Tag Archives: Coffee

a writer’s day

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Life has become more highly ritualised now that production of my doctoral creative artefact – my permaculture travel memoir – has begun to ramp-up.

In the morning, it goes like this…

5am or 5:30am rise. Empty potty (it’s too far to walk outside to the composting loo during the night). Get dressed. Wash face. Boil kettle. Pick fresh sprigs of mint; dodge bees drinking from flowers; brew pot of mint tea. Simultaneously brew a fresh cafetiere of coffee… carry both into the writing studio, place them on the heat-proof ceramic tile on my desk. Back to the kitchen to fetch a mug.

How can I impress upon you the importance of choosing the right mug? Which one today? So much depends upon it – the success of the written word.

Shall I choose this one or that? The green, or the midnight blue Japanese mug… the mottled, sandy-coloured oldies that came with the house… or my favourite, the cream-coloured Korean mug with the picture of the purple and yellow plums on the side?

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Start work.

Three to four hours of generating ‘fresh’ words. I call this process ‘seeding’. It’s how I flesh out the narrative and get words down on paper.

Break. 

Usually about 1 hour, during which I undertake a combination of the following: wash dishes (whilst listening to Margaret Throsby’s midday interview); make bed; browse the garden; eat lunch; prepare the evening meal.

Afterwards I resume work for another 2-3 hours. Time to edit the ‘old’ work I produced last week during my ‘seeding’ sprees. I call this part ‘weeding’, though sometimes it’s more like turning over the compost, trying to make the various elements disperse and break down more evenly. Integrate. Obtain a fine tilth. A perfect growing medium.

The final hour is of gentler, less intensive work. Sometimes it’s note-taking from secondary texts I’m working with: travel memoirs; natural histories; permaculture handbooks; or ethnographies…  This is the most brain-dead part of the day, reserved for things like notetaking or backing-up. 

Eventually, it’s time to finish. How to break the intensity of the day? 

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I try to leave the studio neat and tidy for tomorrow. Coming into an orderly space helps. I neaten the piles of books, pages, pens, drafts and drafts of drafts. They’re piling up. Soon I’ll have to confront them and file them away. When the doctorate is over I’ll probably mulch the garden with the seeding pages. I’ll be eating my words!

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Couch Surfing in Ubud

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scanning for Couch Surf hosts… is anyone out there?

Five weeks prior to our arrival in Bali we contacted Di and Nigel through Couch Surfing (CS). At the time, Indonesia felt like a far-off dream, and the prospect of sailing home to Australia, a ludicrous endeavour.

We had our backs bent to the task of digging rice paddies on a burgeoning eco-tourism project on Koh Phangan. The barrage of bass-line from late night doof-parties, for which the island is famous, and the bloody proclivities of the local mosquitos was taking its toll. For the first time in a long time we were at a loss: couldn’t say where we were going, when, or for how long.

After hanging up our gardening gloves for the day, we took up our laptops and pegged our hopes on a series of couch surf requests: a life-line of introductions that stretched all the way from Southern Thailand to KL and Singapore, and from peninsular Malaysia all the way across the sea to Jakarta, Kuta and Ubud.

Di and Nigel received our CS SOS with felicitous welcome. They stuck with us while our plans changed and accepted us even after the date of our stay shifted from the 17th to the 27th of April – a mere three days before they were due to depart for their holiday in England.

Fast-forward five weeks to the afternoon of the 27th of April and there we were, trussed up like a couple of Christmas turkeys on bean bags on Di and Nigel’s front porch, gazing into limpid mugs of coffee and mooning over proferred plates of door-stop sandwiches – organic white ciabbata!

During those first crucial hours of host-surfer bonding it became apparent that the four of us shared a cultural lineage: Nigel and Richie grew up within 129 miles of one another in Birmingham and Thetford respectively, whereas Di and I are both Queensland lasses, our home towns separated by a meagre 1,600km: which in the spacial-geographical terms of our country, meant we were practically neighbours.

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Nigel shares his passion for micro-brewed beer with his fellow countryman

Once we’d established the parameters of our youthful follies, we fell to that favourite passtime of refugees and migrants: laughing over the quaint traditions of our countryfolk; recalling landmark festivals, fads, celebrity-downfalls; and sharing humorous anecdotes about the inexplicable customs and idiom of our ‘host’ country – Indonesia: it was Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island meets Down Under all over. Continue reading

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The Many Temptations of Dali Old Town

Dali, in China’s Yunnan province, is a pleasant place to connect and re-root. There’s plenty of sunshine, good food and a multitude of comforts: hot showers, western loos, pizza, cake and coffee. Invasive foreign species like Brits, Aussies, Japanese and Canadians have long found a toehold in Dali, grafting themselves onto the cultural landscape. Yunnan is, after all, China’s most biodiverse province.

The melange of east and west, old and new works magic on Chinese tourists, who flock from all over the country to experience a neat and palatable version of their history. Trailing like unruly schoolchildren behind garishly dressed Bai cheerleaders, they traverse the city form south to north, parting enthusiastically with money for broiled Dali cheese, roast chestnuts and bolts of blue and white hand-dyed batik. Chinese tourists with oversized Nikon cameras startle hippy travellers, who make faces behind cocked pints of beer. “5 kwai a photo,” the reluctant models joke.

