Will you be my Galentine?

‘What the FUCK?’

I mouthe off to myself, forehead in knots, as I scroll down my Expedia search results for ‘Melbourne Hotels’ for 4 nights in February. In the space of a mere few days since I last did this search, there was absolutely nothing available for less than $200 a night. I was incredulous. What the hell is going on?

I ask my travel agent Kimmy to have a look on her side, as maybe she knows some secret handshake with other travel agents that I don’t. I specify ‘close to Rendezvous Grand hotel on Flinders St, for about $100-$150 a night’. Kimmy said she might be able to get me a good deal with her connections. Connections my ass! A few hours later, she sends me a few options –all of which are in the $1000 range. ‘I’m sorry’ Kimmy writes, ‘..but it’s Valentine’s Day weekend and everything is booked out’.

Of course it is. I curse all these freaking couples who look like they’ve booked out ALL OF MELBOURNE for the weekend, and raising all the prices through the roof. I then curse myself for not even registering in my brain that it was Valentine’s Day on the Saturday, and why did I leave booking accommodation to the last minute?!? All I want is a bed to sleep in whilst I’m in Melbourne for a conference. It isn’t even all that romantic.

Later on that night, something miraculously becomes available on Expedia. Still over my price range, but it is a 4 star penthouse, self-contained, serviced apartment, close to one of the major streets, with ‘sweeping city views’. It has a fairly universal good rating of 4-5 stars from previous visitors. Desperately hoping that ‘self-contained apartment’ is not Expedia-salesperson-code for ‘divebomb, high-rise, crackhouse in the middle of woop woop’ I plug in my credit card details and in 2 minutes, it is booked.

Valentine’s day is starting to rumble in the city of Sydney in the days before I leave. The florist close to my work has already started to put together big bouquets of red roses. And there is still 4 days to go. I go to get a salad wrap for lunch and grab a serviette. When I take a better look at the serviette, it says this: photo ‘Even the universe is trying to tell me something!!!!!!’ I scream to myself.

Later on, I am in the office, at my computer plugging away at my notes and letters, when I hear an:

‘Oi – take a look at THIS’  coupled with hysterical laughter, coming from over my shoulder. Phoebe, the receptionist, is brandishing a Valentine’s Day Edition chocolate penis on a stick that she got at a candy store downstairs. It is wrapped in clear cellophane, tied off with a red ribbon.

‘ Oh my GOD – It even has veins on it!!!!’ She squeals.

‘Is there something inside it? Like some sort of cream perhaps?’ I reply coolly, without missing a beat, keeping a straight face, when on the Inside I am like ‘BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! LMFAO’

‘What about caramel?’ she shoots back, in our usual naughty-child-banter kind of way. We both burst out laughing so hard, we end up crying with laughter. Phoebe’s face is red, she’s barely able to speak and I am doubled over in my chair trying to steady my shaking sides.

‘Ok, that’s going a bit too far……Oh stop it both of you!!!!’ Amanda says, walking into the room to see us bent over, laughing our heads off, with Phoebe still cradling the chocolate penis in her hand.

Phoebe later tags me in a Facebook article, where the latest Valentine’s Day trend is for people to give their beloved a chocolate mould of their assholes. They get the chocolate poured and cast in the shape of their buttholes. I’m not kidding

What is going on in the world??’ Phoebe writes.

‘Well, it is a wise-ass gift’ I respond. But also thinking to myself that if this was what Valentine’s Day was about these days, then I was glad, glad, glad to be single.

I trudge through the 3 days of my conference in Melbourne, but when it is over, my Melbourne girls are all waiting for me. These are the same chicks I went to the Whitsundays with, and it is incredibly gratifying, relaxing and just plain old fun to hang out with them after 3 days of work. Charlotte takes me out to drinks at a funky looking bar on the Southbank. It has furry walls. Literally, grey, furry carpet running up the length of the wall and curving upwards towards the ceiling. Charlotte is a bit concerned with my gaze

‘Is this place ok? She asks cautiously

HELL YEAH IT IS!’ I say, ‘Unless you’re tripping over some class of hallucinogen – there’s no bar in Sydney that I know of that has furry walls!!’. I end up most of the night leaning up against the comforting furry wall with my Cosmopolitan firmly in hand.

On Valentine’s Day, me and the girls – 5 of out of 6 of us are single – band together to go to an Anti-Valentine’s day comedy night called ‘Tinder Horror Stories’. I am really pumped for it – as I am unashamedly looking forward to being entertained by other peoples’ lives for a while. The event is in a cool, trendy, warehousey décor style café on the Southbank. There are promises of speed dating, a 3 course dinner and trivia. I figure it’s in the bag.

Unfortunately, the whole thing ends up being a bit of a dive. The MC (who is a comedienne) tells us only one of her Tinder disasters (she dated a Darth Vader impersonator who lived in his mum’s laundry) then hands it over to the audience to share their stories – but also to pretty much do the whole show themselves. We did win the trivia AND got free breakfast vouchers, however, speed dating ends up being scrapped on the night – mostly because the whole place is pretty much filled by women.

But in the end, none of that really bothered me too much because I just loved being with my single girlfriends on Valentines Day. I always knew I was a ‘girls’ girl’, but this was definitive proof.

And, anyways, it certainly beat whatever my Sydney plans might have been. Which would probably have entailed something to the extent of spending all day in my pyjamas, eating a whole lot of junk food and watching ‘Dirty Dancing’ yelling ‘THAT’S RIGHT JOHNNY – NO ONE PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER GODDAMIT!!” at the TV like someone losing their shit over a sporting match.

