“Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of shit!”…….

Don’t look back.  You can only look forward and look toward a place you do not know until you reach it.  Sometimes, as difficult as it seems, you must learn to leave what you have grown to love be it somewhere you have lived and where perhaps your yesterdays are all buried deep.  It is an odd feeling leaving.  You not only miss the existence of the life you have built for yourself but most of all, you miss the person you have been at that time in that place and you know you will never feel that same way again.

Perhaps there are times where the bottom is supposed to fall out of our lives.  We lose what we love, we lose our trust and faith and we lose the truth of what we thought we believed so very deeply in.  When this happens, you can find yourself in a very dark place and it is from here you have the choice whether to move on or not.

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So very Southern.  The glorious magnolia flower………

Our trip home, documented in the last 15 posts, was disconcerting at best.  Amazing yet heartbreakingly difficult all at the same time.  Our lives thrown into careless turmoil and all the while dearly missing our family Gus and Zoe.  How were we to know when we packed up our home and our lives in the beautiful state of South Australia (a wonderful posting, as every one of our postings have been) in November of 2013 to begin that remarkable journey, that it would end as it did.  That life would change in an instant!   A single very ordinary instant and that we would be made to forfeit all which we never believed we could forfeit.

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November 2013.  Our entire home and lives packed up in readiness for this wonderful adventure.  How could we have known it would end as it did………

Packed and ready to go………

Last moments in Sydney Australia.  Cheers to a wonderful adventure……….

There is the realisation that one grows from something like this, as well one should, and  you will learn much.  During the most harrowing of times, although I thought I had lost absolutely everything, I gained so very much more.  I only had to look for it.

I have learnt that I need not tie myself to the weight of other peoples’ worth for when they are not made of heart they hold no purpose in my life.  I have discovered the world has people in it who will want to destroy you at any cost however the dehumanising process they use will only make you stronger and your determined courage will see you take your rightful stand.

In times such as these you also come to know your worth and you learn not to allow it to be measured by anyone else.   That although overwhelmed by sorrow you won’t give up. You learn grief has no mercy but you endeavor to fight a good fair fight even against an opponent who will play the lowest and grubbiest of hands.  That something like this also shows you that different people will spurn you in different ways and this is especially true the sly and cowardly piss weak when they have backing and the promise of immunity.

I have learnt I needed to allow my hurt to leave as though casting a stone and that in the baptism of fire of how truly cruel and hateful some women can be, you just need to hold fast your grace.  Don’t ever allow those very disagreeable trolls who favor spite, unkindness, calumny and profound negativity to ruin your benevolence.  Believe me, they are not worthy of it………xx.

I have come to understand I will still struggle with moments of bleak resentment toward those who so brutally drove all that happened.  When my forgiveness wavers, I fret at my lack of compassion for them and this is only because it sees me momentarily lose sight to empathy and humility which I hold dear.

I am also able to recognise that although some have felt justified through misguided, outdated and restless social barriers they had the right to dislocate and make inconsolable, they in turn unwittingly unleashed the singular power of my self respect and this has driven me on.  Regardless of the heinous bitter and very nasty shit they have thrown my way, I am stronger and more resilient than ever.

Most importantly though, I now know when assaulted from all sides and unsupported by those whom I should have been able to turn to yet were exiled from, I learnt to rely only upon myself.  Big tip – Trust only yourself and believe in yourself always.

We met some wonderful people and their friendships will be with us life long.  We had the most amazing time in America, as we have done in all of our postings, and we are so deeply grateful of our time there.  We made the absolute most of every single opportunity to explore, to travel, to experience and to see and do……and believe me, we did 🙂   We took road trips of thousands of miles.  Driving through the golden forge of Americas’ heartland.  Through sleepy forgotten towns where a richness often lies in such brokenness yet these places become an awfully human place to exist.  To vibrant cities of architectural beauty.  Those magnificent steel and glass cities that sound of car and taxi horns and the thrum of a million people.  We rode trolley cars and trains.  Walked hundreds of miles on streets we could only have dreamt of walking.  We flew in American skies over patchwork pastures and smog settled cities.  In moments I remember the small things such as Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the dusting of snow Georgia received in our first weeks there, a terrace house in a neighborhood of Washington, glorious magnolia blossom, my first Georgia peach, blackened catfish and the very spot where Elvis fried up his peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

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Touch down in America saw us touring the incredibly beautiful city of San Francisco for a few days………..

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A wealthy neighborhood where the hand of a Buddha statue held a leather catcher’s mitt.  Where Martin Luther King died for his cause and where Presidents have been inaugurated.  Blue Ridge Mountains,  dear little chipmunks and ‘bandits’, diners and corner cafes, juke joints, those long long four lane concrete freeways, the slow drawl of the beautiful southern accent, water towers and the desolate painful trail of tears in Chattanooga.  Sugar dusted beignets at Café du Monde, Spanish moss and mocking birds.  Fresh home-made waffles and pancakes, fried chicken, pecan pie and corn bread.   Sometimes it was the America I had always imagined and often it wasn’t, but perhaps this is what it means to travel.

