Tag Archives: #home

That Comfy Feeling

JoJo and I are still in Zurich and will – if all goes well – make this our long-term home base. At the moment, I’m dealing with a lot of bureaucracy and it is as of yet unsure if I’ll be allowed to remain in the country. All will depend on me finding a job, which – so far – is proving as much of a challenge as it was in France. However, I am confident that with every week I’ll get a little closer to a solution. And, hopefully, at one point soon, I’ll be delighted to hear someone say, “We’re interested in offering you a position.” Keep fingers crossed.

Other than working on applications, I have started studying remotely at university which brings me a lot of joy. I love learning new things. I am also still with one foot – or rather one ear – in Montpellier to keep studying Le Francais.

One thing that is wonderful about returning to Zurich is that it has helped me to bring things into perspective. It used to be my home. A place I felt comfortable in and always loved returning to. Then, a few years ago when I moved back for three years with my ex-partner, I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I just wanted to get away. What I have come to realize now is that it wasn’t Zurich that bothered me. I was under a lot of pressure at the time, financially and emotionally, and somehow (to protect myself and my partner and to be able to go on) I had shifted all the blame to Zurich. Projected all that was weighing heavily on my shoulders to a place, rather than searching for the root cause.

Now that I am back, with the wisdom of hindsight, I understand that Zurich was never the problem. My life had just been difficult back then and the pressure I had been under had been too intense.

This is something I’ll need to remember. Major note to self: If I ever begin complaining too intensely about a place again, I’ll need to stop and ask myself the question: “Ok Liam, what is wrong in your life? What do you need to resolve?”

So, hello Zurich. Third time is the charm, they say. I still don’t like everything about you, but no place is ever entirely perfect. What is important is that I have that comfy feeling again, as if I have just found an old pair of shoes in a long-forgotten suitcase. And I’m slipping into those shoes ever so easy, wiggling my toes, feeling good, simply thinking “ahhhhhhh.”

Taking A Deep Breath

Since arriving in Zurich on the 10th of January, the days have just flown by. I was greeted by magnificent snow storms while, surprisingly, temperatures weren’t all that different from the South of France.
I got settled into my cozy new room. And found a home with a flat mate who is quite amazing.
Tons of pressure fell off my shoulders when I realized that for the first time in 16 months I am not living out of a suitcase or a backpack anymore. I can now just focus on studying and looking for jobs. I can focus on living without the constant pressure of needing to look for a new roof over my head.
JoJo approves, too. He likes the new place, and lounges on his cat tree, observing his new environment.
Now we, meaning I, really just need to find a job. Something long-term, so JoJo and I can have a bit of stability. Which will allow me to focus on the university studies I’ve signed up for starting next month.
I am also dreaming of further hikes. For now just on the weekends in the Swiss mountains. But whenever there are a few days in a row, I’d love to get out there and do bigger tours. There is still so much to explore. I’ve definitely caught the hiking bug.

Bonjour Zurich… a New Chapter Begins

In German, we have the word “Kopfkino”, which directly translated means “Head-Cinema”. And, admittedly, I had a lot of that before going back on the road. What if the cat won’t get over the border? What if I didn’t think of all the papers he needs? What if I won’t get over the border? What if strange, expat Germans are not welcome right now in Switzerland with all that is going on? What if JoJo and I will get separated? What if the roads in the mountains will be blocked by snow? etc.

I often take great risks and follow my instincts. Because of that, many people may think I am not aware of the risks. What they might not realize is I that worry a lot, I reflect a lot, and my mind is conjuring up more risks than actually exist. Every time. I am always nervous before making another bold move, always scared before beginning a new chapter. But, if my heart tells me it is the right path to take, then I’ll take it anyways. Every time. Hands shaking as I go. Most likely with a plan B, C, D, and E already brewing in my mind, in case disaster strikes.