After the night is over, we end up leaving the comedy night to play pool in a pub, then dancing the rest of the night away at a nightclub. Kellie is fairly drunk at this point. It’s the first time I’ve met her, but I really like her already and she seems like a really good friend to the others. It was understandable that she was a bit distant with me at first, but by the end of the night, she throws her arm around my shoulder and exclaims ‘You know……, I was talking to Mia about you……And I said to her, I said ‘I hate to fucking love that bitch’ – you that is. How you knew all those trivia questions – Man, I love that bitch’.

I was pretty amused and just a teeny bit grateful that Kellie had let me in to her inner circle – even if she might not remember it the next day.

Mia is also…happy….. but she knows me a bit better as we have been connected ever since the Whitsundays trip. As I’m about to leave the club to go home, she gives me two big hugs and says ‘You’re such a good person. And a beautiful…..beautiful  person. Please come back to Melbourne. You can stay with me and my cat….Oh, and I love your dress by the way.’

It was a new dress that I’d bought in H&M Melbourne, of all the places, and thought it might be a goer for this occasion. My dress was a strapless, knee length, deep green with a wishy-washy rose / floral pattern on it that reminded me so much of Monet’s ‘Waterlillies’ that I had to have it. I loved the idea of being swathed in a watercolour painting. It was very romantic 🙂

When I finally get home at 3 am, and look down at my IPhone, there are, to my surprise, a barrage Valentine’s day texts from my Sydney girlfriends – ‘Happy V Day!’ says my friend Serena. ‘Love you lots’ from Elle. ‘Happy Valentine’s Day – hope you’re having a great time’ texts Sheen. ‘Happy Valentine’s’ says Scarlett.

So maybe I didn’t have a boyfriend this Valentine’s Day. Or a rose. Or a chocolate penis. Or a chocolate asshole for that matter. But that didn’t mean that I had no love in my life. Quite the opposite actually.

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How to Travel With Friends….and Keep Them Afterwards

I met my friend Liz in a dorm room in Lolo’s Urban House – a hostel in San Sebastian, Spain. I had been on my own all day – admittedly, to partly avoid the big group of 20-something girls in my room (of whom Liz was one) who spent all day sleeping, and all night drinking and partying together. It made me feel very, very old and very, very lonely.

I’d returned to my room in the middle of the day to pick up more cash (I had just discovered Zara), and was surprised to find Liz’s  tiny figure there, all by herself, sitting up on the bottom bunk with her IPod ear buds in her ears. Her friends were nowhere to be seen.

 ‘Oh, hello there! I was thinking you might be out with the others?’ I say to her, surprised.

‘Oh hey! Nah, I’ve had enough of them’ she said, her face suddenly clouding over and she pointedly averted my gaze.

‘Oh? What’s going on with them?’ I asked, sitting next to her on the bed, ready to hear it all. As it turned out, Liz had planned a solo mega Europe adventure – a final hurrah before she headed home to Adelaide. As she was arranging the trip, and talking over it to a friend of hers, this friend apparently invited herself along on the journey. Liz had said ‘yeah, sure, why not?’ thinking this might be fun, but that turned out to be taken a little too literally when this friend then invited her own throng of friends who also came on the whole trip.

Liz admitted that partying and drinking all day was kind of fun to start off with, but she had since grown tired of that. She was a little bit older the rest of the group and had spent a big chunk of cash on this trip – which she realised was going down the drain when she would spend the waking hours hung over and unable to really enjoy it. She had also gotten to know this friend a lot better – Liz was being left out of the group when she didn’t want to do the things the others did, got into disagreements with them and was just not having any fun anymore. She said to me that she had just spent the last hour before I walked in, in tears to her boyfriend back home in Adelaide to try to get some comfort.

I told Liz that she had to reclaim her trip – with me, and two other fellow travellers – in the tapas (pinxto) bars of San Sebastian. And it is there, with a goldfish-bowl sized, free-poured Cosmopolitan that she talked about how she felt that her special trip had, in fact, been kind of been hijacked.

In the days since getting home, Liz said that her relationships with these girls had changed significantly, and that they had never spoken about it since.

I felt a tremendous amount of compassion for Liz, and her experience made me reflect back on the things that have and haven’t worked when I’ve been travelling with friends.  I’m glad that I have never had a fallout that was so ground- breakingly significant as to cut any of them out of my life forever.  Acknowledging that no trip ever goes smoothly (after all, you are in a state of high stress – albeit positive stress) is the first step, but how you deal with things before, during and after a trip can make a big difference to the whole experience. Here is what I’ve learned through my travels with friends – and how to keep them afterwards.

Com-mu-ni-ca-tion makes it happen…

Keep each other updated constantly about your plans, through any means possible, before and during your trip. In the planning stages, be open about your expectations, what you want to do, your budget, itineraries, what things you’ll look into, what you want them to look into– everything. Talk, email, text, Facebook and keep each other in the loop so you know that you’re on the same page at all times. When I’ve been travelling with my friends, I have found it so beneficial to have spoken at least every week, texted, Skyped, planned times to catch up and let each other in on where you’re at and how you’re feeling about it all.

Have a discussion on how you will actually keep communicating when you’re overseas – using a phone, international sim card, internet / Wifi etc. Swap numbers and work out how to get in touch if you get lost.  I cannot stress this enough, communication makes things so much easier later on down the track than silence does.

Leave your dirty laundry overseas

To be honest, I pilfered this one from my dad who offered me this pearl of wisdom before my New York City trip with my friend Rachel. He said that if there were any niggling issues, sort them out before you come home. The problem with holding on to travel-specific happenings when you get home is that the context is lost. That may render the event completely trivial to the other person, yet it still may carry tremendous emotional strain for you.

