Sunday, 9 December 2012

Rotterdam: The city without a heart

The couple at the tourist office ask very politely where the Old City is. The one that looks like Amsterdam, filled with the picturesque waterways, the elegant centuries old buildings and proud canal houses?

The lady at the front desk blinks once or twice and then pulls out a map, pointing out the Town Hall and old Church.

“There’s not much left” she tells them. “It was all destroyed during World War Two”.

No city in the Netherlands suffered as much as Rotterdam did during World War Two. In May 1940 the Germans bombed the city: 80,000 were made homeless, 900 were killed. The city was leveled. 

Reminders of the devastation of this one event are everywhere. One of the city’s best-known sculptures is Ossip Zadkine’s The City Devastated, located by the Maritime Museum at the entry to the harbour. It depicts a man twisted in agony, his palms thrust upwards, his face toward the sky, and his heart missing from his chest. It’s powerful, evocative and heavy, and an absolute must see for any visitor. 

At night, a series of white and red lights glow in the pavement. If you’re treading along a trail of these, you’re following the fireline, the places where the bombs dropped. It’s only when you’ve covered most of the city on foot or by bike that you realise the extent and ferocity of which the bombs were unleashed. The city was saturated in bombs.  

Today, Rotterdam is world-renowned for it’s risky, envelope-pushing architecture. It’s respected the world over for it’s eclectic, modern skyline and is home to the Netherlands Architecture Institute.

But it’s hard to look at how the city has physically reshaped itself, with it’s shiny yellow cube houses built to resemble industrial trees, it’s bizarre lust for ultra modern, futuristic architecture and experimental design, and not see it for what it really is: a desperate attempt to search for a new identity after the devastation of war.   

Rotterdam is still known as the city without a heart. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Before Midnight, anticipation and travel

When I was a teenage girl, one of the many movie posters that hung on my wall was Before Sunrise. The slow-moving romantic tale of two strangers who meet on a train and decide to spontaneously spend the night walking around Vienna had a profound effect on me in my teenage years.

I hadn’t travelled much then, really at all, and this was, for me, the idealised encounter I dreamed of having on a Eurail train ride around Europe, something  one day I’d hopefully do myself. The film seemed to capture the feeling travel seemed to promise to a girl who had never left Australia; romance, freedom, choice, connection.

The follow up film, Before Sunset, came at a different time in my life, and showed something different- the characters had grown up, become a little more realistic, disappointed and cynical, but had also not abandoned entirely their dreams of romance, love, adventure and hope. Most of all, that chemistry and understanding and comfort they and the audience had felt in the first film was there in the second; the characters had grown, and the audience had grown with them.

The hopefulness- that promise that there was something more out there- some simple magical ability to pick up and be comfortable with those we love despite the passage of time, flooded through the film and onto the screen. When I saw Before Sunset at the cinema I was in my 20s, and a little lost and hopeless in a bad relationship I’d fully committed to, the film filled me once again with hope (along with another whopping urge to visit Paris).

The ambiguous ending of Before Sunset- similar to the first film- once again spoke to the heart of the films premise: if you’re a cynic, you believe they didn’t work out. If you were a romantic, you sincerely hoped that Jesse would miss that plane and stay with Celine.

17 years since the first film, and a good 15 years since I saw it as a teenage girl, I’m able to look back on the film and see the effect it had on me. The girl who’d never been on an airplane and dreamed of meeting the love of her life in Europe is now a woman with serious frequent flyer points, a career as a travel writer living in Europe and a happy relationship (just like Jesse in Before Sunrise, on a whim I invited a guy I didn’t know all that well to come “check out the town” and it worked out pretty well).

Over this summer, rumours began to swirl they were doing another Before film, rumours that were swatted away by the actors and director. But it piqued my interest again, and over the summer we watched the Before movies again, and last weekend in Paris I picked up the Before screenplays from Shakespeare & Co, which featured in the last film, drinking in the words as a train whipped me back across Europe to my home in Holland.  

Just last night, the rumours were confirmed: not only will there be a new film, called Before Midnight, but it has also just wrapped principal photography in Greece.