Our teeny tiny snowman made from a dusting of Georgian snow……….

I missed the hot clotted air and heat of the south which wrapped around me, tanned my skin and frizzed my hair.  The south has a heat which is indescribable yet it lets you discover your porch, friendships, lazy afternoons and a pitcher of anything icy cold.

Once back home in Australia, unsettled and with a sorrow I could not comprehend, I unpacked my bag and shook out a raging aching heart.  It may have been over but really, it was only the beginning…………

And here in Newcastle, as unforeseeable as it was at that time, my life is all I imagined it to be.  From the moment I arrived I knew I was home.  Nowhere I had ever lived before gave the warmth of knowing I was home and you know instantly where you belong and that is the true beauty of life .  At home and at one with that beautiful ocean and where optimism, one of humanities great traits, beguiles and where soul expanding moments continually happen.

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Don’t look back.  What matters is now.  Go only forward and go with courage and dignity and summon that great value of the human spirit which is to never ever give up……..xx

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Footnote:  “Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of shit”  is a line by Ellen Burstyn in the 1974 movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.   

A little yen for Japan…….

Japan.  The land of the rising sun and such a peaceful place of immense beauty……..

Japan has a rich history and a culture which has formed over thousands of years yet the traditional and a modern Japan fit so elegantly together.   This beautiful land has a tranquil air of mystery to it and it appears to be a place where you could find yourself as a respectful outsider looking in on such loveliness.

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The people of Japan are hardworking yet delightfully courteous.  They have odd little mannerisms, they are welcoming and at times a little quirky, they have a quiet sense of composed beauty and their genteel politeness is utterly charming.   It seems too that good manners are paramount and these manners are taught at a very young age.   It makes for sweet yet respectfully dear children and who doesn’t appreciate that.

Traditional to hipster, this is modern Japan…….

Throughout Japan, and due much in part to Shintoism and the adopted Buddhism, there are thousands of beautiful public shrines and temples which you can respectfully wander through.   It is a very peaceful experience and at one temple midweek, we were so fortunate to witness the beauty of a hushed Shinto wedding ceremony.

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Japan has a troubled war history and due in part to this, they have denounced all military aggression for which I salute them.  As most reader know, I struggle with war.  Those bitter, unbearable and horrific conflicts where no one ever wins!   Japan was decimated after WWII – see previous post of Pearl Harbour – yet somehow, it rose from atomic ash to become one of the biggest economies in the world and one of the most beautiful places on earth.

There is war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t…………Leonard Cohen

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This is also the country of 6 million vending machines offering anything from ice cream, hamburgers, floral arrangements, hot ‘frozen dinners’, deep fried hot chips……how do they do it! to fresh eggs and hot coffee in a can.   Ubiquitously Japanese, your can of coffee will come out steaming hot and tasting of caffeine and your ice-cream will be frozen to perfection.  You can buy almost anything out of these machines including undies and they are incredibly convenient as they are situated everywhere.  I am in no doubt to the world having vending machine envy.

Somehow, I think one could very happily live in Japan, if only for a year, yet barely scratch the surface of this enchanting land.

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The rail system in Japan is brilliant.  It really is a great way to get around and in itself, it is a tourist attraction.  Think the ‘Mag-Lev High Speed Bullet Train’ which has a maximum operating speed of 320 km/h and which reached 603 km/h in testing.

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Image courtesy – indulgy.com

The commuter rail system is slick, fast and very clean.  It can be slightly complex to navigate at first, which is half the fun, but there is always someone willing to help you out.  In our case, an elderly gentleman helped navigated us through the underground network of tunnels and twist and turns to walk us right to our platform.  Not only was he delightful company for this brief encounter, but his gesture was also very kind.

And the trains are punctual!   I would recommend purchasing the unlimited rail card as train travel really is, apart from walking, one of the best way to get around.

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You will eat well in Japan and often only for a few yen at noodle bars or Yakitori’s.  And who doesn’t love a noodle bar.   We tended toward the smaller bars with their dark spaces and narrow benches which faced the kitchen to look upon the huge steaming pots of broth and noodles.   And do slurp your noodles as it will not only enhance their delicate flavor but in Japan, this is also the correct and most polite way to eat them.

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Another food tradition are the Bento boxes.  You can travel like a Ninja as these boxes were initially designed to eat whilst in a nomadic state.  It is quite an appealing way to eat although I suspect if travelling on the bullet train, you may not have much time to truly savor one.

Something quite lovely to try while in Japan are Rakugan.  These are sweets, not too sweet, that have been hand shaped into animals and flowers and objects of beauty.  Some of them really are works of art and I often found them just too lovely to eat.  Naturally, they come beautifully packaged – as is everything in Japan – and they are often served at traditional tea ceremonies.   The thing with the Japanese is that it is all about the aesthetically pleasing aspect of presentation.   The attention to detail, the precision and the art of giving with love and joy appear paramount from the presentation of a simple tiny Rakugan to the most expensive and elaborate of gifts.

