26 Dec 2012

My Best of 2012

As 2012 is coming to a close and before we race into those New Year's resolutions, we would be none the wiser to take a deep breath, stand back and reflect. Take stock of the last twelve months with an open mind and heart. Be kind to ourselves and see how far we've come since our last New Year's resolutions, the mileage we've clocked both on the map and in our heads, what we expected to happen back then and what actually happened. Just do it and be amazed!

If I remember right, back in late December 2011, my wishes for 2012 were simple. To get more involved at work on the plant cultivation side of the business, enjoy the beach and this island more, meet interesting folks, and be happy. Those who know me are aware of how crucial this elusive notion of happiness actually is for me! I was also planning to travel to Sarawak and although this hasn't yet happened, it has planted the seed of travel firmly in me.

Via Designspiration

To get into the mood for the fabulous potentialities of the New Year ahead, I even treated myself to a detailed and personalised 80+ page astrology report from top UK astrologer Jonathan Cainer. Despite this, my 2012 journey was chaotic to say the least but it brought me closer to my own truth, worth, expectations and delivery, in terms of friendships. A couple of apparently kindred friendships got tested to the limit and shed as a result. Once upon a time, I might have hung onto those girls in that desperate bid to keep cool, but where's the cool in people who seek to play games you are not willing to play, tarnish your halo, suffocate that inner flame or mold you into someone you will never be?

My success story for 2012 is called Kathy and originates from Manchester. Kathy's my best friend and soul mate. Our story is convoluted and I might relate it one day if I decide to pen my memoirs, but for the time being I will just say that back in the day we were firm friends with a rock chick penchant, and when our lives took a turn, we suddenly lost touch, without hard feelings. I guess we had to find ourselves before we could find each other again. The process took years.

Source: Laws of Modern Man

A little while back I traced Kathy down the social network and about four months ago I plucked the courage to contact her that way. The timing felt right. We haven't looked back since! To be truthful it feels like we have never been apart, if anything we have actually grown closer. We are part of each other's lives like never before and she's my absolute confidente. Despite being hundreds of miles apart, we are brought together by the wonders of Skype. We're planning to meet up soon. Kathy is my best of 2012!

So here we go. My best of 2012 has that definite human flavour to it and may it continue in 2013! Now how about you? What 2012 achievements are you most proud of? Drop me a line and let me know!

21 Nov 2012

Plan A

OK folks, so here's the deal! Sarawak - Australia - Hawaii - California

I had to call this Plan A because each of those idyllic destinations contains at least two letters 'A'. My rationale was that  Plan A would give this trip project a forward-thinking dynamic vibration! Secondly, as much I would like to be able to explore other avenues and travel opportunities, this is currently about the only tangible Plan there is for me. So to paraphrase that great M&S campaign, we call it Plan A because there's no Plan B!

'A Morning View', photo by Rana Simhan (cknara), via Flickr

All going well, kick-off for Plan A is Spring 2013. Ideally I would love to get one or two of my adventure-enclined friends involved in this combo but so far they either can't or won't commit, for reasons their own. As a result, it looks like I am solo-bound. Not an ideal situation for the gregarious, people's person that I am, but honestly I could still be waiting an hypophetical number of years until a seemingly 'ideal' situation presents itself... And I've learnt the hard way that you have to compose with what life offers you, not rely on others and build your future on dreams, promises, illusions, fantasies and waffs of hot air... If I want something, I'd better roll up my sleeves, architect it and build it myself!

Now don't believe for one second that I'm in control and I know what I'm doing. I am absolutely daunted by the prospect of solo travel to places I have never been (bar California). I am no seasoned traveller either, I have never travelled on my own outside a few carefully-chosen European destinations, am generally more used to glamping than camping, although once again does sleeping in the great oudoors or in one's car count as camping and roughing it?

Escape to... Baja Mexico, by Santa Barbara Chic, photo by Patrick Moyer

If you take out the Sarawak bit and just concentrate on the Australia - Hawaii - California trio, you would be forgiven to believe that this is part of The Beach Boys repertoire, that I am bound for an Xtreme Sports Channel surfing competition, or a long vacation! Besides although it might sound like I've done the fun easy bit by picking up juicy destinations, it wasn't as random and carefree as it appears. Sarawak has been on my radar for the last 12 months via The Great Orangutan Project towards which I have secured a deposit as a (paying) volunteer on an orangutan conservation programme based deep in the Bornean jungle. From there I thought I might stretch it down to Australia, why not?

After a relatively 'hardcore' start with Sarawak, I thought it best to enjoy a breather and play it safer and cooler for the remainder of my Pacific odyssey, on an open return, heading first for the Australian Gold Coast (forget the outbacks and the dirt tracks!), then across to California (a soft spot for the Santa Barbara region), via Hawaii (a late addition to the trip, after admiring paradisiac views on Pinterest!). I intend to work (most of) my way through and line up a few contacts before leaving Europe!

Polynesian Knot Statue

Meanwhile a few practical matters have started nagging me lately, as they do... I have been putting strange video requests on YouTube in the name of research, watching the best creepy-crawlies each of my stopovers has to offer, and both Sarawak and Australia deserve gold stars! Ideally (as we know there is no such thing as 'ideally') I would like to avoid Australia's spider season if I can but it looks like I will be hitting the Gold Coast head on in the Australian Autumn... in time for a good face-to-face with those dreaded Huntsmans. Now we haven't even started on the tarentulas yet, have we?

