hiatus | the heatwave

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It has been a long time since I wrote anything for this space. A hiatus of sorts, perhaps a symptom of a busy school year.

Over Christmas we inevitably travelled, to India. It started with the flight and the queues of Heathrow, the temporary disorientation, remembering whether or not we flew out of terminal four last time. You do it enough, it's all some sort of mechanical, learned haze. Being carried along in the crush, down the jet bridge, through frigid air heavy with the stink of kerosene. Like the air’s coldness somehow traps the fumes, holding onto them through to the cabin, where in the first few steps into the early aisles fuel mingles with coffee scents and artificial air pressure. Our flight turns and taxies, clumsy. Slick tarmac, onto the runway. The plane pauses, composes itself, the engines gun and the floor shakes and the flight rumbles over the concrete awkwardly, until the wheels retract, the ground falls away, the wing dips, the cabin hums. London fans out below winking and blinking lights, carved into bays and headlands by swathes of black.  Then there was the bombardment of color and chaos and life that hits you after a trip to India, that stays with you through the flight home, then is sucked out of you by London's damp, clammy night air. 

It was cold after Christmas. Just as people saw the first few gleams of spring, the buds and their hope were engulfed by some of the most intense snow the eastern UK has seen since Tupac was rapper of choice. Flurries started and didn’t stop, it was beautiful, hypnotic, coming down harder in sloppy white sheets like puppy kisses. There was too much snow on sidewalks, the dogs played in the garden, chasing icicles and snowballs that sank deep, leaving tracks and furrows while plumes of grey smoke from a dozen chimneys muddled with the heather sky. Geese flew overhead in formation, shadowy onyx against towering somber cloud; peppery and rippled. Hands were dry and fragile like old paper, the ground was undisturbed feathery white until it met fields where the earliest wheat was fighting through; there it looked chunky and porous, like paper towel. The wind murmured and caressed the ribs of haggard trees, blowing powdery snow onto the roadsides. They were littered with abandoned trucks and cars looking overly bright and metallic so the place felt more like midwinter Alaska than spring Norfolk. More brilliantly brutal than subtle and charming. 

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And then summer came, like a flash flood of dry heat, no warning, no expectations, the ground and the people unable to absorb it all. The atmosphere just decided that was it, enough of winter's indecisive drizzle and mild, pale yellow rays, the sun seemed to go from being the color of butter to somewhere closer to an Indian temple marigold. No spring. No buffer period, no hesitation. There was no way to miss it. Europe basked and burnt in a heatwave. The sky was so clear it was a storybook cliché, or a childhood drawing, like someone had said, kids, let's color the sky blue. It was more as if the world was upside down, like looking at the Mediterranean Sea, suspended above you. The dogs would run out of the shade to where the sun cast blocky shadows through the needles of pines, chase a squirrel, and come back with their own fur like charcoal; hot, black, and sandy. I would take my car out and send up a plume of umber dust, winter's puddles were bone dry and left everything coated in a fine layer of what looked like cinnamon. I'd follow that usual rural route framed by fields and in the rear view mirror driving downhill fast it left a distorted smudge of pale green, flax and straw behind me. From above the countryside probably looked khaki, as if it was washed in sepia with patches of dun and tan like fading army combat uniform. 

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There is football on TV, most of which is bad, and a new Drake album, most of which is great, and the sun sets late and barely sets at all. It takes a short dip over the inky horizon then floats back up, between the russet roofs of houses to the east of our own, casting long shadows and cool blue shade. In the shade you shiver, maybe watch the swirling dust, or crystalline drops of dew forming on cut grass. But there are these tepid mornings when you walk out and the earth just smells warm, of verdant leaves and heavy fruit trees and every bush bristling with life and flowers, and you should be somewhere further south. France or Italy, maybe, somewhere with stone farm houses the color of caramel and where the roads aren't full of harassed holiday makers in packed cars. But another week of high pressure has been forecast, so another week of sunshine spilling over the yellowing grass. The sun will rise amber and brush early cloud with peach, it will fade the roses on the trellis to watery claret. The clouds will be rare, light, with pretty latin names like altocumulus, cirrocumulus and altostratus, which meteorologists call the clouds of fair weatherWait, until around midday, when everyone is where they need to be and the roads are quiet, the sun is sharp and the heat uninhibited. To hear kites call as they cruise the thermals miles above us, perhaps a light rustle of grass in a sliver of breeze, and absolutely nothing else.