This time, yet again, my “Kopfkino” was far worse than reality. My lovely, old, feline partner JoJo and I rented a car and embarked on a 9-hour roadtrip from Montpellier to Pontarlier. I set the GPS to “avoid all toll roads” which added 4 extra hours to our travel time. But it was so much more picturesque and relaxing. All went smoothly and JoJo, who had most likely never traveled in a car before, was surprisingly calm. He was curled up on the passenger seat for almost the entire trip. He watched my every move and head-bumped my right hand or shoulder for cuddles every now and then.

After Lyon, the landscape got ever more diverse. Soon, little sprinkles of snow could be seen as well, covering the landscape like a thin frosting on a rather large cake. It is beautiful how defined all lines in a landscape become when snow highlights all shapes and edges.

The closer we got to Pontarlier, the more JoJo and I entered into a winter wonderland. By that time, he was fast asleep and didn’t react to my continuous exclamations of “Uuuhhhh”, “Ahhhhh”, and “Wake up JoJo, you have to look at all this snow!”

We returned the car in Pontarlier, where two Swiss friends picked us up in their car. As we drove towards the border, I thought, “This is it. I hope we won’t get stopped.” We didn’t get stopped. In fact, both the French and Swiss border stations were closed and we just drove on through with no one bothering us at all. Et voilà, from one moment to the next my French street cat turned into a Swiss cat.

We spent the night in a romantic old farmhouse in the mountains. I was spoiled with cheese fondue and the good company of fabulous friends. JoJo was spoiled with tiny morsels of pâte. He was also very excited by the sound of little mouse feet within the walls of the ancient building. Overall, I was in awe of how Zen old JoJo was. When he wasn’t running after potential mice, he just looked at me with big eyes and purred.

Now we are back in Zurich. We have covered a distance – that had taken me two months on foot – in only one day by car. We found a beautiful new home with a friend who has space for both of us. Currently, JoJo and I are on the couch, breathing deeply. We are glad that at least the “roof over our heads” part of the equation is covered for now. The next few weeks will be devoted to an extensive job hunt (For me. JoJo gets to relax on the couch and gets to watch birds in the courtyard).

If I find employment in Zurich, if JoJo and I get to stay in the country for a longer while, much of my free time will be spent on shorter hikes, exploring the wonderful mountain landscapes of Switzerland. Also, during vacation times I want to get back on the international trails. For example, I am still itching to do that gorgeous hike from the Strait of Gibraltar to the South of Portugal.

Wherever JoJo and I are, wherever we go, the journey continues. Stay tuned for more trails and adventures!

A Bientôt Montpellier!

Alright, this is it. One more sleep in Montpellier. Then, tomorrow morning, I’ll hop into a rental car and drive north, towards the Swiss border. All luggage is in the car already, so we can get a running start. All I’ll need to do at 6 am is to throw some cold water into my face, drink a coffee… and off we go.

As you can see, I am leaving with quite the little family in tow: a fish, a stingray and, most importantly, little JoJo, the sweetest old street cat in all of Montpellier. Most likely in all of France ;).

Today was a full and exciting day for JoJo and me both. In the morning, I said goodbye to yet another new friend I am grateful to have crossed paths with. We went for a walk in the old town and got my favorite donuts one last time. Sooo good. Afterwards, JoJo and I went to the veterinary to make sure his travel papers are in order. I wanted to go get a Covid test, but the line was about a mile long. After one hour, I gave up waiting. Hopefully, this won’t cause a problem tomorrow… but that’s a bridge – or rather a border – I’ll cross then. Bottom line: Cat is ready. I am not.

In the evening, I went to get a rental car, maneuvered it through all the narrow one-way streets, broke out in a cold sweat while doing so, and finally found a parking space. It’s a great little car, and I’ve already prepared lots of cozy sleeping spaces for JoJo.

A bientôt Montpellier!

And Then All Changed Again

Where do I even start… well… as you know I was looking for a job and an apartment here in Montpellier. I was even looking with a friend. She has a French passport but is not registered in France at the moment. I have an EU passport. And we wanted to find something affordable together, to share. Can’t be that hard, we thought…

It’s incredible how many bureaucratic walls we ran into. This was even more surprising to us since we have both lived in multiple countries already. Neither of us has ever encountered so many bureaucratic barriers before. Anywhere.

