While long hikes with a heavy backpack are out of the question at the moment (until I can take care of my hernias), I still enjoy the odd short one. This was a few days ago during a hike along the river Reuss in Kanton Aargau in Switzerland.
An enchanting half day which began with mist floating and twirling above the ground. Then, as the sun pushed trough and the day grew brighter and warmer, the mist dissipated, leaving only the brilliant pre-spring banks of this beautiful river. My friend and I followed it for a few hours, at a gentle pace. Enjoying a landscape in which, for many hours, we were the only humans.
Nothing better to clear the mind than letting feet and thoughts roam free for a bit.
Currently, I’m waiting for news from the Swiss immigration office and hope they’ll be so kind and give me a permit to stay and work. My overthinking mind is making up so many scenarios… The typical Kopfkino (head cinema) as we say here. Time soon again for a short break in searching and studying. To take another walk, soak in some sunshine, and relax.
It was. What a year… found myself completely homeless, unemployed, and penniless for the first time in my life. Embarked on the Oasis of the Seas in the Caribbean to manage one of the most beautiful aqua theatres in the world. Called my first high-risk acrobatics show. Went to Germany to help my dad during the 1st lockdown. Went on a long-distance hike from the mountains of Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea. Discovered Montpellier. Learned a new language (work in progress). Found peace of mind again (also work in progress). Crossed paths with the most loving and gentle feline. And experienced incredible kindnesses from friends, old and new, around the world (thank you!!!). I don’t think I have ever learned more in one year. And I am profoundly grateful.
And… lockdown continues… Yesterday’s election results in the US were an unexpected boost. I was so happy to see democracy in action. People voting and making their voices and needs heard. So now, hopefully, finally, one of the largest countries on Earth won’t be governed by a raving narcissist anymore. I am usually not voicing my opinions on politics much. And, honestly, I don’t want to give a monster like Trump any space in my head… because we created him. We gave him way too much space in our collective heads as well as in all the media, even though he doesn’t deserve a second of our attention.
On a personal level, lockdown is proving hard for me yet again. I have too much time on my own again. I am alone with too much pain again. And, as I try to process an accumulation of trauma, I need to stay alert so as not to be consumed by it. As I work through it all, I realize I have spent way too much time throughout my life smiling, taking care of others, being the strong one, and being ok, whilst inside of me turmoil was raging. In order to overcome, I need to have the courage to be vulnerable. I need to allow myself to have needs, too. And there has to be the honest admission: Yes, I can function. Yes, I am strong enough to weather through it all. But, no, I’m not ok. I will be some day. But, right at this moment, I’m not ok.
However, I am also lucky and so thankful for all the kindnesses I’m experiencing. Like my dad, who always has my back. Like my therapist, who knows I currently have no money and who has offered to do weekly sessions with me for free. “You need this right now. I’m worried about you. And I trust you. You can pay me when you’re back on your feet again. And I know you will be soon.” Her faith in me as well as coming to my aid means more than I will ever be able to express in words. Then there are my friends who embrace me as I am, and let me know they’re happy to have me in their lives. There is my current employer and friend who trusts me and always lets me know she values my input. There is my teacher at Alliance Francaise who writes me a worried message to see how I’m doing when I don’t show up for Zoom class. There is the entire team at Alliance Francaise, who are so helpful and human. They do and care far more for their students than their job description requires. And then there are my “neighbors”, the pigeon couple. They fly back into a little alcove across from my balcony every evening to cuddle with each other and spend the night together. The sight of them loving each other so deeply and authentically always warms my heart.
In the meantime, I’m not idle either and try as best as possible to give myself a kick in the butt every day. I don’t always succeed. But mostly I do. I aim to give myself a healthy structure. Every day, I go out for that one hour we’re allowed to, and walk. I write articles for TheatreArtLife. I photograph. And I try to pamper myself a bit whenever I have the chance. When I just need to collapse on the bed and do nothing at all, I let myself do that, too. I study French intensively. Zoom lessons, mountains of homework, plus additional grammar books, Duolingo, novels, and graphic novels. Thankfully, I stocked up on books just before lockdown. I miss the weekly book flea market underneath the sycamore trees, in the Esplanade Charles de Gaulles in Montpellier. And can’t wait for it to reopen. There is something magical in the way the light reflects off the sycamore leaves onto the literature beneath. There is a reflective calm as well, as people browse through the knowledge of the ages, as they enjoy the cover designs and imagine the worlds waiting behind those covers.
