other day, I bought four mangoes and delighted at the fact that I bought four mangoes; they were on sale because they were bruised. Considering mangoes are getting $4.99 a piece at the moment and I got four “bruised” guys for $7.64, I’m pretty stoked.

It’s the little things.

Last week, I was on a bus near Hyde Park and I saw a couple come out of the train station, their shoulders heavy with the weight of vacuum-sealed sleeping apparatus and double-slung-backpack zip protectors and one laminated map of what I assume – and hope – was the City of Sydney. (I suppose it would be rather unfortunate if they’d come up out of Museum Station and realised that this plateau of cityscape wasn’t Geelong, or Mumbai, or West Antarctica. Bummer.) They looked lost and consumed with confusion, staring absently at each other and pointing in alternating directions of equal incorrectness. As the bus sat stationary at a particularly stubborn intersection – no thanks to the sluggish traffic lights – I felt a pull to give them directions.

But I couldn’t, because I was trapped on a bus behind two technologically savvy Instagram aficionados and a gentleman with the increasingly irritating habit of changing his seating position every third-of-a-second. I felt my chest tighten, struck by all the times I’d been lost in an unfamiliar city and so greatly appreciated the help of local strangers. But my chest tightened especially so because of all the times I’d been overseas and heard travellers share stories about how incredibly selfless and helpful Australians were. What was going on? The businessman and the family and the dotting couple and the other businessman with the brown briefcase and the businesswomen and the guy on a bike all walked straight past the couple, who – mind you – were still entirely dedicated to getting their bearings.

But then a chap, with a similar, less heavy duty, more “after-work-jog” sort of backpack, came up to the couple and their head turned in the direction of his sweaty, shiny, smiling face.

I don’t know what he said to them, or what they said back. I’m not sure if he was smiling while telling them to get out of the bloody way while he finished his final lap of the park, or if he was ushering them in the direction of their accommodation, or if he was simply commending them on their choice of backpackery, but he stopped. And he extended a hello (that much I could lip-read), an outstretched hand towards Surry Hills, and a big ole Aussie smile.

Just as the lights changed for me and the bus pulled up the street, I saw the couple hike their bags up higher and begin to walk in tandem towards Liverpool Street. The chap had waved them off and continued speed-walking through the park, and I saw neither party after a few seconds because my face could be pressed no further into the greasy glass of the metro bus. (Gross.)

I’m not entirely sure why the incident stuck with me; it wasn’t a remarkably interesting day, nor was there especially sensational weather. But here I am typing out the circumstance all the same, because the magic of intentional human interaction stuck with me like nothing else can. It may not have been remarkable, but it was remarkably special.

It wasn’t the highlight of my Tuesday, but it’s the highlight of what I remember from that day. It wasn’t a monstrously important event, but it’s a reminder of how important every event we experience is. It’s a reminder that sometimes when we’re feeling lost, like a pair of backpacking tourists at the entrance of a strangely named, non-museum associated train station, clarity is one sweaty-faced smile away.

It’s the little things, see? They’re making a tapestry.

I can’t wait to show you every single thread.

 

R.

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an open letter to the neighbour who is no longer there

Dear neighbour,

I write this letter belatedly, as you’re already long gone. But I still want to tell you the story. And then maybe it’ll make sense.

Let’s start with the setting. Last week – although it was maybe two weeks ago now…I’ve been losing track of the days lately – after noticing a shopping trolley deserted in the hallway that separates our apartments and finding its owner to be a very un-male, un-Indian, un-giggly you (and rather a very female, Japanese, smiling her), it occurred to me that perhaps you were gone.

That was my first thought.

Maybe I should have considered that, hey, you could’ve had friends over and this was one of those friends. But this new lady was very quiet and the apartment scents wafting out her open door didn’t ring true to previous scents. Plus, when I knocked on the door to see if it was your trolley (with the intent to tell you that I’m pretty sure the landlord isn’t happy with people leaving odd public items hanging out in the hallways so maybe you should consider moving it) and she opened the door, she told me that she had just moved in.

Hence the trolley.

I started to connect the dots, see, as you likely are now, ole pal. She was moving in because you had moved out.

The last time you and I spoke was in June, when you asked me if I – perchance – owned a graphing calculator and if you – perchance – could borrow it. I answered your question quickly, as I’m sure you’ll recall, with a laugh. I haven’t used a graphic calculator for two years. I’m pretty sure my brother stole mine and is now using it to disseminate information about matrices and cosines (and all those other things I spent time I’d rather have spent writing, learning about). You and I had some minor jokes about mathematics, most of which were lost on us both. Sometimes it was because the context got lost in translation on your end, and sometimes because the concepts got lost in comprehension on mine.