If there is a significant, fundamental issue that keeps cropping up ( by fundamental, I mean issues that predated the trip – e.g. friend is a drinker who does dangerous things when she’s pissed, or friend leaves you stranded in the middle of nowhere), then it may be worthwhile addressing this before you leave or work it out when you get back.

It’s all in the Personality

Sometimes, knowing your friend quite well, in terms of their tendencies, traits, behaviours, (general ‘that’s what they’re like-ed-ness) can be very helpful in managing your expectations of them. When it comes to travel, a personality trait known as ‘Openness to Experience’ I think is especially relevant, and worth thinking about for yourself and for a friend. Openness to experience refers to being open minded, basically. It can indicate how one responds to novelty, adventure, and emotions. People high on this trait are very open to trying new things, are creative, curious and open with their emotions. They have a preference for a variety of experiences rather than routines.

Openness to Experience is one of 5 traits that constitute a theory of personality known as the Five Factor Model of Personality.  The 4 other factors are – Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

Conscientiousness refers to how efficient, organised, prepared  and self-disciplines someone is (the opposite of conscientiousness is carelessness)

Extraversion is the degree to which people actively seek out a) the company of others, or b) external activities – to get energised and stimulated. These people can be perceived as enthusiastic, talkative and social.

Agreeableness denotes how conciliatory someone is to other people. This includes traits like cooperativeness, compassion, eagerness to please and friendliness (as opposed to detached and analytical).

Neuroticism is often thought of as one’s ability to handle stress. People who score highly on neurotic traits can be easily rattled by things like anger or anxiety and be impulsive in how they behave in response to these.

Each trait is on a continuum, from high to low, and there are no ‘negative traits’ – features of all of them can be useful (e.g. high conscientiousness can mean that your plans are organised)

Think about how ‘high’ or ‘low’ you rate on these in comparison with your friend and use this to set up your expectations appropriately. This doesn’t always mean ‘don’t travel with them’. For example, I tend to lean more toward being extroverted, but I’ve travelled harmoniously with many of my introverted friends. Knowing that introverts need alone time to recharge, for instance, has meant that I completely understand their needs to be alone for a while (and thereby not interpreted it as being ditched or left out).

Money Matters

Fighting about money can be a real downer when travelling, and can be one of the major reasons why friendships and relationships can end. Decide in the planning stages (i.e. before you leave) how you’ll decide money matters. Will you split bills or go Dutch? Where will you be eating, shopping etc?, how will you sort out accommodation costs – will someone put it all on their credit cards and the other pay their half there or when you get home? Will you be using cash / cash passport / credit cards?.

Pay for as many things in full (such as accommodation, tours, tickets) before you go so that the likelihood of bickering about money overseas is lessened. Lastly, be open and honest about your budgets and work around these. Don’t be shy about using excel spreadsheets or other tools to keep money issues at bay.

The Girl Code

Now, I don’t care what people say. There is definitely a girl code out there that says something to the extent of ‘Don’t wear what I wear or when I wear it’. It’s a really tricky situation as clothes look different on different body shapes, and realistically if you’re both out shopping and see that you like the same thing, it’s probably time to act like an adult and sort this shit out. My tips to overcome this are – buy the item in different colours / prints so that there is some degree of separateness to it. Agree to wear the items at different times when you get home (i.e. not to the same event). And, lastly, talk about the fact that you like the same item and tell each other if you are going to buy it – there is something not quite right about getting home and seeing that your bud has dashed out and bought the same shoes as you behind your back….

Solo time

Whether you’re introverted or extraverted or a bit of both, the likelihood is that you may need some time on your own to reset and refresh yourself. When you’re with a person for long periods of time where sleep deprivation, tiredness, stress, differing time zones, changes in eating / appetite patterns and different people going in and out of your life are in play, a bit of cabin fever may set in. Agree that it is ok, and that you won’t get offended, should each need solo time. Solo time can be in the form of leaving and doing your own thing for a while, hanging out with other people, or reading / Ipad-ing or other solo pursuits to get back to yourself.

Identify your travel style

Sometimes, these things can be linked back to personality but what is your idea of a holiday? Is it going around in a group, shopping, using all the facilities in a hotel and staying in, going off the beaten track, camping and roughing it, exploring places on your own, sticking to tried and tested sightseeing, hanging out with family or friends? Are you artsy / culture / museum-y or more of a night owl party animal? Check if this colludes or collides with your friend’s ideas and talk it through before you head off.

It is my experience that everything gets heightened when you travel. I care less about stupid things, talk to strangers more than I do back home, live less in my head, appreciate simple things a lot more and get very, very excited about pretty much everything (and sometimes to the point of tears. I mean, the Prada shoes in ‘Prada vs Schiaparelli’ exhibition in the Met back in 2012 were really something else).

But it’s important to realise that negative emotions get heightened too. It’s easier to feel more jealous, lonely or angry than you would normally when you travel, mostly because your usual ways of coping, your environment and your people and social supportive network – are all on some other side of the world.

Know that negative emotions do not last forever though, and set yourself up accordingly. Safe travels!

New Year’s Peeve

Every year when New Year’s Eve rolls around, I feel just a bit ‘meh’ to the point where I rarely do anything to celebrate. It seems to me that the whole of Sydney becomes obsessed with being as close to the harbour as you possibly can and charges a mint for it – either in the form of money or in your own sanity. If you’re not in the mood to camp out for days in the Botanical Gardens to nab the best vantage point before everyone else, be prepared to pay at least $400 to get into the most iconic harbourside locations to eat a few canapes, drink a glass of bubbly and see the fireworks – which, although spectacular, last about 12 min in total.

