Category Archives: Travel stories

An interesting couch surfing experience

This year, before I left for my trip, I didn’t lock in all my plans. I made sure I had some places to stay at the start, and then I had a chunk of open time, knowing that I would by flying home from Oslo on a certain date. I thought that this would give me the freedom to follow opportunities that came up, to take suggestions offered by others, and also to do a bit more of what I felt like at the time.

Mostly, this was great. Depending on what I needed (solitude? nature? the city? stimulation?), I organised plans for myself a few days in advance. I was terrified, though, that somewhere along the way this would fall down and I’d end up with nowhere to sleep. But I decided to challenge my terror, and I’m glad I did, because the freedom and flexibility were fabulous.

But, at one point, exactly the thing I’d feared arose. A lovely woman I’d met through couch surfing, who had generously offered me the use of her spare room, texted me at the very last minute to say that she’d had an emergency, was stuck out of town, and wouldn’t be home to host me! What to do? I went back to couch surfing, and there were a bunch of others who had also offered to host me but I had politely turned them down. So I contacted them again, and one, Arne, kindly offered to have me, even though it was really short notice. I wasn’t really planning to stay with men. As a woman travelling alone, I’d figured it would be safer to stick with women hosts. But I wasn’t in a position to be choosy now. Arne seemed like a nice guy, and my experience with Norwegian men in the past has been positive, as they have always been respectful of women and non-sleazy.

Just before we were due to meet, I texted Arne to check his address, suggesting I could walk there, as it was a fairly small town. His reply, ‘No, it’s too far for ladies.’

Hmm.. This was not a good sign. As far as I knew, Norwegians were into walking and ladies would be expected to walk as far as men! I started to feel a bit nervous. When we met at the place he suggested, for him to escort me back to his place on the ‘free bus’, he quickly commandeered both my backpack and my suitcase, leaving me nothing to carry. I thought it was likely he’d offer to take one, but taking both seemed excessive and I felt uncomfortable about that. Especially my backpack, which contained my money and passport, which I really wanted to have on my person. I tried to get it back, but he wasn’t yielding. He wrote in my talking book, (in Norwegian, not English) ‘In Arabic culture the woman should do nothing.’ Oh. So I was not dealing with a Norwegian guy, but a man who identified with an connected with Arabic values. This was not welcome news at all, because while there are many fabulous Arabic men out there, I do find it hard to cope with some of the attitudes towards women, such as, for example, taking my bags from me so I didn’t have control of them any more. I hoped I could trust this guy.

When I wanted to go to the shop, he said, no, he would go. No way was I remaining prisoner in his tiny apartment. So I argued back, insisting emphatically that I needed to take a walk, see a bit of the place, and choose some food to buy. Okay, eventually he decided he would allow that, but he was coming with me. I was getting antsy by now. Maybe I should have just left. But I still didn’t know where to go, and I was a lot further away from the city centre now and not entirely sure how to get the bus back. It had turned out not to be free ‘Just free for you,’ he said, as he let me use his transport card. I was a bit worried that with him giving me all this stuff, beyond a bed to sleep in, he might expect something in return, something sexual.

I nearly flipped out when he showed me the bedroom. Yes, THE bedroom. Two single beds, very close together. ‘This one’s mine,’ he told me, ‘and you can sleep here.’ I needn’t have panicked. When the time came, he took his bedding out to the couch and slept there. I would have been happy to take the couch, but I was so relieved I didn’t say anything. Happily I found a lock on his bedroom door, which I made use of overnight.

Nothing sexual turned out to be required, thankfully, but the next day he started flirting with me, telling me how beautiful I am, and how I didn’t need to leave, I could stay longer and let him give me a better tour of the place… At one point, he wrote, ‘Everyone thinks we are terrorists.’

I answered in Norwegian, ‘That hadn’t crossed my mind. I’ve been too busy worrying you might be a rapist.’ I thought that if I admitted my fears, he might back off a bit and even give me some reassuring signs that this was not his intention. But unfortunately his reply was ‘Well….’ and then he changed the subject. Actually, since Norwegian was not his first language either, I thought later that he hadn’t understood the word for ‘rapist’, but wasn’t the kind of guy who would just ask what I meant. His handling of the conversation reminded me of what I do when I haven’t understood people and don’t feel comfortable to let them know. Anyway, this exchange hardly helped me feel better!