To sum up weeks of going from Pontius to Pilatus in two sentences:
Basically, no one wanted to rent anything to us unless we had our tax revenue in France first. And no one wanted to give us a job unless we had an address in France first.

A conundrum which might have been funny had it not completely destroyed all hopes of my friend and I being able to begin a new life here in beautiful Montpellier at this time.

I pondered for a while if there was a workaround, because I really wanted to stay in Montpellier. Start a new life. New country, new city, new language, new job, maybe even a new profession. But, since I am by now already living on borrowed money, it didn’t make any sense to rent AirBnBs until I’ll be able to find a loophole in the local bureaucracy.

So, with a heavy heart, I decided to let go of Montpellier.

Immediately next came the question of where to go instead. Move onwards to maybe Spain or Portugal? But there as well I will be faced with extreme uncertainty and no idea of when and how I’ll be able to get a foot on the ground and find a roof over my head… and a job.

Instead, I have now decided to go back to the place which has already been my home twice for altogether 17 years: Zurich. In fact, each time I moved there, Zurich became my safety net after great turmoil. This will be the 3rd time. And, third time is the charm they say, isn’t it?

I have an amazing network of friends and acquaintances in Zurich. People who are close to my heart. That’s a definite plus. The climate is a definite minus. Brrrrrr.

So, onwards I go, in hopes of finding a better future. My little feline buddy JoJo and I will rent a car and drive to the Swiss border on January 10th, 2021. There, good friends will pick us up with their car. JoJo is now a registered French “cat-izen” and this will be his first ever time to cross a border as an international cat. Not bad for an old toothless street survivor.

Once in Zurich, I want to continue studying Le Francais, because I am still aiming to become fluent. And, I will begin another determined job hunt. Hopefully more successful than my last. If I can’t find anything in Zurich, in these Covid-stricken times, I might head towards other destinations after all. Malta, one of my favorite places on Earth, and a place I’ve already lived and worked in, has crossed my mind as well.

We will see. There is not much more JoJo and I can do than move forward with hope and as much confidence and positivity as we can muster.

We have roughly three more weeks here and JoJo and I both aim to enjoy our little rooftop flat which we will miss dearly. We’ll watch the golden sunsets together, and wave at our pigeon neighbors every night. I’ll miss those two love birds. So heartwarming to see them returning every single evening.

It’ll be a good Christmas. With JoJo, two love-struck pigeons, and my human friend, before she retreats to a bureaucratically friendlier locale as well. I believe a bit of French wine will be involved as well.

Merry Christmas to you all! JoJo, the pigeons, and I are sending many hugs around the world xxx

What a Year

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.

Always Learning

Currently, I am a bit like a fish out of water. Instead of being surrounded by my usual abundance of ocean, I‘m immersed in green, rolling mountains, hills, meadows, forests, and fields. There is the odd lake of course. Nothing better than vibrant greens and blues going together.

I had finished my book Paralian hopeful, filled with a happiness and sense of home I had never before experienced. Life didn’t disappoint however and everything turned out different than I had dreamt and hoped. I had been through so much already, that I didn‘t quite expect life was going to punch me in the gut harder than ever before…

But it did, last year. Now, I am finding myself homeless at fifty with a tent and a backpack my only possessions. Good thing is, I have my resilience, hope, and positivity. I am starting over, still loving life, always learning, enjoying the moment as best I can, going with the flow… and hoping, somehow things will line up in whichever way they are supposed to.