You told me, that same arvo, that you had plans to stay around town until the end of the year, which would mark the end of your post-graduate program at the university. You said that you were planning on returning to India in December, and had hopes to line up a job working in the field of environmental engineering “with a focus on waste management and recycling theories”.

So imagine my surprise when I found the trolley wasn’t yours.

It has had me thinking.

Despite the fact that we introduced ourselves to each other at least four times over the course of the first month that you moved in – over initially awkward encounters in the elevator, or when we realised our apartments were opposite and one of us had to open our door before the other could – I still can’t pronounce your name. I know you told me the exact pronunciation each of those four times, but I can’t do it justice. I hope you’ll forgive me as much as you did the second time, and the third, and the fourth.

(For the record, illegal trolley lady – she’s only told me her name once, so I’m hoping I’ve still got three more chances to get it right – makes food late at night and sometimes I can hear the microwave. She also has a friend who comes over often and smiles a lot, and they often laugh very loudly which I can also hear from my apartment.)

It surprised me when you weren’t on the other side of the door because that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. We never really got to know each other, and maybe that’s because I thought I had time to so I wasn’t too concerned with rushing it. I mean, December; that’s a long way away from April, you know? I hope that wherever you are now, you’re happy and you’re making your new neighbours laugh over misinterpreted jokes.

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve had a roller coaster of a time. Uni has been stressful and assessments have been tough (which is why my kettle whistles late at night, so probably a good thing that you’re not around to have to deal with that). I’ve got two (and a half?) jobs now, and they’re taking up all my time. Some days I love them, and other days I question why the heck I’m trying at all.

But I shouldn’t be doing that – the latter, that is.

So many obstacles these past two months have made me frustrated. Like the time the buses didn’t come on time and I was late for work and copped it. Or, like the time I wasted a whole bunch of watercress because the fridge decided to freeze up and leak in the back of the bag holding said watercress. Or, like the time my editor didn’t reply, and I didn’t make deadline; I didn’t even make editorial consideration.

I’ve also found myself really sad at some points, because I feel so separate to the people around me, at school. People my age don’t seem to want to try to understand my goals like I want to get to know theirs, and subsequently we end up in relationships we don’t really understand…and don’t really want. (I’ll have you know, neighbour, that I’ve separated myself from those relationships and I’m moving forward. I’ll get to all this in a sec.) I’ve felt confused, and secondary, and minsunderstood.

But then I’ve been so incredibly happy at other points, like when I get to go home for dinner and eat with my parents and brother and it doesn’t happen after a 17-hour flight. I’ve been incredibly happy when I’ve seized opportunities – as I do everyday – and feel pride for myself. I’ve been incredibly happy when the sun rises in the morning, and I’m still able to hold a pen – and to use it to tell my story.

Neighbour, we didn’t get enough time to get to know each other. And maybe that’s because we were both so caught up in avoiding the weirdness of the elevator, or seemingly insubstantial small-talk, that we didn’t give it our all. We didn’t give the opportunity a full shake.

We maybe didn’t give it the full shake because we thought we didn’t need to or didn’t have to, or because we were too tired from that long day or too stressed from that difficult conversation or too pissy from whatever the heck was more important than intimate human interaction.

We were supposed to have more time to get to know each other. We were supposed to get that pitch through to head editor. We were supposed to make the most of the market produce. But life got in the way. And all we have now is the potential of what could have been (or, looking forward, the potential of what can yet be). We’re faced with the decision to do something about that or reminiscence ourselves into a negative oblivion.

In memory of what could have been, I would like to challenge you.

The next person you meet, wherever you are, fully absorb them. Tell them your name until they can tell it back to you without wavering mispronunciation. Learn their fears in the seven-level elevator ride up to the top floor. Teach them a joke that makes no sense, and teach them until they can tell it for their own accolades. Be you. Be unforgivably you, and say things and mean them. Mean them more than you’ve ever meant them before. Tell your editors that you’re the one who’s gonna write that article and here’s why. Get on the early bus to avoid disappointment. Count the stars in your own eyes. Tell yourself that you’re good enough – and ten thousand times better than ‘good enough’ – every single day. Keep making eye-contact; it sets you apart. Don’t let watercress sit in the fridge for more than five days – eat that stuff in a wrap with haloumi, for goodness sake. Give people a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, and then let them figure it out on their own.

Thanks for letting me figure it out on my own, neighbour.

 

R.

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on the past three weeks

I’ve done it again.

