The Mediterranean Summer that never was

It all sounded perfect. The plan was to visit him every few weeks during the summer in the French and Italian riviera, where he moved to work.  It would be a summer of soaking in the Mediterranean sun, eating cheese and gelato and spending the lazy weekends basking in our long-distance love. I convinced myself that it was worth it because I loved him. We didn’t really have much of a concrete plan other than that (he would always get annoyed when I wanted to partake in the cardinal sin of Planning Ahead) so we were ‘flying by the seat of our pants’ looking to see if long distance for us would work. We had already spent a large part of our relationship apart – 4 months the previous year, an agonising 6 weeks apart in March, then an additional 3 weeks in May. It felt like we were already experts at this long distance thing, convinced that our strategy of ‘winging it’ was going to work for us for a while longer. We spent 2 weeks on holiday in Australia getting reacquainted again, then just like that, he went off to start his new life in a small coastal village on the Italian riviera.

During the course of the summer, every time I travelled to see him, it felt as if I was having a holiday fling, a romantic getaway, a honeymoon: romance and travel are as hand-in-hand as a long walk on the beach. Back then, the times apart in between these ‘vacation flings’ were insignificant… the 3 or 4 days that I’d spend with him, in beautiful Nice, or Milan, or Cinque Terre was like living in a dream, as if this is how it would always be: simple, beautiful, carefree. And while we were together, it was like that. The beauty about this relationship was that I got to travel – for the days I saw him, I allowed myself to escape the self-constructed constraints of normal life, and lived more freely in the moment, because after all, that’s what travel is about.

I remember it had all started with a dance-floor kiss one humid May evening. I knew he was younger but it was the case of the fuck-it’s.  No strings, No attachments; there was no expectation of anything further. But somehow it did go further. And the further we dove in, the less simpler it got and the more the strings started to appear and get tangled.  In my insecurity I asked too many questions that he didn’t have answers for, which resulted more often that not in roundabout conversations about the complications of our relationship that just confused the crap out us. Then the ‘long distance’ started. The vast periods of time we spent apart were torture. Those in-between bits started to become frustrating. He wasn’t much of a communicator which made it especially hard – there was an always excuse for not talking too long on the phone (expensive), or Skyping more regularly (drinks at the bar was higher on the fun-meter than talking to your girlfriend), or  sending an email (he didn’t like writing). But I still persisted, I loved him the best I could, but somehow it wasn’t satisfying because I felt I wasn’t getting anything back.

It’s a funny thing to spend a large part of your life starved for love — hungry for it, searching for it, desperately looking for someone to give it, an elusive feeling you’re sure would fill that big empty hole inside. Especially when the only love you’d ever known had suddenly up and left you just months before. So I was hungry for it. And they say hungry people make bad shoppers. You pick the hurt, the broken, the non-committal, the emotionally unavailable, and it becomes a project: “I’m going to love them like no one else has; I’m going to make them love me, Goddammit.” You tend to pick the people least able to give you the very thing you crave.

With him, I hoped, I dreamed. I started to weave elaborate fantasies and scenarios in my head of how our relationship was, is and should be. I was far more concerned with these fantasies than the actual reality of what was happening around me. You rationalize and justify. You cling to little scraps they give you like life jackets on a sinking ship. He doesn’t like talking on the phone. He must be busy if he hasn’t returned my call. It’s okay for him to make plans with everyone else except me, that’s just the way he is and he’ll come around eventually.

In reality I was giving my entire loaf to him and only received scraps back. Because hungry people, they say, will settle for scraps. No wonder I was still starving.

In the throes of that Mediterranean Summer towards the end of September, in one of the “insignificant” in-between parts, and after the 65th excuse of why he couldn’t Skype that night, I began to hear a voice — a quiet but insistent voice — that kept repeating, “You deserve better.”

I told him I needed space. So we communicated at a minimum. But like a mantra, the voice didn’t stop: “You deserve better”.  Over the course of the repetition, the weeks of chanting in my own head, “you deserve better” became about something other than him, not about what he did or didn’t do. It became about me. It became about what I had settled for, what I’ve let be okay with me. It became about how I had set myself up to be hurt, and refused to acknowledge or be accountable to that hurt. It became about how I’d constructed fantasies and lived inside them, used them as a way to not be present for myself and my own issues. It became about how I have so recklessly given away my self-worth and looked to other people to validate me — begging and begging for them to fix something in me that wasn’t theirs to fix.

It became about how I wouldn’t dare ask for something better, because I didn’t really think there was anything better for me.

And somewhere, inside all that, it became about believing, if even in only some small broken chamber of my little broken heart, that maybe there was something better.  We had proven to each other that we were both incapable of handling our reality – the relationship wasn’t just about the travel romance, but the in-between bits as well. He wasn’t in the position to give me the love and attention I craved when we weren’t physically together. At the same time, there were no plans to be physically together. It was long distance or bust.

So I chose bust and we broke up.

My Mediterranean Summer ended, just like that. We spoke on the phone about it and that was that. I’m still not sure whether he was upset or relieved, my guess is the latter, as a newer, younger girl appeared on the scene within weeks. Yes, I still love him. And the hurt still resurfaces. But I’ve learnt to love myself more. I have no regrets other than we didn’t have a conversation about the closure face to face. I offered, he refused. But I’m at peace with it now. I’d like to think I’m a better person for it. And whilst it will always be the Mediterranean Summer that never was, it was the summer I learned to love myself again.

 

All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.

