I know I’ve not posted in awhile, but I’ve been thinking about reviving the blog. This is currently on repeat for me. Unfortunately for me, Alex Zhang Hungtai is no longer planning on making more music as Dirty Beaches.
With Winter approaching, darker music like this evoking favourite filmmakers like David Lynch and Wong Kar Wai is what I want to be listening to.
The weather here in KL has reached 36°C and all I can think about is ice cream. Feeling inspired after having a scoop of salted caramel ice cream in Hokkaido Ice Cream in The Garden Mall, I went in search of recipes. I was very pleased that this splendid flavour was now available in KL. I’ve only ever had salted caramel in Paris (the best is from Berthillon). I found a recipe I am keen to try. Upon finding this recipe, I was keen to explore other flavours and thought that a pandan coconut flavour would be very nice indeed. I looked it up and found this.
I was away for about 10 days in São Paulo for work, where I managed to snatch a few hours to myself every day. It gave me some time and space to breathe after quite a few hectic months of intense working. It also made me long for a certain type of music. Perhaps spurred and inspired by catching a chorinho band in the fair at Benedito Calixto on the Saturday, I found myself craving quieter melodies. So I found myself listening to the echoey sounds of Arthur Russell. I found myself listening to The Cure’s Disintegration. And soon, I was also craving piano music. I was treated to some Maxence Cyrin and longed for more piano music. So I looked for some Debussy to listen to because I remembered how much I loved Debussy and found a series of beautiful animation made using the Music Animation Machine software. And it made me feel calm for I could see beautiful music and I could hear the colours too.
Let me introduce you to my faithful friend, a little man named Hank. He has been my travel companion in a bit of a journey, a scenic route from Milan to London. He is faceless, but he stuck with me all through this adventure. I wonder if he is faceless because sailors are the forgotten faces that passed through the ports.
I was in Milan for work. I left on Sunday night and was scheduled to be back on Thursday morning, straight into work. And then the sky produced a spectacular sunset and the volcanic ash cloud, a real black cloud covered the UK and quickly all over Europe changing the course I would take to head home.
Easyjet put me on a coach with some other passengers and we were taken to the magical Lago Maggiore, just outside Milan. During the hour long journey, I was in a queue to speak to Easyjet and to organise a new flight home. After the 3rd attempt I got through and was told that I could be put on a flight home the next evening. That’s when we arrived in Lago Maggiore. And it was breathtakingly beautiful.
I was torn. I did not know whether I was upset that I’d woken up at 5am to catch this early flight that had been cancelled or that this was an unexpected opportunity to see a new place and not be in the office! I had no idea where I was and it seem like nobody knew either. The scenery left me speechless.
So I decided to go with my natural holiday spirit and to drop the bags and sit in the sun, soaking in the scenery.
I checked into the Hotel Villa Carlotta. My room had a balcony and was lake-facing. Up to this point, I still had no idea where I was. Not having much geographical knowledge, I had to ask before I found out. I was more muddled about the name of the town because when I went out to explore that Thursday afternoon, I asked for a map and was given one for Stresa. So that’s where I thought we were. And it wasn’t until after not being able to find any of the roads or landmarks on the map that with more enquiries, I realised it was the little stretch called Belgirate.
I went in search for the attractions in the area. I found an old church on the top of the hill, resting higher than the train tracks. It was such a lovely day. The skies were blue and not a cloud in sight! By this time, I’d rearranged my plans and was now flying into Paris on Sunday and catching the first available Eurostar on Tuesday. I thought that I was going to be more than fine. I was giving myself two days to reach Paris should my flight end up being cancelled. So, on with this hill trek. I will find this church, I will enjoy this. I mean, what views! It’s the Swiss alps, check that snow out!
And by this church, a quiet cemetery. I thought to myself that this was not a bad place to rest in the afterlife.
I quickly found out that I’d covered the one major attraction. I was feeling a little bored and mainly anxious as this black cloud of ash looked like it was going to be more trouble than everyone had expected. I was glued to the news, waiting for updates constantly. I went for walks. And I found roses. I took photos.
