Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday, April 19, 2015 - 2 comments

Blank Canvas

“There’s no furniture, but at least we have internet!”  

We have a famous photo of my old roommate sitting on a pile of luggage in our completely empty room, typing on her laptop.  We were in the middle of painting our newly rented house and hadn’t purchased beds yet, but we were excited to have successfully gotten our wireless hooked up.  We may have been sleeping on couches mashed next to the stove and the dining room table in the middle of the living room, but at least we could write home about it!  

Eight years later, my room is in the same state again.  (Note the modem on the floor on the right.)  We’re having my room (and several other spots) repainted, so it’s empty right down to the blue walls.  I texted said roommate this picture and we had a good laugh.  

When we first moved in, our other roommate had her furniture shipped down from her old place in Istanbul, so the rest of the house was set, but as for our room, we were starting from scratch.  Both of us were in serious relationships and assumed we’d be setting up our own houses in the next year or two, so we only bought the basics - beds, night tables and clothes cupboards.  I can still remember testing out my bed at the second hand shop and thinking, “Gosh, I hope there’s nothing weird growing inside this mattress...”

We painted the room ourselves (along with the rest of the house) and got pretty skilled at using kid brushes after all that white trim.  It was the biggest room I’d ever lived in and our initial bare bones furnishings made it look pretty sparse, but we filled it soon enough with a tiny bookshelf, a china-cabinet-turned-bookshelf borrowed from our other roommate and pictures on the walls.  Then, when my roomie moved out to get married, I replaced her cupboard with a desk/shelf unit and set up all my knickknacks and travel memorabilia on it.  But her bed stayed.  Not so much because we needed a guest bed - there is a whole third floor guest room for that - but because I am a piler and the big flat space gave me room to “organize” my brain.  

Over the years, I’ve added more bookshelves.  (Let’s just say that while I love my Kindle for how much lighter it makes my suitcases, I still far prefer the feel of paper in my hands and all those spines staring back at me from their shelves make me happy.) I’ve added and switched out a few pictures on the walls, though many of the tacked up postcards had to stay a lot longer than I might have wanted for no other reason than that I knew they would peel the paint off as soon as I took them down.  

And then recently, I decided it was time for a change.  Having my bed for my office (partly cuz this non-desk girl finds it comfier and partly cuz it’s just plain warmer under the covers in the winter) didn’t always make the lines between “work time” and “recreation” very clear, and I found myself wanting to have separate spaces for “working on the computer” and “having a quiet time/doing personal stuff online/reading for fun”.  I decided having half my room as “my bedroom” and the other half as “my office” was the solution.  

The second bed got the boot and made some cash off of me, and two new cube bookshelves took up residence in the corner where my bed used to be.  I set up a “goals station” where I have my regular planner (nope, I don’t do electronic calendars either...) and my writing planner set up, along with a clothesline strung with papers detailing my goals for the month/year:  what I am going to write, word count goals, my running schedule, books to read this year....  I am definitely more motivated when I see it all in front of me, like the pathway to so many of my dreams.

Once the bookshelves were conquered assembled, the only thing missing in my little corner was the perfect armchair.

My roommate and I were also both in need of new beds.  (The primary catalyst for this big painting project was our pesky mold issue, and since you can’t exactly spread anti-mold paint on a mildewy mattress, the only option was to replace them.)  When The Great Power Outage of 2015 hit (it was actually only eight hours long, but made international news due to the fact that there was a simultaneous blackout in nearly the entire country) we decided that since we couldn’t do anything productive at home, it was as good a day as any to hit the furniture stores.

Most of the shops we visited didn’t have generators, so we ended up doing most of our bed-testing in the dark, which really didn’t matter, since your eyes are closed when you’re sleeping anyway.  :)  And it was in the basement of one such store that the saleslady’s flashlight hit a chair that she claimed was dark brown and “just what I was looking for.”  And she was right.  It was love at first sit, and when the store-muscle hauled it upstairs into the daylight, I was sold.  At the next store, we found a great deal on some super comfy beds and we went home happy campers.

My chair was delivered two days later, and we have been getting along famously.  It’s just got just the right curve for my back and is just big enough that I can curl up in it.  Every time someone comes over, I make them sit in it so they can ooh and ahh over its wonderfulness.  

No sooner had I gotten my little office corner set up just the way I wanted it when it was time to empty out my room for the painters to come.  So now the house is in a state of organized chaos. Everything from my room has been packed up and squeezed it into the hallway and my roommate’s room, with what I hope are all the clothes I need for the next week stashed in the guest room cupboard.  Our new beds haven’t arrived yet, so my roommate is sleeping up in the guest room, and I’ve got a “bed” on the floor in the upstairs kitchen that I will set out every night in between workmen tromping through the kitchen to the terrace, which they are also fixing.  Feels a bit like those summer nights when we lay out our mats to sleep on the balcony, minus the mosquito net and the great view of the stars.

Initially, I struggled a bit with the fact that I was buying another single bed.  Truth is, if I’d been the one writing this story, I would’ve upgraded to a double - and someone to share it with - long ago.  I would have a whole house to redecorate instead of a solitary room.  But I learned years ago (through the purchase of a certain blender, you may recall) that buying small appliances and hanging pictures and making this home mine - however temporarily - does not mean I’ve given up hope of the life I’ve been believing for all these years.  Settling in doesn’t equal settling.  The place of waiting can be - and should be - a place of great joy.