As I am gonna get ready over the next few weeks, I warmly invite you all to follow my pre-departure adventures and check on those pre-trip nerves, via La Baguette Magique. Hopefully once I'm out there I will be able to provide you with regular travel updates. In the light of this, I'm gonna look into those sleek lightweight nifty Tablet/ Notebook devices that I can slip into my yet-to-be-purchased backpack! And here's another one to jot down the To Do list! Talk soon and meanwhile please don't hesitate to part with your advice, recommendations and suggestions, very much welcome!

P.S: Check out my 'Poolside or Seaside' Pinterest board for some Australian, Hawaiian and Californian coastline inspiration!

15 Nov 2012

Smells Like Free Spirit (Part 4)

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings first volume, The  Fellowship of the Ring, 1954

I am convinced that no matter their age, free spirits are young at heart. Their outlook, their stance, their attitude, their drive, mean that they remain young and radiate inner beauty. They won't turn into those bitter old prunes that make ageing look like a disadvantage. Rather they will embrace the past, present and future, take experience in their stride and still look on the bright side of life, a glint of mischief in the eye and marvel at the ready, their skin sunkissed and their footstep light and airy!

By Studio Wonder, via Cargo Collective

Believe you me, the world needs more of us free spirits! The vast majority of us are not on this planet to cause trouble and start revolutions, we just see the world differently and want fairness. I'll just take one example. I am a lifelong devotee to the animal cause and became a vegetarian after years of being pressured by my peers (starting off with my parents) into the carnivorous diet. I one day decided I was lying to myself and this had to stop! I will happily discuss my vegetarian reasons to whoever is keen to listen, and maybe suggest that they compromise and give it a try, if only for once a week, but I will not force my views onto anyone! And since you're asking, ironically most - if not all - of my friends aren't veggies, yet they have somehow curbed their meat-loving ways after I gave them some food for thought!

My industry sector (sustainable agriculture and preservation of old cultivated varieties) is prone to attract a good number of free spirits and 'affiliates'. The fact that I live on a holiday island adds to the attraction. Meeting those gals and guys from different walks of life and corners of the world has been enlightening to me and I have utterly relished the experience! It has broadened my own perceptions of life.

'Lemonia philopalus', by CraftyPip (Philip Heinzl), via Flickr

The free spirits I met travel light, head for the roads less travelled inland and will rarely settle down. No, they don't all physically look like hippies, some of the cool dudes I met might feel slightly insulted by the connotation! Meanwhile I am still trying to work out how some of them guys manage to sustain a living, being nomadic 'no-strings-attached' types with no fixed employment or abode for that matter, sleeping in their cars, on friends couches, in disused buildings or on the beaches in Summer... There is a sense of community amongst free spirits as I found out, and those with a roof over their heads will open their doors to the less fortunate. We end up bumping into familiar faces across the island, sharing similar experiences and hanging out together...

Despite not having regular employment, and only surviving on fruit-picking, pastoral activities and the odd building job, some of them can somehow afford to travel on to faraway shores like Thailand, without (seemingly) a money care in the world, while Corsica has either become their homebase of sorts, their stopover, or gateway destination to the rest of the world... Corsica gives them a taste for adventure and trampolines them into the wider world! Some are here today, and who knows where they'll be tomorrow!

'Male Rufous Hummingbird', photo by cdbtx, via Flickr

Some of them, skilled or unskilled trade guys, head for ecovillages as wwoofers to experience a new community spirit, contribute to the common good and hopefully learn a skill and make friends. Some others, after years of wandering about, end up settling down on the island, and they do so in their own terms, while staying true to their own principles: on the cheap, building environmentally-friendly tippees on either rented, lended or purchased land. Some push the boat further, and unite with a common dream of building alternative rural communities based around permaculture and made out of ideas and ideals, makeshift and hard graft, without compromising on the good life (beach parties, music festivals, and yay more parties)!

Some have landed from continental France with a skeleton or two in the closet and I have become good at picking the vibe. No questions asked, no comments passed, if they want to confide, they know where I am and sure I'll lend a sympathetic ear. Their experience will help them grow, sharing it will help them understand it better and the listener will benefit from it too. Meanwhile everyone is entitled to second chances, everyone has the right to want to escape their troubled past and start over, or at least kick-start a process that will take them onto a new life journey.

'Ceremonial Textile (Sarita)', Indonesia, Sulawesi, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Herewith I have ambitiously attempted to share reflections on free spirits, and the journey has turned more personal than I thought it would. It has amplified my travel wanderlust, made me yearn for vast unspoilt territories, and when it would have been easy to get critical over the lifestyle choices of some of those free spirits, it actually helped me understand them better.

In the history of La Baguette Magique, this post is the longest I have ever written, and the first to be spread over four parts. Yep this is telling something... I'm on the verge of a personal discovery and it's all good! Thanks for reading this personal odyssey of mine, and I hope it will have transported you to new territories and you will have found it refreshing and inspirational!


Smells Like Free Spirit is a 4-part series:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

10 Nov 2012

Smells Like Free Spirit (Part 3)

"I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion." - Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957, Part 2, Ch. 4

How do I do it as a free spirit, I hear you ask? For starters, being labelled a free spirit is a revelation because I never thought worthy of such a privilege! I never saw myself that interesting! Now that I am taking this on board, I'd better live up to it and that might take some adjusting, after years of the 'obligated' conformist lifestyle, following lines of conduct, business protocoles and abiding to company mission statements, flirting with the upsides of capitalism and suffering from its downsides too.