I was a bit alarmed by the way he insisted on being with me, all day, and wouldn’t let me go out by myself. So when a friend of his dropped around, I hastily packed my bag, waved a cheery goodbye, and headed out. It was a good day, full of raspberries and clambering over Norwegian rocks and writing my novel and journal in nature. So it wasn’t all bad. But I couldn’t get rid of the sense that I’d had a lucky escape.

Eventually, after much deliberation because I’d sworn I’d never do this again, I told Arne that he had to stop flirting with me because I was married and my husband wouldn’t like it. I HATE excuses of this kind. They suggest that a man should behave a particular way towards a woman, because she is already owned by another man, rather than because his behaviour makes the woman herself feel uncomfortable. But I thought it would be best not to challenge the status quo and to speak a language he would understand. It worked. He backed off after that.

To be fair, he was a very solicitous host, making me food, sending me off with a packed lunch on the last day, sleeping on the couch so I could have the bedroom alone, escorting me on the bus and so on. It was just my fear that was in the way. If I hadn’t been so afraid, maybe it would have been fine. But the flirting and the fact that I had to fight to be able to go out alone were not good, and the little ways I lacked control, like over my own bag, made me feel very uncomfortable. Still, it ended well and nothing bad happened to me. I think, though, that if I’m in that situation again where there’s only men available on couch surfing, I’ll go to a hostel or budget hotel or shell out for AirBnB instead.

Have you had any experiences like this? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Learning to knit faster

When I was in Denmark, studying with Julie Arkell, I was very taken with the cardigan she wore. She told me she’d knitted it herself, based on a pattern that my friend Torhild had knitted up. I’m not the only one who fell in love with it, and the pattern has been muched passed around. I got a copy, some wool, and have made a start.

Julie Arkell Cardigan-1

Julie Arkell Cardigan-2

Let me tell you here that I’m not much of a knitter. Despite intermittently knitting something biggish over the years, like a jumper or pair of leggings, I’ve never become very fast or confident. I have repeatedly asked fast knitters if they would share some tips to help me move to the next level, but was told there was no point since I knitted the ‘English way’ rather than the newer ‘European way’. But, I know others who knit the English way and whip up garments. Oh well…

Last year I made the effort to convert to the European way, thanks to a YouTube tutorial. I also taught myself how to knit backwards, so that I can have the right side of the work facing me the whole time, and simply switch the yarn from hand to hand as I knit back and forwards. I really like this way of working – to me that’s less cumbersome than having to turn the piece around with every row, and rearrange it in relation to the ball of yarn.

But I still didn’t become very quick. I had only knitted dolls’ clothes, though. Anyway, I’ve had a breakthrough while working on the cardigan. Just needing to knit a lot has given me the basic practise I needed to help improve my skills with the European way.

Then I noticed something: I was knitting to a certain rhythm. Needle in, pick up wool, pull it through, slip stitch off. Each part took up equal amounts of time. But the bit I was struggling with was aiming the needle right when I put it in. I kept missing, so had to do that part slowly. The rest of the stitch was easy. So I made a conscious effort to change my rhythm: take as much time as I need to put the needle in, then do the remaining steps super-fast in one move. Ah-ha! Magic!

It was kind of weird at first, but that rhythm is working for me now, and my stitches have sped up enormously. I’m also getting better at putting the needle in accurately.

My next challenge is to learn to knit without looking. I CAN, sort of, do it, but I have a tendancy to drop stitches. My cardigan is full of mistakes, thanks to my efforts at trying that. I haven’t got it in me to rip back all the time, so I’m just plowing on and trusting that it’ll be sweet even with its many imperfections.

Do you have any knitting tips to share? If you’re a fast knitter, is there a particular trick that helped you get there?

My favourite food in Norway

Food in Norway-1

I drew this page in my journal to remember the foods I’ve loved the most while in Norway. I am always interested in traditional foods, so wanted to make an effort to try out some old favourites while I was there. However, if you go to a restaurant in Norway, the prices will have Australians falling off their chairs. I paid, get this, AU$60 for a burger! This wasn’t at a posh place. Just at a pub. If I’d wanted a glass of kombucha to go with it, I’d have had to shell out another $15. Gulp.

