2020, Covid, And Lots Of Love

Kvarner Bay. Taken a short drive from my home.

I’ve been thinking, once again, of discontinuing this blog. I simply think that blogging – unless it’s for business – is an outdated method of communication, demonstrated in the responses I’ve been getting to my latest entries. We used to have conversations, 5-10 people responding, and now two out of three entries are without comments. I’m not really interested in a monologue.

For now, I’ll still write occasionally, but I’m disabling comments altogether. And in the meantime, I’m looking at other tools. I’ve been thinking of building up my YouTube channel, which so far has almost zero subscribers because I’ve been actively hiding it: It’s where I’m uploading the weekly “missions” for my Coaching business, and I wanted people to go to my website rather than YouTube. But I might change this, and also mix in personal vlogs or at least life updates that relate to my business. I’m all about passions and purpose, after all, so it fits right in.

It’ll take time to build, if indeed YouTube is the medium I’ll be going forward with, so for now I’ll still post here. Today I just want to give you a quick update on what’s been going on, followed by a little 2020 year review, because not everything has been awful this past year – far from it, in fact.

So what’s happened? Covid is running rampant in Croatia and elsewhere and I’ve been isolated. I still caught it, well, after all even masks and distancing are no guarantee, although they lower the risk significantly. I don’t want to go on about it too much, I had a “mild” case and yet it was fucking scary, not knowing if I would take a turn for the worse. Even as it was, it was awful. I was exhausted, my chest hurt, I was coughing and wheezing, and in the night I’d wake up with a racing heart and a weird, panicky fear. I’ve never gone through anything like this before and never want to again. Uuuuugh. Now I only hope I’m not among the 30% who end up with a long-term condition after this. It’s early days, I’ve only been declared cured this week, but so far I feel fine. Tired still, but well otherwise.

On Tuesday, there was a massive earthquake in central Croatia. Even here, 140 km away, the house shook. Near the epicenter, two towns have been badly damaged with many people losing everything. To top it all off, for the past few days there have been constant milder quakes as well as torrential rain and violent, scary thunderstorms. It’s a bit like the apocalypse there right now, and I’d ask you, if you can spare a few quid, to donate to the Croatian Red Cross using the narrative 770, which will go directly to the people affected by the earthquake. Click here.

Being me, I’ve been thinking a lot, and it’s impossible to describe it all to you. I’ve made some drastic changes, moving away from living online and spending too much time on social media. Other than photos, I post very little on Facebook these days, and even my business page has gone quiet. Instagram and Pinterest I keep up for Wild Spirits Coaching, but that’s it. I’m also planning a program – probably a course – on simplyfing life, downsizing without “doing without”, living a slower, more fulfilled, rich life full of passions, love, and connection, basically what I’ve been in the process of building for myself. I’ve learned so much along the way and I’m nowhere near done.

Still from a video on Wild Spirits Coaching. December 2020.

Funnily enough, in other ways I spend more time online right now. Years ago when I was stuck in a depression and isolating myself from friends, gaming was one way to keep in touch with actual humans. I made friends in those years that I’m still close to, and yes, some of them are “only” online, but many of them I’ve meanwhile met in “meatspace” as well. They’re beautiful people.

My point is that back then, it saved me from becoming a hermit altogether, and now I’m in a situation where I must remain isolated for the sake of my health, so I’m consciously using gaming as a way of socialising again. I’m playing World of Warcraft with a group of amazing humans, some of whom I’ve known for 8-10 years now. There’s a lot I love about this game, for example that it’s such an equaliser. I’m friends with people aged 15-65; in fact, the guild mate I chat to most at the moment, is 17. We’re equally fanatic about the class we play and discuss the game endlessly, laugh at silly things and help each other out with game objectives.

Here’s an example of what I mean by socialising: New Year’s Eve was basically cancelled around here, and I knew I’d be at home, alone, and didn’t expect much. The way it turned out was, I was online with some people from my guild, we went on voice chat and had a dance party in-game. I got to say “Happy New Year” to half a dozen people in person (well, over voice comms) and ended up feeling all warm and fuzzy. It was actually a great New Year’s Eve! How’s that for safe partying?

I just hope you’re all as safe and are finding ways to enjoy these strange times as well.

As for my “big decision” (on where I’m going to live in the future), I’m postponing that. I haven’t had a chance to properly live in Croatia yet, after all. What I have seen is incredible, and I have found so much love and friendship here already that it humbles me. At the same time, like I said in a previous entry, I’m so homesick it isn’t even funny. If anyone had told me when I moved away, that a year later I still wouldn’t have come back to visit, then I wouldn’t have left in the first place.

Logh Conn, Co Mayo. Winter Solstice morning 2019.

Anyway: 2020.

