Where does wanderlust begin? I think with me it began in my genes, as I have a fairly rare nomadic blood-group, (for an English woman) inherited from my Dad. Also both my parents were restless and adventurous and luckily they were both adventurous together, and with four children in tow. I am the eldest.
We set sail for Australia when I was five. It is such a vivid memory. I can still smell the bread rolls at dinner, and remember the innate glamour of the cruise ship, the Angelina Lauro. My Dad was an architect and he got a job in Sydney, so off we went. I remember stopping in Naples, seeing a strange old man on the tram, with part of his finger missing, and my Dad had his wallet stolen. We went to Pompeii. The people petrified in stone as they tried to flee from molten lava stay etched in my mind. The wall murals of Pompeii must have stayed with me, as decades later as a muralist, I was asked to replicate a Pompeiian mural on a wall in London, which felt familiar, integral. On the boat, we sailed past Stromboli, the active volcano, we saw whales in the ocean, we were caught seemingly forever in a storm in the Indian ocean and I remember my Dad sitting on his chair in our cabin and watching him slide from one end to the other. I always worried about him sitting on the rail at the edge of the ship. He seemed so calm about being perched so high above the eternal depths of wine-dark seas. Sometimes in my sleep, I still dream of being at sea, surrounded by infinite vast blue oceans and I am somehow this tiny being navigating through it.
Australia was a dream place for a childhood. We lived in the Blue Mountains and I was allowed to wander, and wander I did. I don’t remember ever being afraid of exploring on my own. I must have gone off for hours, exploring and often with my siblings in tow. We spent a lot of time swimming in a place called the Jelly Bean pool, a natural body of water.
We came back from Australia and things became suburban, and I remember the feeling that everything was asphalt-grey. The roads, the sky. We didn’t travel so much either. One day we went on holiday to Brittany and things began looking up. I did love the beach at Hastings and when the weather was good, things felt glamorous and possible again..
Then as a teenager my parents wanted to emigrate back to Australia, but none of us wanted to go. We didn’t want to leave our friends or boyfriends. So my parents didn’t go. They ended up moving to the south of France though, a few years later.
In the ensuing years I traveled a lot throughout Europe, inter-railing, hitch-hiking ’round France, grape-picking, and then took a train to Greece with my then- boyfriend. The train ride through Italy was when I started to feel lost and I remember crying in the corridoor with my boyfriend comforting me. We didn’t have proper seats. It was becoming night. An Italian mother with lots of kids saw me crying and came out of her carriage and gave me some chocolate, with such tender kindness and love. I felt better, even though it made me cry more. The kindness of strangers. I will never forget her. Those moments of existential rootlessness are sometimes hard to bear, when you see others who are with their families, they know where they belong and where they are headed. Although hard, those moments are important, and in a way powerful and all part of the magic of travel and wanderlust and a feeling of self-reinvention somehow, and even a feeling of almost not being anyone at all, just a figure in a passing narrative. From Brindisi we took the boat to Piraeus. We went to sleep on deck in our sleeping bags and awoke in the morning passing an island on one side. It was magical. The boat was being followed by seagulls. The sky was cerulean.
We went to try to get jobs picking oranges in a place in the mountains, but I was the subject of unwanted sexual harassment by Greek orange farmers, and so we left. It was pretty unpleasant..
We stayed in bustling polluted Athens and I did odd jobs, teaching English, child-minding. We went to try to see Leonard Cohen in his favourite bar on the island of Hydra. He wasn’t there, but we drank a lot of Raki. My boyfriend threw up that night on the neon-orange fur rug in the pensione. We stayed on Hydra and Spetses. It was winter, but beautiful. We picknicked on the beach with no tourists. Hydra had no cars. On Spetses an old man picked us up from the boat in a horse and cart and took us to a room where we slept. It felt so unusual and exotic. We walked the circumference of Spetses. The scent of pines and the dry earth intoxicated me.
After three years at art college in Bath, which was a great experience, I moved to London, became a muralist and worked in London painting for prestigious clients sometimes. Once I found myself painting in the Marble Arch apartment of the Sultan of Oman. I was living in Camberwell and happily in love. Winter was always a challenge. I remember standing at a cold, wet windy bus stop and declaring to myself that this would be my last winter in England for some time, and sure enough it was. In May I set off for Cannes in the south of France. I had a job as a nanny for a family traveling between Cannes and Monaco. However, when I got there I realised it wasn’t going to work out.. long story..Happily, on the train, I had met a French captain of a 85 ft motor yacht, the Hera C. Being pretty fluent in French myself and he in English we chatted between the two languages and he offered me a job, if the nanny job didn’t work out… I called him, got the job, and took the train to Toulon. I worked there for a while as the boat was being renovated and made sea-worthy. The sea trials made me realise I didn’t have sea-legs, and oh, my fickle heart, I had fallen in love with another boy and no longer wanted the boat job.
I went from job to job, even painted murals for an architect, worked in an arts foundation in a chateau in La Napoule near Cannes on the Cote d’Azur. I fell in love again on the beach in Nice, with the son of a famous actor who had been in a big film with Marilyn Monroe, as the co-star.
We had a lovely romance. I was smitten. Even though he had returned to California, I knew I wanted to get to Los Angeles. I answered an ad in the back of The International Herald Tribune and landed a job as the assistant to the editor of a start-up magazine.
‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’ has always been my mantra. The job didn’t last, but I stayed in L.A. for five years. I had gone to L.A. without knowing a soul, but ever the connector, I made friends. At first I walked everywhere, the only person walking. The sun shone every day. I never got bored with it. Later I even got married. I lived on Venice Beach. I got divorced. I met another boy/man and fell in love. I painted murals. I drove my boyfriend’s Alfa Romeo Spider. I worked in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas painting the faux marble for Caesar’s Forum.
One day, I found out my darling Dad was very unwell. I returned to England. I wanted to be with him. I loved him so much. He passed away just over a year later. Two months before this I had become a single Mum with my beautiful daughter, (now 21.). This was very hard initially. I had to find a stillness in my wanderlusting heart. I have always loved motherhood but the wanderlust always arises..
Travel within motherhood is possible and I do it, and will continue to. My partner and I once bought a little house in the Corbieres Mountains of southern France. We had to sell this French/Catalan village house when my son was born. Luckily I re-found the stillness of early motherhood.
Thirteen years later, we have reached a new stage, a setting each other free, with an agreement that I travel if I need to, and vice-versa. Who knows where it will lead. New places, new people? He doesn’t feel the need to travel so much, and we don’t share the same love that I have for the Mediterranean and in particular Spain. I have in the past few years become fascinated with the culture, land, language and Flamenco of southern Spain, in particular Granada province and Las Alpujarras mountains (which I have written about a little in a previous blog,) in Andalucia. Flamenco bewitched me the minute I heard the magic of Paco de Lucia. I do wonder if it’s in my genes, this land and its music. My Dad bought the Concierto de Aranjuez when I was five, and I listened to it constantly, dancing all over the furniture in our house in Australia to the sound of Spain.
So Andalucia has become a new chapter in my life, and has been for several years. As soon as we visited Las Alpujarras about six or so years ago, I was sitting drinking my morning coffee contemplating La Contraviesa mountain range (the other side,) and I said to my partner ‘This is it.’ And he said: ‘What is?’ And it was then I knew, it was to be my own journey of discovery. And it is.