My empty, echoey bedroom feels like a fresh start.  The walls hold memories of friends who helped paint (some whose brush strokes were smoother than others...) and a “cover up job” for a disaster involving a certain former roommate and a well-shaken (but not tightly capped) bottle of pink nail polish.  They’ve been home to framed vintage postcards from Istanbul, artwork by my favourite kiddos, flags from my various homelands, testaments to my love of coffee, and verses that are now etched on my heart.  But now, they are a blank canvas.

I know where all the furniture is going to go.  I know I’ll be having new light fixtures installed (if for no other reason than that the current bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling make my roommate feel as if she’s walking into a KGB interrogation room....)   But as for the walls and what I choose to display on my bookshelves, I’m wide open.  Knowing me, it’ll probably take me ages to get it just the way I like it.  Or even to hang the first picture.  As an adult in my (almost) mid-thirties, the space between this floor and ceiling is the only thing in the world that’s really mine.  And that makes it feel really significant.  I want my room to express who I am and who I’m becoming.  A little more grown up (but not TOO much!), a little more homey, still colourful and creative.  I want it to be a place that inspires and encourages me when I’m working, is an inviting haven when I’m resting, and brings life to my heart during both.  

Now if we could just get the pace of the workmen to speed up a little, I might get to move back into my room before I’m thirty-five....

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015 - No comments

Journey to Jordan #7: Petra By Night

Indiana Jones was speechless when he first laid eyes upon it in The Last Crusade.  The characters in the Agatha Christie novel “Appointment with Death” (which I’d brought on the trip for “ambience reading”) found it to be a perfect backdrop for murder.  My own first glimpse of Petra’s Treasury was no less full of awe.

Upon our arrival in Wadi Musa (the town just outside the ancient site) we purchased tickets for Petra By Night.  Trip Advisor reviews had prepared us for “a mediocre performance of traditional Bedouin music” and “lukewarm mint tea”, but the allure of the Siq (the long rock-walled passageway leading into the city) aglow with candlelight far outweighed the potential for disappointing entertainment, so we bundled up and off we went.

We arrived just after dark and, joining the thin crowd (“War is not good for tourism,” our taxi driver had said), were led in a hushed procession through the tight space.  A desert-sky thick with stars was visible through the narrow opening between the cliff-faces overhead and the pathway was lined with thousands of “lanterns” made from candles set in paper bags.  The ground was muddy in some spots, thanks to that morning’s rain, but with the help of the candlelight, we managed to avoid stepping in any horse poop left behind by the day’s explorers.  

1.2 kilometres feels like an eternity when you’re on an uneven path in the dark.  I kept expecting to see the Treasury around the next corner, and was continually rewarded instead with more candles and curves.  And then all of a sudden, when I’d stopped anticipating and settled into the walk, there it was, framed by a jagged slit in the rocks, positively glowing.  

The facade was illuminated by hundreds of candles arranged at its feet.  Our Bedouin hosts, barely visible in the flickering light, arranged us in rows on mats, and I closed my eyes to avoid getting a migraine from the frenzy of flashes as a hundred other people simultaneously recorded the beauty of the Treasury for posterity.  

The magnificent building, carved directly from the sandstone surrounding it in the first century AD, was originally used by the Nabataeans as a mausoleum.  Its pillars are crowned with figures related to the afterlife, including four eagles said to carry away the souls of the dead.  It is said that the Treasury earned its name due to an urn on the second level where a pirate hid his substantial treasure.  Apparently the urn is full of bullet holes from when a group of Bedouins tried to shoot the urn open to uncover the loot.  Imagine their disappointment when they found out that inside the urn was....solid rock.  

When everyone was settled, our silhouette of an emcee appeared, his shadow swelling and swaying against the candlelit backdrop, and he welcomed us in an impressive string of languages.  His accent was tricky and I couldn’t hear him very well, but I caught wisps of what sounded like “traditional music of the desert” and “sit back and enjoy the show.”

For the next half hour, various solo musicians treated us to an assortment of Bedouin tunes.  From their places in different corners of the stone gallery, the lively voice of a flute, then a stringed instrument, then another flute rang out in the darkness.  With each performer, lights positioned a little ways up the back cliff wall caused the Treasury to brighten, sharpening its shadows and defining its details.  The scene before me was mesmerizing, but when I leaned back on my elbows and looked up, that was when the show really took off for me.

That sky.  Stars - millions of them on display in a visual concert of their own.  Barely aware of the narrator’s comments, I drank in the beauty on the canvas overhead, and when I joined in the audience’s applause, it was more for the Artist than anyone else.  

When the music had finished, men brought around trays of hot tea (that Trip Advisor commenter must have hit them on an off night) and we sipped ourselves warm in the chilly night air.  Picking our way back through the candle-lined passageway, I watched the light dance on the soaring rock walls overhead, catching mysterious glimpses of a grave carved out here, a statue in a niche there.  As the path broadened at the mouth of the Siq and we made the climb up the last hill, the candles on the path ahead seemed to merge seamlessly with the twinkling lights in the night sky.  

And it's hard to say which shone brighter.