  • I won’t write much about the pandemic, which was obviously the shitty thing that happened on so many levels. What affected me the most is how many people don’t give a toss about others and see any minor inconvenience to themselves as unnacceptable, even if it protects others. I love humans and tend to believe the best of them, and seeing this kind of attitude – even from some people I thought I knew – simply hurts.
  • There was death even outside of Covid. My dad died in October, and whilst that was expected and happened in the most beautiful, natural way, it’s still the loss of my father. And then there was Brendan’s freak accident in June, and I still can’t believe I won’t get to exchange witticisms and puns and movie quotes with him ever again. Six months later I’m still miles away from coming to terms with his loss, to be honest. He shouldn’t have died. He was far too young.
  • On the plus side, there was Croatia – the little I’ve seen of it so far – and the wonderful people I’ve met here. Croatians are funny, passionate, intelligent, loyal, and unbelievably helpful to others. I feel very much at home here. The country itself is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Summer was like paradise.
  • I also got to spend five magical weeks in Vienna in February and early March, before the lockdown cut off the fun. It was my dream life, realised. I had such a great time and got to see some concerts when it was still possible, the highlight being Martha Argerich, of course. And on the way to Vienna, there was my birthday present to myself, two days in London, where I got to hug Penny and went to see Evgeny Kissin play Beethoven, which was so good I don’t have words for it, just awe.
  • Last but definitely not least, I got to celebrate my 50th in style with a dozen friends and family from five countries (four of whom were from my World of Warcraft guild, by the way!). I’m inifinitely grateful that I got to hug people I love when it was still safe to hug them, and for these four days with them, sightseeing, going out, drinking, dancing, ice-skating, and basically being tourists in the best possible way, in the most beautiful city in the world. This has made up for a lot of shit that followed later in the year.

Now it’s 2021 and like I said, I consciously place an emphasis on my “online life” right now until I and the majority of people are vaccinated. I hope this’ll happen at some point this year, so I can go travelling, hugging, breathing in people I love again and make up for the long deprivation of touch and anything sensual. Also, talking in person. Holy shit, how I miss just sitting somewhere with a friend and having a good old chat putting the world to rights.

It’ll happen again and can’t happen soon enough, as far as I’m concerned.

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Summer’s End

Sablićevo beach, Rijeka

It’s probably one of the last hot days of the year, 31 degrees in Rijeka (29 here on my mountain), and I’ve decided to make the most of summer while it lasts and go swimming as often as I can. I don’t have time for full days by the beach, but I swim for 10 minutes, lie in the sun for another 30-40 minutes, and then I go back home. All done in under 1 1/2 hours.

I’m paying a lot of attention to my everyday life at the moment. After all, there are not many models for living and working entirely for oneself and in a decidedly non-busy way. I’m still finding my way between the extremes of “total structure and don’t deviate from your schedule for even an hour” and “just do what you feel like doing and end up not getting much done at all”. My focus is sleep, rest, do what lights me up, and work (which also lights me up, for the most part) as much as I need to in order to make the money I need. I’m consciously not trying to maximise my income right now and to put quality over quantity every time.

As I continue to build this life, the thought of where I’m going to live is never far from my mind, but how is just as important. I find I’m no longer willing to compromise by short-term renting and not being able to sleep. I’ll look for a long-term solution within the next year or so and I’m setting this intention consciously, not knowing how it’ll come to fruition.

It’s part of the whole “slowing down and prioritising my well-being and joy over everything” plan that I’ve been pursuing in various ways, and I’m pleased to see it becoming manifest in my everyday life more and more. This goes right down to the physical comfort of wearing clothes that don’t just fit but feel like a caress on my body. At the same time, I find myself less and less willing to feed the inhuman and environmentally catastrophic fast-clothing industry with its slave labour and mountains of waste. I’ve been looking for alternatives and come up with a few exciting solutions, even outside of second-hand/charity shops (which I love, too):

For the first time in my entire life, I’ve found a store whose clothes I love! This wonderful boutique right here in Rijeka has beautiful, comfortable clothes in cotton and linen. Such as this blouse and this top plus capri trousers:

The other discovery is Etsy (etsy.com). Now this is where it goes grassroots. Mind you, some of the online stores you see advertised on Facebook and the like, selling cheap, low-quality and badly cut clothes made from child/slave-waged labour, can also be found on Etsy so always check your Etsy shop’s bio. Most shopes there are regular people who sell handmade (!!) clothes, and you can find treasures. Such as this dress, pure cotton, hand-sown to my measurements for less than 60 EUR:

Sorry for the awkward angle and the silly face. At least you can see the dress! And my piano! And Chopin!

The great thing about Etsy is that it’s not just a marketplace, but a community, too. I have had lovely conversations with some of the shop owners there and have marked several shops as favourites. The advantage is that I can buy stuff that’s been made from natural fabrics and then I’ll pay the actual person who made it, circumventing the entire fashion industry! Some of the clothes are a little more pricey, but I’m happy to pay 80 EUR for linen trousers that are hand-sown to my measurements because I know I’ll be able to wear them for 10 years, rather than buy some cheap H&M shite that falls apart after the second wash.

We need to normalise wearing clothes for longer than a season or two. Well-made things can last 5-10 years or longer. The fashion industry is just over 100 years old and is destroying our planet (google it). The idea that you can wear a dress only once, for example, was put about by just the people who want to sell you more clothes. No more! Wear the dress to three different weddings. And the opera, too. If you love it, it fits and it feels amazing, why wouldn’t you? Fuck convention.

While I’m talking about the environment: Etsy also allows you to filter stores that, for example, ship to Croatia, and you can filter the store’s location, too. I don’t want clothes shipped to me halfway around the world and have only made exceptions very occasionally (think once a year or so). Otherwise, all the stores I buy from are in Europe: Italy, Germany, Lithuania… Again, it makes for lovely contacts with people from all over.