Luckily, I found other ways to enjoy Norwegian traditional foods. I started by grilling my friend Torhild about the foods she had eaten as a child, that would be available in the supermarket. Then I worked my way through weird packaged foods to try them all out.

One popular dish is kjøttkaker i brun saus (meatballs in gravy). At the supermarket, for around AU$10, you could buy a box for a ready meal, which contained little packages of meat balls, gravy, sour cabbage, and cloudberry jam, which are often eaten with it. I bought some carrots, peas and potatoes, boiled them (Norwegians seem to boil nearly everything), and then added the packaged ingredients. It was delicious. I don’t do packaged foods at home but it was a fabulous and inexpensive way to try really different foods, and to get a real taste of Norway.

I also tried fiskebollar (fish balls) with the same method and loved them. Very different flavours and textures than we eat here in Australia.

I noticed lots of rice and barley porridge in the supermarket, so I bought a packet of ready-made barley porridge and practically inhaled it, it was so delicious. It was unsweetened, just had some salt added. The picture showed some strawberries on top, so I added them. Yum!

I also ate pickled herring, brunost (weirdly sweet Norwegian brown cheese that feels like you’ve filled your mouth with glue), gulost (a mild yellow cheese that seemed to be very popular) and loved them all.

I loved the traditional cultured milk, a mild drinking yoghurt, which was a standard offering in every supermarket. I brought home some of their culture to see if I can make my own.

The best, best thing about Norwegian food was the berries. I ate bucketloads of strawberries and raspberries. You could often find raspberries on the side of the road, for anyone to pick. When I stayed in the tiny seaside town of Tau, the raspberries were so abundant that I could go for a walk and gorge myself upon them until I simply couldn’t eat another. To me, this is a miracle. If only we could do that here!

Beautiful nature in Norway – walking the Preikestolen at Lysefjord

One of the things I wanted to do in Norway was walk up to the Preikestolen on Lysefjord. Preikestolen means ‘pupit rock’ and it’s this huge rock with a flat platfrom that sits 650 metres above sea level, right over a beautiful fjord. So the view from there is amazing. It’s an 8km round trip, and involves a walking up, up, up a mountain.

Preikestolen-1

Given that my health has been pretty dodgy lately and I’ve had very little energy, I’ve become quite unfit. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do the walk. I started, in my somewhat pathetic way, ‘training’ for it by walking more and more each day until I could at least stay on my feet for that many kilometres, even if I didn’t get in any practise with hills.

Before I went, I read this beautiful article in Flow magazine, about a woman who spent 24 hours in nature with no purpose, no plan and no technology. She just followed her intuition, wandered around and looked at stuff. I had this idea that I might try to do the Preikestolen walk with the same idea. Instead of focussing on the path and my achievement, I would listen to my body, rest whenever I needed to, and just wander along the path and enjoy looking at stuff.

I stayed at a hostel at the base of the Preikestolen trail. It was gorgeous and I couldn’t believe I got to sleep in one of those little grass-roofed huts.

Preikestolen-13

The walk is incredibly popular with tourists and busloads come in every day, so I decided to go super early, and embarked off at 5.30am (thank you, jetlag!) to miss the crowds. I had the path to myself most of the way which was lovely.

Preikestolen-9

Here’s what the path looked like much of the way. The first bit was the hardest. My thighs burned and my heart raced and I thought no way would I be fit enough to do this. But by the end of the first steep bit, I was kind of warmed up and my thighs didn’t burn any more. I did have to keep resting though and was really glad not to be doing this walk with anyone else, so I didn’t have to feel embarrassed about how often I paused to look around. Thanks to my commitment to listen to my intuition, I embraced my frequent stops and enjoyed taking in the beautiful nature.

Preikestolen-12

After the second steep bit, I was gaining confidence. My thighs and feet were holding out, and I made an effort to walk confidently and quickly as I went up. But it was such a relief to find an easy wooden path like this one.