Via We Heart It

Pretending to be someone I wasn't and looking for answers in all the wrong places, feeding off the fleeting buzz off a new material purchase or upscale social event, I was lying to myself and in those late-night blurs, in my darkest minute with caked-in make-up around teary eyes checking my reflection in the bathroom mirror, when suddenly hit by the solitude of it all, it would briefly dawn on me that this lifestyle would never satisfy me, my soul, my spirit, my heart.

I felt trapped. I kept thinking: 'Is that it? Is that all there is to life? To make money and to spend it?' Then I would brush my doubts off, get up and go back to where I had come from, the office, the long commutes, the airport lobby, the party, the fakes and the doppelgangers. I had to because questioning my choices at that pressured moment in my life would have been to admit I had been wrong all - or at least most of - the way, and it takes courage and a certain form of abnegation to get to admit that! The timing wasn't right. I had spiritedness as a state of mind but at that moment in time I couldn't liberate it and be myself.

'Sleeping Angel' (Highgate Cemetery), photo by Ben Jeffrey, via Flickr

So then for the sake of research, can we capture the essence of a free spirit? Or is it too rare, unique, evanescent and elusive to be bottled into an eau de parfum? Well, you can say that again! Actually if you described it as 'a little je ne sais quoi', you might get close to a definition. But if you're not happy with that, I will venture a few reflections. A free spirit stands out with their views (and for their views!) and their ways of thinking. They stand up from the masses and sometimes they stand alone. They do not tend to follow the herds, which is why seasoned marketers and advertisers must have a field day trying to 'sell' them the coolness of their brands!

Via Pinterest

Free spirits do not (cannot!) care too much about what everyone else thinks about them. You have to let go of prejudices and be tolerant, respect differences, be more detached or you'll get sucked back in; yet having said that, this apparent carefree attitude doesn't mean you don't care as a free spirit! The ones I know care too much for their own good! And as for one I am incredibly sensitive and passionate, verging on the compulsive dramatist at times, just ask those closest and dearest...

Free spirits are not necessarily creative, however their thinking is creative! On the other hand, being a creative doesn't warrant free-spiritedness. I know some creative types with regimented organised materialistic lifestyles who would never contemplate the more Bohemian aspects of a free spirit lifestyle, and who try to instill 'some sense' into my life. And that, I'm afraid, will get them a buh-bye from me! (to be continued)


Smells Like Free Spirit is a 4-part series:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

3 Nov 2012

Smells Like Free Spirit (Part 2)

"A prayer for the wild at heart that are kept in cages" - Tennessee Williams, Stairs to the Roof, 1941

Free spirits come in all shapes and forms. I firmly believe that we are all free spirits at heart. We are born that way, although education, social codes and expectations, the class system, the structured work environment, financial pressures, life changes, and other externals will send a reality check down our way, crush those youthful ideals and shackle most of us to our 'lower base needs', i.e. a lifetime of relative servitude, rewarded by a stack of material possessions, and vaguely comforted by mirages and second bests.

'Clinging to the cliffside', Route 1, Big Sur Coastline by Jeff Swanson, via Flickr

Most of us will find some sort of contentment within our shallow lifestyle, while others will be kept awake at night by the intrinsic wonders of life, puzzled by the actual meaning of it all, and tortured in their waking hours by that urge to finally break free from the rat race but without any clear-cut master plan in mind, yet sane enough to not fall prey to any sort of "turn on, tune in and drop out" counterculture psychedelic buzzphrase, or any form of sectarian idolism!

Nonetheless a handful of us will remain true to our core values throughout, stand the test of time and the trappings of the modern world to move to the next level, to seek the meaning of happiness and engage in its pursuit. Pursue the quest for wisdom, a purpose to life, a fit in society, via worthwhile charitable causes, faith and religion, and/ or travel. One will facilitate the other. Some will embark upon a journey of self-discovery for a while, maybe even through a career break or 'adult' gap year, then come back when satisfied enough, hopefully with a role, a purpose, a vision, a mission, a line of conduct. Some will be back with no clear purpose, but will be enriched by experience, a taste of freedom and new-found knowledge in a multitude of areas.

Via All That Glitters Is Not Gold (Tumblr)

Others will be in it for the long haul, devoting a lifetime to the self-discovery cause, yet with no guarantee to find answers and/ or to contribute meaningfully to society's welfare via their alternative thinking and doing. They might get lost in the process and turn into those 'eternal' travellers, those drifters living for the moment, who lost their roots and foundations, and are of no fixed abode.

Philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and sociologists have devoted lifetimes to the fact that man is naturally good and needs to break free from society's coercive and corruptive hold. With this in mind, some of us free spirits will take to the road looking for ourselves, seeking answers, musing about inspiration, searching the truth, our own truth, while enacting our own version of the Jack Kerouac road trip.

Via Le Croissant d'Argent (Tumblr)

Not all journeys are necessarily geographical. Some are inner/ introvert journeys, through spiritual awareness, meditation, contemplation, philosophy etc. At the other end of the spectrum, some journeys start, happen or end down California's Silicon Valley. The valley is full of original free spirits, techie by nature, but also outside-of-the-box thinkers wearing Converse sneakers and that Che Guevara tee, who juggle algorithms and streamline open source so the rest of us can benefit from the latest web 2.0 advancements. Free spirits are not necessarily ascetic nor are they bound to be cash-poor and devoid of needs.