I feel very subversive doing this, and it sings to me in just the right way – the way that tells me I’m doing something which is aligned with my soul. I can’t even describe the feeling of wearing comfortable, beautiful clothes. If I were a cat, I’d be purring all day. Seriously.

Now that summer is almost over, I’ve been looking for knitters and promptly found a few more Etsy shops to put into my favourites. Just ordered my first knitted jumper (this one! What d’you think?) for autumn. Gods, I want to shout this out to the world, can you tell? I’ll finish off this post with a list of my favourite stores, with links. But first I’ll wish you a beautiful Autumn Equinox, which will happen on the 22nd of September this year. I’m so not ready to let go of summer just yet, but, heck… And a week from now it’ll be an entire season since Brandon died. I’m still no closer to comprehending it.

The list (first summer/cotton/linen, then winter/knitwear):

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The 2020 Version Of Summer Holidays

Me and my town in the magic twilight

Uff. I got a little dispirited after my last entry when I poured out my heart about my homesickness and nobody said anything about it! And then I sent an email to those who follow the blog a few weeks later, not realising that WordPress had closed off the comment option by then. Thanks for the emails telling me you’re still out there. I ❤ you guys.

To re-emphasise what I said about being very happy here and this being sort of the ideal place, I thought I’d post a few pictures. The above was taken by Cassandra just this past weekend, when we went for drinks in the balmy late-summer air of historical Trsat, which is like a little fairy-tale village but very much part of the town (and even fairly central). The picture doesn’t do the view justice by a long road, the panorama stretched all the way to what’s far outside the left edge of this picture.

I’ve been travelling a little too, but only in my own car, because one COVID scare is enough for me by far (not that there’s any way to completely exclude the possibility of infection in any case, but at least I’m not taking any planes or trains). In July, I drove to Germany to visit my auntie and my dad. It was insane: Two full-day trips for just over a day there, but I’m so so glad I went. Dad is 91 and getting thinner and more frail every time I see him. His dementia means that he doesn’t quite get what’s going on, and that’s probably for the best. I got to spend a good hour with him, pushing his wheelchair around the little park of the care home (visitors are not allowed inside at the moment) and sitting on a bench and chatting. I’m not even sure he still knows who I am, but he corrected me when I got the name of a street in his hometown wrong – that he still remembers!

On the way there, I spent one evening with my Auntie Inge who still lives in the said hometown. I have memories of a lot of childhood holidays there, but it was only now that she told me the details of the day when her younger sister died in 1945, and the exact spot where it happened. I’d always known that I should have had another auntie who died in the very last days of WW II at age five, but I never knew the details, and I must say, it’s a harrrowing tale.

Hers was a completely pointless death, all the fault of those asshole Nazis who were already utterly defeated but still insisted on sending soldiers – including teenagers and old men – to attack the US forces, who would never have decided to shell that little Bavarian town if they hadn’t been under constant, hopeless, last-ditch attack from them. One of the first hits destroyed a house next to which my Auntie Edith was just walking with the youngest (my dad had four sisters), trying to get home because the air-raid sirens had gone off. She was flung aside as Maria-Luise got buried under the rubble of the crumbling house wall. And then it fell to that 11-year old to carry her dead sister home, after digging her out. And my Auntie Inge who told me the story, only got away because she had decided to skip ahead. Imagine what these girls must have been through, imagine that on a child’s psyche, at a time when there was no psychological care for trauma sufferers after the war.

On to more cheerful subjects. Back in Croatia, I spent a few carefree weeks going swimming in the sea 1-2 times a week and working from my little dreamy spot outside the house:

I also looked after the most adorable little cat for a while, who has thankfully found a home in the meantime, because I couldn’t keep her, of course, much as I wanted to because she truly stole my heart. But she’s very happy now!

In August, I took a 3-day mini holiday at my doorstep, in Istria. I drove the 2 hours or so to Rovinj, a romantic historical town with enchanted little cobblestone streets and cafes by the sea. The next day I took the ferry to the island Cres, where Claudia lives, and spent a day with her. We went swimming and had dinner in yet another fairy-tale old town, and the next day I got the grand tour around the island with Claudia as my chauffeuse and tourist guide!

Here’s a sunset impression from the old town of Rovinj, looking out to the sea and a little island I wish I could live on:

I can see already that I’m going to have to make another entry talking about a further subject I’m very excited about, because this one’s getting too long. But there’s one more thing I still need to tell you! I’m hoping the infection numbers will go down in autumn because I’ve decided to spend December in Vienna, pandemic situation permitting. Vienna is magical at Christmas, and of course so is Rijeka, but I haven’t been to Vienna in December in 15 years and so it’s time. I’m booking lots of concert tickets which luckily are fully refundable in case they should get cancelled. I don’t care if I have to wear full HAZMAT, I need to get out and hear live music. Fingers crossed.

I know this blog entry gives the impression that I’m out and about a lot, but believe me, these two trips represented two Monday-to-Wednesday car journeys on my own. That was it. I’m still mostly in isolation at home, when I go swimming I’m on my own, I’ve met with a friend twice over the last six weeks, and otherwise I only do grocery shopping. I’m high-risk, and there are too many fascist conspiracy theorists believing COVID is a hoax and boycott masks – stupid science deniers that they are – for me to take any chances. After 6 months, it’s really starting to feel heavy being isolated. Fuck Nazis.

