Tag Archives: lists

31 Destinations in Time #4: Paris 2010

Pete in Paris Metro
Each time I go to Paris – five or six times now – the experience is different, even though the city remains pretty much the same. On arrival I notice… The lack of homogenous high streets. How boxy the trains are on the Metro. The colourful shiny riveted-on plastic bucket seats on the platform. Tourists, hawkers and buskers outside Sacre Coeur; while at the still centre, the altar glows peaceful as a nativity scene. City cemeteries with their own route maps to the dead rich and dead famous. Historic, grandiose architecture up above; streets lined with mopeds, bicycles, windmills and people below. Boutique shops. Crabby hotels. Swarms of tourists. Les cafés. Gauloises. Drains. Panorama. Abundant life.

But, in reality and selfishly, this is all just backdrop for some of the stories of my life. Paris is where I spent my 21st birthday with four friends, drinking tequila slammers in honour of Betty Blue, my favourite film at the time. Paris is a competition win, when we won free tickets in The Great British Airways Seat Giveaway (when every BA seat was given away one St George’s Day); on the same trip, I came down with chicken pox. It is where my best friend and I killed an evening between trains from London to Venice, and again on the way back at dawn between Munich and London. And this year, it was the first-ever Content Strategy conference, and a photographic outing (see next post ‘Unexpected Paris‘) with TTV Pete (pictured above).

Looking back I realise I’ve always been there with a precious person or people, and that’s what makes the city great and good and interesting and memorable for me. Those friends/lovers are as much a part of the fabric of Paris as the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. And the two can’t be separated. In other places, it’s the people I meet there; in Paris, it’s the people who’ve come with me.

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31 Destinations in Time #2: San Francisco, 1991

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

I was mildly obsessed with this book back in the 1990s.

In my early 20s, I fell in love with the beat poets and writers. That lifestyle represented everything I had been brought up NOT to do – and so I lived it vicariously in books and biographies, before eventually making three of my own road trips across the States and living the hippie dropout dream myself.

Etched in that memory is the end destination of San Francisco, another earthquake-prone, destination of dropouts that I fell for big-time (the other being Indonesia’s islands). Being brought up as a dogmatic Catholic and with annual holidays to Northern Ireland had obviously had its effect.

San Francisco was by far the prettiest, friendliest, easiest-going and most colourful city on our east-west coast trip. And after three days on the Greyhound buses, it seemed like we had reached Shangri-La. Even the cabbies in their suspension-challenged cars, though aggressive as drivers, were as welcoming as family. I put it down to the sea air and the fact that ‘the big one’ might hit at any moment.

We couldn’t afford much – just a cheap Days Inn Motel but one night we splashed out on a rather unusual place in Haight-Ashbury, the legendary home of the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’, which, overshare ahoy, was when I was conceived. I like to think my Irish Catholic parents somehow caught a vibe of California sunshine back in 1967 and that’s why the hippie thing is in my DNA.

We stayed in an eclectic B&B on Haight St called the Red Victorian, which consisted of a haphazard collection of differently themed rooms above a café, a bookshop playing swirly 60s music, and a meditation centre.

Red Victorian Inn, San Francisco
A spruced up Red Victorian Inn in Haight Ashbury

Our ‘Japanese Tea Garden Room’ had vivid blue silk bed spreads and a bonsai garden outside the window. I remember another room had a cat flap for the hotel cat to come stay with you and yet another had a cistern in the bathroom that doubled as an aquarium. There was also the Flower Child Room, the Redwood Forest Room, the Summer of Love Room, the Teddy Bear Room and the huge Peacock Suite.

The next day I bought my best ever pair of Levis in a vintage shop on Haight St, for £13. My behind never looked so good as in California in 1991.

27th September 1991, San Francisco, USA

There are new and old generation hippies wandering Haight St. The shops are mainly vintage secondhand clothes and vinyl record shops. I lost count of the number of times we were offered little green bags. Leigh took some pics of a crash-battered Kharmann Ghia before some old hippie came up and tried to sell the thing to him. In a trendy health food shop we armed ourselves with ginseng, Rolling Rock, apples, bananas and organic kettle chips, and went for a late afternoon picnic in Golden Gate Park. Tonight we hit Union St to catch the Muni no 41 to North Beach – the ‘happening scene’. We went straight to the old Beat generation bookshop, the City Lights Bookstore, still owned by the writer Ferlinghetti. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Cassidy had all been here. City Lights was the focal point. It was raided for stocking Allen Ginsberg’s Howl poem, which was said to be obscene. The media hyped the Beats to national notoriety after that and the Beat generation was born. That’s a lot of history for one shop. I bought Howl; Leigh bought a vampire novel.

31 Destinations in Time #1: Bali, 1994

Bali 94 photo on a diary

My diary and a photo of me in Bali 1994

Being an irrepressible listmaker, I can’t resist people’s personal lists of recommendations – from 31 Songs by Nick Hornby, to High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, to things beyond Nick Hornby.

Ages ago, I remember getting all inspired reading Tom Lennon’s ‘Top 20 Albums of the Decade‘ but I decided that my top 20 would have to be a list of destinations, and maybe it would be a top 30 since I’m still not done. And maybe it should be 31 in honour of Nicky Boy.

Anyway, in no particular order, and occasionally with some diary entries from back in the day, here are My Top 31 Destinations In Time, starting with…

1. Bali, Indonesia

They say you never forget your first time in Asia – and Bali in the summer of 1994 was mine. This was where I landed after a tearful goodbye to my partner at the airport, a 16-hour flight when I was petrified of flying, inhalers on the plane because I was allergic to my malaria tablets and facing two months of backpacking all on my lonesome. It was like walking onto the movie set of a Seventies disaster island complete with conical volcano, lava flows and earthquake tremors to remind you of how epic this little island is. We were on tidal wave alert several times – which basically involved sleeping in our clothes with our trainers by the bedside, ready to run for the hills. I’d never seen anywhere like it, except maybe in a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road movie. The lush tropical green hurt my eyes and there was aesthetic beauty in everything.

25th May 1994, Kuta, Bali, Day 1

Too many things are different to write them all. A hundred hawkers shoving things at you, opening suitcases of watches in front of you, grabbing your hair, your arm, your bum… Can’t find the roads because they look like back alleys and nearly as narrow. Being called bimbo, la-la, plenty hair girl, red hair girl and other terms not for public consumption. Being asked if I want hash, marijuana, a man! My hair braided, skirt swapped for sarong, sitting watching a pinky blue sunset over the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean!!! A drink seller, Jos, comes to practice his English on me, where am I from, how long here, am I married? It’s rude to say No, so I say Not yet. Covered head to foot so I don’t get bitten by a mosquito; everyone else is in tiny beach gear. I stand out like a sore thumb. Maniac mopeds buzzing up and down tiny alleys. Gagging on disgusting gado-gado. Real true MUTTS, sleeping, strolling, licking themselves, scratching, mangy, hairless, wary. It’s 8.30pm in Bali, I’ve been up 29 hours, I feel very very alone.

Kuta, Bali

Kuta, Bali: © Marufish/Flickr