Preikestolen-7

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The flatter bits were really lovely. I still had to concentrate to walk carefully and not twist my ankle on those stones. It was definitely and eye-to-the-ground kind of walk, so my regular pauses to look around were a good way to take in the actual nature.

Preikestolen-8

Once I’d conqured the third and hardest steep bit, I came to this beautiful waterhole, and I figured that was a good place for breakfast and to take a real break. I’d brought berries and creme fraiche, and packed some cheese, and raw vegies to nibble on.

It was an idyllic place to rest, and I would have liked to really settle in, do some knitting and let my body recover, but it was incredibly cold. At this point, if I’m honest, my body was spent. Listening to my intuition, I would have had to turn around and go home. Also, even though I’d done most of the climbing, I was only a bit more than half way to the top, so there was a lot ahead of me. But it was all gentler stuff and I really really wanted to see the top. I had to make a decision to follow my body, or my goal to get to the top. The goal won out. So much for connecting with my inner nature! I decided to grit my teeth and continue.

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Preikestolen-3

I’m glad I did, because then I came to my favourite place of the whole walk – this very lovely water hole with rocks on the far side that just spoke to me. Again I tried to stop here for a while but it was just too cold to stay more than a few minutes. I needed to walk to keep warm.

Walked for ages up a steep smoother bit of rock. At this stage it was just a matter of gritting my teeth and saying it wasn’t far now. It would have felt anti-climactic to turn around and go home at this point!

Preikestolen-5

The last bit of path was precarious indeed. It’s probably a good thing I couldn’t see all the way down to the fjord.

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Finally, my destination. Though as you can tell, the clouds made it pretty hard to see anything.
Yep, from on the the pulpit rock, all I could see was white. Bummer. All that way….! But I’m still glad I did it. It feels like a potent lesson in life being about the journey, rather than the destination. I was glad, again, that I’d stopped so often to enjoy on the way up.

I emptied out my backpack so I could lie on it for a bit, rested for about 45 minutes, then I couldn’t bear the cold any more so headed home. I decided to just walk fast and get it over with. In many ways I was more present for the trip home because I wasn’t so daunted! I could kind of enjoy it more. But the steep bits really did my legs in and by half way my feet, ankles, calves and thighs just plain hurt.

Afterwards, my calves hurt like nothing else, but my feet, ankles, knees and thighs were fine. Phew. I’m glad I did it, especially for the bit where I got to enjoy the beautiful waterholes. But I wished I could have rested more to appreciate the nature along the way. My original plan of wandering and following my intuition was out of the question. This was a grit-your-teeth kind of walk for me. But I felt satisfied, and full up of beautiful Norway. I’ll have to do the nature-wander another time.

Hi, I’m back

Hi, I’m back from Denmark and Norway! I had an amazing cyberbreak, though I have lurked here occasionally, and I’ve filled up on beautiful Norwegian nature and food. In Denmark I studied more papier mache magic with Julie Arkell and I learnt how to knit a onesie for a small figure.

My knitting has improved vastly, thanks to a cute cardigan that Julie was wearing during the course. Several of us coveted it, and it turned out that Julie herself had knitted it based on a pattern my friend Torhild had knitted up. The pattern has been passed around and I’m not the only one who’s knitting it right now.

And now I’m home, back to my beautiful family who I missed more than I expected. I’m committed to appreciating them anew, which is a good thing, because often all I want is to be alone! I’ve had a fabulous fill of aloneness and am ready to embrace my people. It’s good.

I’ll post a few travel stories soon… but in the meantime, I just wanted to say that my studio will be open this Sunday, as part of an Open Studios Trail at the Abbotsford Convent from 12pm to 3pm. If you’d like to come along and see what I’ve been working on, I’d love to see you there.

Entry into my studio is free, but here’s a small fee if you want to participate in the full tour at the Abbotsford Convent. You can book that here:

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/abbotsford-convent-tickets-26262765639

Where to find me:
Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Helier’s St, Abbotsford
Enter via GATE 2, and follow the signs to the Mercator building, then you’ll see signs with my name on it directing you to my studio.

Ciao!

I’m outta here folks. My bags are packed, I’ve got a plane to catch, and I’m getting ready to journal on the plane.