‘The Princess and the Pee!’……. aka, my fascination with Japanese toilets!  What can I say.  The lav’s in Japan are everything I had heard and dreamed them to be.  Elaborate, modern, high tech, sophisticated, sensory, heated seats, melodic – they really do play music to camouflage any ‘noise’ – and they make for very happy travellers.  Give me a futon and a Japanese toilet and I’m a happy girl…….. 🙂

Japan Part II coming soon………..xx

Nothing gets on my goat more…….

Part II – Eat, Drink, Love Chicago…….

As lovely as the architecture in this cloud scraping city is, Chicago is also an epicureans delight.  Here you will hit the absolute mother load in terms of great restaurants and great bars.

In Newcastle there is a saying and that is – ‘there isn’t a pub on every corner but every pub is on a corner’.   Well in Chicago, it can be stated this – ‘there really is a bar on every corner!’

Hip and beautiful cocktail bars, cosy or noisy bars, lounge bars, dive bars (always a favorite of mine), sip wine and eat charcuterie and pate and elegant cheese platter bars, slick bars, sports bars, roof top bars – a perfect accompaniment for summer, outdoor bars, old world bars and coffee bars……yes, there are such things as coffee bars and they will serve you up wonderful hand roasted bean water to perfection.  And Chicago really does do great coffee!

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Beer, and in particular craft beers, are big in Chicago.  As with most places in the world the craft beer industry has really taken off but sometimes you just want to go a little old school.  You want to find a beloved watering hole, faded and as well-worn as your granddads favorite old slippers.  So how do you find the perfect old school Ale house amid the thousands of Ale houses in Chicago and its neighborhoods!  Well that’s easy. You just need to look up.

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Above the door-ways of most good Ale houses you will find either a flashing vintage neon sign or look for a wooden swinging ‘ye olde’ sign.  These places tend to be real Chicago gems and I think if anyone ever tried to change or modernise these places into a hip gastro-pub then there would probably be rioting on the streets.  I love that much of the original charm and nostalgia of these places remains.

Quite often the guy behind the bar with the large white tea-towel draped across his shoulder is, by rule of thumb, the one who owns it.  These guys are genuine and down to earth and have an ancestry which dates back decades of tough working class immigrant families.  Their history, by way of old black and white photographs, adorn the walls of their establishments and these photos tell stories of many years passed.

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I guess you really have to admire a place that greets you with a warning sign as soon as you step through the door………….

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The Billy Goat Tavern is a place you are either going to love or run screaming from.  Grab a seat at the bar as this is the perfect place to people watch while you chow down on your cheezborger.  And here’s the thing……..the cheezborger is so simple but ridiculously good.  The tavern is located under Michigan Avenue so it can be a little hard to find but everyone who lives or works in Chicago knows where this place is and they can tell you how to get there.billy-goat-tavern1

This is where, on a good night (or day) or both, you can chug handles of warmish beer and eat humble cheezborgers ’til your heart’s content all while chatting with the locals, the newspaper journalists from papers such as the Chicago Tribune, old guys, old sports guys, the occasional D grade celeb and tourists.

Now truth be told, this place isn’t for everyone. People come in, look around then very often (and hastily) take their leave. But if you are up for some local history, a good ‘borger’ (and my tip for that would be to go the two patty) and if you don’t have a shitty attitude…….and honestly, nothing gets on my goat more than a whiny negative attitude!!  then you will be most welcome and you will have a great time.

Sometimes when it comes to food, I have little resistance.  Please note that dark chocolate (always 70% and over)  and ice-cream should never be placed in arms reach of me plus I am a sucker for hot chips and gravy.  But in Chicago we found the real Holy Grail Trinity of food:

  1. The Legendary Deep Dish Pizza – Chicago’s most iconic of big cheesy food.
  2. The Authentic Chicago Style Hot Dog – an all-beef frankfurter on a bun which has been sprinkled with poppy seeds and stuffed with fresh tomato, onions, sport peppers, a pickle spear, drizzled with yellow mustard and finished with a dusting of celery salt.
  3. The Italian Beef Sandwich – heaven!

No fancy pants dining or airs and graces required because this food will hold its own.  Just great Chicago food where little more needs to be said other than these will be some of the best things you will ever eat…….and this is coming from someone who is not ‘big’ on pizza.  I guess perhaps that’s just the comfort of food sometimes.

You will also find rib sticking Polish food, fantastic smokehouses, sandwich shops which are no ordinary sandwich shops, popcorn shops given popcorn is Illinois’ official snack food and it fabulously comes covered in cheese and caramel, iconic steak houses, roasted pig face….hello and more deli’s than you could ever imagine.

Life is so much more than your little microcosm of the world.  It won’t always be perfect and sometimes it won’t work out the way you planned but do make every single wonderful moment of it count and in the mean time……. eat, drink and love where ever you are xx.

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all our enemies, because when we love all living beings, we have no enemies……..Geshe Kelsang Gyatso