Bai tour guides, representatives of one of the region's ethnic minorities

Bai tour guides, representatives of one of the region’s ethnic minorities

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Balkan letter to a friend…

Dear Andreas

Transylvania is sweltering! Indian summers are all well and good when Jim Morrison is elegising, but in reality they wear a girl down. It’s borderline 40 degrees and not a drop of rain in sight. I was hoping the ‘murky forests’ you spoke of would be fruiting with wild mushrooms, but it’s not so. Perhaps in a few weeks or a month? Rain is predicted for tomorrow but I remain skeptical. I’m hoping for a cracking Queensland-fashion thunder storm to break the heat and rip its belly out. The leaves on the trees are talking about autumn, but nobody’s listening.

A solid 3 months since rain. The corn crop has withered in the fields and farmers have harvested hay only once, not twice, as they normally do. The hayricks are still standing. They lend the countryside a rustic sculptural elegance. Did you ever read The Worm Forgives the Plough? Don’t suppose there’s much cause for building hayricks in your line of work? But if there were, this would be the first place to look for advice. The apples here are small and tangy, there’s more than you can eat, but where’s the cider?

We passed the Carpathians on the train on wednesday. Splendid. Continue reading

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Yurts & Olives

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
– Abert Einstein

Every footfall on the scorched bare earth triggers a volley of locusts and cicadas. From the front door of the yurt to the front stairs of the house I march ten abreast with the beasties. I’m confounded by the number of insects the grass harbours: thin on the ground and brittle as ice cream cones though it is, it manages somehow, to provide a perfect launching pad for long-legged insects that ricochet off my head and shoulders. It’s a small frontier to cross. I hop from the shade of one olive tree to the next. I can’t for the life of me get used to the heat, or the sensation of insects bouncing off my flesh.

In the southern Peloponnese a maximum daily temperature of 40 degrees Celsius is predicted for the next ten days. At 8pm it’s 37 degrees. At 10pm, it’s just as hot. Richie, Terry, Sarah, Mark and I eat horta (wild greens), tomatoey green beans, and roast potatoes with lemon and rosemary on the balcony, wearing nothing but singlets, shorts and a gritty film of sweat: wash it off, and two minutes later it reappears. We wake up early and go to bed late, compensating for the lost hours of work between 11am and 7pm when it’s essential to take rest indoors – outside is no man’s land – only the locusts and cicadas can endure it.

Richie and I arrive at Horo Project off the back of 3 lively Greek urban couch surfing experiences. It’s jarring to be back on the land. We’re here to volunteer. Mark, Terry and Sarah have been on site for ten days, and are expecting another 6 people to arrive in as many days. It’s clear upon arrival that they are anxious and het up; not entirely sure what to do with themselves, or us. Within hours of arriving a meeting is called to decide upon house rules and a schedule for the week. The outcome is as follows: 6am rise; minimum 5 hours of work p/day; a small daily financial contribution for food; help in the daily running of the house and the cooking of meals; assistance with the course… and in return, we receive a place to stay and the opportunity to attend a 9-day Eco-Village Design Course for free.

For the following five days Richie and I are kept busy erecting yurts, making meals, tidying the garden, designing shady outdoor spaces, attending meetings, and negotiating a place for ourselves amid the unpredictable milieu of alter-egos, archetypes, and peacekeepers. Personalities emerge; other personalities emerge to keep them in-check; edges are pushed; fuses blow; common ground is found; and time for relaxation and celebration is agreed upon. This is what community-living is all about. It’s hard work, but I don’t know that we have an alternative – at least, not for the next three weeks.

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Rome Revealed

I like Rome. The people are daggier than in Florence and an air of lusty decay hangs over the city. Paint peels, horns blow, and people grow green things on their balconies in defiance of acres of concrete, stone and asphalt. As I stepped off the bus in Piazza Vescovio, a green elliptical square in the north of town, I sensed that Rome is a city that is content with its place in life. After millennia of growth, expansion, flourishing and revolt, it’s happy to sit back and let the party come to it. And why not? It deserves it.

Angiola, our host, met me off the bus in Piazza Vescovio. Richie was arriving a few hours after me, fresh from a stay on a Tuscan farm with a fellow permaculture enthusiast, Elena. Angiola had a largess and charisma that matched her native city. Scriptwriter, filmmaker, art historian and heir to a crumbling farm estate in Molise, Angiola was magnificent.

After falling in love with Angiola I fell in love with the bedroom she was offering us: large, eccentrically furnished and abundantly serviced with chairs and desks – this was going to be an ideal place for Richie to finish his fourth diploma project and for me to catch up on my Florentine reading: Vesari’s The lives of the Artists and Mary McCarthy’s Stones of Floerence and Venice Observed.

Like all travellers who have spent long months living out of a suitcase, I luxuriated in the novelty of unpacking my ‘things’; finding spaces in the cupboards and drawers to lay my threadbare garments, whiffy hiking boots, journals, books, writing materials and precious MacBook.

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