The other thing is that the older I get, the less hopeful I become about every coming year and just lament the fact that yet another 12 months of my life has passed me by. It gets me in a dark hole every time. Knowing this, my friend Scarlett does her best to cheer me up, and scores tickets for four of us to a party in a bar in The Rocks, just beneath the harbour bridge.

There is a tradition in Mauritius that people wear new clothes for New Year’s Day. Since I am going out this year, I figure I am definitely in need of starting out the new year in something fresh, leaving all the crap of the previous year behind and feeling new and hopeful. In that spirit, I fling open my wardrobe and see that the one new outfit I have is The Grecian Dress.

The Grecian Dress has a bit of an awkward history because Scarlett and I both bought one together – albeit in different colours. Mine is black and hers is in blue. We bought the Grecian in Greece, obviously, and Santorini to be exact. Down a steep, stony alleyway turning away from the caldera with the sun dipping into the water line in the background, we found this tiny clothing store owned by an American lady who had made Santorini her home for the past 20 or so years. And it is way, way in the back of the shop where these Grecian dresses were living. Long length and made of a jersey-like material, there is a silvery, almost leather-like band under the bust, and the same material piping it’s way under the arms, and winding its way behind the neck to end in a halterneck. The band under the bust had its own straps that you had to artfully cross over your waist in a Grecian style. It was such an easy to wear, dress-up, or dress-down kind of dress, very versatile for Sydney, and a lovely souvenir from Greece.

I was kind of anxious to know if a floor length dress would work with all the eating, drinking and dancing we’d be doing at this party, but I had no other alternative and just went with it.
The Rocks party ended up a lot more packed with people than we had bargained for – but the music, food and drink were flowing for the next 2 hrs at least, so we had to take advantage. I nabbed at every kind of canapé that was being served – savoury pies, gourmet pizza slices, delicious baked eggs, beetroot risotto, mounds of oysters, prawns and champagne of course. I think I may have had about 4 glasses in an hour.

In a (literally) bubbly state, forgetting the fact that my Grecian dress was sweeping the floor, ignoring that my feet were going numb from being in my Luichiny heels for too long without reprieve, mouthing all the words to Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ when I don’t know them, throwing my ‘hands in the air like I just don’t care’ – I turn around and there she is. With her white and blue floral sailor pants, impossibly exposed flat stomach, long flowing dark hair over her slim shoulders was “Sue Ellen Mischke”.

“Sue Ellen Mischke” is not a real person. She is a character from Episode 122 of Seinfeld. In this episode, Sue Ellen is Elaine’s nemesis and the heiress to a successful candy company. It weirds Elaine out that she never wears a bra. Elaine calls her the ‘braless wonder’. Elaine then tries to rectify this by buying her a bra, as a gift. Later on that day, Jerry and Kramer get into a car crash when they are distracted by seeing Sue Ellen walking down the street, because she is wearing Elaine’s bra – as a top.

“Sue Ellen Mischke” in The Rocks was so wearing a suspicious, bra-looking top. A strapless, midriff-bearing top to be exact. It was a beige/nude colour, almost blending right into her skin, with a deep v between her boobs and looked like it was made of some sort of porous type of fabric. She clearly thought it as a top to go with her flowery sailor pants, but I wasn’t so sure. The Seinfeld episode just kept turning in my head, and I just wanted to go up to her and quote Elaine Benes:

Well Sue Ellen it’s….it’s uh, it’s not a top, it’s a bra’

….or turn around to one of my gals and say, in my best Elaine voice:

“The woman is walking around in broad daylight with nothing but a bra on! She’s a menace to society”.

But I did none of that. I wasn’t going to jinx myself and start the year by being a Sydney Bitch – so I kept my surprise and wonderment to myself. That is until my friend Anna turns around to yell something right into my eardrum, just as everyone is going off to Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’

“ISTHATABRA???’ She yells

I just stare at her for a moment before shouting back “OH. MY. GOD. IT SO IS’.

We both just look at Sue Ellen for a moment, in puzzlement, almost to confirm what we thought and wondered if anyone else in the room was thinking the same thing.

“WHAT ARE YOU GIRLS LOOKING AT?’ shouts Scarlett, joining in the conversation.

“THAT CHICK’S TOP OVER THERE’ I motion over to Sue Ellen with my chin. “THOUGHTS?”

“THAT AINT NO TOP – THAT IS A BRA’ Scarlett says, eyebrows raised, without any prompting whatsoever.

“I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO THOUGHT THAT!!!!’ I say. “HOW CAN SHE NOT SEE THAT IT LOOKS LIKE BRA?!?’

“AND THOSE SAILOR PANTS?!’ Anna adds.

I’m kind of relieved now because I’ve been validated and I don’t feel like so much of a Mean Girl in my head. It’s kind of nice to know that some semblance of lucidity is still able to break through the wall of champagne I’ve just had.

But in the end, Sue Ellen doesn’t seem to care so much. She’s got her head down, bopping and twirling along with her friends to whatever tune the DJ is spinning. I think that’s pretty cool. Not caring what anyone else thinks, dance like no one’s watching, focusing on yourself, having a good time and being in the moment. I think I could pick up some new year’s resolutions from Sue Ellen actually.

It’s getting close to midnight, and a crowd starts to leave the dancefloor so they can spill out on to the street outside and watch the fireworks. I can’t feel my feet at all, but I refuse to see the New Year in flats!