"this bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, may prove a beauteous flower when we next meet"           
- juliet to romeo (Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, what else?)

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** All these photos are from around Norfolk, taken over the past 3 summers. The cows were at the Norfolk Show a couple of years ago.

fawn and burnt siena | summer rome

Rome apparently has seven hills and we seemed to have climbed at least eight in our first few hours alone . The Trastevere district where we had hired our apartment was very hilly, it transpired, but none of these hills were one of the actual seven. The neighborhood's sidewalks were roughly paved, disturbed where the roots of the Mediterranean stone pines had heaved upwards fortissimo. The leafy streets were flanked by town houses, standing proud and lean in gardens and terraces shaded by spiky palms, lemon and orange trees. The houses were balconied; wrought iron in deep black, set against the earth tones of each facade. Not newly painted; not peeling, shades of fawn and burnt siena, wooden shutters always a degree lighter than the stucco and framing the window. Even for someone like me - probably a good deal colder than the balmy sun-warmed stone around us - it was not hard to imagine Juliette stepping out onto a balcony and calling out to Romeo on the street below. Maybe because that was Verona there was no one out on the street except my sister and I, entranced by the green and the walls and the climbs.

We'd heard horror stories of entrance queues for any famous monument so arrived early at the Roman Forum, with the Circus Maximus and the Colloseum under the same ticket. The Forum and Circus were almost eerily empty before the tourist buses arrived, the complex much bigger than I imagined. The ancient Romans got around, that was clear, and they liked building things. Red, dusty earth swirled under our feet as we padded through the remnants of the government and financial heart of the ancient city. It was signposted, but there was no clear route and the Romans didn't seem to have ease of understanding for foreign visitors centuries later as their main concern. Some say to get a guide or an audio tour, but a bit of imagination and rusty roman history seemed to be enough. Cream swathes of material; togas and laurel; twins raised by wolves.  It was no later than 10am, best, and the temperatures were pushing 34 Celsius. The kind of arid heat that moves over the ground in a haze and dries it to a blushing shade of auburn red, and the trees to muted olive green that appears brushed by a sepia overlay. We stopped in the shade of a cedar, for a drink. I held out the bottle of water to my sister. Et tu, Brute, I said to her, and we moved on. 

There were crowds in the Colosseum in chaotic groups waving selfie sticks, which seemed a pretty fair re-enactment of the real thing, perhaps without the selfie sticks. So instead we walked, as we always do, up a hill, since this was Rome, there was at least a one in seven chance you'd be climbing, but the climb also seemed to filter out a good chunk of the tourists. There were walled gardens, loosely attached to convents and monastaries, where the sisters ambled in the shade, bright white contrasts against the walls in their spectrum of pinks and reds. The shades were like wine glasses on a connoisseur's table, and probably in the hands of more prudent tourists on the buzzy terraces below. The local primary school had come to the park for games, nannies played with their toddler charges in the shade of orange trees and the views stretched far over the River Tiber, the sky so blue it was almost gray, punctuated by the domes of St Peter's Cathedral and the Vatican in the distance.