One such world I brought with me into lockdown: “Le Petit Prince.” I’m enjoying it all over again in French, the third language I’m reading it in. “C’est une folie de haïr toutes les roses parce que une épine vous a piqué, d’abandonner tous les rêves parce que l’un d’entre eux ne s’est pas réalisé, de renoncer à toutes les tentatives parce qu’on a échoué… C‘est une folie de condamner toutes les amitiés parce qu’une d’elles vous a trahi, de ne croire plus en l’amour juste parce qu’un d’entre eux a été infidèle, de jeter toutes les chances d’être heureux juste parce que quelque chose n’est pas allé dans la bonne direction. Il y aura toujours une autre occasion, un autre ami, un autre amour, une force nouvelle. Pour chaque fin il y a toujours un nouveau départ.” So very true.
Today marks 7 weeks in Montpellier. Time flies here. It’s gotten quite cold now, even for these Southern climes. Thus, I’m glad not to have to sleep in my tent at the moment. Yesterday, I had to move though. Because I changed my mind to stay longer, the other little rooftop apartment wasn’t available any more. But I got really lucky. The studio apartment next door is even cozier. The view over the rooftops is pretty much unobstructed giving me full access to those sunsets I can never get enough of. And: I have a washing machine!!!!!! Incredible! For the first time since July my clothes will be thoroughly clean. Handwashing just isn’t the same. I never thought I’d be this glad to see a washing machine 😆.
Other than that, I’m heading to a classical concert in the opera house now. So happy that, even though Covid restrictions have gotten stricter again, entertainment venues are still staying open and performances are commencing as planned. Well, they are doing matinees instead of evening performances now, because of the curfew. But it’s a perfect workaround… and classical music after breakfast has never hurt anyone 😉. What a privilege!
The rest of my day will be spent studying French like a madman. My progress is slow because I forgot far more vocabulary and grammar than I thought I had (well, I pretty much forgot all of it after 30 years, on top of having been a very lazy and unmotivated student back then). So, I am utilizing my classes, plus extra exercise books, Harry Potter, and Duolingo to bring myself up to speed. I am determined and WILL leave here speaking French! Good to have a goal, too. It gives me focus and hope. Everything is so uncertain and I still have no idea where these trails will lead me, but somehow it’ll all work out.
It is interesting to see what happens psychologically when you hike. When I left Switzerland in Juli, I was in the middle of healing from heartbreak and betrayal and also in the middle of trying to overcome all the practical and emotional challenges this subsequently led to. I figured, the best way to positively process my trauma as well as the added uncertainty brought on by Covid19 was to be on the move.
Nature has amazing power. During my hike, with few exceptions, it was just me and meadows and trees as far as the eye could see. I spent hours talking to myself in the forest. Having whole discussions with myself, in an attempt to process all that was twirling around inside my head. Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I screamed, sometimes I cried, and other times I was just quiet, letting it all flow through me and appreciating the beauty nature offered me along the trail.
Overall, hiking across Europe wasn’t a bad idea. Even though all the practical and emotional challenges I faced at the beginning of my journey are (for the most part) still as acute and present as they were in July.
Which is why now that I have decided to make a longer stop-over in Montpellier, the grief and pain has become harder to deal with. Being on the move helped to keep my mind occupied. During my 2 months of hiking, I was far too busy dealing with physical pain, toe problems, finding shelter for the night, finding food and water, finding the trail, etc. to get really depressed.
Now, even though I am busy with studying French, little side jobs, and writing articles for TheatreArtLife, everything is consuming me again. Since about a year now (or rather two), I’ve been in an emotional roller coaster much akin to the rising and falling of the tides. When I move to avoid these tides, I seem to be ok. Not moving now, I encounter the neap tides during which I feel mostly ok. At other times, spring tides come rolling in with the power of a tsunami, and I feel like I am drowning over and over again. Thankfully though, these particularly high tides seem to come at lesser frequencies. They are still there and they are still awful when they hit me, but I know I’ll somehow be able to keep my head above water.
In many ways, staying still in Montpellier turns out to be far more turbulent than being on the trail and hiking through unchartered territory. But I do realize staying was a good decision. Actually, it was the only sane decision. Because I can’t keep hiking to the end of my days to avoid the tides. I need to let them crash over me as they come and I need to work through them to be free, and to become my old, confident self again. Trauma is there to be overcome and to be conquered, not to be buried.
There is still a ways to go, but I now also have 3 more months in this beautiful haven of a town. I will do my best to take it all in stride (and at times, I’ll invariably fail). I’ll allow myself to stay still. To curl up in a little corner and lick my wounds, to breathe, to cry, and to take all the time I need to figure out what to do with my life from here on out since it feels as if I need to start completely from zero again.