The definition of free spirit is difficult to pinpoint as such. Free spirits are free thinkers, truth seekers, open-minded, open to the world and to change, open to the possibilities of a better world; they see things from a different perspective. They have a fresh approach, with a hint of optimism and idealism; they are passionate lovers of life (despite sometimes contesting it), almost carefree and not as confined by social restrictions as the conformists. (to be continued)


Smells Like Free Spirit is a 4-part series:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

26 Oct 2012

Smells Like Free Spirit (Part 1)

"Come as you are, 
as you were, 
as I want you to be, 
as a friend, 
as a friend, 
as an old enemy"

- Nirvana, Come As You Are, Nevermind, 1992 

If I want to be honest, from my late teens onwards I have never been one to conform. To paraphrase Lady Gaga, I guess I was 'born that way'. Although a part of me has always craved love, recognition and acceptance, I have always sought to detach from the norm (how insignificantly this might have been) and stand out in my own right.

Iconic portrait of Che Guevara, by Alberto Korda (pict source)

Friends call me a free spirit, and I guess it has taken me years to acknowledge it, as I am somewhat careful about the use of labels, and free spirit tends to be an overused tag, encompassing everyone and anyone, as long as they own a pair of Converse and a Che Guevara tee-shirt and have clocked some mileage across a continent or two...

So then, what makes me and those countless others free spirits? For me this long process has developed once teenage angst was out of the way, yet this was not necessarily out of provocation, for discord's sake, or in gratuitous rebellion, sticking two fingers up to society on your way to an ASBO.

Source (from Apple's 'Think Different' 1997 TV commercial)

Somehow I believe I was encouraged  by my dad, one of my biggest yet most controversial influences, to think outside the box from a young age, not take things at face value or accept the biased voice of the media or school education as universal truth. I was encouraged to forge my own views and opinions, although then again my dad was keen to instill - even impose - his views, values and ideas with the false belief that I would take and accept them uncompromisingly. As he had taught me to question things, needless to say that one of the first things I started to question was his way to spoon-feed his ready-made truths to me, those very truths that I had to find out for myself through life's tortuous journey... Life is a process and so is free-spiritedness.

My artistic streak has encouraged me to let off some steam and express myself creatively, via cartoons, story-boards, illustrations, short stories, songwriting and poetry, where I play God, confidente and biographer of sorts to a posse of free spirits borne out of my imagination. My characters were (are) outside the norm, disjointed, ambivalent and live a life I envy or at least am in awe of, a rock'n'roll lifestyle as I imagine it to be, with creative talent, young killer looks, cash to burn, gigs à gogo, fast cars, coastal hideaways, and a catalogue of human foibles and weaknesses played out in the background and sometimes pushed to the limit, that question the essence of life, the meaning of it all, and which result in excesses, late-night existential fears, falls from grace, and redemption (if lucky enough to be spared from any final twists of fate or spears of destiny)... (to be continued)


Smells Like Free Spirit is a 4-part series:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

4 Oct 2012

The Laws of Attraction

Very recently and quite accidentally I came across the concept of The Laws of Attraction in the context of relationships. This was brought out to me by Joanne Hall, an inspirational lady who I'd originally met at a business seminar in Manchester three years ago and who happens to be a psychic counsellor and spiritual guide.

'Girl with Panda' by Irena Sophia Original Fine Art Prints, via Etsy

While having a conversation with Joanne recently, she briefed me on the principle and I found it so fascinating that I thought I would share it with you guys using my own words. I had heard about the laws of attraction without giving them a second thought. If questioned, I might have come up with something down the lines of the laws of seduction, without being that sure...

As a starting point, as a basis to those laws, I understand that 'you get what you give'. You sow the seeds of love/ hate/ fear (whatever good or bad) and just wait to see what you reap! 'You get what you give' might be one of those cliché ready-made advice-on-a-plate phrases that pop up in conversation in a social context, it also happens to be a fitting metaphor.

'Stargazer Cloud, Raining Stars', pencil illustration by Hyshil, via Etsy

Take that mouthy colleague who's trouble at work. Next thing, she gets a verbal warning from the boss. She refuses to curb her ways and then it escalates from verbal warnings to the track-stopper written warning. She still carries on regardless, so then ends up being sacked! Her (bad) behaviour brought in the consequences and she's only got herself to blame! In other - more abrupt - words, she gave sh*t, so she got sh*t in return! She got what she gave. Punishment fits the crime.

'You get what you give' has variants which you probably use daily like I do: what goes around comes around, good/ bad karma, positive/ negative attitude. You get the flavour! We are masters of our own destinies to an extent, and we attract what we give out. That's basically the idea behind the laws of attraction. While I have no intention of becoming the next Deepak Chopra, I am keen to understand how we are responsible for what happens to us, how we bring it on to ourselves. The good and the less good.

(Pict source)

The laws of attraction are a vibration we give out. Those on literally the same wavelength, on the same page as us, on the same energy frequency level, will pick the vibe and be receptive to what we give off and respond to it. The good news is that we can cultivate the laws of attraction, tweak them to make them work for us in a positive constructive manner. Therefore in order to attract positivity in the wider world and make the laws of attraction work for me, I am advised by Joanne to write a gratitude list, to love myself (and say it in the mirror!), to exude that happy self, or train myself into it until it becomes second nature, come rain or shine! It's a personal brand overhaul that puts you in the power seat, with none of that PR disaster image which we are all too often tempted to project as an excuse for defeat and potential failure (I'm not worth it! I can't do it! Nothing good will ever happen to me! There's no point in me trying! etc.).

You get it, the positive attitude within the laws of attraction shapes that frame of mind and works its way out: how you present yourself, project yourself, your expectations out of life, for yourself, a potential partner, relationships, career etc. And that's what makes the laws of attraction so compellingly attractive!

28 Sept 2012

Playa de Soledad

Summer wraps up for Autumn
Days are snapping shut
Into those starless nights
And I miss you.