So this was Part I. Expect Part II within the next week or so! And before I sign off: Below is a shot I took in the famous Valentino cocktail bar in Rovinj, where you actually sit “on the rocks”, on cushions, directly above the sea. It’s ridiculously beautiful and romantic – well, I think the picture gives you a good impression.

Take care of yourselves, and let me know how you are.

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Valentino Bar in Rovinj

Halfway Through The “Trial Year”

I hugged a total of four humans in the past two weeks.

Thought I’d start with the most important news! After three months of touch-deprivation, it’s beyond wonderful to hug actual, living, breathing people of flesh and blood. Now, I’ve always been a cuddly hag, but the last few months have made me appreciate the sense of touch even more.

It’s also midsummer. The Solstice happened on the 20th this year and was a time of intense, deep emotions for me, because a dear friend back in Ireland, Brendan, died just the day before, in one of those freak accidents you sometimes read about, never thinking it could happen to anyone you know and love. I cried until my eyes couldn’t produce any more tears and paced up and down for hours (most of the night, actually), then I did a ritual Solstice dance to process the sadness, anger, and mourning. After 24 hours I was able to function again, and on the other side of the weekend I’ve begun to, I don’t know, accept? Not that I’ll get used to talking about Brendan in the past tense any time soon. But it’s beginning to sink in.

At my birthday weekend in Vienna. Brendan in front.

On a happier note, last weekend may have been the first day of summer, but today is the first day of summer weather. 29 degrees! Over the past few weeks, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first proper spring I’ve seen in years, with a mix of sunshine, cloud and rain and constant mild temperatures between 18 and 24 degrees. Now it feels like we’ve made the jump into full-on summer, and in Croatia that means serious business.

Over the last weeks, I bought:

  • summer clothes (because I hardly owned any),
  • a beach towel,
  • beach shoes (beaches are stony rather than sandy here),
  • a straw hat,
  • and sunscreen.

After around 18 years of not swimming in the sea – which I love – I was being a bit of a chicken, but thankfully Aleksandra dragged me along last week, and it was great!

First swim of the year/decade!

The end of June of course also means that the first half of the year I gave myself to decide where I’m going to live, is now over. To spoil the ending: I’m no closer to a decision. But I thought I’d share my thoughts and feelings so far, unfinished as they are (and I’m not pushing myself either; there’s a reason I gave myself 12 months).

I love it here. Croatia is everything and more – much more – than I ever expected. Obviously, I picked the worst time to move to a new country. I’ve been here for six months and have hardly seen anything or made friends, because I’ve been a) gone and b) in lockdown for all but a few weeks of my time here. Having said that, I’ve met quite a few amazing people already, people I can truly relate to on a meaningful level – in other words, friends. That this happened so quickly astonishes me and is, in my humble opinion, a good sign.

It’s so beautiful here, I have to pinch myself several times a day because I can hardly believe it. Seriously, this place… the bay, the towns and villages, wedged in between the mountains and the sea… it’s breathtaking. Obviously, the weather is great, too. And the people are lovely and helpful throughout. I’m already in love with the language, and my little house may be small, but it’s beautiful and functional and really everything I need right now.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? And it is, or would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m so homesick it hurts physically. It sounds mental, but I miss the wind and the miserable rain, I miss the lakes and the green and the rough Atlantic coast. At this point I’d give a lot to be able to go to a cafe and order a proper sandwich. I miss my lovely friends, obviously, but most of all Mayo, Massbrook Woods, and archery. I’d give a kidney to be able to teleport myself there for just one day.

Reminder: This is my fifth country. I’ve missed people from all these places after moving away, and I smile fondly when I remember places and experiences. But there’s only one home, one place I actually belong. And while Croatia suits me better in almost every single way, I’m going to have to decide, come December, whether I can make a worthy life away from home. Others have done it, of course. My job is to find out if I can, too.

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The Sensual Bealtaine World

This is where I usually gush about my favourite time of the year.

The “luminous weeks” from May to July, the sleepless nights of light and balmy air filled with the seductive scent of blossoms and the burgeoning life of spring. It’s always been utterly intoxicating to me.

Before I continue, I’d like to explain this a little, because to non-pagans or even pagans who aren’t as sensitive to the rhythms of nature (or whose path simply didn’t involve spending decades sharpening their senses, bathing in moonlight and making love to the earth), it might seem like it’s “all about sex”. And don’t get me wrong, it’s without a doubt the sexiest time of the year, pure ecstasy in a lover’s embrace, but that’s because it’s all about sensuality, those sharpened senses of mine that somehow respond to things like luminous nights and soft grass and crashing waves over rocks, that get drunk on the elements. Don’t get me started on what the moon does to me.

