A quick breather yesterday at Lake Constance. It’s always amazing for me to find sandy beaches and secluded spots so close to bustling civilization.
Otherwise, not much new here on the aiming-to-settle-in-Zurich-again front. I must admit, I am exhausted. It’s been a good two years now of hanging in limbo on so many levels and I am starting to really feel it. At the moment, I am waiting to hear back concerning an application process I went through week before last. To be completely honest, ever since then it’s hard for me to focus on anything else. Because, out of all the jobs I’ve applied for so far, none have been a better fit. This job will be great for me in every respect. Such a wonderful mix of interesting work content, great team, and outstandingly good company culture. And I’ll be good at it, too. I am full of hope. And at the same time terrified. The most delicious carrot is dangling in front of me. I can almost touch it. And I had such a rare good feeling during the interviews. Now I’m unsure how I’ll handle it, if that carrot won’t be for me. Of course, I’ll have to just keep going. But oh boy, you know, when you just feel something is right for you. You know it with every fibre of your being. And you’ve done all you possibly can for it. And now the decision is out of your hands. All you can do is wait and hope that the people you talked with as well as the universe all agree with you that it’s the right path.
So amidst all these tumbling thoughts and obsessively checking my email every half hour yesterday, I went to visit my dad who lives right next to this immensely beautiful spot in Southern Germany. The wind, the sun, and the crisp air did me a world of good and transported me quickly from inside my head to firmer ground. Being in nature does that for me. It always restores balance and brings me back to myself.
Last week, I went on a 5-hour hike with a good friend of mine. Switzerland sure has beautiful corners everywhere. We walked from Schoenenberg to Sihlbrugg, along this incredibly tranquil trail. For the longest time, it felt as if we were somewhere far away in the wilderness. We barely met anyone else. Plus, following the water is one of my favorite pastimes anyways.
It felt good to be away from my laptop for a little bit. I’ve been incredibly busy these past few weeks, studying French, studying Psychology, and writing dozens of applications. I want to stay. I want to be able to fully arrive, let out a deep breath, and settle into a comfortable routine. Things have shifted massively for me. Sometimes trauma is a good thing. It has shown me more than ever before how important it is for me to belong somewhere, to have a home base. Many of my closest friends are here in Zurich. Some of us go back decades. We know practically everything about each other and no matter how long I’ve been gone in between, we always pick up right where we left off. It’s family in the truest sense of the word. It’s my happy place. My comfort zone.
Zurich is also my true birth place. It was here all the puzzle pieces fell into place thirty years ago. It was here I found myself. I guess that’s why I have returned time and time again over the years and why I have spent the majority of my time here. Seventeen years so far. No matter how much I searched for home elsewhere, life kept returning me here. It’s time to stop running and relax into this simple and quite beautiful truth: Zurich is home. In some ways, it took all the often extreme and painful life experiences of the last years for me to finally fully see and understand this.
In the end, my big hike last summer, my five months in Montpellier, and now the last three months here in Zurich have been about sorting through things, about decluttering, about spring cleaning my life, about slowing down, and about re-discovering and focusing on what is truly important.
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!
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
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.
Two of my favorites: Croque Monsieur and Tarte de Framboises. Wherever I am in the world, when I see either one, I need to taste it. This morning, I found both in the bakery. Aaaaaand… that was breakfast sorted.
Today is a day of anxiety. Moderate. But, yes, I do have those, too.
As I walked around my neighborhood, I was (as every day since I arrived in Montpellier) baffled by the number of homeless people. Why are there so many? While I felt helpless faced with the sheer number of outstretched hands, it also put things in perspective and showed me how lucky I still am. Yes, I am currently homeless, too (and soon I’ll be completely broke). But, I am still able to rent a roof over my head for a little while. I’m still standing, I’m still hiking, and I do still have and see abundant hope and opportunities.
Whilst shopping for the weekend, I looked around, and became so aware of all the masks again. It has become normal for me now to put on shoes and mask before leaving the house. How quickly has our world changed. I miss seeing people’s faces. I miss being able to read their facial expressions. I miss being able to shake their hands, to be able to fist-bump them. And, more than anything, I miss hugs and kisses. We seem to become ever more remote from each other… The other day, I had a drink and an awesome conversation with one of my classmates. When we said goodnight in front of the pub, he gave me a spontaneous hug. How wonderful that was! And how rare. How can something that used to be so normal now have become so rare?
My sense of loneliness is excacerbated by my language problems. By not being able to express what I feel in French. I understand so much when people talk. I understand even more when I read. But, getting sentences out is like looking for pearls in a mountain of oyster shells. Only every twentieth shell seems to produce a word. I need to get better at finding more of those pearls. I know, I know, it’s all just about going out, meeting people, overcoming the awkwardness, and talking anyways. No matter how horrible my grammar currently still is.
I am also wondering what I’m doing. Hiking across Southern Europe, going to French school now, continuing the hike after. Sometimes, I fail at staying in the moment. I fall out of it. All of a sudden I am overcome with worries about where it all might lead, if anywhere at all?
Then, I sit myself down (to a Croque Monsieur and a Tarte de Framboise for example). And I tell myself, “You can’t let yourself be overcome by these worries. Yes, everything is uncertain right now. Yes, you don’t know when you’ll find a job. Yes, your money might run out soon. Yes, you are in the middle of a pandemic (and a 6-month hike) without a health insurance. But, you are on the right track. You are proactive. You are taking steps. You are learning. You are alive. Just keep on going. One step at a time. Cross those bridges when you get there. Don’t try to cross them all at once now. They haven’t even been built yet. And it’s ok to have bad days. You’re entitled to those, too.”