'Path to the Beach - Dolphin Sands, Australia', photo by Jess Gibbs, via Artflakes

Life has taken a turn
A forced leisurely stroll
In my heart there's a hurt
And I speed down the coastline
Speeding thoughts through my mind
Skid round the bend
Screech to an end.

I have no sight, no sound
No smell, no touch
Other than words
To communicate to you
The written word, my frustration
My hapless devotion
A needy string of letters
Sitting pretty on a page
Like a pearl necklace
Stretched to snap
And there it snaps...

'Wildflowers on Sand Dunes, Tarkine Coast', by Lonely Planet Images, via Artflakes

I am the bearer of good news
Weaver of illusions
Good fortune stand-up
Ballet dancer of hopes
Actress of your dreams
We are free spirits
In cages that we built
And I drink up to
Your every written word
Like a love potion.

In my deepest darkest hour
I kiss the air I breathe
And your skin I crave
The mirror I graze
I look in your eye
My mind's eye
Your gaze is my daze
And my days are fazed.

Long stretches of desolate beaches
As far as the heart can see
Solitude battered down by the winds
You're my Summer gone
Too soon to the Tropics
And the sunshine of your smile
I miss.

I want to be the Summer keepsake
To your whimsical thought
Your sunny disposition
Here in my heart
You may linger
Till we meet again.

Uncredited source, via Pinterest

And I want you
And I can't have you
My heart is at home
Only when it's with you
There's a will, there's a way
Here's a word, and here's two
So what else can I do
But compose a verse to you?

If you ever shed a tear
While you are reading this
Make sure it's joy
Because in this broken bliss
We are blessed
By togetherness
In our combined loneliness
Bound for better
And the betterest.

© Nathalie A. Hachet (27/09/2012). 

16 Sept 2012

An Acute Case of the Wanderlust (Part 2)

Where do you start? How soon is soon? How long is a piece of string? As I am preparing myself to step out the comfort zone, I have a thousand questions and very few answers. Thankfully friends have been supportive, no matter how vague I still am about it all at this stage. Somewhere in my mind I have started a process and this is a sign of progress and progression, a massive step forward!

'Lake of the Moon, India', photo by Dhurjati Chatterjee, via National Geographic

The process had been there all along but I was caught in such a spin that I could snap none of the interconnected links that made up the chain I was tied to, or else everything would have fallen off the wayside with harsh consequences. Quit the job with no plan B and la vida loca is likely to take a turn for the worse, as you jeopardise the mortgage and everything home-related, the outgoings, the financial responsibilities, the lifestyle, the prized possessions and the peer pressure that we call The Joneses that keep you in check! It's like a castle of cards crashing down.

At the time I could see no leeway. I envied those who had the luxury to afford a sabbatical with on top of it guarantees from their employer to take them back six months down the line. Now there's a thought. I wonder whether one really wants to settle back into the old job once their travel adventure is over. You have moved on but the old job, old place, old coworkers seem to have remained 'stuck in'. Interesting...

'Coyote, Yellowtone National Park', photo by Timothy Brooks, via National Geographic

The decision to 'jack it in' was eventually made for me via redundancy and everything else is history. Now I've come a long way and I am in a different place. For starters I have the confidence, the willpower, the drive to go travel and push into those new horizons. It's basically now or never. Also I am no longer a 'slave to the wage' (to quote that Placebo song) in the same way I was back in Manchester. At least that's one good thing about island life: less needs, less spending. I have become less materialistic too. And last but not least I'm back at living at my parents like some grown-up teenager and can offload some of that financial pressure (thanks mum and dad!).

Another massive step forward for me is that I am letting go of my house in Manchester. A couple of weeks ago I decided to put it on the market. As symbolic and sensible this is, it is also part of the 'moving forward' process. Yippee, I am ready to let go! After hesitating for the best part of two years it has now become crystal clear that I have no intention of moving back to Manchester, the reason being that I have moved on. So why linger in the past when the best things are yet to come!

P.S: Get a taster of the wanderlust with Benny the Irish Polyglot's fabulously inspirational post: '29 life lessons learned in travelling the world for 8 years straight'!

12 Sept 2012

An Acute Case of the Wanderlust (Part 1)

One day I had a revelation, an epiphany. It had taken me years to come to the realisation that no matter what, I was never gonna be that stereotype woman that media and society define as the embodiement of success: a whippersnapper version of The Devil Wears Prada, with a marriage to boot and 2.1 kids in tow, with the glamorous suburban home, the neat lawn and the picket fence. The settled woman with all her needs met. Once upon a time I might have caressed the thought, especially the one about prince charming. Then I decided who was I to fool, apart from my 'well-wishing' parents and some 'well-meaning' friends?

'Whooper Swans, Japan', photo by Stefano Unterthiner, via National Geographic

Personal events gradually took me away from the shadow of that ideal life idea. For starters a miserable marriage that eroded the concept of that perfect family setting. I divorced. A few years later the economic recession further shook up our career woman. These were to be blessings in disguise as I would find out later. Such events give you wings to think on your feet and take charge of your direction in life in a bolder more assertive way. Because if you are not the master of your own destiny, at least be sure to be the actor, play an active part and get involved in your own life rather than be the victim.