Dad

papa and boo

Can I just say how grateful I am for my dad?
I mean, I am thinking daily, “Damn, I’m stuck here in Germany in this small apartment without any privacy, camping on the couch in the middle of the room.” True. There are no doors to close, and it’s a small one-bedroom apartment. Nowhere to hide from my dad’s loud snoring (or the even louder snoring of his cat for that matter). Nowhere to hide from the clattering of dishes when my dad (almost daily I might add) decides to unload the dishwasher right next to my ears at 7am…

Yet, while I’m feeling sorry for myself, I think again, yes, I’m camping in the middle of his living room. It’s been almost two months now… with no end in sight…
But, when I ask him, “Are you ok? This is your home. I know I’m disturbing your routine and there’s never a second for you to be alone. Let me know if it gets too much, ok?”, he just smiles and says, “I don’t mind. You can stay as long as you like.”

He doesn’t ask much of me either. I go shopping for us (“the fridge is so full,” he laughs) and I cook (“oh, spicy,” he says). In return, he takes out the garbage, and takes care of that dish washer.
He doesn’t ask me to do anything else, there are no conditions attached. We are just there, together for the moment, in the living room, him on one couch, me on the other, doing our separate things.

What would I do without him letting me stay here right now? I have no home to go to and my meager savings will barely keep me afloat for a couple of months if I have to pay any rent anywhere. And who knows when I’ll find employment again. It’s funny, too. Because, I rushed over here to make sure he is safe and to help him out in this global crisis. However, at the end of the day, it’s him, sharing his tiny living space so generously with me, who is saving my ass.

That being said, even before, his door was always open. What would we have done over the past decade, my partner and I, had he not sheltered us and helped us out financially over and over again? He took us in for months at a time when we needed a place to stay and shared all he had with us. He was there for us when no one else was. He was always happy to see us. And no matter how much he did for us, he never asked for anything in return. He was open-minded. Supportive. He never judged. He was just present, with his warm smile, accepting us as we were.

I probably don’t appreciate him enough. I know I criticize him way too often. I’m too impatient. Much better than I used to be, though. For that, I am grateful to my soulmate, who helped me see him through her eyes, and helped me realize that ancient past is just that – the past.

Most likely my dad will never see this post. I’ll make sure to tell him in person though, how much I appreciate him and all he’s done so selflessly for me, for us (when there was still an us).

This is what being family is all about, isn’t it? To be a safety net for each other. To be there for each other even if paths or opinions diverge. To care. To support. Unconditionally.
Thank you, Dad, for being in my life.

Boo, Lara, and Bocelli

Thinking of this little family today.

06 2011

I found them in a pet store in Macau, in 2010. They had just been rescued from the street. A cat with three kittens. All of them were horribly sick. They had any infection you could think of… cat flu, ear infections, eye infections, ringworm, etc. One of the little ones was so tiny, he could fit in a tea cup. He looked like Gollum. Barely any fur left on him, huge eyes, and a greyish, wrinkly face. I wanted to adopt all the babies but the volunteers in the store told me honestly that Gollum wouldn’t make it. The other two stood a fighting chance. Only one of them seemed strong though. He was the largest of the babies… and the loudest… meowing non-stop. The other one didn’t look quite as bad as Gollum, but she was extremely tiny and scrawny for a five to six-week-old kitten. She had patchy, dark brown fur. What was left of it stood on end, making her look as if she had stuck her little paw into an electrical socket.

I decided to take the two healthier babies home. As we took them out of their cage, their mom crawled into my arms and didn’t seem to want to let me go. She was small for an adult cat, cuddly, with huge, expressive, green eyes. However, I had really only come for the babies. I left without her.

Arriving at home, her offspring soon crawled into every corner and jumped on every shelf. They made quick friends with the parrot I fostered at the time – a cheeky, red-lored Amazon named Cebi (short for Cebola… ‘onion’ in Portuguese. Since he was Brazilian, I had figured he needed a name reflecting his heritage at least linguistically). The first couple of days were mayhem with medicating the fur babies around the clock, plus trying to keep Cebi from pecking at their tails the entire time.

