Chocolate before dinner.

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It’s been awhile, eh? I am nibbling on some honeycomb covered in chocolate before we make dinner…oops.

In three days I head to Victoria to defend my Master’s thesis (!!!) but this last week has been something from Hell. I got really, really sick, had two job interviews which didn’t pan out (always a bit of a bummer), and generally loafed, hacked, and worked my way through the week the best I could. The smoke here has been dreadful- we aren’t supposed to be outside for too long, it’s so dense! They’ve got almost 700 firefighters from all over the country here to battle the Lolo fire in Missoula.

Besides fire and a bit of immune system failure I did bake some amazing blackberry pastries using a recipe from The Little Epicurean!  (Click through for the recipe!) We ate them up before I thought to make some pictures. Next time!

I also finished The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. An exquisite, sensitive, multi-layered book about the meeting of two cultures through the lens of an epileptic Hmong girl. If it sounds strange, fall into the pages. It’s a sad, extraordinary, determined story. Now I am reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, which is about London’s cholera epidemic. I love medical history and stories about cities and this intertwines both. Again, if you ever feel ungrateful for modern medicine, go read something like this! You’ll be so glad that you’ve got anesthesia that isn’t ether or chloroform or cocaine! (Or a cocktail of the three!)

Anyway, these photographs are from a few weeks ago. Lovely Chelsea visited, Logan and I went to a diner, and I’ve been admiring the beautiful green plums that are on our little trees in the yard. One determined squirrel has been pilfering them, but we’ve had a host of birds, including a northern flicker, in our yard lately, and it’s been so lovely to see them! I like sitting quietly on the porch watching them flit and fly around. Birds really are so neat.

 

A collection of thoughts in a hot, hot summer.

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Everybody told us Missoula would be hotter than Helena. We laughed it off, sure that we would be fine with fans, ice packs, and spirit. Instead, this summer has been one of the hottest in the last sixty years. The heat starts early, seeping in through the open windows which I shut vigorously every morning. It lingers far longer than it should, an impolite guest that traps us in our homes, grumpy and disoriented. My appetite fades or I feel hungry at odd hours, and sleep escapes me frequently. I begin to loathe sunlight and the daytime and consider becoming nocturnal, except somewhere I read that being up at night and working at night fucks with your circadian rhythm and gives you higher likelihoods of getting certain cancers…but then again, at this point, doesn’t everything give you cancer?

At night we hear the train cars crash together as they move, a semi-apocalyptic sound that often shakes the house. We say it is like living on the edge of the world. When we had an earthquake a month back, I woke up because it felt like the trains but more intense. It felt like some primordial worm was crawling beneath the house on it’s way somewhere else..  Now, I often wake at an especially loud crash because differentiating between the rumble of train cars and the eerie sensation of an earthquake has blurred. An emergency kit is being made in my mind but no, we haven’t bought distilled water, flashlights, a medical kit, food, or any of the other recommend emergency things.

On Saturday night we went to see Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult film El Topo. It was a mess of gore, dead animals, weird sexual themes, and beautiful, bleak desert. When we left the theatre, it was cold! The wind whipped and blew up my dress and I held it down, and we discussed how good it felt to actually be chilly. Goosebumps on my arms felt like a soft blanket, and I felt so much more alive than when the heat saps away my energy. We had a drink at Plonk outside, and the wind made the pages of the fancy menu flap and flutter. Nighttime is the only time I feel completely human again.

My state of unemployment weighs heavily all day, every day. The quiet, insistent pressure to be employed and working makes me feel like a worthless soul, even though in fact I am worthwhile, so goddamn worthwhile. Self care in these times is important. I treasure little things, like sharing lunch with Logan, listening to a good record while we make dinner, or having a moment outside early in the morning before the heat, smelling the outside smells, heavier with nighttime moisture that still lingers. Right now, there is a blackberry pie in the oven, it’s smell wafting throughout the house. WordPress keeps deleting my post, so here it is in messy, unedited form. I cannot wait to take out the pie and see the slightly browned crust, having wrestled with cold butter in flour and gathering blackberries while fending off wasps and other insects. It felt so satisfying to be able to make the pie with fruit from our backyard! I’ll be making a post about that soon. Until then, lovely readers!