I am a free spirit, there is no denying. You can't tin it, cage it, clone it. Like wordsmith William Wordsworth would put in verse, 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' over a field of golden daffodils, free and fancy-free, untroubled... As a child I used to revel in adventure books and in the Kuoni travel brochures that promised you Heaven on Earth twenty thousand miles away from home. American Far West period dramas and films like Out of Africa had me hooked. It was clear to me that one day I would unshackle from the obligatory rat race, travel the world and shack up with like-minded people. After deciding at a young age that air hostessing could be the way forward in order to satisfy my wanderlust, I ambitioned to become a photo journalist/ travel writer for the likes of National Geographic. I even imagined the possibility of becoming an actress, in fact combining innate creativity outlets with travel.

'Limestone Towers, Madagascar', photo by Stephen Alvarez, via National Geographic

I never became any of the above. I tamed up for a while. I played the career game. I tried to believe in home and marriage. I yearned stability and normality. Occasionally I did get itchy feet though. I remember vividly those British newspaper adverts from New Zealand authorities inviting emigration candidates to the New World. I saw emigration to faraway places as the answer to happiness. I wanted to make the move but got scared and just backed off. I needed that nudge to tilt me forward, that back-up. Or was that just an excuse to stay put and nurture regrets instead?

For the last year or so, I have been mingling with a crowd of world travellers and free spirits, some of whom with a guitar as weapon of mass seduction, who will never tick any of the boxes of our first paragraph and don't give a monkeys about it. These guys made me understand that you shouldn't base your self-worth on your salary figure and that no business, no company will set you up for life. You need enough money to get by and you need to make things and think outside the box. You need a job that is meaningful, where you give back to society and the world at large.

'Quiver Trees, Namibia', photo by Franz Lanting, via National Geographic

Scale back the volume of your belongings. Maybe home ownership is not your solution after all. Maybe being a no-strings-attached nomad is meant for you. You need to understand what motivates you, what gives you a kick, what makes you tick, and then act accordingly. Have an open mind and a smile to conquer the world, be tolerant of differences and be acceptant. You need to seek happiness always and encourage exchange with others. Contribute a difference to that world, no matter how modest. Substantiate your life with personal growth experiences from ethics to travel to charity, via ecology and sustainability. Now this talks my language as an 'armchair' ecologist. Giving a meaningful meaning to your life is what this is all about. This is part of my quest. My quest for wisdom. (to be continued)

The (Late) Lowdown on London (Part 3)

So then what do I make out of my nine-day London city break? In an ideal world I might have made more of an adventure out of it rather than stick to the roads well travelled that span an area comprised between Covent Garden and Oxford Street but on this particular occasion I realised that I was more after a break than an actual city break.

I still managed to stretch my comfort zone to a long walk across The Mall and down The Embankment on that glorious Spring day, play the tourist with my latest digital camera in tow, massage my ego down Bond Street, pay Fenwick a visit and lose myself in the Britishness of Fortnum & Mason. I purchased some of my all-time favourite Charbonnel & Walker chocolates and Farrah toffee, succumbed to the joys of high tea served in plush tea rooms, treated myself to coffee & walnut cake - my favourite British delicacy. I sampled those already familiar little bits of (eye) candy that make Britannia what it stands for in my mind: well-packaged, delicate and exquisite. The devil was in the detail.

Down the line I even took the time to strike up lovely conversations with some lovely folks and even won a huge box of Thorntons chocolates from a random HSBC branch I was randomly walking past! These all made my day in their own special way!

London in a nutshell was a breath of fresh air for the city girl in me who had been living the rural island life for over two years now and who had been banging on about the buzz, the pulse, the vibe, the visual identity of the big city. I needed that. I needed to immerse myself in it, go crowd surfing, dizzily transported past tall elegant architectural buildings with things to notice, people to watch and a nod to familiar concepts from my career past: brand identity, retail theatre and consumer behaviour. Yeah as cliché as this may sound, you can take me out of marketing but you can't take marketing out of me!

The Covent Garden Academy of Flowers

7 Sept 2012

The (Late) Lowdown on London (Part 2)

Sorry Mr Lou Reed but when in London I didn't "walk on the wild side". Rather I took the road well travelled. Staying so close to what the capital city has to offer in terms of "mainstream" action, I even had the luxury to be able to walk here, there and everywhere. No need for the Tube, for buses, carts or horses, yay!

This was one of the advantages about the Kingsley by Thistle Hotel, Bloomsbury Way. As you step out, you turn right and carry all the way up. Or you might nip to the back like I did and wander down the back streets in order to avoid the heavier traffic, past the British Museum, down Charlotte Street, and end up towards Harley Street (if vanity is your thing!). I actually had a bit of a field day down the Charlotte Street area, past the media agencies and advertising studios. That took me back years when I used to work in the industry.

As long as your London tastes are pretty tame, you will find the Kingsley Hotel to be at the heart of the action in relation to London's main shopping venues including Oxford Street and Covent Garden, museums (British Museum, Tate Britain) and entertaining hotspots (The West End). The beauty of it was that I could even nip back to the hotel during the day if I wanted to put my feet up for a while, change shoes, brew up a coffee or whatever tickled my fancy. This was no rock'n'roll city break, and this is probably why I got bored somehow!

In terms of refreshments taking you from AM to PM, there's only so many Starbucks, Prêt A Mangers and Costa Coffees you can handle. They have watered down the high street to saturation level and if you are telling me their expansionist mission has not yet reached its peak I scream!

On the retail front, some stores had me wobbly with anticipation but sadly didn't live up to my (somewhat inflated) expectations. Anthropologie (on Regent Street) was one of them. As much as I find the brand identity cool online, it fell pretty flat on the high street, in terms of store design and display. The wares looked lost in store. Interestingly I am told that Regent Street used to be a pretty exclusive shopping destination, once boasting an array of high-end one-of-a-kind flagship stores whereas now it seems to be nothing more than an extension of Oxford Street, pure and simple.