The countdown ends. As I see the fireworks cracking over the city and notice the minutes ticking over 12 on the clock of my IPhone, I feel two things in the pit of my stomach. The first is a hankering for a burger. And the other, in spite of myself, is a tiny flicker of hope for the New Year.

If nothing else but for the fact that I know I will not be wearing a bra as a top this year. Or ever.

The Most Meaningful Walk

My boss Ella walks in to work wearing the most perfect Armani work dress. It is a black, sleeveless shift, beautifully made and perfectly tailored to her shape with a little collar on it. Even more perfect is that it is reduced to about $200 and that the Armani store in Martin Place is currently having its yearly, top secret, only-people-in-the-know  yearly  sale.  My jaw falls to the floor, my eyes popping out of their sockets and I am now working out a way that I can go by and maybe pick up something for myself. In spite of the Universal Female Code of Clothing Rights and Regulations which must read something like – ‘thy shall not buy the same outfit as I – or if thy must, purchase it in a difference colour (or whilst I’m not looking) and under no God-given circumstance willst thy wear it at the same date, time, and place that I do (lest thy lookest better in the outfit than me) – Ella is very supportive of the possibility of me buying the same dress, seeing as it is such an amazing bargain (given, of course that I won’t clash with her on the days we work together :).

As I stand outside the massive glass doors that open into the subdued interior of the Armani store, I suddenly feel a bit anxious about walking in. I’ve never shopped there before, and although I am intent on buying something – I suddenly feel very unworthy. Not that I was dressed like a hobo or anything, but just that it seemed a bit bogan going into a shop just to scout out their discounted stock – which I can’t quite see from the entrance and would probably have to ask for anyway. But Ella makes a good point that they wouldn’t have a sale if they didn’t want people to go in. I simply had to take a big breath, and muster up the same guts I had to have when I wandered into Gucci, Place Vendome Paris in 2009 –wearing nothing but flip flops and a sundress, and even then, not having the budget I have now. I remembered that in spite of this, I was still treated like a serious buyer, being offered to try on one of their latest collection bags because it seemed that I ‘..had great taste’. Which was a wonderful (even if ego-boosting) compliment to me coming from a Gucci salesperson.

There is one lone assistant with an Irish accent in the black and grey, minimalist, down-lighted shop. I wander semi-meaningfully down the new season range before hitting the 40% rack in ‘mock accident’. The assistant sees right through me, but still has the graciousness to point out the range of other sale items. I see Ella’s dress hanging in various sizes in between jackets, boldly coloured dresses and sleek tailored pants –but it is tagged at almost $400 and that is out of my price range.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a stack of artfully placed shoe boxes which are 50% off. I can only guess that I will be priced out of those too, but I wander over anyway. I notice a pair of beautiful ballet flats. Black patent leather, systemically punched out with a perforation detail all over the foot, except for the toe which is solid and has a gold Armani coin wedged beneath an elegant patent leather bow – the Armani ‘Nero’ ballet flat. I think it was me, totally epitomised in a shoe. The assistant points out that as luck would have it, there is only one pair left in a size 38, which is surprising to her because that size tends to sell out the fastest. There has never been a time when I have had the chance to buy designer shoes for 50% off, so after trying them on, falling in love with them and deciding for the buy, I followed the assistant to the desk to seal the deal. I get asked if I would like to be on the Armani email list to be informed of upcoming sales, and get told that Armani are very discreet with their customers and would not email-bomb me by any means.

Whenever I buy a pair of shoes, I secretly wonder where in the world they will let me walk to. I had images of wearing them with pretty much anything from jeans to pretty dresses. Even to work if I felt like it.

But it seemed only fitting that the next time those Armani flats walked up Martin Place was on the 17th December, 2014. It was 2 days after the tragic resolution of the Sydney siege – where 15 people were held hostage in the Lindt Café for 16hrs, before two innocent hostages, and the gunman, were shot dead. The flats walked me over the grey slate tiles, past the established and newly set up florists, past the Armani store and to the opening of Martin Place train station – where bouquets upon bouquets of flowers had started to carpet the ground, radiating out like a giant floral supernova on the sombre, grey city street. Colours, candles and cards washed the pavement with collective solemnity. I placed my own bunch of white lilies down as a gesture of respect and farewell, and walked around the memorial with a heavy heart. A tangible feeling of sadness had permeated the place as the air hung still in time. People were grieving for the souls that had been lost, but also for the loss of our city’s relative naivety to such things. I paused for a moment to take it all in, and bowed my head for a few minutes. A tear dripped from my left cheek and rolled onto my flats, finding it’s place on the cement beneath them, and maybe even joining the tears of many a Sydneysider, on this very sad day.

 

If you are living in Australia and have been affected by the happenings of the Sydney siege, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or call the Australian Psychological Society referral service on 1800 333 497 to be referred to a qualified professional in your area.

Glitter Face

When my boss Ella was thinking of some way to pizzazz up our yearly Christmas party – it was me who suggested everyone come in a masquerade-ball type of mask. It was a selfish suggestion of course. I have always, secretly wanted to legitimately wear a mask. I thought that masks give everyone who wears them a sense of sensual mystery, highlighting the eyes in the most enticing of ways, and making your identity a relative secret behind a guise of feathers, glitter or lace. I think that wearing a mask can have a very subtle influence on your own psychology – changing how you see yourself and pushing the limits of what you can get away with. Like a superhero. Or a serial killer.

unnamed[1] (2)Ella went for it, and everyone in the office was on a mission. People began chatting about it, making sure they weren’t about to buy the same mask as someone else, and to get one in a colour that matched their dress.