But I know it’s not healthy to live only in my head. While I do not want to be on the trail every day just now, the emotional processing needs to be balanced by something. Thankfully, there is much to explore that is only minutes away from my flat. Just today, I ventured into the outside world and went on a wonderful walk after school to discover more of Montpellier’s street art. Over the next few weeks, I’ll surely continue getting to know my surroundings here even better. I’ll go and take walks on the beach which is only 30 minutes away. I’ll walk along the river Lez. I’ll venture into every single little alley in Montpellier’s old town. And I’ll keep going on excursions throughout the Occitanie region, too.
Then, in January, who knows. I might well continue my Wonderweg and keep hiking for a while longer until I find a job. And, hopefully, by that time I’ll be able to enjoy hiking for hundreds of kilometers much better, because my heart will have recovered a bit more and the tides won’t feel quite so high anymore. It is definitely easier to put one step in front of the other on dry land as opposed to trying to wade through the deep water of inner turmoil.
Is it a good sign, that I am dreaming of the Pyrenees, the South of Spain, the Strait of Gibraltar, and Portugal? Is it a good sign that I am savoring French delicacies and already looking forward to Paellas, Sangria, Chorizo and so many other foods I love? Is it a good sign that I care about how well my French is developing and that I am putting a lot of hard work and effort into it? Is it a good sign that I enjoy laughing with my classmates at the often outrageous mistakes we make? I think it is. I am still broken, but I am slowly mending and becoming stronger at the broken places. I will never be the same again. But I am slowly learning to love life again with all my heart.
Since I remained pretty static in Montpellier lately, I’ve posted a bit less. Static physically that is ☺️. I did not find time to venture outside of Montpellier and go for any hikes because I was far too busy with school and everything else. What I did manage after a very intense last week, however, was to take a breather and visit one of my best friends in Paris for two days in the beginning of this week.
I had to laugh when the train suddenly stopped about an hour after I had boarded on Sunday, and the conductor said over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and Gentlemen can you all please evacuate the train in a quick and orderly fashion.”
Hundreds of people did just that. Surprisingly good-humored and efficiently I might add. There we stood, freezing in the cold, whilst security did a rapid and thorough search of the entire train. Apparently, there had been a bomb threat. 15 minutes later we were all back on the warm train and continued our journey to Paris. This year never seems to run out of surprises…
Getting out at Gare de Lyon was as always a pleasure. It’s just such a beautiful old train station. But Paris was sooo much colder than Montpellier! It’s amazing what difference only 3 hours in latitude can make. Still, my friend and I did our best to enjoy, went for long walks around town, and even went to a wonderful Christian Louboutin exhibition at the Palais de la Porte Doree.
I’ve never been a shoe person and have always chuckled a bit when I saw people spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars on their shoe collections. While I would still never want to own more than two or three pairs at any one time myself, I do understand shoes on a whole new level now, after seeing the Louboutin exhibition.
Shoes are works of art. Extensions of your body, the lines amplify your natural elegance. Shoes are exclamation marks of beauty. They are statements of energy and sensuality. Quite incredible little accessories really. So much more than just things to walk with.
I never thought my hike would lead me to a greater understanding of shoes and a love of Christian Louboutin’s work. But here you go.
The sign in the entrance to the exhibition was especially inspiring. Louboutin grew up close to the Palais de la Porte Doree during his childhood. Every time his parents took him to an exhibition, the sign alerting visitors to not wear high heels was in the entrance. The red bar drawn across the shoe sparked Louboutin’s idea of his trademark red soles. Amazing 🌟🌟🌟
I’ve been sitting in this garden behind our school a lot during breaks these last few days, enjoying the last few rays of warm summer sun. Just in time, too. The skies are still blue, but temperatures have plummeted from 25 degress to 10 degrees this morning. Brrrr…
The last 2 days were also decision time, since yesterday was supposed to be my last day at the Alliance Francaise, and today was going to be the last day in my little rooftop sanctuary.
Hiking on or staying a bit longer was the tough question. Financially, hiking on would have been the much smarter decision. Plus, it might have gotten me to Portugal in time for Christmas.
I followed my gut, however, and prolonged my stay here… for 3 1/2 months!!!
Crazy, I know. But here it is. All-in-all, I’ll be studying French and enjoying Montpellier and its surroundings for 4 1/2 months. During that time, my aim is to get my French to at least nearly fluid. Spain and Portugal won’t run away in the meantime. And the new year can begin with exploring Europe further. Something positive to look forward to during not-so-positive times.