Squint and you will see the Swiss alps, covered in snow like a cool icey dessert. Look at what’s in front of you. Without the rose-tinted glasses, reality hit me hard.
My flight to Paris was supposed to be on Sunday morning. On Saturday, I panicked. I even went a bit hysterical. I’d slept badly the last few nights because my sleep was fueled by nervous energy and my dreams, were anxiety driven. I had to go. I felt that I’d come under the spell of Lago Maggiore. The tranquility, a welcome break after being in Milan during the Salone was now turning eerie. I started to believe that if I did not make a run for it, I could end up living here forever.
I left. I went to Stresa and it was very pretty there too. But I’d broken the spell. I was no longer interested. I was single-minded. I wanted to survive. I wanted to be home. Both homes. I wanted to be back in London home and I also wanted to be back by Wednesday for my trip back to Malaysia.
After an unsuccessful Saturday evening of queuing up for over two hours in Centrale, only to be told by the unhelpful lady that all trains to Paris were booked until May and a dash to the bus terminal, only to find it as chaotic as the train station. Ticket holders were fighting with each other to get onto coaches.
I felt broken. I was in tears. I had had enough. I wanted to be back. Urged to stay calm, and with another night’s bad sleep, a new plan had been hatched. Guy had been thinking about it and thought that I was to find a way into France, Lyon perhaps. And make my way to Paris.
Sunday morning, I woke up at 6 something from worry. I headed to Centrale again. I queued for about an hour (easy, after the day before). This time I was told they could offer me Nice and that was it.
I went for it. I had a ticket in my hand and I felt hope. A tgv train ticket from Nice to Paris was booked online. My wonderful friend Jess booked it for me. So I was off to Nice and Jess used to live there. I immediately felt like I was closer to home. I could see the light and I should celebrate!
I celebrated with Nutella on the go! It’s the perfect trainride snack. There is ice-tea in one corner, breadsticks and nutella. I even found the Sunday papers. I was all set! I listened to some music. I felt relaxed enough to enjoy and my journey out of Milan was sountracked by Floating Points’ XLR8R podcast. I sat in a compartment with four other travelers. A man who was wearing double denim, which I’ve read is oh so fashionable. He wasn’t even trying to be fashionable. You knew he’d been dressing this way since his youth. He had travelled from Vienna and was making his way to Avignon; a mother and daughter going on holiday and would have normally taken the train and a lovely lady from Stuttgart. Crystal was jolly. She was also determined not to let the ash cloud ruin her holiday. She had friends to see! So she’d been traveling for over 20 hours and had a car journey ahead of her. She was tired but we were both excited as we got on the train from Vingtimilla to Nice.
I reached Nice at night, it was dark but the route was so scenic. The weather was beautiful, but I was on a train. I could see the sea and it made me happy. I had to collect my ticket and this took another hour of queuing in the train station. The next morning, I woke up early. I wanted to see a bit Nice, I wanted to see what it was all about.
It was sun, sea and stripes! I was wearing stripes! I had Hank with me! I felt good. I was in France and I had a ticket in my fist for the 1035 to Gare du Lyon. And I saw this:
And yes. It was all going to be fine. I am going to make my Eurostar on Tuesday morning. And Hank was still with me. I have been very lucky. I was not left camping in airports and I wasn’t going to be stranded for much longer. This adventure only made me realise,that not unlike thinking about where your sausages and bacon comes from, modern travel has made us forget the actual miles between places. It is not until you move around countries to get to your final destination that you can really understand and appreciate that the quote about traveling being about the journey and not the destination has a lot of truth in it.
So I came home the scenic route, I met some interesting people, I felt loneliness, craziness and excitement too. I am glad to be back in London and I miss the sight of the lake and sea. And to be honest I’ve always wanted to take the train across Europe. I find train journeys old fashioned and romantic. And for all the hassle, for all the worry, I have returned with a story to tell. That’s not a bad thing at all.