 

 

 

 

Montana in the summer: A brief glimpse.

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Fishing, drinking local beer, hiking, noticing the little things: That’s what Montana summers are made of. (And scanning lots of film!)

I’ve been applying to jobs, finishing my thesis, and traveling a bit to see family in Colorado. We have been waging a battle against the heat with fans and windows thrown wide open at night, only to discover that the house still barely gets below 75 most days. Watering the grass seems silly when it’s almost 100F out and almost nothing will save the lawn, and our grass shrivels and roasts and looks less nice than the neighbors, but paying the water bill is a real thing.

The last few days have been spent outside in the sun and on the water and it has been marvelous. We spent two days in the northwestern part of the state and managed to get a full day of hiking and exploring in Glacier National Park. Logan and I got our second National Parks pass and I hope that we make it to Yellowstone this fall when the tourists leave and the leaves are quietly changing.

Plans, plans, plans. How is life so full of plans and yet almost none of them pan out? If you had told me six months ago that I would still be in Montana, I would have laughed. Yet, here we are, and to be honest I couldn’t be happier. Montana beckons and lures and cajoles my heart and soul and eyes (and camera lens!) unlike anywhere else.

 

San Francisco on film

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The colors were everywhere. Bits of coral, the blue of the sky, the warm hue of sand, the cool grey of the dense fog that engulfed Adrienne’s neighborhood each night. The smells were different- hot asphalt, whiffs of delicious foods not found in Montana, the sterile yet slight omnipresent stink of public transit, of thousands of bodies inhabiting the same small train cars day in and day out. San Francisco felt like a city that was in the midst of a lot of change. Money and youth everywhere, and yet none of it to be found for many.

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We walked through the park, surrounded by massive eucalyptus trees, before breakfast. Logan took a picture of poop in the park with my film camera because he said I was being stingy with my film. We smelled the rich earth and the flora and saw red wing blackbirds and ravens before making our way to the beach.

The beach was engulfed in fog that was slowly retreating, and we walked to meet the waves, letting the edges of the Pacific ocean lap at our feet. The sand felt good in between my toes and I watched as one man in a dark coat walked up and over one of the dunes. The beach felt melancholy and full of gloom, but I loved it. Such spaces are great for letting thoughts wander and unravel and then pulling them back to have new, strange, and better ideas and thoughts.

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We went to the Mission District, which Adrienne had warned us was quickly becoming gentrified. Historically Latinx and Hispanic families have lived there, but as we got off BART we saw the inevitable results of gentrification. We walked a lot around that area and still heard plenty of Spanish, saw groups of school children and church groups outside churches with signs that read, “Jesus te ama”, and I hoped that the people who had been there would hold onto their apartments and stores and churches and habits, but I quietly knew that money and white people were probably sinking their teeth into the area and biting away at what hadn’t been theirs before.

In in the midst of our Mission ventures we found a beautiful, cramped Italian market. One wall was entirely devoted to hanging sausages and I felt myself growing hungry even though we had eaten quite recently. A beautiful wheel of Parmesan cheese sat staring at me and Logan pointed out some meats he had been searching for. We looked at the olive oils and the cans of tomatoes and all the pasta and left because if we didn’t leave soon we would buy meats and cheese that we had no room in our luggage for. We found a Brazilian mercado, and once inside I was the only one who wasn’t speaking Portuguese. People sipped coffee and around us were baskets full of Brazilian cooking ingredients, juices, and random odds and ends like deodorant or romance novels. Logan chatted with the barista and we left to go find a cool place to linger. We ended up at a dive bar with the right amount of sticky counters, grimy interiors, and dark corners and sat down. Adrienne joined us shortly after, and we talked and people watched.

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The rest of our trip was like that- full of lovely places but being quietly reminded that this was a city being inundated with money from tech firms and start ups and that things were shifting and maybe had been for a while. Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed being able to see and do the things only cities can give you- art, diversity, busy crowds and the kaleidoscope of humanity that buzzes and bustles as each one of us carves out our own space in the world in whatever way we can.

Come Sail Your Ships Around Me

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The older gentleman who develops my film cuts it for me and I take it home to hum through my scanner. As the images appear, slowly, I fall back into memory. Film is delayed gratification, a slowly opened gift, a practice in patience and deliberate moves.