The 15th of January 2021 will be my last day of school here. If, until then, I still haven’t found a job, I’ll hike onwards along the coast of Southern Spain towards the Strait of Gibraltar and Portugal.
The Wonderweg surely is staying true to its name in more ways (or rather trails) than one. My mind is completely open. If I make it as far as the Straight of Gibraltar, I might just hop on a ferry and explore Morocco for a few days/weeks as well. Practice my French over there, too 😁… Or I’ll stay on the European side of the Mediterranean Sea…
Everything is uncertain… everything is open… scary and liberating both at the same time.
Which is fine… because… (in the words of the ever-inspiring Antoine De Saint Excupery)… ”As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.”
A bit more hiking and contemplating… to the Pont de Diable which stretches over the Hérault river. The sky is pressing down today. It wants to rain, yet somehow it doesn’t. Instead, the air is becoming ever more humid, feeling almost solid and laborious to breathe. My weather app tells me lightning is only 8 km away. Please get over here dear storm, so we can get it over with and clear the air!
I went on a hike today after school to contemplate what to do… The little villages and surrounding landscapes were a bit distracting though. They were so gorgeous, I had to keep interrupting my thoughts to take a picture. Horrible.
At this moment in time, I really have no idea how to continue my Wonderweg. The only thing that seems clear in these puzzlingly unclear times is that I won’t find employment any time soon.
3 of 4 weeks here in Montpellier are already over. My French didn’t improve nearly as fast as I’d hoped it would during this time. I am wondering if I should sign up for one more month of language school to do it right and invest as much work and time as I possibly can?
On the other hand, the Spanish border is only about a week’s hike away from here. It’s immensely tempting to get back on the trail soon and see where it will lead. Then again, the trail won’t be going anywhere. I don’t need to rush. Weather is another consideration. The rainy season will be starting here any minute now. However, the further south I’ll hike, the warmer and drier it should stay… Money is another thing to think about, as it will run out soon… even though I always keep everything as low budget as possible…
My hike today surely did not bring me any answers. But it was a beautiful afternoon. The clouds were hanging low, the air was heavy and sensuously humid. Almost as I remember it from when I lived in my homes in Hong Kong and Macau. The landscape… as you can see… was a feast for the eyes. I am exhausted now, satisfied, happy, and as clueless as I was this morning.
We hiked through a forest of vocabulary and grammar again at the Alliance Francaise in Montpellier. I was exhausted after. It’s only a few hours each morning, but my brain needs to get used again to studying… and to actually retaining information.
Besides learning and opening my mind, I do enjoy collaborating with my classmates. Usually, when I’m working backstage for a show, I am immersed in an international team, a show family. I love connecting with all those people from a myriad of backgrounds, listening to their thoughts and experiences on a daily basis. I miss it with all my heart. At the school now, we are only working together in the classroom for a few short weeks, but it’s still heartwarming to connect with people from other cultures again.
The four of us come from all corners of the world. Harry is British and lives in the UK. Nadja is Brazilian and lives in France. Sangee is born in Nepal and lives in India. Every day, we discover a bit more about each other’s world and its fascinating.
Sangee, especially, inspires me a lot. He is 24 years old and a monk in a Buddhist monastery in India. He told me that up until a few years ago, they focused exclusively on religious and spiritual studies in his monastery. But, due to their culture, every now and then, a monk who is the oldest son in his family has to leave to take care of his parents. Those who did in the past, entered life outside the monastery completely unprepared and clueless. Thus, Sangee’s monastery now makes sure to teach their monks as much as they can about the outside world. The monastery provides classes for them in the sciences, history, geography, and other subjects. And, their elders encourage the young monks to travel the world and study cultures and languages. In this way, if they ever have to leave, they will not be entirely lost in the “outside” world.
Sangee already speaks Buthanese, Hindi, Nepali, and Tibetan. Recently, he has travelled through England and has studied 4 weeks of English. His grasp of the language is already phenomenal. This is now his 2nd week of French. Without any prior knowledge, his French is about the same as mine even though I know far more vocabulary since this is my 3rd atttempt at learning the language.
Sangee and I have many wonderful conversations during our breaks. Also, through our exercises in class, all of us learn a lot from each other. Today, for example, Sangee told us (in French!) about the Indian human rights movement and about Babasaheb Ambedkar who campaigned against social injustice towards the untouchables.
I have to say, besides loving to learn from each other, Sangee also reminds me of my life and travels around Asia. His soft-spokenness and calmness, everything about him, reminds me of how much I love living there. It triggers an ache, a longing, as well as a feeling of happiness in me to be able to spend a little bit of time with this lovely, inspiring man.