Friday, June 27, 2008

time to face the music

The arrival of a nasty, thick envelope from my employer this morning has brought me back to earth with a gigantic post-holiday thud. All the tension and stress that eased away in Europe returned full force and once again my jaw is clenched, my stomach tight and my pulse visibly thumping in my chest.

Not that it was entirely unexpected. Before we left for London I confronted a clinical issue in rather a spectacular way - well, spectacular for small town Tasmania at least. I wrote to a number of senior staff requesting they review a matter of concern to me. Today's envelope contained the preliminary results of their investigation. The results too are unsurprising, since conversations prior to my departure indicated there would be twisting and rearrangement of statements and events to present circumstances in an altogether different light from reality.

I worked hard at not thinking about this situation while we were away, not wanting to mar our relaxation and pleasure. Now I cannot avoid it, having been given one week to respond and a suggestion I might see a counsellor at my employer's expense if needed.

I don't need it. I feel quite strong. It is easy to lose a sense of reality in these situations, and I keep asking myself if I did the wrong thing, overreacted, forgot grace, dishonoured God. Perhaps I did forget grace, but when I remember why I took this course I keep reaching the same conclusion - I would do it again.

I haven't read the letters yet, I am fairly sure I know a lot of what they will say already, which is why I wrote in the first place. But when I do read them I know how I will respond - with the truth; with my perspective; perhaps even with an acknowledgement that I could have been more gracious. The outcome does not bother me too much - I have left that workplace. I am also learning to trust my judgements and my version of events. What was happening was worth confronting and I have done nothing wrong in saying so.

In the meantime I need to find a way to contain my stress and hijack the auto circuit my brain keeps tracking through!

(raising her glass in a toast) 'To sleep!'

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

meeting jesus on the steps of st peter's basilica

I was telling a friend about some of our travel experiences today and it set me to reflecting upon something that happened in Rome. I'm jumping a little ahead of myself in the holiday reminiscence, since Rome was the last city we visited, from whence we jetted home... maybe I'll just sift through all the memories in reverse, or, more in keeping with my personality, you might receive random snapshots of our travels!

Anyway, Rome was hot - hotter than anywhere else we visited, except perhaps Hamburg and Heidelberg, which also turned on scorchers for us. I had been carefully carrying a summer dress all holiday for just such a day. (Actually Frank carried the dress most of the way, since we shared one backpack between us and he insisted on doing the manly thing and bearing the heavy load)

I confess when travelling I tend to opt for practicality over style, resulting in the unmistakable appearance of a tourist or (even worse) an Australian backpacker. I stomp around in my super comfortable Merrel sandals and shorts, enviously eyeing off those who choose glamour over comfort, tugging self consciously at my small, safe but unattractive travel purse.

In a frivolous attempt at travel glamour I packed my sunny dress, and between its careful folds I tucked an image of myself gliding elegantly through the streets of Rome like Gwenneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchet in 'The Talented Mr Ripley'. Actually that movie gives me the creeps - but there is no mistaking the elegance.

So it was hot, and we were in Rome - what could I do but don my glamour gown... or at least put on my home made cotton dress. With the shoes that did nothing for style but (yes) were comfortable! And off Frank and I set on a day packed with site seeing.

The Colosseum

Roman Forum

Pons Fabricius

Church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore (on Piazza Navona where statues were predictably plastered with scaffolding, and every inch of ground was covered with pigeons, artists and tourists. Somehow Rome did not seem half as pleasant in summer as it had in autumns past when peak season crowds had departed)

Pantheon (is anyone else instantly reminded of Star Trek when they enter this building?)

And Trevi Fountain

I personally detest the Spanish Steps so they barely rate a mention and didn't garner a single snap, but I must mention the gelati bought just off Piazza Navona... the best in the world just as they claimed (and surely the most generous serves in the world too)!

Soon enough our path crossed St Peter's Square, with its elegant columns, multitudinous statues and enormous Basilica.