While I had my hands full with my ‘menagerie a trois’, I kept thinking about the kittens’ mom. The chances of anyone ever adopting her were slim to none. She was now together with Gollum in the cramped cage in the back of the pet store. Watching him die. It occurred to me how horribly alone and abandoned she must feel. Over the next few days, no matter how much the antics of baby cats and parrot made me laugh, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. “Screw this,” I finally thought on day five, “one more cat won’t make a difference.”

I went back to the pet store. Gollum had died already. And here was his mom. Huddled all by herself in the corner of her cage. The animal charity volunteers were more than happy to let me take her as well. I had brought a transport box with me, and off we went, to reunite her with her other two babies. As soon as we came through the door, however, her kittens didn’t welcome her. It seemed they had already made my apartment their territory. For two days straight, they hissed at their mom, and skulked around like John Wayne and Lara Croft, ready to draw their guns at any time. Thankfully, on the third day after the initial, slightly flawed homecoming, the kittens began cuddling with their mom again as if they had never been separated. One day later, she was nursing them as well. As they were massaging her tits with their paws, the babies were purring as loudly as twin tractor engines.

I named the two-year-old mom ‘Boo’, because of her big, round eyes, which made her look startled as well as inquisitive. She reminded me of Boo in the movie Monsters Inc. Boo’s little girl was fearless. Only a third the body size of her brother, she was the one who explored everything first, climbed up everywhere, and battled her illness with much courage and cheerfulness. She had a warrior spirit. I named her Lara. Her brother was easy to find a name for as well. He had never stopped meowing since the moment I had laid eyes on him and generally sounded like a mix between a goat and a squeaky door in need of WD-40. Henceforth, his name was Bocelli. My own little opera singer.

It took over a month for me to nurse them all back to good health. This not without them infecting me with ringworm first as well. We ended up being quarantined in the apartment together for four weeks, since the fungus infection was highly contagious. Thankfully, Cebi’s parrot feathers at least seemed to be resistant to fungus.

Six months later, despite all bravery, Lara lost her battle. At first, she had seemed to become healthy just as the rest of her feline family. But then, she had begun to show strange symptoms. She didn’t grow. While her brother became ever bigger, she remained so tiny, she could sit on my hand. Something seemed to be wrong with her muscles and nervous system as well. Five months in, she could barely walk anymore or lift her little head to eat from her food dish. Her muscles gave out every so often and she would just collapse on the floor. Nevertheless, she was still as cheerful as ever, snuggling in the crook of my elbow and purring her little heart out. I consulted with a veterinary and we both came to the unanimous decision that it was kinder to help Lara along and let her go.
She enjoyed one last meal with her family. Then, I carried her to the vet. I kept holding her in my arms as the injection was gently working its way through her bloodstream and putting her to sleep. I buried her in a niche high up on a rock wall along the coast of Coloane with her favorite toy, a little stuffed sun with a smiling face, pouty red lips, and blue eyelashes. Lara’s final resting place overlooked a beautiful pagoda and the South China Sea. She still rests there today and I feel more at home when I am close by, able to every so often walk past her resting place to tell her she is not forgotten.

Three years later, in 2013, I left Macau for the first time and shipped Boo and Bocelli to my dad’s place in Germany. They took to him faster than you can say “hello.” I moved on towards a more nomadic life.

Meanwhile, the cats contentedly snuggled with my dad and with each other. They still do. Boo is now twelve years old, Bocelli is ten. He still meows constantly. His mom is still as cuddly, loving, and caring towards both her son and her human companion as ever. She listens to and seems to understand every word my dad says. She licks his forehead and rubs her head on his hand. Whenever her son, Bocelli, sidles up to her in need of affection, she gently licks her son’s ears and face. Often, she lets him snuggle close. Then, of course, there are the inevitable, territorial wrestling matches when Boo needs to assert her dominance and make it clear that she can take the spot on the window sill or on top of the aquarium whenever she wants to. Bocelli usually doesn’t put up much of a fight but rather let’s her have whatever she desires.
Unless it is a box. He is passionate about his boxes.
He is a shy and anxious boy. Which is why he is also Boo’s admiring, respectful student. He watches her every move to learn and see what is safe and what isn’t. It took him five years of longingly watching Boo interact with my dad before Bocelli gathered enough courage to relax and snuggle with the tall, smiling human being, too. Now he rarely leaves his side.