Kate Spade London (Covent Garden)

Talking of Oxford Street, I was left disappointed by another American brand that had me raving years ago when I first discovered it on a trip to Santa Barbara, CA: Urban Outfitters. The one on Oxford Street failed the test. The store design was a shambles and no wares actually caught my eye. I left empty-handed. Where are those cool vintage tee-shirts?

A trip to London wouldn't have been so without Liberty and Selfridges on the list. Liberty is still packed-full with style and character, despite my initial fears. Their stationery department is a treasure trove, and the iconic Liberty floral fabrics still have that magnetic hold on visitors.

Liberty's fresh flower stall

Selfridges is one big high-end shopping mecca, a house of mostly luxury brands that enabled me to get close and personal with the likes of Christian Louboutin and wonder what this is all about, unless you are planning to trade your looks as Belle de Jour... I wandered down the Tiffany aisle and then even treated myself to a deluxe microdermabrasion facial at Groom.

While I was at it, I even booked a hair colour from the Toni & Guy Academy (New Oxford Street) across from my hotel. I might as well have. The colour was fabulous and it made me feel good for the rest of my stay. (to be continued)

6 Sept 2012

The (Late) Lowdown on London (Part 1)

Crikey, here is a piece I had planned to write on my return from London at the end of March! I got sidetracked somehow. I wish I had a valid excuse as to why I couldn't deliver the goods there and then rather than five months later, almost as an after-thought, but erm actually I don't have any excuses. Will you ever forgive me though?

There's probably a hidden message there somewhere. Sure there is. London was London, I just wasn't me for the whole nine days I was there. When I go to England, I go 'home' to Manchester, my hometown of 16 years. I just slip into that comfort zone, the familiar haunts, familiar faces, recapture memories and let my moods tickle my fancy.

London just isn't home. Nobody forced me to go to London, I just went along an idea I'd had with a girl friend of mine, Isabelle, and off we went.

The London I had experienced years ago had been exhilarating. The London I experienced back in March was... erm flat boring. I wanted excitement. I imagine the lack of it was a bit like how an out-of-body experience must feel: you are somewhere else but know you are not supposed to be there, your heart's not in it.

I stayed in luxury in a Bloomsbury hotel, but I'd had more fun times staying in grotty B&Bs those years back. Back then London was full of opportunities and possibilities to me. Now there was nothing it could offer me that I was looking for. No happiness, no satisfaction. No contentment. I tried to amuse myself with the London shopping experience, but once the initial awe had subsided after I stepped into Selfridges and Bond Street, I couldn't help but feel lonely, feel at odds with it all.

I became moody. I didn't like my own company anymore. I started missing people and that wasn't a good sign. Isabelle and I who should have got on like a house on fire, ended up avoiding each other and go our separate ways. As much as I love and cherish England, as much as I am a fan of London, on this occasion I wanted to go home.

Then as soon as I landed back on French soil, I got busy, I got caught up in life... Better, faster, shinier things to do and experience I guess than finalise that post about London... I put the blog on hold. I understand now that I had to come full circle before I could come to terms with that journey. As much as a geographical trip, it had been a personal journey, a life journey. I was lost and it took me five months to refocus my energy and determine where I stand in life. I am in a better place today and there is no stopping me! (to be continued)

4 Sept 2012

No Labels

Easy come easy go... We live in a society where we stick labels on anything that moves, on anyone. We pep up our conversations and writings with a liberal use of words that take up space and have no meaning. Labels that help us codify people, styles, ideas, concepts, feelings. Hands up, I am myself guilty of labelling.

'Sheepish', photo by Karena Goldfinch, via Flickr (25/03/2010)

First we've got those passe-partout labels that are supposed to describe someone: worn-out, vague, elusive overused 'one-size-fits-all' adjective labels that are stickable and reusable and adaptable to all circumstances like velcro patches... Labels that don't mean that much to anyone anymore: cool, awesome, rad, great, fantastic...  And those adverbs that nail the message, reiterate it: a (little) bit, kinda/ sort of, very much, a lot/ loads, really, truly, definitely, totally, absolutely...

Problem is, my definition of 'cool' might be slightly off centre, your definition of 'cool' might be off limit, their definition of 'cool' might be plain preppy conservative... And I certainly won't agree with my dad's definition of 'cool' unless it involves Steve McQueen or a vintage Ford Mustang.

Cool as the Camaro! (Pict source via Tumblr)

I still have nightmares about my philosophy classes back in my last year of secondary school. I was 17, dressed to impress (in a bad way!) and just about managing my own eccentricities as a gothic rebel, so this was as philosophical as it was gonna get for me in that lifestage of mine. Then in class we were told not to use words like 'very' anymore. Either something was good or it wasn't. My teacher's pet hate was anyone saying 'absolutely true/ right'. Truth is absolute.

The teacher was even more suspicious of adjectives that involved wider quantification like huge, immense... Everything is in proportion and in relation to one another in the great scheme of things. She lost me. I recall a similar stance from Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and this certainly left an impact on me. If philosophy never became my cuppa tea, at the very least it raised some awareness in me and did make me self-conscious about word usage and in particular those easy labels.

The King of Cool! (Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images, photo by John Dominis)

For instance, you either love someone or you don't. You don't love them 'just a bit'... Maybe you like them instead. Maybe you are fond of them. If you love them very much, you adore them. Then sure enough my philosophy teacher would step in and give us a spiel about adoration. Some words need to be used carefully, or - at least - with moderation.