But as I discovered, finding the perfect mask is not an easy feat. My thoughts, melancholically, turned to a time when I visited Old Sacramento and my friend Jess said I simply could not miss going into this store called Evangeline’s Costume Shop. Taking up her advice, I found the antiquey shopfront on the same street as a bunch of gold-rush-esque saloons that looked like they came out of a Western flick. I had never seen anything like Evangeline’s in my life. Amidst the levels upon levels of costumes, rainbow selection of wigs and fake body parts, I could have sworn there was an entire room dedicated to masks alone. In every colour combination known to man. Masks with ribbons, masks on sticks, masks with feathers, full face masks, half face masks, wire ones that wrapped around your face, lacy things, Venetian things– the choice was endless.

But this wasn’t Old Sacramento, and the first port of call for me was this Halloween shop that was very close to my office. Of course, I had stupidly left it to the last minute to find something – so I was very desperate. Nevertheless, I went into the store full of hope as I knew specifically what I was after. Silver, on a stick if possible, and pretty. Very very pretty. But in spite of its promising exterior, this shop was relatively understocked when it came to beautiful face masks. You can imagine my disappointment when I walked in to find this instead:

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But I still persevered. I absolutely had to find something, so I ended up doing about 3 rounds of the same place. Ferretting around in all nooks and crannies, under every shelf, behind more racks of fake boobs. But there was nothing that I could find that even remotely met my brief. The masks that they did have looked cheap and nasty, plasticky things that made me look like Michael Myers. I left dejectedly feeling like this:

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But at least I now knew where to go if I ever needed an apron with boobs on them, or a fake bum.

A few days later, I was at my local mall when I happen to go past another shop that I’ve passed thousands of times before but never been in. And that’s because it’s one of those cheapie shops that stocks millions of discount novelty goods, probably bought in bulk from Asia. I’m talking blinged out fake diamante rings and brooches, tiaras, fascinators in all kinds of unnatural, gaudy colours, Pikachu bumbags and other kinds of mismatched stuff. Sitting in the window, nestled amidst all the Minion and Smurf keyrings, families of Babushka dolls, and miniature Santa playing a saxophone is what I have been looking for. 2 immaculate, delicate wire-based, diamante masks which would fit beautifully around my eyes and match my dress.

I became very excited and rushed in to ask for the price. The 18 year old chick at the counter tells me, without batting an eyelid, that the one on the left is $79, and the other is $99.

I just stare. That is pure daylight robbery. I had been so prejudiced against this cheapie store and it looked like for now at least, this was coming to bite me in the ass.

This was completely out of my budget, and anyway, I wasn’t going to spend almost $100 on something I would really only wear for about a half hour (realistically).

I ask this lady if she has any other masks by any chance, and she guides me to the middle of the left side wall of her shop. From a higher shelf, she pulls down a battered, brown cardboard box which is full of clear cellophane packages and starts going through them with me one by one. She asks what colour I’m after and starts to pick out all the silver ones. And they are all sooooo pretty. You wouldn’t think that they only cost $10 each. I am happy once again and find myself a gorgeous half face mask, made entirely of silver glitter with sparkles around the eye-holes, edged in a fine silver lace-type material. The best part of it is that there is a fine filigree butterfly perched on the right eye socket. It is perfect. I hand over my ten bucks, and I’m done.

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In spite of it’s beauty, the mask turns out to be quite finicky to wear and takes a lot of practice to get it to sit properly on my face. Any sense of magnetism gets washed into the gutter when silver glitter ends up falling into my food, into my face, making my eyes tear up and dusts itself all over my dark blue outfit. It’s quite hard tying the ribbon under my ponytail, the bow often comes loose and I have to retie it repeatedly. But it was still so beautiful and, for what it’s worth, I certainly did feel a small sense of allure, danger and mystery (that is so not there in my daily life) when I wore it at the bar where the Christmas party wrapped up.

The bar was very dimly lit in spite of the sumptuous dark velvet sofas, chandeliers and chestnut wood panelling that adorned the interior. But in spite of this, I really needed to document this moment, so I took a selfie. I was astounded at what I saw looking back at me. This was no alluring 50 Shades of Grey – like character! There was, instead, some sort of ghoul that has the potential to scare the sh*t out of very small children. A monster with only half a whitish-kind of face, no eyes or hair, a midair hanging, gigantic, grinning mouth full of very white teeth, and a devilish butterfly growing out of the right side of its face.

This was no Leatherface. This. Was Glitterface.

How to Dress Like a Local

A little while ago I was really chuffed when my good friend and travel enthusiast Claire, asked me to write this article for her amazing blog Zigzag on Earth (http://www.zigzagonearth.com/). I don’t profess to be an expert by any means, but I ended up drawing from my own crazy experiences to write the following for her. Hopefully, it may help you out too at some stage 😉 Enjoy!

If you love clothes and fashion, and want to really immerse yourself in the culture of a place, you might find it very helpful to dress and shop like a local. There are several advantages to this;

1. Because you look similar to everyone else, you are less likely to be targeted, or potentially harassed as a tourist. When I was in Paris once, wearing my sunglasses on my head clearly appeared to be a touristy thing – because I almost got scammed 3 times by pickpockets beckoning me over, pretending to have found ‘my gold ring on the ground’. I don’t own a solid gold ring. And unless you want to be suddenly surrounded by a gypsy gang, lose your wallet or lose a few fingers – do not ever touch the gold ring people.

