Monday, October 14, 2013

Why Are They Blue?

A few week ago, when I was on break from school, I went on the train, with my friend, to the Blue Mountains.  It wasn't that far, but the train stopped at every station, so it took about 2 and a half hours.  We went through all the inner suburbs, then the outer ones, then it quickly changed to country, or what Australians call "bush."  I had heard that this area was beautiful and amazing, but I had been all over the U.S., to many amazing places, so I wasn't expecting much.  I just wanted a quiet place away from the chaos of the city for a few days.

When we got off the train in the town called Katoomba, immediately, the station was cute, the town was cute, the weather was perfect, it was quiet and there were not a lot of people.  Then we noticed a few trees in bloom which was a plus.  Then we walked to our hotel, an old Inn style place with potential to be musty and rundown. It was adorable, spotlessly clean, quiet, and situated on a hilltop with sweeping views!  We were so pleased with ourselves and we hadn't even seen what we came there for - the mountains and the flowers.

We had no real schedule and we were both on the same wavelength so we just wandered down the streets, through the town and neighborhoods, down towards the visitor center in the park.  We were stopping every other minute to take photos of cute buildings or gorgeous flowers.  We were overwhelmed by the number and the quality of the gardens in the area.  It seemed every single house and street was groomed for Better Homes and Gardens.  (The next day we were in the neighboring town called Leura, and we realized that Katoomba, despite its charm, is the poor step-sister to the perfect Leura!  It was ridiculously cute.)

Seriously, this is a private home

this is the neighbor

a typical house in Leura

Leura main street

As we approached the end of the road, I saw a huge parking lot and visitor center, busses and loads of people, and I realized this was not just a regional park.  I also realized that the Blue Mountains were not mountains.  They are what we would call mesas and the park was, in fact, a huge canyon!  I could not believe my eyes.  I felt like I was suddenly transported back to the Southwestern U.S.  The only difference was that this canyon was lush, surrounded by flowers, filled with eucalyptus trees and ferns, and echoing with the cries of swarms of huge, brilliantly white, cockatoos.

The shells of cicadas were everywhere and the newly morphed bugs were around too

Waratahs - the flower of New South Wales super cool looking 

The Blue "Mountains" view from the rim

Blue "Mountains" with Three Sisters rock formation and Me and Aude
We spent the next two and a half days trekking up and down and around the sides of this place.  It was cool in the shade of the trees, dripping with waterfalls, and smelling of eucalyptus and lemon myrtle trees that were in bloom.  We also walked around the neighborhoods, Leura, and the historic national trust gardens.  We walked about 5-6 hours a day.

cockatoo in flight over the canyon 

a face in the rocks

In the Bush looking across to the 3 sisters

how many cockatoos can you count?

luckily, Aude had more ambition and a better sense of direction than I did or we would have either never gone or died lost at the bottom somewhere!

I am attaching a lot of photos because words aren't enough to convey the magical, natural beauty of this place.  I hope they help you get a sense of it.  While I was there I kept thinking of all the friends and family that would love to see this if they could.  September seems to be the perfect time in case anyone is interested.

I noticed when I got home and looked at my photos that they seemed out of focus, even though they were not.  I realized that it must be the haze.  The bus driver on the bus we took to the garden, told us that the reason they are called blue mountains is because all of the eucalyptus trees give off a fine mist of oil that creates a haze that refracts the light and makes them look blue.  I photoshopped it out of most of my pictures so they would show the details clearly.  They are definitely not named Blue Mountains for the mood they produce.  If it was an adjective describing mood they would be Pink, or Yellow, or Rainbow Mountains.

seriously, a pink tree

wall of azalea


The delicious smelling lemon myrtle

for my darling Valerie Violet

Friday, October 4, 2013

Culture Clash

A visual representation of the state of my mind. :)

Being a student again, after all these years, is a challenge.  I have to schedule my time efficiently, and live up to other people's expectations.  This time is fragmented between my classes, my homework, my family, my retail job, and, lastly (yes, lastly) my own personal needs.  Things like entertainment, friendship, exercise, and grooming (I never brush my hair) get relegated to some dream of future holidays.  I keep telling myself that I will treat myself to a pedicure when I get all my assignments done, and that never happens.  Living up to other people's expectations has never been a strong point either, since I always seem to see things differently.  However, the hardest thing so far, has proven to be the fact that I am in a foreign (albeit english-speaking) culture.
Outside the tunnel that I go through to get to school

Inside the tunnel/train station

When it comes to school, there are many small differences in the system, and in the way they expect students to act.  Whenever I am confused, I have to ask myself: is it my own stupidity; is it because I am older and haven't been in school for a while; is it because this is an art program; is it because this program isn't providing clear guidelines; or is it because I am used to the way things are done in America, the way people interact there vs. here, the way programs are run?  It is usually some combination of these things.  Trying to pick it apart and write about it is difficult because it is not clear to me.
I will try to explain just one aspect of how students are expected to behave here.  From the beginning, I was told that I should put on a happy face, act confident, and capable, even if I didn't feel that way.  I was told not to complain or show any doubt towards my work.  I can see some value in this from a psychological perspective, but we are, after all, students, and are supposed to be learning and improving.  I would also ask for feedback on my work, suggestions, or opinions, and I got very little.  I was told by my daughter, and by other people, that this is not how they do it in Australia.  They give you a score in the end but they don't normally give encouragement during the process.  They will sometimes tell you if you are doing something completely wrong.

I am not being dramatic (well, maybe a little), but, all this mental translating can be exhausting.  It challenges my confidence and my determination.  In the end, I try to just do what I think is best, and all the subtext gets squashed by the need to provide a result (i.e. I do what I have to do the best way I can). However, I can't help the social-psychologist in me from looking at it as a case study in multiculturalism and being an outsider.

Some of the students in the program seem to be used to the way things are.  They don't seem bothered when instructions aren't given till the last minute, or the schedule changes in the middle of the term.  Some seem to be cheerful and confident even as they are saying that they didn't do the work they were supposed to be handing in.  Some (o.k., one) even stated that she was just there for herself and didn't care about anyone else.  It is not the kind of student attitude that I am used to.

the magazine room at the school library where fashion students get to look at trend forecasts 

me working during Spring "break" no wonder I look demented

Anyway, I tried to understand all this and to adapt, to be the best student I could be, based on the information and standards around me.  But halfway through the year, I decided that that wasn't working for me and I said "f#@* it, I am going to do things my way."  I decided just to be a grown up and to try to get the teachers to understand me so they could assist me in ways that I needed.  I stopped trying to fit in.  Instead, I am just trying to build my own reality and to expand it little by little.  I will be the queen of my own story, but I will be a kind and democratic, sharing queen who is sometimes depressed and anti-social, and sometimes cheerful and out-going.

a design based on a photo I took of Mira's hands at the beach when she was 10.

another one in progress.  I really like this one.

My reality, right now, is full of ideas and images, and obsessions with design, color, print, and pattern.  There is a little bit filled with fashion and its impact on the environment.  I also have sections filled with my family, sunshine, swimming, the beach, flowers and birds, and very importantly, friends who understand me and care about me because of my honest character and not my age, status, or nationality.  If people like me, if I find success in this culture, it won't be because I am the most bubbly or cheerful person radiating positivity and success - that is not and never was who I am.