We had not particularly intended to hit up every tourist site in Rome but I wanted to see Via del Corso, the famous shopping street, and it happened that the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps were in walking distance of each other. The ancient Romans' renaissance counterparts seemed more forward looking in terms of their town planning. We went first to the Pantheon and we might as well have started by being shot in the head. Nothing would have the same impact. It was so foreign but familiar, so silent when the marble on the walls seemed to scream so loud, the handful of tourists inside moved in slow motion but with a sense of urgency, because it was like the whole building was a dream, and if you woke up it would all be over. There had been a sign which baffled Layla and I on the way in - it told visitors not to lie down. Who would go into a monument and lie down? But we could then see why, there was an odd power in the way white light seemed to flood through the dome and reach every corner of the building. Visitors wandered out, slower than they had entered, back into the piazza and shielded their eyes with their hands, blinded by morning sun. The carabinieri, a police-military hybrid that seem to hang out, benignly, on every street corner in Rome, must have got a real kick out of seeing the smugness on pretentious tourists' faces transformed into a blank look of total awe when they emerged.

The streets around the Pantheon and Via del Corso seemed to pump all sorts of blood through Rome - financial, artistic, historic, the fashionable edge. I had warmed to our temporary Trastevere home, but it was defintely the more 'boho', young, neighborhood, and I had been amused and impressed - the local-produce stores, trendy cafes and the raw food place were so, well, LA.   Via del Corso was where the shiny Italian designers congregated in the old Renaissance buildings and was a study in Italian street style, so lessons from the best. A man in a sharp blue suit and polished leather loafers lit a cigarette on the doorstep of Valentino, a white Vespa leant against the wall of D&G, a salesgirl with skin an enviable shade of caramel eased the shutters off the door to Salvatore Ferragamo, all in a days work. The stereotype that Italians know how to dress was remarkably accurate; girls all in black linen and white shoes, the male uniform of blue suits, all rode shining Vespas, most were dark haired, no one looked tired and no one was pale, maybe there's something in the coffee. Despite this also being the tourist heartland there was not a single Starbucks or chain coffee shop to be found, in general far fewer than I had expected, but you could smell the freshly roasted beans from each hole in the wall cafe and wafting out of ground-floor apartments. The modern Romans, it seemed, lived well in their charming Renaissance buildings, gestured enthusiastically while talking, had the most cute and cheerful bambino, drove their Fiats with fervour and took their dogs wherever they could.

I took a half-hearted jog up to the Piazza Garibaldi early one morning to see if I could beat the tourists and the heat to a sunrise view. The rising sun was partially blocked by the night blanket of cumulus puffs, on their way out but the skies seemed painted by streaks. The clouds were heather gray and soft lavender, girly peach and sweet caneteloupe, breaking to the lightest blue in parts. The domes of the Vatican bloomed round and classic in pale beige, the huge war memorial of the Piazza Venezia a solid slab of pillared white marble, the rest of the skyline punctuated by the pixel-squares of townhouses and cathedrals unchanged for centuries. Doves swooped and plunged in the middle distance and church bells rang, each chime bringing to life the stories of empire, demise, rebirth, creation. The metallic notes made me realize that one thing we forgot to do was to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, which would supposedly meant a certain return to Rome. But then I knew I'd be back. There was still a  fog of cobbled squares we hadn't yet touched, there were hushed streets where dogs barked from behind iron gates, there were lines of cypress trees against the titian facades of sunkissed villas, and morning light would still stream through the shaft in the roof of the Panthenon. 


hello all :) Rome was, in all honesty, one of the most beautiful European cities I've visited. We did so much more than I talked about here (we even went out to the countryside one day, but that's a post in itself) and I could just go on about the beautiful buildings and people and sunshine... if you're jealous I get it. Anyways now we're back, I should hopefully be baking again soon, since aaalll the summer fruit is here and I have a few plans for this space over the next few months.
Hope you're all enjoying these warmer days. Ciao xx


to be golden | spring Norfolk

I took a break from studying last week to take some photos of the blossom at the village church. It's not a long walk, maybe 5 minutes at most, but I needed it. Contract law is... dense, I suppose, and I seem to be chained to a desk for something like 8 hours a day. Whoever said university was the longest vacation you'd ever take may just as easily have said it was also a one stop route to Hollywood or something. Either way. I wanted out of the house for a bit, without the complications of a full-on dog walk, just wearing regular shoes and taking along my camera because I finally bought a leather strap for it. The road was busy, people going places, with visions and aims and expectations to fulfil. 