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As you read this Logan and I are packing to go to San Francisco, where we will be seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds! Logan got the tickets as our Christmas present in December, and we weren’t sure if we would be able to go for a long time, but in the end the chance to see Nick Cave live was too damn good.

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We’ve never been to San Francisco, and I cannot wait to see Adrienne and explore a new city for a few days!

In any case, here is some film from the last 3 weeks. Sunshine, gloom, bandaged hands from fishing at 4am, old grumpy fishermen, canoeing on the lake, and other delightful moments and things.

The final foray- for now.

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I sit in a comfy plastic chair on a busy street in my new home. Our home is strewn with half-unpacked boxes and we ponder how to decorate the empty walls. Irises bloom in the front yard, making me think of Van Gogh and summer.

Meanwhile, as I look at these 35mm pictures, all the silence and noise of the woods comes rushing back. These wet, saturated, deep woods that fill Vancouver Island have seeped their way into my bones and soul the way that the water permeates everything there: slowly and deeply. The forest floor gives as I walk upon it, layers of decaying wood, leaves, animal scat, and other refuse creating a natural carpet. Squirrels chatter and birds sing, and deer quietly and shyly snack on edible foliage. I hear ducks quietly land on the water and smell the rich earth and look at the way the light changes seemingly every second, casting ever changing shadows into the recesses of the forest. It feels right.

Primavera in 35mm

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Once again I feel absent from this blog. I have been feverishly writing, editing, and re-writing my thesis for several weeks now and my pace has quickened. I get up early, write for a few hours, take a break, and then do some more. Caffeine is vital. Lots of sleep is too.

Above are photographs on film, mostly from my Chinon camera, from the last month. Coffee, walks, the ocean, and necessary bits of humanity are all present.

My body has felt off kilter for a few weeks now, but being able to be in Minneapolis for a few short days has restored my soul a bit. This weekend some really lovely souls helped me have a birthday party- my first in years and years! (Thank you all!) Things are good- the cherry blossoms are everywhere on trees and all I want to do is go photograph them all but writing this damn thing is THE PRIORITY! Keep your eyes peeled- I’ll try to get out during the day this week on one of my breaks and photograph these gorgeous things.

The act of seeing.

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Odds and ends on film. Right now it is windy and clouds are being pushed past my window quickly. I’ve been busy working on a section of my thesis that is due in a few days- and I’m so nervous to send in what I’ve got! I’ve been editing, re-writing, re-organizing, and trying to find some semblance of lucidity in my own writing. Perhaps in my life as well?

Chinon Auto 3001 camera

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I found a boxy little camera at a thrift store, went to 6 different shops and found the obscure battery, and took it out for a test drive.

The Chinon Auto 3001 is a sturdy little camera with a clamshell lens cover. It’s got a f/2.8 lens, a fill flash, an auto flash (that you can turn off) and no manual I could find on the internet.

So, on one of my meandering walks and over the course of a few evenings, I tried to shoot some test film on 2 rolls of Fujifilm. The results: Not too shabby. Obviously I need to test the auto-focus features more (it is supposed to be pretty good with the AF features) but it seems like a handy little beast to have around!

My greatest regret is that you cannot see the marvelous extra toes on Coco the cat’s little feet! She has polydactylism, which means that her feet have more toes than they should, and her adorable little paws look like little muffins!

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Expired 35mm film

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Thrift stores are a gold mine of glorious potential. I have found luxury leather bags, exquisite vintage coats, jewelry, and my fair share of amazing/weird things.

I mostly trawl mine these days for forgotten cameras and film. Many people donate film to thrift stores- much of it expired- and for a fraction of the cost I’ll shoot it.

As you can see, most expired film gets grainy and can’t handle dark light at all. Colors are a bit off, too. However, when I found 4 rolls of Kodak Gold 400 speed film for $2.00 I definitely went for it. When I got the developed roll back from the shop, though, I found I only had about 12 usable frames- mostly because I had tried taking photographs at night, which on this expired film was nearly impossible.

Note to self with my remaining rolls: Be generous with daylight.