I’ve let my overload of uni work and assignments and my work/volunteering commitments come between me and the writing of this blog. My literary baby; my punctuation pride and joy; my neglected linguistic outlet that is bursting at the seams with “Drafts” and lacking in “Published Post!”‘s.

Well, I’m back. And I know I’ve said it at least eight times, but this time I’m really back.

These past three weeks have held a roller coaster of emotional and intellectual tests, and I’m almost done with a major assessment (which was assigned in week two? Thanks for coming.) so my writing time is looking like it’s about to head more into the territory of just for fun and story-telling and further away from have I annotated that source correctly?

Thank goodness.

In other news, I’ve written on some other exciting platforms lately, including this one Australia’s odd culinary gems, and this one about the best spots for Australian food in the US of A. I’ve been busy doing things, I promise. And I can’t wait to get back to this beautiful baby of mine.

Stay tuned.

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from paris, with love | part II

In January, TJ and I ventured to Paris and Barcelona for two weeks. We were flying solo (together), and eating as much cheese + bread + market produce as we could. We were making memories.

from paris, with love | part II

In the world of the written word, there is space for unspeakable cruelty. There is a forum for words that hurt, that provoke ill-thought, and that conspire against the innocent. There is a sphere for people who reject the expected opinions of humanity and personal safety, and instead strive towards animosity of epic and incomprehensible proportions.

In the world of the written word, there is space for unbelievable kindness. There is a forum for words that inspire, that provoke new ideas, and that work to create a better world for its creators. There is a sphere for people who reject the expected opinions of the majorities – and the minorities – and instead strive towards a time and place where the unique is seen for the beauty it contains and given the respect it deserves.

In January 2015, Paris was shaken to the core by the unimaginable acts of maleficence and hatred towards the writers and illustrators at Charlie Hebdo Magazine. The publication, known for its satirical response to current affairs and socio-political issues, was attacked and eight members of its staff were massacred. Two police officers and two visitors were also killed, and a group of people injured.  Following the first attack, further acts of terror took place in France resulting in five losses of life, and the wounding of several others. The community responded with disgust and outrage, the cry for anti-terror and social tolerance being heard across the world. In the wake of attacks, the world responded. Candlelit vigils were conducted in major cities across the world, and Je suis Charlie was being proclaimed in all languages. I am Charlie.

On January 11th, leaders from 40 countries across the world united in Paris and led a rally for unity, freedom, and tolerance. Almost two million people marched in Paris to remember the lives lost.

On January 11th, I was one of those people.

I didn’t make commentary on the event when it occurred, and I do not feel I am much more informed now to make comment on the events or those following the crisis, but I can speak of my experience in the march and so I shall. This post and all it contains are reflections from that experience.

P and A and I dropped N off at a party in a houseboat on the Seine, before continuing downtown. The streets were empty where we started, but people started multiplying rapidly.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

The train stations were suffocatingly full, and train rides were free; everyone was out and about, for liberté, égalité, fraternité.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

Soon, it felt as if all of Paris was walking together, in a fashion that looked – I can imagine, from the sky – like a slow-moving conglomerate of speckles, rapidly engulfing the heart of Paris. There were no cries of racial commentary. There were no weapons. There was no animosity. We were all walking, resolutely, towards Place de la République to start the march towards Place de la Nation.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

The streets were full of all types of people, of all races of people, of all shapes and sizes and colours of people. There was a common pain among us all, and a solidarity that was echoed in the steps we took.

Before long, we could walk fast no further. The march slowed down, but we all still moved forward; together; unified.

Before me…

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

…and behind me…

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

we walked together.

Children on shoulders; children at street level; fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers; regardless of religion, or opinion, or the make of our skin, we all walked together.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

When the crowd moved, P and A and I moved with it. It was tight, and grew at a rapid pace. Before we knew it, cars were stopped and deserted in the middle of the street. Or, their owners remained inside, radios on, so we could all hear the speeches at Place de la Nation.

Taxis stopped in the middle of the street turned off their metres. “Libre,” they read. “Libre.”

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

As the voices on the radio increased in volume, the distant sound of clapping could be heard, echoing down the street and resulting in a wave of claps that thundered and rolled to us and beyond. I couldn’t understand what the world leaders were saying, nor the people who stood around me. But they looked at me with a knowing smile, held their hands on their hearts, and peppered every sentence with “liberté”. I understood enough.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

Among the banners and the signs, the resounding statement of Je suis Charlie! Nous sommes Charlie! was apparent. I am Charlie. We are Charlie. During the crisis and the devastation that followed, the basic rights of free speech and self-identity were brought into question at the hands of individuals who attempted to quash the press and its publishers. France, and the greater world, replied firmly: “We will not be silenced.”