Glass Candy’s first official video has just been released. The bigger news here for me is that they have a new single released. Feeling Without Touching can be previewed on Resident Advisor, here. The best thing for me is being able to watch Ida No dance, which always inspires me to dance in exactly the same way.
On this single is the epic “Covered In Bugs” which makes me want to close my eyes and soak it all up.
I am sorry to find out that I’ll be back home in Malaysia when Glass Candy play in my local, Plan B. I usually have to go across London to go out and finally one of my favourite bands on my favourite label plays locally and I’m away on the other side of the world. Why? Gutted.
I have been feeling guilty for neglecting the blog. A confession. I have a few new addictions. One is the game Doodle Jump and the other is wonderful Joy Orbison mix. The mix is an easier thing to be obsessed with as I can just listen to this on repeat and it does not really affect my life apart from the obvious joy I get streaming into my ears. Doodle Jump on the other hand has put my life on hold. Like a proper geek, I’ve quickly become very addicted to this game, playing it all the time, at any given chance.
I thought that I needed to cure this addiction but could not bring myself to delete the application from my phone. I have decided that tonight I will write about Porto and Lisbon.
At our first stop, Porto we regrettably had rain every day. Luckily the large number of confectioners meant that we could duck in and out of the rain for more pasteis de nata and quick cups of strong coffee or bica. And even though chocolate umbrellas can’t really protect you from the rain, it can with a little imagination make you forget your soaking feet.
I found Porto an interesting destination. The city was so old and hilly. The architecture beautiful. We searched for youth, but kept finding old men in flat caps and walking sticks. In a club, we sat in the dancefloor next to a family. Three generations sitting together in a darkened club, illuminated only by the dancing lights from the giant disco ball. The DJ played something generic and other families peered in from the madly decorated bar. It was surreal and wonderful.
Our next stop was Lisbon, a city we knew would be very different. It even has its own Le Cool guidebook. We wouldn’t find clubs filled with small tots learning how to walk and greying men and women. We’d find bars that looked like crazy museums lit by pak choy lampshades.
In Lisbon, we missed variety in our diet so we went in search of something different. It led us to near wild goose chases to find the Mozambican restaurant and later a Malaysian-inspired place called Cafe Malacca.
We pursued the cool in Barrio Alto and Principe Real but it was in Sintra where we found paradise (as described by Lord Byron) and a paper mache animal park. In Lisbon, the old and new sat together comfortably. Sprayed on tiles didn’t look out of place next to the originals that are so distinctively Portugese.
In Sintra we walked up the massive hill and were rewarded by the calm of the lake where a lone black swan was swimming in circles. The air was so fresh and the forest trees were alight with autumnal colours.
On our way to Belem we found the Museu Da Carris, a charming little museum dedicated to the trams! In Belem we had the most delicious tarts in Antiga Confectaria de Belem. Here perfectly baked custard tarts are served with icing sugar and cinnamon. Each bite is perfectly flaky with a soft filling. I regret not taking photos of any tarts. There were so many petite cakes and tarts. I have never eaten so much pastry in my life. And I’ve also never enjoyed pastry this much.
On one of the evenings we met a dapper man. He was so excited about the fact we lived in London that he repeatedly proclaimed “London is the best country in the world!”. This we found endearing and very amusing.
The main highlight of the trip was when we decided to seek out The Cape Verdean Association (Associação de Cabo-Verde, 8th floor at Avenida Duque de Palmela 2, tel. 21 353 1932). In the business district of Lisbon, in an 80s office block, we entered this grey building and into the lift with two men in suits, clearly on their office lunch breaks.
Together we rode up to the eight floor. As we approached the 6th floor, we started hearing music. The men got more and more animated.
The lift opened onto the 8th floor into a big dining hall, filled with people, laughing, eating and chatting. There was a band playing Afro-Portugese music and couples danced in the front. I have never felt so much happiness around me. My last memory of Lisbon was this busy hall filled with music, chatter and dance. And I can’t imagine a nicer way to end a holiday.