The news fills me up with excitement and a little fear. The Before movies are special to a lot of people, and the second one was executed so brilliantly that I honestly don’t know how it can live up to the bittersweet brilliance of Before Sunset.

But I can’t wait to find out. I have goosebumps at the thought of this film. Set in Greece, very little is known about the plot, save that it stars both of them and it is set nine years on from their meeting in Paris.

And here’s the thing: I trust the director, the actors and writers. I know they will deliver something special, and I’m grateful that they’ll allow me a chance to take one, and possibly final peek into the world of Jesse and Celine. Although I don’t need them to inspire me anymore, it’ll be like catching up with old friends.

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Little Note....

Horseriding in Finnish Lapland- pic by Chris van Hove

Today it’s my birthday, so I hope you’ll all forgive me this little self indulgent post. The last year  has been very good and very challenging for me, the typical 'that’s life' mix of good and bad things. I got engaged, did some incredible bucket list trips, and made some really tough decisions.

One big thing that I wanted to reflect on is my health. During the late winter and spring I was quite ill for three or four months; irritating colds and flus and fever and upsets that severely dented my workload and it was pretty much on the verge of becoming chronic illness. I took a big step back from the work I had on (something I’m very afraid I’ll feel come to bite me in the next few months) and rested up. I even headed back to Australia to sort out what was going on after no luck with the doctors here, and by fluke, managed to get a diagnosis.

While I’m not prepared to spill my entire guts to the net just yet, I have been diagnosed with a serious condition. It basically explains about 15 years on on-going, (non-life threatening) niggling, unexplainable, health issues.

The good news is it’s completely manageable with changes to my lifestyle. Given an old colleague I knew who was younger than me died last week from cancer, I’ve gotten out very very lucky with my diagnosis.

 The bad news is it means a complete change to my lifestyle- for the rest of my life. And I like being a fathead, food-obsessed travel writer. Luckily, the changes I have to make won’t get in the way of me travelling and writing and doing what I love.

The even better news is the changes I’ve been making the last few weeks means I’m already feeling better than I have in years. I don’t feel fatigued anymore. The bags are gone from under my eyes. I wake up raring to go at my day like a jack in the box. My fiancé says it’s like night and day with me. It’s an incredible feeling to actually feel well. Its going to take a while for my body to heal, but I’m churning through work and I’m generally far more pleasant to be around.

I’m trying my best to make lemonade from lemons- and particularly given the storm that is brewing over the journalism world in Australia (along with all the chicken-littles running around claiming the sky is falling), it’s a good time to get a better attitude.

The climate in Australia for journalism is undergoing massive shifts. Both privately and publically, a lot of writers and freelancers I know are worried. Some are readying their parachutes. Others are fastening their seatbelts for the long ride.

 I’m taking a good measure of what’s going on at the moment and having a think about how I want to play the game. I honestly believe there is a market for good quality writing and unique story ideas. I do believe there will be paying markets for content that can meet this criteria.

Now I’ve got my health back, I’m feeling more match fit. I have a few projects that will emerge in the next few months. I feel like I can only be positive about the opportunities these changes can bring- and that those who emerge in a few years from this time period are the ones who can adapt to change.

So this is kind of a preview to a few new projects I’m working on. I will be jumping the great divide and starting to publish online in a few different capacities (expect some changes!). I’ll still be writing both online and in print across a few different markets and continents, and I’ll be expanding on doing video work.  The future will be what I make of it.

And as a last note, I couldn’t have gotten through the last few months without a lot of support. I have a few editors who were understanding when I had trouble getting the work done. Even some people on twitter made me feel better just by sending a quick DM asking how I was- I appreciate you reaching out. Most of all I couldn’t get through it without the care and effort of my family in Australia, my good friends (who fed my email box with daily musings, cooked me roast lamb dinners, made me pots of tea or were forgiving when I was incognito in Sydney) and most of all my fiancé. Without him I can’t even imagine having the strength to get through this with the right attitude. You mean the world to me.  

Venice with C. Sick but happy then, now available in new & improved healthy version

I can only feel gratitude for everything I have.