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Americana: The Lewis & Clark County Fair

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I insisted that Logan come to the fair with me. The fair is a microcosm of American culture: It’s big, colorful, gluttonous, loud, and silly. Children can shoot fake enormous guns that look scarily real from rough looking carnival employees. One can buy deep fried Oreos in large quantities and people watch. Rodeo visitors dress up in their best cowboy boots, hats, and belts. Men with large stomachs wear their largest belt buckles. The exhibition hall houses goats, rabbits, chickens, cows, and sheep, all for purchase or viewing.

Old people walk past children’s carnival rides decorated with busty women, hyper sexualized characters in skimpy outfits. Everywhere there is inescapable mud and dirt, in sharp contrast to the shiny neon and the lights. Food trucks line the parking lot, and one can devour anything from pork chop sandwiches to roasted corn to funnel cakes.

And I found a roll of 35mm film in a film shop in Bozeman that I hadn’t picked up, scanned in the negatives, and found all of this waiting for me. What an odd, marvelous late gift to myself.

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It is very important to know how to be alone.

I was almost flat broke, determined to spend the last of my money on a ticket to Zurich. I was, after all, meant to celebrate my own birthday, yes, and 20 is big deal! And seeing as I didn’t want to be around humans, it would be better to be around art. Calculating that there was indeed enough money for a museum ticket and a train ticket, the decision was made.

I packed a large bag with two cameras, a book, some snacks, and walked to the train station to catch the train to Zurich. Due to Swiss geography, one does not get to stay on the train from Lugano the whole way to Zurich. After going through Bellinzona, then the steep Gotthard Pass, which is quite an engineering feat, the train stops at windy, lonely, tiny Arth-Goldau, a transit station where you have about 2 minutes to scramble and find the train that will take you to your final destination. Arth-Goldau is freezing cold in the winter, smack dab in the middle of Switzerland, and when you stop there it feels deserted and almost surreal.

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That is Arth-Goldau as I walked across the way to my train. I know, such a crisp photograph! (Please forgive the thin lines on many of the photographs- something with my camera, probably the backing plate, scratched thin lines onto several rolls!)

From there, I settled onto the final train. Rolling into Zurich, through graffiti-filled tunnels, the train parked and I got off. I had earlier researched which tram to get on and found the #3 with little effort. Paying for my ticket, I headed straight to the Kunsthaus Zurich, the city’s fantastic museum. Museums have always been one of my favorite ways to spend time solo.

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I spent the morning and early afternoon there, looking at everything from Piet Mondrian to medieval Madonnas. If my faulty, human memory serves me, it wasn’t crowded. I was allowed to have entire rooms to myself. In one room, a spider descended from the ceiling right in front of me, as though to have a better picture of the bright blue and white Fernand Leger painting we were both admiring. This is the only living, breathing thing I shared my experience with willingly.

Living abroad, one discovers the importance of being able to be alone. How to be alone, not lonely, and if you are lonely, to corral the loneliness somewhere else so that your living hours are not spent in sorrow. As I walked around the Altstadt (Old Town), past buildings that had lived through 500+ years of events, I passed art galleries and fashion boutiques. Carts of beautiful books for sale sat outside large, sunny shop windows. I thumbed through a few, unable to even think of buying anything. Languages from every corner of the earth were heard, mixed with the local Schweizerdeutsch, echoed from wood-beamed buildings. I will never not be bored of being in old places. This walls of these buildings had so many stories to tell, and the people who lived in them and worked in them surely could echo my sentiments. Wandering, listening, watching, are all wonderful things to do alone.

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It was a beautiful day- sunny but not too bright, a spring morning full of that omnipresent optimism that Primavera brings. Being able to wander with no time limits, no need to do anything, was perfect. I stopped outside churches, walked by the river, people-watched, and spent the whole day going wherever felt right. It was marvelous to do so.

Although this was over 5 years ago that broke girl and I are still very much alike. Being alone has become more and more normal. My friends, scattered across the globe like seeds, exist often on the fringes of my life, and my beloved partner is also geographically quite distant. Museums are still a place I go to escape reality and to embrace it, and I have been saving a weekend just so I can go to the museum here on a rainy, awful day.

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Although the formula isn’t perfect, I do know how to be alone quite well, and it is very important to know how to do so. Especially in our lives, where it is so easy to feel despair and embrace negativity, knowing how to fortify yourself with books, Skype dates, plenty of sleep, and spontaneous adventures will keep you going for longer than you think.