Now check out those loose chat-up lines:

- 'Did you have a great time last night, honey?'
- 'I had a good time!'
- 'A good time, uh? Is that all you had? What was wrong?'
- 'Nothing was wrong. I just had a good time.'
- 'Just a good time, now I see... Well honey, don't worry about the next time, cos we're done!'

Now please - can I have those labels back? I kinda need them very very much!

3 Sept 2012

It's Complicated!

I've heard that one a few times and it never ceases to amaze me. From friends, acquaintances, family members... When you catch up on affairs of the heart with one of them, the first filler words that are likely to come out are: "It's complicated". Then the awkward silence is either broken by a long sigh, an expressive nod, a long sideways glace or a dramatic shutting of the eyes that mean anything from "you know what I mean", "it's nothing important", "can we change the subject please" to "I don't know where to start"...  Then if you are lucky and patient enough, you get the story. And what a confusing story this is likely to be!

'The Reunion', giclée art print by Dan May via OMG Posters (also via Big Cartel)

Now come on, it's as complicated as you make it out to be. It's not easy to open up, sure, and sometimes the less you know the person the easier it is to open up to them as they won't be as inclined to pass judgement and offer unsollicited assistance to half-told, half-understood, half-listened to problems and situations.

If you want a piece of my mind, here we go. I have never understood why love had to be complicated, toxic, shrouded in codes and mystery, tarnished with secrets, regrets, remorse, poisoned by untold truths and jealousy, marred by unreasonable expectations. Love is simple and unconditional. You either feel it or you don't. You either love that person or you don't. There's no two ways about it, there's no two ways to show it. Why complicate it? Why go about it with "ifs" and "buts" and intellectualise it à la Woody Allen?

Picture source: Immaculate Conception

Beware the consequences. Love is a bomb. As sure as it has the potential to positively enliven your heart and turn your life upside-down, it also has the potential to hurt it and destroy it like no other. So why play with fire in the first place and play it complicated? Keep your heart open, handle with care, show it respect. Have faith in yourself and that significant other. Have trust. And most of all be honest with yourself. Why pretend, why complicate?

Playing the love game, now this is something that I used to find slightly amusing moons ago and that I described as a romantic display of affection. The slow convoluted courting, the protocole of love, the étiquette. And then one day I decided that love is too passionate to follow rules. The only thing to follow is your heart, your instinct, your impulse, your intuition, your gut feeling, your destiny, what you believe is best. And that frees your mind and takes out any complications. Time is precious, use it wisely. Love is precious, use it wildly!

Picture source: Atravez de mis Ojos

1 Sept 2012

End of Season

The season was brief this year, 5 weeks if that, from mid-July. Hordes of tourists pouring onto every beach, every coastline path, every scenic spot, camper vans, motorbikes, family cars converging towards every resort across the island, traffic jams, heatwave, full-on madness.

Us year-long residents get caught into that big holiday buzz that gives off that artificial happy vibe although we are not part of it. Tourists and residents glide past each other, each to their own with no or little interaction unless you are a tourist-based service provider. The buzz just ceases as quickly as it fused in the first place. A mirage all to itself.

The vast majority of tourists and visitors are now gone, and it feels eerily silent. Not that we felt part of the buzz in the first place as I said, just that we got caught in it through our daily lives. To me it feels like I have been beached. They've all gone back to the reality of modern urban life, their hectic lifestyle in the city, their careers, their fast-paced social activities that I can't help but embellish in my mind and envy... Up in the sticks on the island I feel totally out of it, totally left out, like I am missing something, like I am stuck in a bubble.

I am a city girl at heart who happens to live on an island. I've been here for two and a half years now and I am still adjusting. Island life deserves a blogpost all to itself and I will let out some steam about it in the coming weeks, no doubt.

Tourists love it: the hot weather, the profusion of beaches, water sports, trendy bars and clubs, music festivals, tanned chicks with foreign accents strolling past wearing little more than insouciance, a heady cocktail of sea, sex and sun. They love it so much that they don't wanna leave, but they always do though. City life beckons. They come here for the good times, but don't necessarily want to know about the reality of it 365 days a year, when you lot end up finding yourself stuck with that same old clique of locals, going round in circles in your head and in your car (it's an island, man!), the dragging October-March months that cut you off the rest of the world. The internet might be a godsend but it is hardly a substitute for life...

Yeah people do get lonely in cities, I agree. Now how about lonely in the countryside, I'm asking you? Lonely sat on that great stretch of sandy beach, lonely standing on that mountaintop with commanding views across the island, lonely down that bucolic forest path, in the middle of that charming village square, in your lovely little house up the hill...

Every week-end I get invited to parties and I turn most of them down. Not sure what the reason for the parties is, there is usually no birthday nor engagement nor divorce nor job promotion in sight, nothing worth celebrating. It's more to do with people wanting to get together, to kill time, forget their problems with booze and try to find themselves in this common denominator of solitude. There is an air of defeat about. Some individuals have indulged for so long now that they are paying the price and are well on their way of losing the plot altogether. One or two even look like they have never come down since ten solstices ago. Some believe they are still in Koh Phi Phi. One Iggy Pop-lookalike even calls himself a guru. It's unnerving. This is not my scene. I choose life.

I know some natives old enough to be my parents who have spent their whole lives silently suffering solitude and physical and mental isolation. They tell me no-one can get used to this, so it's best to just resign oneself to the idea, yet they are incapable of locking that front door one last time and board the next mainland ferry once and for all to experience something else out of life!

As for me, I'm gonna do something about it. I have a plan.