 For it being springtime and there being blossom everywhere, the sky was dark. I'd been using the light when I was working and it was only 2pm. Not particularly cold, in fact it was quite mild, temperatures somewhere in the low teens. Just overcast and windy with bands of dark cloud moving swiftly across the sky, different layers. The wind shook the trees and petals scattered, falling among the gravestones in the churchyard. Pink and gray is always a nice combination. I felt a drizzle, light rain on the side of my cheek, coming in at an angle in the wind. I pull my scarf around my shoulders, and reach for my hood, then drop it. The drizzle had turned into fat droplets. Solid, but falling in such a way that I was barely wet, and the air was still mild. I rarely feel the rain because I am always reaching for that damn hood. My hair was down and blowing around but I left it, as is. It would curl in the moisture. But I had nowhere to go, I would be walking home to a textbook telling me about mitigation and damages. A steady tip-tap of the drops falling on my jacket. It was like a subconscious reaction, to reach for my hood when it started raining, probably says a lot about me. A curly strand of hair... not any attempt at an emotional reaction, I'm not good at those. Not a dancing in the rain type moment. I'd never been one to celebrate tropical downpours or to splash in puddles with an umbrella. Just cold rationality, I suppose. That the hair actually really didn't matter right now, so I might as well stand out there and perpetuate the situation. I needed a break from the constant battle between the cold logic on which I pride myself and the futile search for something else.

I looked down the road where a shaft of sunlight had hit the tarmac, accentuating its blackness, slowly stretching towards me. Something I had grown up with, whenever I was in a rural part of Europe; looking along an expanse of road and watching the skies clear. The sun crawled forward and washed the street with mellow light, it was nothing extraordinary, in fact a normal occurrence around here, these sharp bursts of sun after rain. But maybe it was perspective, how the sun could sweep across the road and towards me, with golden fingers outstretched, as if brushing a layer of gold leaf. I waited, to be figuratively illuminated, to become part of that. To become golden. That's what it's about, for me. Gilded everything. Always chasing something. There were petals stuck to the soles of my shoes, glistening with moisture. So pale pink they were almost transparent. Such faded glory. They had been so perfect and yet one shower had been enough. How did that make sense? How could nature have made something so beautiful that could just go, so easily? There was the war memorial behind me, outside the church, shrouded in the fading blossoms, since even these tiny villages had lost a few young men. What did they have to prove? Could logic not have told them that there was no cause, no point... nothing to prove. 

I had nothing to prove, to anyone... but myself. Everyone else will say I've done fine and in all that cold rationality that I have usually.... it's probably fine. But I'll beat at it forever. Everything. I'll edit, save, edit, save, edit delete the photos I eventually post on this site. There'll be some tiny flaw - slightly underexposed, too much contrast, too much shadow. Cold rationality will tell me that nobody else will even notice. Only me. I'll open essays three times after I declare them done, because they're not ever finished. This post? This is probably version nine. I'll paint my nails, again, even though nobody will give the smallest damn that there is a bit of pink showing under the red. You know those animated characters from kids' TV shows who find themselves on roller blades, going downhill? I'm like them with the never good enoughs: can't stop now, don't know how. Or like one of those miners during the gold rush, heading out into the unknown on a wild goose chase for gold. Maybe in all honesty they knew it wasn't there. A bit like that idea of perfection, an unattainable idea of 'doing well', 'looking pretty', 'being successful'. Cold logic says that it's not there, you're knocking on the door of an empty house.

I did finally go home, the sky dark again with the threat of rain. Logic said to go before a downpour, for a dry jacket to walk the dogs tonight, and that there's an exam. I put the blossom and their ebbing glory behind me. I walked back, into my search for a gold mine that sense told me doesn't exist.  