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How I learned to stop worrying and be passionate in Argentina

Seductive and alluring, arrogant yet unassuming, intense but easy-going… Argentina is an energetic country full of subtle contrasts. It was also the place where I learned, for the first time, to stop worrying.  I’m a worrier by nature – most who know me will most likely describe me with as a controlling, OCD freak who needs to plan everything and anything. So upon arriving in Buenos Aires, I was worrying about everything. I had just overstayed in both Rio and Iguazu and felt I was running out of time. I was with travel buddies that were starting to get on my nerves. I had spent way too much money in Brazil. I didn’t know Spanish and I’d heard the portenos could be a bit arrogant about it. I was exhausted after an 18 hour bus ride from Iguazu, but for some reason, once I arrived in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires , my mood immediately lifted. The taxi took us down Avenida de Mayo, the main arterial of the microcentro and looking around me I instantly felt like I was in Europe again. Beautiful architecture, picturesque avenues lined with perfectly trimmed shrubs and sophisticated portenos taking in the sun while sipping lattes on streetside cafes. One can hardly believe you are in a third-world continent when in Buenos Aires. And the that’s the magic of this city, this entire country for that matter.

Argentina has had a rough upbringing, but despite its history of political instabilities, military regimes and constant protests, they gave the rest of the world the middle finger and said, SO WHAT, our country is beautiful and our past has made us the people we are today. So what if the peso devalued. So what about inflation. So what that we are still fighting with Britain over the Falkland Islands. There lives go on, sipping that cappucino in the leafy, suburban streets of Recoleta.

Mind you, the portenos aren’t exactly shrinking violets. They love to voice their opinion and will hold a protest for protests’ sake. In fact they are probably one of the most hostile nations in the world. On that first day in BA, I inadvertently ran into a protest (something about hospitals), which my taxi driver was very annoyed at as they had closed half of Av. de Mayo. He was forced to weave in and out of police cars and people with drums, while all the time cursing them for their stupidity. Every Thursday at 3pm in Plaza de Mayo there is a scheduled weekly protest by Argentine ‘mothers’ whose children “disappeared” during the Dirty War, the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983 – to signify that history must never be repeated. This is quite a touristy show, and is relatively more subdued than other more passionate protests (I have heard of ongoing demonstrations outside the British embassy with regards to the Malvinas/Falklands – complete with burning Union Jacks flags!).

Nonetheless, the Argies have passion oozing out of their pores. And its completely contagious. And so I found myself being just as passionate in everything…learning to  dance the Tango (hard!), going on a quest to find the perfect bife de lomo (La Cabrera!), found the bodega that produced the best Malbec (Trapiche!), and even participated in a good ol’ protest against an appalling Bolivian bus company…the passion took a hold of me.. and eventually, I stopped worrying. Because life is too short for worrying. I didn’t care that the bife de lomo cost double a meal I would normally have, or that dancing the tango made me look completely uncoordinated, or that my spanish wasn’t 100% when I had a conversation with taxi drivers. I didn’t care that I got caught in the rain at San Telmo markets and was soaked to the bones by the time a taxi decided to pick me up after an hour waiting. I didn’t care that my point-and-shoot camera broke a couple of days before the end of my trip. I didn’t care that I had no hotel to stay at when I arrived in Auckland – I didn’t care even that I had no return flight booked until the day before!

I pushed on because my passion now was all about living in the moment, I savoured every drop of that malbec, and relished that bife de lomo till the last bite. I worried less about what seat on the plane I would get (evidently, I got an exit row!), wasn’t fazed that buses were late, or that border crossings took a whole day. BUT if I find that the service is crap, I wouldn’t have thought twice about staging a protest about it to demand my money back!

 

All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.


Reclaiming Sydney

Post-holiday blues didn’t hit as hard as I thought it would. Sydney is a beautiful city to return to and having done all that travelling, makes me appreciate my hometown even more. I miss South America, I miss Dubai, but I also missed home!

The last couple of weeks has been a mixture of settling down, relaxation, job hunting, family time and eating. There’s nothing better than coming home to my favourite home-cooked dinner every day!  No more empanadas, thank you. I’ve been shuffled into the spare room downstairs, with nothing much more than a bed and a wardrobe. I realised then that I didn’t have very many belongings. Four years ago I had enough crap to fill a 3 bedroom two-storey house, now I have a 3×3 room and one half-full cupboard of mainly my backpacking clothes (which I never want to wear again!), three pairs of shoes, 2 suits, my snowboarding gear, laptop and camera.  All my other stuff is still in Dubai – dresses, shoes, cookbooks, the all important hairdryer. But I’m not feeling at all impoverished.

There is a memorable quote from the George Clooney movie, Up in the Air about how much your life weighs and our metaphorical backpack for life. Its very inspiring. And now walking into this room at my parents home, with just a bag on my back I thought about all the other ‘stuff’ i had left behind of the last four years. People, relationships, fancy apartments, boozy nights out, big cars. All gone, and really, it is kind of exhilirating.

I’ve never started ‘from scratch’ before. Well, when I moved to Dubai that was kind of ‘from scratch’ but a little different. This is ‘from scratch’ back in my home town. Its a weird feeling. Job hunting is tedious. Catching up with long lost friends can be repetitive. Family can be boring. I can’t really start anything until I have a job. Then comes saving, then comes moving out, then comes ‘living life’ again (or is it getting back into the rat race?). It will take me months to build it up, and because I’m the impatient type I want it all now now now.

Reclaiming Sydney will be a slow and steady process. I mentioned to a friend the other day that I want to apply the principles of travelling to my every day life. Do something new. Meet people. Take in every opportunity to enjoy myself. Live, dream and (at the risk of sounding like an Emirates ad..) keep discovering.

All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.