New journal cover-1

This is my new journal. I always think of my journal as my best friend, so I like to paint a face on it to give her personality. This girl is going to be my travel companion. I’m really happy with how she turned out. Yep I’m ready to go flying with this girl!

Anyways, wish me luck. For those of you who are enjoying my Auslan course, my assistant will continue to post the lessons while I’m away. Otherwise though, I’m heading offline. See you in August, hopefully with travel stories and inspiration to share.

Ciao!

International travel as a Deaf person

I thought I’d write a post about my experiences with international travel as a Deaf person. I find it surprising, how very different it feels to be Deaf in different places. Culture changes everything.

My favourite Deaf travel story

Let me start with my favourite Deaf travel story… I was travelling with my partner Paula, and as we checked in they figured out I was Deaf. There was some kerfuffle but we were released into the wilds of the airport. As we waited at the gate, Paula nudged me and told me. “There’s an announcement over the loudspeaker. Can all Deaf people and parents with children please come to the gate now to board first.” As you’d expect, there was a flurry of parents and kids heading to the gate. But strangely enough… no Deaf people.

This announcement highlights something I encounter over and over again. Well-meaning people who attempt to cater for my needs, but who haven’t actually thought about what it means to be Deaf.

A first encounter with Deafness

Let me tell you about Joe, who I met in a shop in France. He said something to me, which I didn’t understand, and my friend Jenine explained to him that I’m Deaf. No worries. Conversation with Jenine goes on. He asked her how we were enjoying the music festival.

She explained that actually we weren’t attending the music festival. “But why not? It’s free. You should go to the concert tonight.”

“Well Asphyxia can’t hear it.”

This hit Joe hard. Hand to his heart, sorrow on his face. He turned to me. “You can’t hear MUSIC?! But what is life without music?” (Or something.. the facial expression said it all – I didn’t catch his words.)

I shrugged. “It’s ok. I’m happy as it is.”

Then Joe has a deep idea. “You know, you could get a bionic ear. Have you thought about that? Then you could hear music.”

Let’s just pause here for a moment. Does Joe really believe I’ve gone my entire life, without it occurring to me until now, that the bionic ear (or a cochlear implant) is a possibility? Does he really think that now he’s suggested it, I’m going to go home and look into the idea? And, for that matter, does he think he’s the first to come up with such wisdom?

In fact, this is something I find intensely irritating, the need to discuss, regularly, with perfect strangers, the intimate details of what operations I might choose to have. I have, in the past, explained to people like Joe, that actually, a cochlear implant or bionic ear would do nothing for me since my ears work fine. It’s the nerves connecting my ears to my brain that don’t work. Which means I’d need a nerve implant in my brain. Forget it – I ain’t letting any surgeon poke around in there. But I’m sick and tired of explaining my medical situation to strangers.

My friend Anna came up with a marvellous response:

“Have you thought about having botox? I feel it would really help your situation.”

But sadly I can’t bring myself to use it. Joe meant well. He just hadn’t thought about Deafness before and I had the great joy of participating while he had his first, elementary encounter with the concept.

Yeah, so that’s Joe, in France. There’s Joes all over Australia too – I meet them all the time. It may well have been a Joe who made that announcement over the loudspeaker at the boarding gate.

Being Deaf in Norway and Denmark

Contrast that with my experience in Norway and Denmark. For the first time ever in my life, I was actually treated like a normal person. I found out recently that in Norway they teach the finer points of knitting and yarn management in schools. I reckon they must also do a unit or two on Deafness, because they seem to know that:

a) being Deaf does not mean you are stupid

b) rather than expecting Deaf people to lipread you so you can carry on as normal, you should attempt to communicate in a more visual way, such as through mime or writing

c) you don’t need to apologise to anyone for their Deafness, nor discuss their medical needs, nor even make a big deal about it at all.

The response, when I told a person in Denmark or Norway that I was Deaf was “Oh, right.” They’d then grab a piece of paper and write to me, or else point and mime to clarify whatever we were attempting to communicate about. And nothing was a big deal. I didn’t need to witness anyone’s heartbreak that I can’t hear the birds twittering or the free piano concert.