Sipping my coffee, I feel a bit better (or at least determined to not give up) already…
Before Covid19 hit, I worked as a stage manager, mostly for circus shows. It is one of my greatest passions and something I worked hard towards for many years. Now, as I hike and travel through Southern Europe, no matter how beautiful it gets, sometimes it’s hard for me to stay in the moment. I can’t help it. Even as I am passing breathtaking vistas, I catch myself hoping that, someday soon, I’ll be able to work backstage again.
I miss the daily challenges and joys of being a stage manager. I miss life backstage, the vividness of a show family, the collaboration, the continual growth, training, learning, and stretching of limits and boundaries. And then, to see what we have created come to life. There is nothing quite like that concentration of energy and dedication at top of show just before all our hard work materializes as magic onstage…
At the moment, like so many of my peers, I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to work. Until then, I will continue to travel. Througout my hike, I am stopping wherever I stumble upon a theater. I am working on a photo series of old village theaters, just like this one. Whenever I get the chance to speak to someone on the way, I interview them and through this endeavor have already discovered wonderful people and places. But I also draw on past experiences, or interview people around the world for my articles in TheatreArtLife. It is my little contribution of keeping the ghost light on until we are back. Celebrating and keeping the performance arts, the arts in general, alive.
Then there is #Step4Circus, an intiative, still in its infancy, which will hopefully grow over the next months. The idea there is to build up a long-term international foundation to help create projects and shows within the circus community. Anyone will be able to help us achieve this by organizing small (or big) events to raise funds for our initiative. So that eventually we’ll be able to utilize these funds to make a difference and create new opportunities around the world.
Until Monday, I am in the beautiful village of Montaren, soon heading to the Camargue, and then after to Montpellier. I might stay a while in Montpellier if I can find a good intensive French course to do what I have put on hold for years: refresh my French and finally get a chance to get closer to being fluid in it.
The Wonderweg (“Weg” is German for “path” or “way”) truly is full of wonder. Often also doubts, worries, exhaustion, and breathlessness in the face of, at times, almost overwhelming uncertainty. But, I am hopeful, bursting with creative energy. I do the best I can to make the most of the present, learning more to stay in the moment every day. At the same time, I feel ever more ready to tackle all that will come my way.
Long shadows after another almost sleepless night… thoughts… nightmares I’ve had for months… sadness… heartbreak… a bit of exhaustion… mosquitoes… and an owl which, I swear, was sitting somewhere right next to my ear…
Thankfully, I managed to set up my little camp close to a small and ice cold little mountain creek. That meant a cold and prickly footbath while eating crackers… last night, as well as this morning.
I walked through this enchanting green ocean of dancing grass when the first message reached me that Le Reve, a beautiful show, the beginning of an era, an amazing vision, literally a dream, is being closed down for good in Las Vegas. Another almost 300 of my colleagues and friends are losing their livelyhood for now, not knowing where to turn.
I wish the initiative my friends and I are trying to build was not still in its infancy. Step4Circus is something that needs to come about. A small, yet important contribution to create jobs, hope, and a positive step forward in our circus community. It’s still a work in progress… I’ll keep you updated on all further developments! https://step4circus.com/
Today, as every day, my heart goes out to all my colleagues in the performance arts, to cast and crew, my show family, who put so much passion, soul, and hard work into creating moments of magic. We will find a way. We will be back. What is humanity without storytelling and the collective experience of eloping into our imagination? The show must go on xxx
After camping for a few days, we’ve now stopped for a couple days in the beautiful city of Biel. Yesterday was a lovely day of spoiling myself. I took a long, hot bath while listening to Cinemix, had a picnic dinner from Migros (awesome Swiss supermarket!), and went to the pharmacy to get some advice on why the soles of my feet are still hurting like hell…
Turns out, I have an inflammation in my feet. The pharmacist was helpful and seemed super competent. She prescribed some pills and a special ointment. I was a bit relieved to hear that, apparently, I am not especially whimpy, but this happens to rather a lot of hikers whose feet have troubles getting used to carrying the extra weight of the backpack in addition to hiking up and down through the Swiss Jura region. It doesn’t help that there are no cold creeks to hang your feet into in the evening.
Anyhow, the pharmacist recommends that I stop for at least three days to make sure the inflammation is gone, before I continue. I am gutted to be slowed down, but also immensely grateful to finally know why my feet feel like I’ve got half a dozen knives stuck in them.
Dave will continue on with his partner who is due to join us today. I’ll sadly remain behind for now. But I’m planning to continue on the trail by Monday, or Tuesday at the latest. Depends on those two rebellious feet. Fingers crossed!
Being here in Biel with time to think brings back memories. I shop in Migros, in awe at all the delicacies and realize that, while I lived in Switzerland, I probably didn’t appreciate all these little luxuries enough. Even after only one and a half weeks on the trail, my perspective is already shifting. It’s a good thing. Being more aware.
I also think back on the last few years. Life, work, travels. There was so much good. Like the best road trip of my life so far, in 2013, from Zurich to Barcelona and back… all the way along the Spanish coastline, through the South of France, through Monaco, to Cinque Terre in Italy. Then we drove straight north, over the alps, back to Zurich. Driving this entire route for the first time was like a dream. As was experiencing the FINA world championships in Barcelona or deciding spontaneously to go to the opera. Or drinking Sangria in Barcelona’s old part of town. Then we drove on, through landscapes that were ever-changing and magnificent.
I get all nostalgic thinking about life experiences like these and think about how lucky I was to be able to share it all with someone who loved it as much as I did. It’s good to hold on to these memories, to treasure them. Life moves on, forever changing, but certain things remain forever good. Like stars in our firmament, lighting the way for us in harder times.
And, every time we have another profound experience, be it on our own or when we share it with someone who matters to us, we widen our horizon a bit further. We end up adding another star to our own personal Milky Way… making it glow just that tiny bit brighter…