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

I, as a writer and a journalist, believe in – and hope to achieve my livelihood from – the free press and the power of speech. I believe in tolerance, acceptance, understanding, and respect. I believe in accurate representation, and ethical factuality. I believe in personal and public safety, and protecting the rights of the individuals who would – and do – give their lives so we, as private citizens, can be informed about the world around us. I do not believe in quashing those freedoms. I do not believe that violence is ever a way to solve the problems of our society. I do not believe in hatred.

January 11th was a powerful movement. Among all of the statements written on signs, all the words written in languages I couldn’t understand and those I could, there was the unspoken understanding that we were all walking together for a common goal. Among the millions of people who surrounded me that day, I heard not one word of bitterness. It was cold, and no one complained. Children, with small legs and terrible vantage points, walked without issue. There was no shouting. There was certainly no personal space. But there was sympathy, empathy, and the pursuit of progress, and it hung heavy in the air that day.

And there was this, for me, possibly the most powerful image of the entire march. Je suis Charlie et je suis musulman. A father; his daughter; their truth. We are all Charlie, and we are our own identity. We are one.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

For the lives of those lost, lest we forget. For those left behind, may we always remember. For those moving forward, let us continue towards a world where the freedom of the written word remains powerful, progressive, and in constant pursuit of the truth; let us continue towards a world without fear; a world where the children on shoulders grow up to be the leaders on world stages, educating their truths and breaking down the barriers that separate us.

If January 11th should teach us only one thing (which is most surely does not; there are endless lessons to be learnt from such a momentous occasion), it should be that the barriers that separate us are miniscule in comparison to the things that bring us together.

For one, for all; for now, and for ever: liberté.

 

R.

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from paris, with love | part I

In January, TJ and I ventured to Paris and Barcelona for two weeks. We were flying solo (together), and eating as much cheese + bread + market produce as we could. We were making memories.

from paris, with love | part I

We arrived separately. I arrived a day earlier than TJ, and despite leaving Boston at 8:30pm (after an already long day of concerns and debacles following the news of the Charlie Hebdo attack and all the tensions that followed), I arrived in the city at around 2pm and my day was lengthened yet again. On recommendations from Padre, who had been travelling to and from Paris (and greater France) for three and a half years prior, I flew through Iceland and, despite a run-in with a rather concerning offering of traditional Icelandic food (read: it looked like some kind of nutritional nut bar, with divots and punctures that looked like nuts and seeds. It was actually a deceptively tiny piece of headcheese that I would ideally prefer to never encounter again), had a smooth and seamless journey.

Arriving in Paris was daunting. Although I had been living alone for a year – and had travelled within Australia by myself, not to mention back and forth between Australia and America solo numerous times – the thought of travelling in a country where I didn’t speak the language and had an incredible tendency to pronounce words as they were written (thanks, four years of Spanish) instead of the trained way of the French was a slightly nerve-wracking one. I tried my best to mimic a French accent and it worked out alright. Mostly. The train stations were large and well-manned (not to mention, on high security alert), and my departure from the airport was made all the more easier by a kind individual who showed me the way by his own volition. I’ll assume my reading the map upside down appeared an unconscious cry for help.

TJ and I were to spend the first few nights of our Parisian stay with family friends (P, A & N), before venturing to an AirBnb apartment in the Marais. I was to follow directions to Duroc Station and travel onwards from there. Before long, I arrived at a gorgeous building in the 7th Arr., decorated with ornate external sculpturing and home to an intricate (and tiny) internal elevator. I was travelling light (with only two carry-on bags) so I fit in the elevator after some juggling of my person. I’ll avoid thinking about what would’ve happened had I not had the foresight to travel so lightly.

Being welcomed into the apartment was like being welcomed home – there were smiling faces, warm embraces, and an assortment of food on the table. I ate cheese, bread, olives, salads, lentils, and pastries like the French do: slowly, and a lot. A lot of cheese.

photo by riley

photo by riley.

We were off to an art gallery after our afternoon snack, and the gallery housed some colourful art; it was contemporary and full of commentary. The artist, Alain Delorme, used highly saturated photographs of food of all kinds, full of colour and greasy goodness, to provoke consideration of what we’re using to fuel our bodies. It felt somewhat out of place in a country where the food is so delicious and inviting, but the art was intriguing all the same.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

After wandering around the streets, we caught a bus home. P decided I needed to see Bon Marche.

I needed to see Bon Marche.