And this year, I don’t quite know what I’ll do:

  • There’s this whole thing with social distancing. I’m so touch-deprived it’s not even funny. Again, it’s not all about sex (although that’s of course off the agenda too, seeing as I live on my own), it’s about touching, hugging, breathing in friends, falling about laughing… Zoom and messages are an increasingly stale replacement.
  • 15 years ago, after 13 moons of intense preparation, I spent Walpurgisnacht celebrating and then sleeping in the woods and got up at the crack of dawn to dedicate myself to the powers that be (not governments. The actual ones). I’d planned to spend this anniversary in the same place, near Vienna. You know what became of that.
  • There’s another, more subtle thing. You know how people say they’re “between jobs” or “between relationships”? Well, I’m between mythologies. I’ve been inexplicably sad at times, violently so and completely out of the blue over these past few days. Nothing to worry about, by the way, it’s simply emotions; my point is, I can distinctly feel my gods withdrawing from me. They bear me no ill-will; they simply can’t follow me here. They’re bound to this soggy island almost 2k km North-West of here, where my soul is also. The waves of sadness come whenever I sense this. I’m mourning.

There’s a great German term for being very, very alone: mutterseelenallein. No German speaker ever thinks of its meaning when they use this expression, but literally it says “mothers’-souls-alone”. This is what I feel right now spiritually, like the souls of all the ancestors and the spirits and the deities have left, and I’m alone.

I’ve been starting to read up on Southern Slavic, particularly Croatian mythology recently. There’s not much to go on, at least not in English, but there are some folk tales and mythological creatures I think I’ll be able to relate to very well (those who don’t mind a long read, bookmark this). I simply haven’t had much opportunity yet to get to places where I could start making contact. It’ll come with time, I’m sure, but in the meantime, I’ll have a strangely up-rooted Bealtaine because I can assure you, all my Bealtaine feelings and the absolutely explosive energy which translates into an inability to concentrate or stay still, is very much present with me this year, just like every year.

So, it’s not a bad thing, I’ll just need to learn more and actually communicate with… them. These things can’t be forced, but they’ll happen, I’m certain. I may be foreign here, but I’ve felt strangely at home from the first moment I arrived in Croatia, like I just slotted into the energy here. So I’m optimistic that this will work out in time. It’s the exact opposite to the time I visited Nova Scotia, which I then considered as a place to live: The spirits of the land weren’t hostile or unwelcoming there, but they were completely alien to me, almost like my DNA was incompatible. Beautiful as it is there, it’s not my home. Here, it’s a different story.

I still intend to celebrate the Hel out of Bealtaine Eve and the following few weeks. Virtual hugs are very much welcome – seeing as there can’t be physical ones – but please understand, I’m not down or anything, just perceiving what’s going on and experiencing it. No filter, so to speak. I’m actually quite happy most of the time.

Have a beautiful Bealtaine! I’ll try and get outside, although the weather is pretty wet and supposed to stay that way for the rest of the week. In fact, there have been thunderstorms on and off for the past five hours or so. I thought it was over, but it’s just started again. Might be time to leave the house and meet Perun.

Photo by Francisco Negroni. For more info click here.

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A “Wartime” Adventure

Cuddling a very muddy Kiki

I made it home.

After the second cancelled flight (the one I wrote about last week), I phoned Croatian Airlines and was lucky to get one of those people on the phone who don’t just shrug and give up. It took about half an hour, and then I was booked on a flight that she guaranteed me wouldn’t get cancelled.

The only trouble was, the flight was once again out of Frankfurt, so I had to find a train and get across the border. The night train was cancelled, so I spent Monday night sleepless in the most uncomfortable seat – not even the back was adjustable – and made it across the border because luckily, I have a German passport.

Changing trains in Munich and later on waiting at the airport was a PITA with no shops open. It was 2 degrees and I sat there shivering on a cold plastic seat for two hours. At least the airport was warm. When the time came to check in, I was told only Croatian citizens were allowed to fly. I explained that EU citizens who are residents in Croatia could, too, and after a lot of back and forth, they allowed me on the flight.

Across the snowy Alpine peaks

In Zagreb, the whole experience became a lot more heartwarming, if no less complicated. I still don’t have a Croatian ID – everything is closed here, too – although I do have permanent residency now. Fortunately, they found me in the system at passport control. Then I wandered around the completely deserted terminal and spent about an hour talking to police, the information desk, and the car rental who all disagreed on what the correct procedure was – rental car, taxi, what else? There’s a 14-day mandatory self-isolation after entering the country, and driving between cities is only allowed with a special permit these days, which I don’t have. Fun.

In the end, they told me to just wing it. I got into the rental car and drove, grinning from ear to ear because even in pandemic times, Croatia is as beautiful as ever, the weather was gorgeous, and the penny dropped more and more that I was actually going home. As expected, I was stopped by a police patrol before I reached Rijeka, and explained that I’d just arrived from abroad and was on my way to 14 days of quarantine. The officer asked where I live, and I said: “Rijeka. Well, Viškovo, really.” -“You live in Viškovo?” -“Yes.” -“Me, too!” Turns out he lives all of two streets away from me. We proceeded to assure each other that Viškovo is the best possible place to live, and then he sent me on my way.

I adore the people here. If you were wondering why I feel so at home in this country, there you go.

When I first glimpsed Kvarner Bay, I almost lost it again, just like that first time months ago. Once again, I had in front of me the deepest blue sea with sunlight sparkling on the water and the mountain panorama. Jaw-droppingly beautiful. I left the rental car at the drop-off station in Rijeka, from where Andy – the saint – picked me up, face mask and all, and drove me home. He’d also bought a boatload of groceries for me, so I won’t have to worry about starving any time soon.

After 26 hours of travel, 0 hours of sleep, and lots of drama, I was finally at home. It truly felt like I’d been crossing enemy countries in a war!