2. You might find that cluey people back home will constantly ask ‘Where did you get that dress / jacket / bag /shoes from?’, and you will have the utmost pleasure in saying something like ‘Oh, this Marc Jacobs bag was half price in Bloomingdale’s. You can’t buy it here so don’t even try copying me, even though I can tell you really want to by that jealous look on your face’

3. Dressing like a local might also change your approach to travelling, in that you may engage with the culture and the people a lot more by immersing yourself in, and with, them.

4. You might also find that wearing your new garb brings back some nicer, more salient memories than that tacky, oversized snow-globe sitting on your desk, now gathering dust.

Here are some of my tips to successfully and meaningfully dress like a local;

DO – make sure you leave some room in your suitcase to accommodate all your goodies on your way back if you think you might buy. Also make sure that you have at least one decent outfit to wear upon landing. If you’re travelling in a more developed country, don’t stress about forgetting things like toiletries – you can always buy things there if worst comes to worst. Checking (and sticking to) your baggage allowance before you leave is a must to stop the embarrassing at-the-desk re-packing and / or payment for excess baggage you might have to endure at check-in (it’s happened to me once in Heathrow airport and though the staff were extremely accommodating, it was a very humbling experience having to remember exactly where my underwear was packed in order to avoid them spilling out in front of bemused travellers).

DON’T – Make the mistake of thinking that dressing like a local means you must stick to a stereotype. Not all Hawaiian men wear Hawaiian shirts. Not all French people wear berets and not all Africans wear khaki. (Muu-muus are never ok in anyone’s language). Spend some time observing where the locals go, which stores or markets they seem to frequent and go with what you feel comfortable.

DO – Leave your preconceptions at the door, observe local customs, get an understanding for why locals dress the way they do, and notice any changes in yourself. When I was in Morocco (which is a Muslim country) covering my head with a scarf was something all women did, and it unexpectedly made me feel very dignified and lady-like. You would think that being in the Sahara Desert would make you want to strip off all layers of clothing like you would at Bondi Beach – BUT – covering up everything kept the scorching sun off my skin, stopped me getting sun and wind burn and kept the sand off my face. And now, I’m totally of the opinion that everyone should be rocking a turban. I’m singlehandedly going to bring the turban back.

DON’T – Other than in cultural, religious or practical cases like those described above, don’t start wearing things you wouldn’t usually wear in your own country – especially if you’re going to a place similar to your own. If you can’t walk in 12cm heels, you won’t magically develop that skill by doing this on cobblestone streets in Edinburgh for example. If you don’t usually wear midriff tops – don’t start now, you might feel awkward and self conscious which will take you away from the travelling experience. Stick to your own style and the things you like.

DO – If you are this way inclined, do some research prior to leaving on the way the locals dress. Googling images or asking people who have travelled to your destination, will help you to have a visual idea of what you’re after (and what will suit you), and will make it easier to narrow down items when you’re in the country. If you’re wanting to shop – research the items you want and budget for it. This is very pertinent for well known shopping hubs like New York and London. I made up my mind I was buying myself a pair of Louboutins stilettos about 3 months before I left for London. Although it sucked, I worked on my birthday and got a decent bonus at work which covered the cost. This ensured that I sailed through Harrods and forked out 395 pounds without a hint of buyer’s remorse (though seeing it written here now just hurt a little).

DON’T – Be scared to mix ‘local’ pieces with pieces you already own. A long, embroidered kurta top will work just as well with your favourite jeans as with the matching harem pants. Traditional or on-trend jewellery is also a versatile way to ‘local up’ your existing outfits.

DO – Borrow traditional clothes if you don’t think that you want to buy – and especially so for specific occasions such as weddings. Because I never wear Indian clothes back home, I find that borrowing saris and other Indian outfits is more practical when I’m going to a wedding in Mauritius. I always try to stick to my style (bright and bold colours), borrow jewellery that goes with it but wear my own makeup and shoes. Add a bit of excitement, openness to experience and a huuuuge appetite, and I’ve got it made!

Happy shopping! And may this help you live your travelling experience to the fullest, no matter where in the world you are xoxo

5 Things Not To Say To Me When I’m Wearing Nice Things

Number  5 – “You look friendly *smirk* “

Whenever a client does a no-show on Monday mornings, I say an inner ‘HELL YEEEAHH!!’ to myself, grab my wallet, leg it out of the office and meander down the main street for a hot cup of joe. This is one of my life’s greatest joys. On this day, I was wearing my pink, sleeveless Ellen Tracy shift dress with a pretty petal collar that I’d bought in Century 21 in NYC 2 years ago. And flip flops. Ok, ok, it didn’t quite match, but I needed to give my feet a break and left the heels back at the office. As I’m sipping my latte on my way back to the office, this young 20-something volunteer for MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiere) catches my eye on purpose, holds it for a microsecond and says ‘You look friendly’, before smirking naughtily. I do a double take and wonder if he’s smirking at someone behind me. But no, no – it was aimed at me all right. The fact that such words, said in a gross, sexual tone from a 20-something volunteer for a reputable charity really makes me wonder ‘Is that what it takes to get donations nowadays?’ quickly followed by ‘ Is that part of the training now is it?’ and ‘Is my dress that revealing?’. Answer is no. I am wearing a boat neck and flats and do not resemble a streetwalker in any way, and yes – maybe that’s what it does take to get donations around here.