The finer points of Deafness seem to be common knowledge

In fact, even the finer points of Deafness seemed to be common knowledge. When I arrived to stay with my AirBnB host, she was already aware that Deaf people don’t tend to know how much noise they make. (Paula is always complaining about how loud I am in the kitchen, or how I inadvertently slam doors – because I can’t hear myself to self-monitor.) Daisy’s tour of her apartment, as she showed me how to use the shower and how to jiggle the key just so, included a recommendation that I not rustle the cutlery in the drawer as it’s particularly loud, and there’s a certain door that is very noisy so I should make the effort to close it quietly.

Wow. I’ve never met a person in Australia with that much awareness, other than those within the Deaf community. What was even more astounding is that Daisy did not proceed to tell me how she acquired her knowledge of Deafness. She didn’t say that she’d once had a Deaf guest who was incredibly noisy, nor that her mum’s second cousin can’t hear. The Deaf thing was just something to be dealt with along with everything else. Unremarkable. What a bloody relief.

Don’t expect me to lipread

In fact, I didn’t realise how much of a relief it was, until I landed in France, which is much more like Australia when it comes to responding to Deaf people. Whenever I told someone I was Deaf they’d point to their lips and expect me to lipread. When I made it clear I hadn’t a hope in hell of lipreading French, that was the end of the conversation. Well, from my end it was. From their end it was far from over. They proceeded to speak to me in French, at full speed, often turning away without making eye contact, and somehow presumed I’d understand.

The eye contact was appalling. I often communicate with a mix of mime and body language, but getting the French people to look at me so I could do so was quite a headache.

Talk to ME! (Not my companion)

At one point, Jenine was talking to our AirBnB host in France, and I had a question. Rather than put Jenine in the position where she had to ask the question on my behalf, I wrote it down on a piece of paper. I waited for what I hoped was an appropriate pause in the conversation, hoping I could catch the host before she turned away. Eventually I handed her the piece of paper with my question.

Her response? Even though I had a pen handy so she could write back, she didn’t even look at me. She simply made her reply to Jenine. They talked for a bit and then the host left.
What the fuck? Jenine did her best to explain. I find this so rude. What if I had had a follow up question? Why couldn’t the woman have communicated directly with me? It was around this time I gave up trying to communicate effectively in France, and started to assume I would just be ignored, which was mostly the case.

Being Deaf can be ‘special’

When I travelled to Morocco, it was different again. At that time I was with my partner, Paula. I’ve been told that there’s a Muslim belief that if you are born with a disability, then you are closer to God. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. But a lot of people liked to touch me, for good luck. Rather than being ignored, I was special. Red carpet and VIP treatment. Everyone assumed that Paula was my carer, travelling with me simply to serve me. And apparently it was natural that, as my ‘carer’ she would have to sleep in the same bed as me. Presumably to minister to my needs 24/7. Wow. If I haggled at the markets, I got the best price. Even if I didn’t, I’d be given something for free.

The freebies are nice, I’ll grant that. So are the low prices (I get both of these to an extent in Australia too). But what I liked best of all, by a long, long shot, was that little taste of just being an ordinary person in Norway and Denmark. That was good, SO GOOD, I could almost cry thinking about it.

How to improve the situation

And that leads me to think, how good it would be, here in Australia, if we were to have a unit on Deafnes, and on other disabilities too, as part of our school curriculum. Or even better, if we had teachers out there who modelled all sorts of diversity, so that students could see and experience for themselves that actually, we ARE just ordinary people, and in many cases, our Deafness or disability is not even the most remarkable thing about us.

I do teach a lecture on this at Melbourne Uni, and I love it because I know that those students, who will shortly be teachers, will go out into the world ready to respond more appropriately if they meet a Deaf person, or a Deaf student walks into their classroom. But we need more than this. We need this stuff to be taught to everyone. It doesn’t take long. One lesson is enough to get the Joes of the world thinking so that they are ready when a Deaf person enters their shop.