Behold the most-kissed piano in the world:

The next morning, I developed a cough and shivers.

I phoned the epidemologist (which is mandatory upon arriving in Croatia), who ordered a test. I got an appointment an hour afterwards and was told the result would arrive the next day.

Now I’m a fairly rational person. I’m not one of those people who imagine they have all sorts of illnesses they’ve heard about, and neither was I particularly fearful of COVID-19. But I have to admit, that day was surreal. I sat down and thought through, to the end, what would happen if a) I did have it and b) be amongst the few percentages of severe cases (which would be more likely for me, with my damaged lungs). This isn’t morbid, by the way – I live alone in a foreign country, so I need to take precautions. I reviewed my “testament”, made sure my emergency contacts are up to date, and then went to dance for a few minutes and practice the piano, in spite of feeling really ill.

By evening, I had developed more symptoms and suspected that I just had a severe cold, because COVID-19 doesn’t usually come with these. But it was still a relief when I got the call the next morning, confirming that the test had come back negative. Phew! The cough is just a cough. Still, great timing for coming down with one, two days after going out into public spaces, trains, planes, public restrooms…!

So all’s well, and now I’m just very very grateful. It’s so good to be home. I don’t mind this quarantine at all. I sit in the grass outside cuddling Kiki, I work, play WoW, practice, study… or just rest, as I’m still sick. But I’m happy. And I’m not going to go anywhere (except grocery shopping) until this is over.

I hope you’re all coping well. Be gentle with yourselves and each other, and most of all, be safe and stay healthy!

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I’m still here. Meaning, in Vienna. Travel is pretty much non-existent at the moment, and it’s absolutely impossible for me to get back home. Which sucks, because I’m paying double rent on a reduced income with so much fewer proofreading and translation work now that companies and universities are closed all over the place, whilst everything I love most about Vienna is denied to me anyway: the people, the music, the theatres, and the museums and galleries and nightlife.

Vienna’s Karlskirche by night

On the plus side, I’m healthy and safe and have food to eat. It could be a lot worse. It’s just that it would be better in my kućica, for reasons such as:

  • Now that the days are getting milder, I could step out into the garden in the morning and walk around barefoot in the dewy grass.
  • I could cuddle Kiki the kitty, who loves visiting me at home.
  • I could walk to the front of the house and see the bay. I miss the sea sooooo much.
  • I’d practice the piano. And then, with reckless abandon, practice again the next day! The luxury.
  • I’d remember that music sounds great when you can actually hear the bass. In other words, through speakers rather than a laptop.

I just thought the other day how cruel it is that two months into being the European Capital of Culture, Rijeka was cut off from tourist visits and forbidden from actually going ahead with all those cultural events. The same goes for Galway, of course. I hope they’ll allow both towns to make up for it somehow, maybe move everything forward so they can be Capitals of Culture in 2021?

Because I don’t know how soon this will be over. I don’t see things changing much until at least June, and we may be looking at most of the summer as well. It’s a scary thought, although I’m doing well so far. I’m just not sure what prolonged isolation will do to me. Touch is important. I just thought back, and the last time I hugged a human being was three weeks ago when I visited Kati. It seems a lifetime ago already.

I know of couples who are stranded on different continents. Others who simply don’t live together and now can’t see each other at all. I don’t have any of those problems, and like I said, I’m dealing with it all pretty well so far. But that’s just the thing.

There’s no doubt I’m good at being alone, as you may remember if you’ve known me for a while: So good, in fact, that for years on end I had isolated myself completely and been quite “happy” – except that I was actually in a mild depression and had kicked people out of my life.

My problem is not that I struggle, it’s how easy it is for me to be by myself. How the numbness beckons. I remember the ecstasy of coming back to life during that enchanted spring of 2016, connecting to people again, meeting friends, drowning in a lover’s arms… – and how I swore to myself I’d never stop feeling my feelings again.

And yet, here I am.

It’s been just over four years and I remember it well. I must be very careful, remind myself to keep reaching out to people, keep talking, messaging, send virtual hugs in the absence of actual ones, and use my body to ground myself, because that’s the key to everything I am, even when it ends up looking rather undignified and silly:

I hope you’re all holding up, wherever you are, that you and your loved ones are healthy, and that you’re coping with all the material and emotional fallout. We need to stay connected, support each other, create, and be as happy as we can.

And hope to the gods that this mess will be over soon.

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… And Home Again, Unexpectedly

Café Sacher with part of the birthday crew

In recent years, (peer reviewed, mainstream) science has found out that trauma can be inherited. Grandchildren of holocaust survivors, even when they’ve never had a bad experience in their own lives, show the same physical and psychological trauma patterns as their grandparents. Women everywhere display the effects of trauma from centuries of patriarchal abuse and oppression.

In a Facebook group of pagans in Vienna, someone posted that she has an ominous feeling these days, as though something major were on its way (Martina, if you read this: thanks for the prompt). Which startled me, because I instantly, instinctively knew exactly what she meant. To avoid misunderstandings: This isn’t about people buying 200 rolls of toilet paper in a panic. In fact, it’s not panic-related at all.