 

“Logic doesn't stop you feeling. You can behave logically and it can hurt like hell. Or it can comfort you. Or release you. Or all at the same time” 
Dick Francis, The Danger

30 hours - Bangkok

30 hours on the clock. Standing in Bangkok airport, waiting. A quickly filling memory card, blistered feet and one pair of impractical flip flops, an Iphone metaphorically set to count down. A delayed internal flight, a long wait for baggage. Tactical discussions in the taxi on covering as much ground as possible, a reconnaissance of Bangkok's sprawling metropolis. The traffic moved in stops and starts, freeways and flyovers criss crossing as if an ambitious kid's lego creations; sharp edged high rises sprouted like thickets of concrete and steel along the road. A place that was the very defintion of urban - fast moving, dynamic, slightly harsh, ever evolving. 

The Chatrium was tucked away in the leafy Riverside district of Bangkok, a cell of calm inside a growing, pulsing body. The hotel was fronted by quiet bamboo gardens and paths flanked by white stones, green fountains and granite edging. I have a thing for a design hotel and floor-to-ceiling glass facades with sharp lines make my heart flutter. I liked what I was seeing. Inside were high ceilings, a slick lobby and slightly dark, cushy rooms big enough to live in. There was a balcony framed by thick curtains, with views over the Chao Phraya river and the roof tops, more high rises piercing the blue-gray sky, the overlapping flyovers a tangled rope in the distance. We left soon, ever conscious of ticking clocks, to wander in the neighborhood. Layla had stayed at the hotel years ago for a sports tournament and had fond memories of the area, for good reason. There were hundreds of narrow shops with red and gold lanterns strung to tiled ceilings, swaying in the evening breeze. Each one was a 'mom and pop' store of some kind - local tailors, hardware outfits, metal forges, fruit sellers, lantern makers, a garage, a speciality noodle place. Kids sat at rickety plastic tables, still in uniform, slurping thin noodles from steaming bowls of spicy broth as their grandparents lay on fraying sofas watching Thai soaps and their parents endlessly swept the storefronts. Commuters, walking from place to place would bow their heads at delicate shrines decorated; in memory of the king, the bell on the door of the local 7-11 never stopped ringing. Hawker owners fed the stray animals and school girls popped in and out of buses on their own, we stumbled across temples hidden in dilapidated courtyards and passed only one other tourist.

I thought of dad a lot, because of the river and the boats. I was surprised - the Chao Phraya is like an artery, flowing, keeping the city alive. We stood on the Chatrium's private jetty, waiting for the hotel boat to take us to the public pier a few blocks down, and it was a throwback to Rotterdam, dad's hometown. The working river with its tugboats, barges, the slightly industrial veneer, the scruffy sailors and their dogs, the quietly competent boatmen who steered us alongside a containership. I liked Bangkok already. Alongside the grit was - glamour, maybe, and a slightly rogue edge. Bangkok would be the one who managed to bluff their way into a super expensive, exclusive club they could never actually afford - and take the party by a storm. There was electricity, everywhere, and there was no way I'd be in bed on time tonight.

14 hours. A riverside breakfast, eating papaya, watching fish jump in the murky water of the Chao Phraya. Little birds flitted among the tables, out of the hotel's bamboo garden. Messengers, telling us to hurry, this day would wait for no one. We drew up our battle plans and studied the terrain, jumped onto the Chatrium's boat, climbed up to the metro station. The trains were futuristic pods, running entirely on tracks elevated above the city. They were crammed with daily commuters, men in suits and pretty women with perfect manicures and nice dresses, a handful of other tourists who looked, as I did, shamefully shabby in comparison. I felt even scruffier in the shiny malls around Siam Square, each tiled with wide, white marble slats. At Siam Paragon - the most instagrammed place on earth - the entire top floor was dedicated to sports cars. You could not help but stand and gawk as you came off the escalator and stood face to face with a shining black Lamborghini; next to an Aston Martin Store, across from the Rolls Royce store... there was a Mini, too, which made my car at home seem like a budget option. When London tried these stunts with super expensive cars, it just felt... pretentious. Bangkok pulled the enterprise off with natural flair.