With some coaxing, Frank agreed to join the queue, endure an x-ray search and enter the Basilica. At which point we encountered a problem - my breezy summer dress possessed no sleeves and in my eagerness to look just a little classy I had forgotten to bring a cover for my shoulders. We inched our way forward, hoping I might be able to sneak past the Basilica guards, but no such luck. Their male eyes were all over the crowd, seeking out indecent women and they instantly spied me out and signalled me off to the side with a sharp Italian 'No'. I looked beseechingly at them to no avail and watched longingly as Frank entered the most holy temple of God without me.

OK, I'm embellishing the story just a little there. I have seen St Peter's Basilica before and decided that since I could remember its opulence and little else (apart from numerous golden bees flying all over the altar) there probably was not much point pretending to appreciate the religious art all over again. I indulgently encouraged Frank to enter without me so he too might be wowed by its incredible wealth.

While he bumped awestruck shoulders with myriads of other pilgrims in the coolness of the Basilica, I sat outside in the heat and reflected on the message of being denied entry due to exposed shoulders. I stood just beside the exit to the church watching men and women stream past. Like the vigilant guards, I had eyes only for the women.

What a sight - lace tops that covered shoulders but revealed bras, bulging stomachs spilling out between tops and trousers, leggings accentuating buttocks and thighs, cleavage peaking over necklines. I failed to see how my rather demure, pretty (but sleeveless) dress was any worse than the clothing of any of these women who had been granted entrance. The inconsistency irritated me.

And what's with men being the sole keepers of the Basilica? I thought we had left such sexist days behind. (It seems I forgot this is the Catholic Church we are discussing here!) Their superior demeanour rankled. If I wasn't already (barely) part of the church, this experience would turn me off completely. Not only do I find the wealth and art irrelevant to my faith, but the judgemental, exclusive attitude of their spirituality leaves me cold. If this is God, I am not interested.

It reminded me of our experience in Canterbury Cathedral. Frank was remiss in removing his hat when we entered the building. Half way down the nave a woman stridently called out "Excuse me sir, would you please remove your hat. Gentlemen in England remove their hats in church" as if to say Frank was an uncouth barbarian from whom one could expect little better. (Was it our comfortable tourist attire that gave us away?!) We were both mortified and incensed. Cultural politeness aside - does a hat matter to a God who looks upon the heart? Is there any call for such belittling behaviour? Again, if this is God, I am not interested.

Similarly in Prague, as we respectfully attempted to enter a church in the evening the door was closed in our faces. "No tourists allowed. If you are searching for God - he is not here."

I have written previously about my struggles with church and institutional religion - every single doubt was confirmed by our experiences of formal religion in Europe. Where was the love? The mercy? The hospitality? Apart from a lovely small church in Prague filled with praying nuns, I struggled to see it.

As I stood with my naked shoulders exposed at the door of St Peter's Basilica I could not help thinking of Jesus. When the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery for him to judge, he looked at her with compassion. Where they saw sin, he saw her soul and gave her freedom.

With the sting of refused entry still smarting I too looked up into the eyes of Jesus and saw only love.

This... this I can believe. This I can follow with all my heart. Religion be damned.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

lagging behind

I'm not really lagging behind - if anything I've raced ahead. Australia is second only to New Zealand in the world time stakes after all and I passed through enough time zones to now be eight hours ahead of Europe.

Behind or ahead, I still feel gnawing hunger at strange times, need to pee in the middle of the night while my circadian rhythm still tells my kidneys it is day time, and fall asleep while watching the news. (Incidentally I was able to stay awake for the whole of Ugly Betty without difficulty. Sigh. Such trash, but I love it)

Really Frank and I are not doing too badly. Apart from waking up at 5:30am yesterday, we are sleeping well and feeling only moderately tired. I have a slight constant headache which I am working on by drinking lots of water. (which will no doubt help not at all in the night time peeing stakes...)

I started back at work today (at the school) and loved it. Now I just have to conquer the hospital, which I would quite happily never look at ever again if I could avoid it. Ah well - don't need to go back until Monday.