This is all on the energetic level, which explains why highly sensitive people and pagans who work with energy feel it in particular. It’s like a collective version of inherited trauma. Throughout history, Vienna has seen several catastrophic epidemics, from the (pandemic) flu of 1919 to the plague in 1679 – to this day, the impressive “plague column” commemorates how one third of the population was wiped out over a short period of time.

Pestsäule (Plague Column), Vienna

Stuff like that leaves a mark on the collective psyche. And I believe the current pandemic, which has led to rather severe restrictions of public life here, touches on old trauma nobody is even aware of in this day and age. And that’s the ominous energetic hum, the vibration of “uh-oh…” that permeates the city, even while its inhabitants are amazingly calm and cheerful and for the most part, take the news in stride so far.

I for one am glad that Austria is one of the few countries who seem to take the threat seriously and who take appropriate measures. I’m starting out by saying this, because what follows will be a bit of a whine. Or rather, an expression of how fucking sad I am that things have turned out this way. I just want to make clear from the start that I know the world has far, far more serious problems right now. I’m humbly aware of how insignificant my own woes are in comparison, and I’d still like to voice them, here, on my personal blog.

This thrice-accursed virus is cutting short my three months in Vienna which I’ve been looking forward to, counting down to, for ages. First of all, all cultural events were cancelled, and that includes Evgeny Kissin’s concert with Renée Fleming that I had prime tickets for. It was supposed to happen yesterday, and I still tear up every time I think of it. All other concerts, operas, and theater performances are cancelled, too. And my Croatian course, along with all university courses in Vienna, will happen online rather than in person.

Yesterday, they also closed all state museums, and overall the recommendation is to restrict one’s social life as much as possible – which is shit when you’re stuck in a small flat with two suitcases of clothes, virtually no books, no music, no piano, no bow, and only a tiny laptop that doesn’t even fit a computer game. What would I do in isolation here?? I came to Vienna for the cultural life and for meeting groups like the aforementioned pagans and polyamorous/non-monogamous gatherings.

Today, Croatia has announced that everyone travelling into the country from abroad, must enter into 14 days of self isolation. Who knows what the situation will be like in a few weeks or months – judging from the developments in China, this thing will be far from over in May, when I was scheduled to go home. What if I got stuck here? Therefore, I’ve done the sensible thing and booked a return ticket on the train, for Tuesday.

Don’t get me wrong: Being in Rijeka isn’t a punishment, it’s amazing – although I’m not looking forward to 14 days incommunicado. Expect a lot of messages and social media shenanigans from me. Caging a hag is never a good idea, I’ll go nuts within two days. Again, I’m grateful for the measures and I know they’re necessary. I’m also grateful that those I love are still, to the best of my knowledge, all healthy. But it doesn’t cheer me up one bit that I’ll be back in Rijeka and won’t even be able to go to the city and down to the sea.

What’s worse is, I’m not done in Vienna yet. Being here has been so emotional. The other day I returned to one of my favourite haunts from the time when I used to live here, the Plötzleinsdorfer Schlosspark. There are pictures from me in the 90s in this exact same place. It was profoundly moving, being back. So many memories from the time “before” (before all the crap happened). I’m going to have to dig out those old photos some time, here are two new ones:

Plötzleinsdorfer Schlosspark


So nice to see these pseudo-Greek guys again.

I’m far from done re-visiting old favourite spots and my original self along with them. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet that I’ll have to leave again so soon.

I’ll be back of course (read in the Terminator’s voice). And just to balance things a bit, here’s a reminder of how danged blessed I am. Here’s a small selection of the things I’ve managed before COVID-19 forced me into isolation:

  • Seeing and hearing Kissin’s incredible Beethoven program in London. I don’t think I could have put up with missing this. It was beyond words, surreal, slightly unsettling.
  • I also got to see and hug Penny while in London!
  • I managed to celebrate an epic birthday in Vienna with some of the loveliest, most amazing humans I know.
  • I saw my lifelong idol Martha Argerich playing Prokofiev’s 3rd concerto the way only she can. And I’ll never, ever forget that night.
  • I also went to a great 80s disco, and now I’m crying because I just realised I won’t be there for it in April… oh man.
  • I spent a beautiful day in the countryside with Kati.

These next three days, I’ll enjoy the shit out of being here. Obviously, I’ll be sensible. I’ll take a lot of walks and revisit the wide open spaces in the city center and around it. If I manage at all, I’ll also take the train outside of rush hour when it isn’t crowded, to go to the place where I used to live in Langenzersdorf (I really, really need to cry in the arms of the Greenman, and I always know where to find Him there). The fields, the Bisamberg, the Danube around my old home are further places of power for me, the places where I experienced a few years of intense growth in spirituality and power.

And then I’ll go back home to my bow and my piano, into solitary confinement.

This too shall pass.

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Home, And Away

Kvarner Bay Kvarner Bay

The timing couldn’t possibly be more awkward.

I’ve just about arrived, unpacked, got my IKEA table, started battling the bureaucracy required to open a bank account and get a phone number here. And in a few short weeks I’ll already be gone again.

Not for good, of course! It’s just that I decided to spend a few months a year in Vienna around a year ago, and then I booked my upcoming stay from early February to early May when I still thought I’d be living in Ireland in my own house the rest of the time. It’s all good, though – a little weird, but good – I’m looking forward to Vienna and seeing my lovely friends for my 50th birthday, which means absolutely the world to me. It’ll be sooooooo much fun!