My dad spends much of his days either feeding Boo and Bocelli or sitting on the couch with both cats curled up together in his lap. I am happy, I can visit them every so often. Each time, the felines are on a different diet, alternating between looking rather like furry balloons, or looking more like the little, muscular, former street cats they are. They both love snoozing in patches of sunlight. When sleeping deeply, Boo now snores as loud as a lumberjack…

I’ve gone back to Lara as well. Back home for a couple of years. Looking out over the South China Sea, remembering her, just underneath her resting place. Wondering if her little stuffed sun is still shining for her. Somehow, I am sure it is.

Couches

IMG_0192

I’m having a tough time today.

Last year in October, I lost my home. How I miss my beautiful, quiet little sanctuary with a view of the ocean, warmth, sun-flooded rooms, a gorgeous rooftop beneath the stars, and a charming neighborhood. I miss the sweet smell of egg tarts wafting through open windows in the early morning. I miss spending tropical nights with friends and a glass of wine on the rooftop. I miss buying fresh vegetables underneath old, sun-battered tarps. I miss the old lady who sold groceries from her living room around the corner… She was always deeply asleep on her couch making shopping a bit of a gamble. I miss the Chinese cafés with breakfasts of cup noodles and beaten coffee. And I miss heading out into the picturesque village and the hills beyond.

I had found a rare gem. It was exactly what I had searched for all my life and, each time I moved back into town for work, I was lucky to be able to rent it again (thanks to great friends and agents). Three times lucky as a matter of fact. I loved inhabiting this space on my own at first and, later on, adored sharing it with my partner and soulmate. It was a real home… filled with memories, color, music, creativity, happiness, laughter, sadness… and hope. Safe yet open to the world.

Ever since I had to leave, I’ve lived out of my suitcase and camped on borrowed couches. And no, these are not places to relax in and find some treasured alone time on.

Even the cabin I inhabited on the cruise ship I worked on these past few months was just a temporary space where I allowed my exhausted body to collapse at night. There was no peace or privacy.

I know, I am fortunate to have friends and my dad who let me live on their couches. The longer I stay, the more they sacrifice their own personal space as well. I am aware of that and I am grateful for their help. No matter how great their hospitality though, I long to get away. I long to be able to have a little harbor of my own again. A harbor, which I can sail into, feel relaxed in, and close the door to. I love being a nomad, but I’ve always found a place to retreat to wherever I was for however long; a place I loved coming home to, where I could breathe, ponder the day, and recharge my batteries…

Now, floating on couches, the only place I can rest in is myself. And, as important as this may be, I miss the physical presence of a harbor more than I dare admit to myself.

I am lonely, too.

But loneliness doesn’t bother me quite as much. I am comfortable in my own company just as much as I am with a person whom I love and enjoy spending time and sharing space with.

No, essentially, it’s the homelessness that gets to me most…

With freedom of movement in the world reduced to a fraction of what it was only a few weeks ago, there is no telling when I’ll be able to get back to my treasured expat life, no telling when I’ll be able to get back to working backstage, no telling when I’ll finally have my own bed again… (even if this will be in hotel rooms… any place really where I can be myself, openly and unguardedly).

I am doing my best not to dwell. I am doing my best to overcome, let go, and be grateful for what I have. I spend quality time with my dad, cook for us and, as we are getting into a temporary rhythm between two couches and a kitchen, share breakfasts and dinners with him in his one-bedroom apartment.
I fill my quasi-alone time cuddling with cats, learning, reading, writing, and binge-watching TV series on my dad’s exposed, cream-colored, white leather couch. Countering my lack of privacy with an invisible border I create with my earphones… There is a lot to enjoy and it’s a pretty couch.

Yet the homelessness remains…