10 hours, and nowhere near enough. The sweaty, pulsing streets beckoned and we abandoned the sports cars for the roads crowded with tuck tucks and motorbike taxis, lined by hawkers selling every type of noodle imaginable. There were fewer other foreign faces, the more you wandered, and the few you did see were hustling, like us, covering ground without skimming over it. A stopover destination in a city that was already constantly moving, echoing with the footsteps of its own people and visitors.

We lost the afternoon somehow. In the maze of streets where we wandered for the obligatory Chang beer t-shirt, at the stall where we bought a mango for under a quarter of a dollar and the lady threw in a second for free. Waiting at the pier for a boat back to the hotel, watching a man who looked like he was barely scraping through feed the remainders of his own dinner to a local stray, and the dog lay his head on the man's hand. Sitting on the boat alongside some school kids, who seemed to use the hotel boats as shuttles from place to place.  Again we looked for sleaze, found nothing, it had either headed underground or been concentrated into tiny pockets that were far out of the way. I was charmed by the Thai culture; the courtesy and respect they had for their own people. Taxi drivers bowed to the staff in highway toll booths and friends genuinely met each other with the traditional greeting. They were hardworking, tolerant and humble, preferring to just look away and pretend I didn't exist when I pointed my camera in their direction. The youth hung out in mixed groups, I was jealous of the girls' straight, light brown hair and manicures.  Bangkok's locals were proud, too, of their city, that was clear. The public spaces were well maintained and immaculate, temples had been recently painted and most neighborhoods were safe enough that primary school children were sent home on the back of motor bike taxis. As the older kids poured out of school, you got the feeling that they worked hard and did well; enjoyed it, but also knew where the fun would be on a Friday night.

The second hand flew around the face of my watch, our battle plans fell away, we failed as generals, but made pretty good foot soldiers. We packed up in a flurry, having sat out too long on the balcony watching the party boats light up the Chao Phraya. Still scruffy, still sunburnt, out of battered flip flops and into jeans instead. Into the taxi and out of Bangkok, into a dark, steamy night, where every building illuminated and burst through the horizon. There was nothing like it, no other feeling, it had been like starting a race or sitting an exam, pure adrenaline. It was unlike India because the chaos didn't leave you feeling drained; it was more satisfyingly more gritty than Kuala Lumpur, strikingly less hedonistic than Dubai. Every electric billboard suspended from a glass and steel building, each sports car, all the towering office blocks showed progress, they were arrows pointing forward, screaming this is the way the world is going. With each step we took on Bangkok's streets, it was clear, it's these cities that are leaving Europe behind. Bangkok had grown up, pushed its misspent youth behind it and there was no stopping it now. Thousands of cars on the roads, but the traffic still flowed fast; each road had four lanes and flyovers laced the arteries together, so the blood would never clot. Oh hell, Europe, you have no chance. I'd visited European cities so many times, but never had done anything like this, there I'd slept like a baby and my heart rate remained constant.   Our cab rolled onto the freeway, leaving the glittering buildings behind us. Zero hour.

I am again going to direct you to this post on Layla's site for a really good guide to Bangkok with all the practical details you may want.  She writes much more... coherently than I do, without making all the info boring... she has a great sense of humour, and I am always fascinated by how we perceive the same places. She doesn't write in the way she acts, if you know what I mean... I mean in real life she's into anything fun/whimsical/live for the moment, preferably involving heights, speed boats or long haul flights, but she has a retrospective, thoughtful style of writing. Anyway. I hope you gathered from this that I really, really liked Bangkok - I surprised myself by how much I warmed to the place. It's an amazing city and so worth a visit if you're ever in the area/passing through. 
I plan to (finally) bake a little something in the coming few days and have a recipe up on the blog end this week. Hope that you all have a lovely weekend xx