Also, fair warning, but this might be one of a few escapist-like pieces. The world right now is a vicious thing, and the teeth and claws normally hidden behind lips and under fur are gleaming everywhere I look.

Let it wash over me- the Nostalgia post.

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How much of what I remember is real? How much of it is fantastical, invented by repetition of remembering? How much of Lugano that I possess in image won’t be there when I go next time?

I left Lugano in May of 2011, when I was 20 years old, sure of my return. I have not been back since. I ended up graduating from an in-state university instead of the prestigious, dual-degree giving small college in Switzerland I planned on.

I was surrounded by new things there, when at the age of 18 I embarked on the rare opportunity to learn somewhere entirely foreign to me. Ridiculous amounts of wealth stared me in the face- students in leased Porsches, BMW’s, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles lined the small student parking lot, bags worth my tuition gracefully hanging from fellow students arms, expectations of lavishness that had only entered my eyes previously through magazines. One classmate described growing up being shuffled around in armored vehicles in Colombia due to her father’s fear of being kidnapped. In Montana we keep a winter survival kit in the car in case something happens. In the cafeteria Arabic, Spanish, Russian, German, Czech, and English all mingled. Downtown Lugano was a space of tremendous, blatant wealth as well- I gazed at 800 franc shoes from Ermenegildo Zegna, gorgeously tailored suits, women wearing furs in the midst of May. Limited edition cars so rare that their worth almost couldn’t be ascertained- Bugatti, Lamborghini, Bentley, Jaguar- parked near 18th century Baroque churches. Versace, Bally, Hermes, Gucci, Missoni, Cartier boutiques lined the narrow, car-less streets weaving between quiet, elegant piazzas.

In the autumn, the piazzas were laced with the smell of roasted chestnuts. Sullen Gothic teenagers huddled outside Manor, sharing quiet comradery. Efficient buses hummed around and the funiculare which took you from downtown to the train station cost .10 francs and went to and fro full of passengers up the steep hill. Centuries old buildings with painted on windows, all shades of pastel, created a maze-like town of alleys and piazzas to stumble into. In the winter, one would hear the helicopters as large, regal Christmas trees were lowered into the piazzas. Old men played chess on the many painted large chess boards around the city. Swans, regal thieves, languidly floated near the edge of the lake, waiting to be fed. The sleek, small train station whisked people away to Milano Centrale or to the Zurich Bahnhof, wherever the rider wanted to go. I myself had the utter joy of having a train pass, being able to explore such cities as Lausanne, St. Gallen, Basel, and Zurich, easily and efficiently. Well-dressed older gentleman whose taxis were plush Jaguars asked if you needed their services. If you did indeed take a taxi, the inside was full of the sounds of bad 1990’s American rock and pop music that the drivers knew every word to. (I remember having one very patient Luganese gentleman try to shove my rather tattered bag into the back of his car at 5 am, probably much more used to dealing with more sleek creatures.)

Among all this newness and strangeness, I found my stride, my humble Montana-based stride, in the midst of all. Migros was the affordable grocery store that I regularly patronized. H&M clothed me. My friends and I splurged on warm Nutella crepes or nocciolo gelato, at 5 francs a welcome luxury, from the petite stands that emerged outside Manor and on corners. Churches full of relics, frescoes, and gorgeous, quiet details absorbed my spare time. Flowers in the Parco Civico, changed frequently, smiled at me, and in the early mornings, before most humans were awake, I could have the lakeside, and even the Italian mountains across the lake, to myself. On a few special occasions my dearest friends and I gathered at the Spaghetti Store by the lake to devour pizza with marscopone, arugula, and prosciutto with cheap table wine.

And yet, how much of this is personal mythology I coaxed from the threads of my mind? How many times was my identity as outsider made obvious?

I really hope, in the next few years, to go back and ascertain how much of what I think I know about this beautiful city is false. Human memory is so faulty, beautifully so, and if I find comfort in the ideas I’ve woven for myself,so be it. The curious part of me, however, is not always content with that answer- nor should it be. Lugano, I cannot wait to re-explore and analyze you with my veteran eyes.