It’s no exaggeration to say that I spent a good twenty minutes simply oogling the olives…

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

…and the cheeses…

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

…and the oysters…

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

…and the langoustines…

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

I was in culinary heaven. If I could have, I would’ve bottled up the scent of that fromage room and wore it as perfume.

And it didn’t stop there. We had dinner at a spot in Rue du Cherche-Midi, called Cafe Trama. The food was clean and decadent, and plentiful. I had wheat-rice risotto with calamari and some kind of citrusy fruit, and we all enjoyed a generous sharing of bread and salads and shaved meats and cheeses. Oh, the cheeses. Hand-pulled burrata came out before mains, centered as the star on a circular plate and drizzled with aged olive oil. (It didn’t last long.) The kitchen was tiny, hidden behind the bar. Two chefs stood inside, side-by-side barely, silently creating masterpieces that I still reminisce about. But I forgot my camera.

In the light of the setting sun that night, I breathed in that Parisian air and felt entirely separated from the craziness of the days prior. Tomorrow would be the Unity March, and would also mark the arrival of TJ. It was to be a big day.

photo by riley.

photo by riley.

There would be no better way to start a trip than on this day, surrounded by family and incredible food. Did I mention the cheeses?

R.

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on umbrellas and mateship

I was waiting at the bus stop, like I do at least twice a day, and the rain wasn’t showing any signs of stopping. Luckily, the kindness of my fellow bus-rider wasn’t either.

on umbrellas and mateship

Last week, Sydney was experiencing some pretty shocking weather. It was cold, there was a light – but persistent – wind, and the rain wasn’t showing any signs of stopping, despite all rain dance attempts. I was alone at the bus stop, awaiting the bus that would take me to the station that would put me on the train that would take me to the burbs. The bus stop was without a covered shelter; it was, instead, merely a pole and a sign.

Soon, a fellow bus-rider appeared. He was wearing two hoodies beneath a hi vis vest, and his skateboard was leaning against his knee. He didn’t make eye contact with me.

I smiled at him (which I don’t think he saw because of the aforementioned lack of eye contact), and proceeded to recheck the bus schedule. It was late. Classic.

Only one person fit under my mini umbrella, and that one person was me. I was wearing a raincoat, so the main purpose of the umbrella was to cover the backpack I was wearing – which had notebooks and dry clothes for the weekend inside it. I didn’t have a lot of space to share. As I stood there in the rain, my jeans getting pelted by the sideways spray and the occasion car-to-puddle splash, I watched the rain hit Amigo One harder. As I watched the rain seep into his hood, I wondered how inappropriate it would be to invade a strangers’ personal space for the sake of a little rain protection. It was, essentially, the plight of “why didn’t I bring a bigger umbrella??”

Soon, my amigo and I were joined by a third bus-rider. He was carrying a laptop bag, and wearing a rather short and worn polo shirt. He reminded me of someone I used to work with (but just who, I couldn’t put my finger on) and he had a tight but warm smile. He must’ve been cold but he was dry, protected from the downpour by a rather large umbrella emblazoned with some IT company logo. He too checked the bus schedule. It was still late. Classic.

Amigo Two’s arrival brought a bout of heavier rain (not associated with his arrival, but timed just so). He stepped back from the bus schedule, and ended up next to Amigo One. His umbrella, held in his left hand while Amigo One stood to his left, was big enough for both of them.

I looked on, smiling – I’m sure – like a total goober, infinitely impressed and inspired by the power of the human condition. The two amigos also didn’t make eye contact, standing side-by-side, silenced by the dull pitter-patter of the wet season. They were both one step closer to being dry.

They ended up getting on the same bus too, but sat nowhere near each other, I noticed, as the bus pulled away and left me waiting for the next one (still late).

In that moment – that wet, cold, dreary moment – under that umbrella, two spirits were a little less dampened than they were before.

Coming back to Australia and witnessing such interactions makes me so proud. We’re a nation of loud, rough-seeming, lovable nuts; of larrikins and legends; of big thinkers with big ideas; of opinionated people from every imaginable background; of intelligent individuals with poise and cultural understanding; of labourers, 9-5ers and 5-9ers, desk-doers, leaders, and friends.

Somehow, in this melting pot, it works. I’m so proud to say I’m from a country where sharing umbrellas at bus stops is a normal occurrence. I’m proud to say I’m from a country where individuals, daily, embody Australia in all its glory, keeping the legend of mateship that inspires this country alive.

Next time, I promise to have a bigger umbrella, so I can keep a mate-I-haven’t-met-yet dry too. Maybe we’ll even double our luck and the bus will be on time. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ve heard there’s a “rain dance” for public transport too?)

R.

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