The biggest issue has been the cold. I spent all of autumn bedding myself down for the winter before jetting off to summer. Now we have gone from the longest day of the year to the shortest over night. Endless summer evenings have been replaced by darkness, the trees look indecently bare, and the cold... the cold. Well it took me three hours to get to sleep the other night I was so cold for so long. It was 32 degrees C in Rome when we left. 9 degrees C the day we arrived here, the coldest day of the winter so far. What a shock.

Moan, moan, moan - anyone would think I could at least be glad about the month of warmth and the fantastic places we visited.

So I'll stop complaining now and start reflecting on the great time we had.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

touch down

We're home!

Only 20 hours and 20 minutes of flying this time, plus the usual stop overs. We broke the journey in Melbourne and stayed with Frank's Mum last night, so feel a little more human than if we had come the whole way straight.

Did you know that on an average flight there are 320 economy passengers. With each meal they receive a small butter weighing 10 grams. That is 6.4 kg of butter, without counting business or first class. Then there are all the little yoghurt containers - 80 grams there. That's hmmm 80 by 320... 8 times 3 is 24 so 24000 plus 2 times 8 is 16 so 1600 plus 2400... that amounts to 25.6 kilos of yoghurt. And since we are all sitting there twiddling our thumbs and watching movies, not much of energy is required. So all that food is just sitting there, barely being converted to energy, just hanging around keeping the plane heavy. Each passenger uses an average of four plastic cups per flight (not business or first class however - they are served in glass tableware). That is at least 1200 cups per flight. Outrageous?! Obviously I had too much time to think.

And why can't they have male and female toilets on planes, or a rule that insists men sit to pee? I detest drips on the toilet seats and floor.

And I have all sympathy for the mother of the screaming child two seats away from us, but I might have been less sympathetic if it was not a day time flight. I wanted to sleep to swap on to Australian time, but since I was still on Europe time I just stayed awake and tried to help entertain the little man. Until he passed beyond the point of entertaining and into the zone of no consolation. Eventually he passed out from exhaustion... just as we started to descend and his ears hurt. Ah well. That's life when you request a seat with more leg room.

Nothing feels quite as good as getting off a plane from overseas and knowing you are home... not in your own house, but still home. And is anything as nice as the customs office saying 'welcome back' as she stamped our passports? I don't think so.

Anyway, we're home, in the house. About to jump into our very own bed and sleep for a hundred years. (OK, maybe just 10 hours) I have a hundred blog posts buzzing around in my head and a thousand photos to sort. (Probably less than a hundred posts, but definitely a thousand photos - I just spent an hour uploading them all)

I shall return. Sooner than last time.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

where's cecily?

So we swallowed our carbon footprint conscience, and jumped on a plane. Thirty two hours, three flights, two train rides, and plenty of hanging around airports later we stepped out in London.

I find plane travel an incredible experience. Incredibly tiring, drying and tedious and yet incredibly amazing to traverse the globe in little more than one day. How can this be, that I woke up in Australia and fell asleep in England? However it happened, it did and so I was able to attend my friend's Golden Wedding Anniversary celebrations. Ah. I'll endure sleeplessness, DVTs and boredom for that any day!

Ten years ago I lived in London for three years (I know, I hardly look old enough), so I installed myself as our official tour guide. We took in the usual sites and sounds before branching out under the guidance of our friends into the lush green countryside of Kent to visit the former home of Winston Churchill and a lovely ruined castle. We also marvelled at Canterbury Cathedral (No photos due to technical difficulties sorry)

Along the way I have made a number of discoveries:
  • England is not in drought (yes, that means it rained nearly every day of our visit)
  • Karval is wonderful, we should have it in Australia (nasty cold with incredibly stuffy nosed relieved by Karval capsules sprinkled on tissue)
  • Frank is not a backpacker at heart (nearly killed me catching a taxi to our accommodation in Hamburg the other night)
  • Hamburg is a beautiful city. It helped that the sun was shining
And right now you will find me in Frankfurt (Main) Germany staying with a dear friend. Incredible.

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