Oslo Skyline

Oslo Skyline 1

I’ve got a thing for city skylines. I love them in stencil form. I love the iconic nature of how they represent a city. I love the urbanness of them. One of the challenges I set myself while I was overseas, was to figure out how to paint them for myself. Here’s Oslo, on a pretty, misty morning. I was so happy with how she turned out. And thrilled with the technique I came up with to paint her. I think I’ll do Melbourne next. There’s a beautiful view from Northcote Hill, right near my place. This one is in my journal, and brings back happy memories of Oslo every time I look at it.

Art retreat in France

Welcome to the next instalment of my travel stories. If you haven’t already you might to read these posts: Busking in Oslo, Hello, the magical land of Nærbo, and Learning to speak Norwegian even though I’m Deaf.

By the time I left Denmark and flew to Paris, I was happy in my soul, and exhausted from all the new experiences, new language, new ideas and inspiration… I was glad I’d decided to take a cyberbreak. It has become clear to me how much time I spend at home consuming stuff online – reading Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram etc. But on this trip I wasn’t been able to do that at all. My heart, mind and soul were so full there isn’t room for anything else. Cyberland just didn’t appeal. I needed all my spare brain-space just to process everything! I haven’t missed my computer at all.

In Paris there was more! I met my dear friend Jenine, co-illustrator of Grimstone books, and art buddy. We’ve taken several online courses together, and although she lives in the Middle East and I live in Australia, we still skype most weeks to show each other our progress on the art front. It keeps us honest and accountable. Very good.

Art retreat in France 1

We trawled through flea markets, gathering mountains of inspiration, and not too many trinkets (the prices had me gasping). One of the best things though was discovering that Parisiens use these sweet little balsa-wood boxes for their cheese and fruit, and they chuck them out afterwards. Jenine and I couldn’t resist a bit of scavenging. Luckily she brought a biggish, mostly empty suitcase with her, and we packed it with empty cheese boxes before heading to the South of France.

Art retreat in France 2

In Lagrasse, we hunkered down for ten days, where I did a lot of sleeping, knitting and crochet, in an effort to restore my poor, overstimulated brain to a somewhat normal state. And in between, we worked on art projects.

We had a papier mache / installation station, where I used an old cheese box to make an installation that held all the treasures and memories from my trip.

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Art retreat in France 4 Art retreat in France 5

We had a knitting, sewing and crochet station, complete with a massage chair thoughtfully provided by our AirBnB hosts! Man, I miss that massage chair, I tell you!

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In the centre was a nice big dining table, which was our painting and journaling hub.

 

Art retreat in France 7

Art retreat in France 8

While we each worked on our own projects, Jenine and I usually managed to sync up so that we’d both be in the same station at the same time, feeding off each other, asking questions, getting feedback, teasing, and generally enjoying each others’ making-making-making vibe. It was so astonishing to me to watch Jenine potter between making miniature papier mache shoes for a doll, weaving a lobster pot out of string she made from a flax plant, whipping up a fabric doll without so much as a pattern (just winging it), and churning out papier mache mouse after mouse because she felt compelled to use up any rubbish tissue paper lying around. This is all the sort of thing I like to do. But it struck me, how rarely I get to see others do it. And how very much I enjoyed being in her company, influenced by that gorgeous creative energy.

 

Art retreat in France 9

Jenine also pushed me to try new things, such as once night when we sat down to draw 8 cats. We had the clock on, 1 minute and 15 seconds per cat. While none of mine was fabulous, I did find some ideas I will definitely try to develop, maybe for rubber stamp characters. Cool.

 

Art retreat in France 10

As well as making my installation, the main focus of my creative time in Lagrasse was to try out new ideas… new colour combinations, new birds, new styles of painting. These things take a lot of focus, and sometimes at home when I’m working from commission to commission, I don’t have the time or energy to play around so much. I painted over 15 colour experiments, and a handful of them I really loved and will definitely use again. I found some new compositions to use in future pieces too. And I’ve got a handful of rubber stamp characters ready to go.

It’s a good time to fill up on new ideas, because I’m going to use the next several months to do lots of little paintings for Christmas. Last year, I did no less than 70 original paintings for Christmas, and because I lacked confidence that anyone would want to buy my stuff, I didn’t paint anything in advance! It nearly killed me. This year I’m going to start early, and it’s so good to be brimming with inspiration and new things to try.