Number 4 – “There you go – 10 years younger!”

unnamed[1] (2)I stand dumbfounded in the opticals shop with a pair of Ralph Lauren, Clark-Kent-like glasses frames on my face. The assistant has spent the last 10 or so minutes helping me find them and we have gone through the likes of Dior, Chloe and Tiffany’s frames , before she finds this way of expressing her love of the Ralph Lauren. Loudly. In the middle of the store. I’m not sure ‘younger’ is quite the look I’m going for exactly. ‘Smarter’, ‘sophisticated’, ‘stylish’ ‘kind of hot in an intellectual kind of way’ maybe – but not ‘younger’. And it’s not the first time she has offended me either – but rather the second. 2 insults in 10 minutes must be some kind of record. When I first met this lady 10 minutes ago, I had told her that I was looking to replace my existing (and admittedly a bit battered and tatty) Dior frames.

‘Uurrgh…..yeah…..yeah, those need to go’ she says in a snobby, whiny voice, looking with disdain at the chipped paint, the slight scratches on the surfaces on the lenses and the (now) old fashioned wire wrapping it’s way around my eyes.

I get really pissed off. I’ll have her know, that all those dings and scratches on my glasses do not come from me stomping on them like some tantrumy child. They come from 5 years of constant wear, and a lot of adventures – including riding through the Sahara on a camel, floating in a hot air balloon over Cappadoccia and having them pinched off my face by a crazed monkey in Bali. And I won’t stand for her shaming me for those things like that.

I take my hot, young ass out of the store without making a purchase, and never go back.

Number 3 – “You should be a burlesque dancer with an [exotic sounding] surname like that. A bit of ‘va va voom eh?”

Ok miss lady-in-the-bed-shop. I get that I am wearing a pink t shirt with a giant strawberry on it (I actually bought it in a local Turkish store called LC Waikiki and it was pretty hip when I was there last). I understand that I may look like a child in my jeans and flip flops and I’m not my usual 10cm taller because I chose not to wear my heels today – so I am actually little. I totally empathise with the fact that you are over-the-top excited that you have just sold me a $3000 bed and you’ll probably get a sizeable commission for it. Sweet. But It’s beyond me why in the hell you think that it’s appropriate to say this out loud as I’m signing my name on the delivery slip. Whilst my dad is within earshot.

Number 2 – “Sexy chocolate”

I’m genuinely torn as to whether or not this was meant as a compliment, or a racist comment. Truly. Maybe some context would help.

Although it was a Saturday, I was restless and anxious. My mind was still racing from the day before, and I had a million things to do. Well, not really – but my brain thought I did.

That night was going to be the night of the monthly drinks with my single girlfriends. In the midst of our busy lives, we had made a resolution to catch up once a month and reconnect over cocktails, some food and a lot of gossip. But that night, I absolutely did not want to go. It was windy, rainy and chilly out. It was a pretty weak excuse, I know, but the city was 40min away and I didn’t want to leave my house.

My friend Sheen texts me to say that she is feeling so unwell that she can’t get out of bed, let alone have a shower and get dressed. But my other friends Rachel and Scarlett were waiting for us at the Hilton, and it would be unfair to let them down now.

I went through my mental wardrobe and picked out an outfit. It was my sweet, gold, A-line satin dress from Monsoon, and my sky high Louboutins. But it looked so same-ish for me. A look that I would always wear, and which people pretty much expect of me all the time. The outfit was more suited to a wedding rather than a night out bar-hopping with my gals. I suddenly had a brain snap to shake this up.

I pulled out my bad ass Lucy Choi suede knee high boots. I teamed it with a short black and silver skirt that I usually wear to work, but what the hell. On top, I wore a sleeveless, chiffon black top with cutouts and a jewelled neckline. My hair was constantly getting caught on the beads of the neckline, so I pinned it back and rimmed my eyes over and over with smudgy black eyeliner like Twiggy. I wanted to get far, far away from sweet-wedding-girl.

The result was that I looked like a mod, go-go dancer from the 60’s but that would have to do.

As we walk into the hotel, some dude in a car gives me a thoughtful eye before yelling out ‘sexy chocolate!!!!!’ at me from his driver’s side window. I have no words.

…..and the winner goes to……Number 1 – “You’d be hard to date”

Mum and I are at my local leagues club waiting for Arj Barker to do a show. We are about 10 min early. Because we’re at a leagues club, the seats are not set out as they would be in a theatre, but rather on either side of long tables. It’s also pretty dark in the functions room, and I choose to wear my navy print, a-line Mango dress with my shiny, patent leather, bowed Armani flats.

My mum and I inevitably end up being seated next to an older, married couple who appear cheerful and friendly and up for a chat.

I am not up for a chat with strangers on this particular day. I want a break from my life, and for once I just want to sit back and enjoy someone else entertaining me with their talking for a change.

The couple start chatting, and my mum just ends up egging them on in spite of me shooting her the evil eye a couple of times. Conversations somehow weaves its way from a) our recent trip to France, b) their teenage daughter moving schools because the French teacher there moved away c) what high school did I go to?, d) Isn’t that a smart kids school ?  e) So exactly how long did you go to uni for? f)  What did you study there? And finally – the question that sends dread through my heart g) What do you do for work now?

I stupidly tell them the truth, and that’s when the husband pipes up, out of the blue with ‘You must be hard to date……people must think you’re analysing them all the time’.

I almost die at the audacity of this guy, and mum, hearing all this, pointedly looks away and leaves me to handle this on my own.

‘Oh John – that’s a bit nosey!!’ his wife exclaims, embarrassed.

I feel like telling John that I am absolutely one hell of an amazing, beautiful, fun, articulate, witty, caring, blow-you-out-of-the-water kind of date, if he MUST know the truth, and that he will NEVER know the joys of that.

Except, of course, that the best comebacks always come about after you’ve walked away, wondering why people suddenly think they are the best kind of authority to comment on your life. Even when they’ve only known you for 5 minutes.