Looking back

It’s Polaroid Week this week, a time when a bunch of instant film addicts enthusiasts share their love of the good stuff on Flickr. To mark the occasion I’ll be sharing some more of the Polaroids I shot while I was away. I’m down to my last packs of original Polaroid film so it’s bittersweet, my friends. Bittersweet. *sigh*

Today’s shots were taken in lovely Vancouver. I could so see myself living there one day (note: i said this about every city I visited. But they were all so great!)

Art is my religion

I hadn’t known it was going to be there. I’d seen some incredible paintings as I went from room to room, darting between the other visitors to get close enough to observe the brush marks before standing back to take in the whole. I was thrilled that we were allowed to take photographs and took full advantage of this, snapping away with my iPhone, recording the theatre around me, my fellow patrons like actors in a show. And then suddenly there it was — Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, hanging on a wall. The painting i’d been obsessed with at school, the one I’d pored over in books, copying the faces into my own sketch book as I learned more about Cubism. It was bigger than I’d thought it would be. It was bold and beautiful and it blew me away, so much so that tears came and I let them leak out the corners of my eyes. The people around me must have thought I was nuts, but I really couldn’t help it. There is not much in this world that makes me cry, but that Wednesday morning I was moved to tears standing among strangers in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The same thing happened as I stood before Modigliani’s Recling Nude. Tears and a thumping heart. And a few quizzical stares directed my way.

I was already tired and overwhelmed by the tour, and my emotions were sitting pretty close to the surface. But there was something about being so close to these amazing works of art — created by human hands, cherished by so many — that touched me so deeply. The galleries were so quiet, people speaking in hushed tones, listening to their headsets as they walked around. It was like being in a church dedicated to art, and I truly felt the reverance that the paintings demanded. It was the only time during my entire stay in New York that I wished I’d been with someone I knew, so I could turn to them and say: aren’t people amazing? Look what we can do!

I absolutely adored the MOMA. Loved the art and the space and the food in the cafe on the 5th floor. I loved how friendly and helpful the stewards were, and how the museum let visitors use their cameras. This wasn’t the case when I visited the Guggenheim a few days later and it was quite comical watching the stewards (who looked like security guards) running up to people brandishing cameras: “No photos!”. It made no sense to me. Why was someone taking a snap with an iPhone such a bad thing? Surely art appreciation is to be encouraged, and if I wanted a crappy low-res shot of the Rothko to take home with me — a little memory to treasure, a bit of proof that I’d seen it! — why not let me? (I took it anyway. And yes, a man rushed over and told me off ;-)

The only place you were allowed to take pictures was standing in the atrium looking up at the (admittedly awesome) glass roof. Of course, i ignored this rule and took a few more sneaky shots as I walked round (and round) the building:

The Rineke Dijkstra retrospective (above) was fantastic and definitely worth the visit (a female photographer celebrated in a New York museum, no less. My heart soared.) And yes, the building itself is amazing and I’m glad I took the time to see it, though I might not go back, now that I have. The MOMA, however, will see me again, that’s for sure.

Does art (or music, or theatre, or any of the other creative arts) make you cry too?

The carry-on experiment

I can sum up the results of my wee experiment in one word: FREEDOM!

In the past I’ve been an over-packer, the worry that I’ll find myself abroad without that one essential item I didn’t pack made me bring countless items “just in case”. But here’s the thing: “just in case” never ever happens. What does happen is I end up wearing the same four items until they fall off my back, and I come home with a suitcase full of unworn (and clean!) clothes.

This time I knew I had to pack differently. As I shared in the post before I left, the thought of having to catch eight flights — in other words, having to CHECK my suitcase eight times — left me in a sweat. There was no way I could handle the stress of will-my-suitcase-arrive-with-me eight times. And I speak from experience here, as the very first time I visited the USA my suitcase got lost and arrived four days later. Not much fun.

Plus there was the time saved at each airport. By checking-in online the night before I was able to head straight to the security line, take my laptop and toiletries bag out of my suitcase, whizz through the scanner and get to my gate all in the space of an hour — sometimes less. International flights tend to take a bit longer, but all my domestic flights within the USA were a breeze.

So that’s the travelling part taken care of, I hear you say, but how was living out of a tiny suitcase for 3.5 weeks?

Friends, it was awesome :D

I did cheat a little bit, in that I also had a tote bag with me for my Polaroid films, which inevitably ended up carrying a few extras I picked up along the way. But even that wasn’t an issue at the airports — as long as I put my hangbag inside the tote while going through the various checkpoints, everyone was happy.

Having only a few things with me made leaving hotels a piece of cake (not much with me so not much to leave behind!) and staying with friends was just as easy. In fact, it was great not having to cart around a big suitcase as I travelled Littlest Hobo-style around the country by plane and train.

I picked up a couple of items of clothing on the trip and, of course, ended up wearing those the most; I also left a few pieces in Santa Barbara and Toronto to be sent home (thank you, Lisa and Jamie!) and did laundry in Santa B, Bellingham and Providence, too (thanks, loves!).

But the biggest plus of the entire experiment was how FREE I felt. I had literally no baggage with me. I was just ME, being present in every place I visited. It made me realise how little I need to live contentedly. Walking back into my flat on Sunday I was shocked at how “full” the place felt. Do I really carry all this stuff with me every time I move house? What’s the point? Most of it I haven’t looked at or used since I landed in Bath nearly four years ago (and I don’t even have that many possessions, but after 39 years of living i’ve inevitably gathered a few bits ‘n’ pieces. You know how it is.)

Since I’ve been back I’ve been wearing the same clothes I wore while I was away (washed, obviously ;) I’ve already halved my book collection and have started going through all the drawers and cupboards in the flat, clearing out and boxing up items to go to my local charity shops. This morning I started planning which pieces of furniture I want to let go of. Operation Move To London is in full effect!

So while I’m not turning into a minimalist — my camera collection (already halved) and vintage treasures make that impossible — I definitely want some more of that freedom I felt. I’ve moved house more times than I care to count over the last 20 years and perhaps the fact that I’ve never settled anywhere permanently is a contributing factor to this urge to purge. I know that my next home will not be a permanent one, either, and that makes me want to travel as lightly as possible. Maybe one day I will settle somewhere permanently. In my daydreams I imagine that will be when I find someone I would like to settle with — as a single woman I’m happy to keep moving until I find the right place. A place that truly feels like home.

For now I’m pleased to report that with just a few items of clothing, some toiletries, your laptop, notebook and a Polaroid camera you really can be at home wherever you find yourself. It was truly the most delicious, and timely, revelation.

As a few people have asked, here’s a link to the cabin suitcase I used, a Samsonite B-lite Fresh in raspberry

Living in the right now

Doing the book tour has been one of the more challenging things I’ve done in my life, but going into it I didn’t view it that way — which is interesting in itself. I booked the flights, made the plans and crossed my fingers. I honestly didn’t think too far ahead, knowing it would overwhelm me.

In the book I touch on how mindfulness has become a key part of how I move through my days, but it’s only now that I’ve had an opportunity to put it into pratice, away from the comfort of my home and routines, that I see how true this really is. The entire tour, from landing in Philadelphia and missing my connecting flight on July 4th all the way through to driving to JFK airport to fly home on July 28th, has been one long exercise in mindfulness. In being present to where I am, how I feel and who i’m with. 

In a nutshell: no matter where I was, I was truly there.

When I was walking along the boardwalk with Jamie in Toronto, I was truly there. When I was having dinner with Alex in San Francisco, I was truly there. When I was watching the train with Cedar in Bellingham, I was truly there. And on, and on, and on.

And, of course, i had a few moments of wishing I was home with my family, of projecting forward into the coming days, and that one hour in Toronto airport, after a VERY unpleasant half hour with the US immigration boys, when I was officially Over It. But considering how much of an introvert I am, I sailed through the days intact, open to everything and everyone and absorbing the lessons & realisations as they came. Miraculously, I didn’t get sick (more on that in an up-coming travel tips post!), though the jet lag and general tiredness made the trip more exhausting than I’d have liked.

I had a moment’s panic this morning, wondering if all my memories from the last month had vanished, because as I sit here at my computer it’s as if I’ve never been away. But then I remember it’s this mindfulness thing — I am truly here in my house, sitting in the right now. That’s when I am grateful for my photographs, for they take me back into the moments I’ve lived, giving my memories something to hang onto when the right now fills my head.

In total I took over 2,000 iPhone photographs and 60 Polaroid/Impossible shots on the tour. The iPhone was my notebook, catching images on the fly; my SX-70 was my tool for slowing down: stopping, composing, waiting to see if the shot came out and reshooting if necessary. Shooting solely with B&W Impossible Project film in NYC brought an extra element of mindfulness, looking for scenes and vignettes that would work in monotone when usually i look for colour. I was in my happy place, on so many levels :)

One of the more frustrating parts of all the travel was the lack of time to sit down and write an actual blog post — hence all the photo posts — so i have a few more I want to share in the coming days. But for now I’d like to invite you to notice where you are today and take a photograph for the August Break. You don’t even need to share it on your blog (or have a blog, for that matter) — simply notice where you are… sink deeply into the moment… and take a shot.

What’s happening in your world today?