Of course, people will always be welcome to visit wherever I am. I do need to qualify my invation to my new home in Croatia a little, though, mostly because my flat is absolutely tiny: I don’t have any space to put up visitors in my home. Sorry! Then again, accommodation is very affordable around here in any case, and of course I’ll meet you and hug you. I obviously work here as well – so far I’ve been in Rijeka for two weeks and haven’t done any sightseeing here, because you know what, I’m self-employed! But my friends get this, and those who want to see me, are coming to my birthday anyway. I’ll take the full four days in Vienna, promise. Those will be my days off work in 2020.

sunset in Rijeka My first sunset in Rijeka

But I’m telling the story backwards. I’ll start at the beginning.

My journey through Europe was a huge adventure, as predicted. From the very rough sea crossing to France, to driving across impossibly high, arced, vertigo-causing bridges, to having to get out of the car every time to run to the left side because all the stupid toll payment stations are of course made for cars with a steering wheel on the left, France was… interesting! Then I drove through the South of Germany the next day, and once I got past Munich, the scenery became majestically beautiful.

I went into Austria, and it just continued. Gorgeous alpine landscapes and a motorway that snakes its way across tall viaducts and through narrow passes, as well as many many tunnels. Slovenia brought more mountains and forests and valleys, and I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road. I met Helena and we had a great evening in a restaurant whose food and wine I still dream of. I slept in a house in the woods in complete silence. Amazing.

But the most unforgettable moment came after crossing into Croatia the next morning (31st of December), when I crested the last of the alpine passes and suddenly saw the 180-degree panorama of Kvarner Bay in front of me, far ahead and very low down. Mountains on two sides, the sea on the other two. Islands ahead. The morning sun glittering on the blue water, Rijeka and Opatija nestling along the shore, not a cloud in the sky. It was breathtaking.

I realised I was looking at my new home.

That was the moment I lost it and dissolved in tears. It was just lucky there was zero traffic that morning, because I couldn’t see for a good few minutes! I continued down the mountain and eventually into the city, and the magic never stopped. The place I was staying in these first few nights is lovely (in fact, that’s where I’d recommend you stay if you come visiting), affordable, central, and run by the best people you could wish for. I spent New Year’s Eve in town with random strangers, one of whom turned out to have lived in Dublin for some years.

The next day I went on a drive around Istria – I knew it’d be my only day off and I wanted to get the lay of the land. It was another glorious, sunny day, and I had to keep pinching myself to believe that I actually live here now.

Poreč In Poreč

The next day I moved into my little cabin, which is tiny but perfect, pretty, and functional. I never want to leave! My piano got delivered a few days later, and now my life is complete. It seems stupid to leave it all behind again for three months, but then again, it’ll still be here when I get back and then I’ll have late spring, all of summer and the rest of the year here.

In short: I’m settling in, doing my work, living my life, making friends, and spending a lot more time outside the house than I used to. Yes, I do miss Ireland. When I see pictures of Massbrook, I choke up, and I haven’t found any cafe even remotely as amazing as McHugh’s. But this is my life now, and at the same time I’m self-employed and it feels like I’m waking up from a long dream, to a reality that’s impossibly beautiful.

I’ll see ye in Vienna!

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Towards Dreams


Stormy Mayo coast

I’m quite literally on the eve of my dream life.

Sure, I thought that I would have my main base in Ireland, and that didn’t happen. I will, however, live in a beautiful place, radically be non-busy and focus on the things that light me up – my businesses and my other passions:

  • Coaching (which will be my main income).
  • Languages (freelancing as a proofreader and translator, also continuing to study Croatian).
  • Piano (more about that below).
  • Music in general (regular concerts, recitals, opera, whenever I get the chance. So many planned already for 2020).
  • Archery (haven’t found a club in my new home yet, but I’ll ask around once I arrive).
  • Nature and wildlife (plenty of that in Croatia).

I’ll also spend several months a year in Vienna. Come to think of it, every last thing I dreamt of is coming true, which is almost a little scary. No, not just almost. It’s actually not all that easy – people sabotage themselves all the time because they suddenly panic when things get “too good”. It’s what Gay Hendricks wrote about it The Big Leap. I’m already working on expanding my capacity for happiness, and I suspect this will be an ongoing process for a good while yet.

It feels surreal to write this on my last evening in Ireland. The last time I left this country, I cried the whole time and later fell into a clinical depression. That’s not going to happen this time; I’m ready to go, and the world is very different from the way it was then. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not possible to go back. Nostalgia is the false promise of a lost paradise, when actually the only time to be happy is the present, and the only true promise is the future.

I said good-bye to friends over the last weeks; watched a last solstice sunrise, or rather, watched the clouds changing colour once again, because in all the last 14 years since I returned to Ireland, I’ve never managed to see an actual sunrise on the winter solstice. But it was beautiful. I then spent a wonderful morning in my favourite place in the world with my friends from the Mayo Archery Club, having great food, tea, a good chat and a laugh, and of course shooting the course in Massbrook. Without question, this is what – and who – I’ll miss most.

Mayo Archery Club, Winter Solstice 2019

Last week, I went on a drive through Mayo to say good-bye to my county. It was a miserable day and therefore perfect: Storm and rain and that particular greyness which brings out the incredible colours of the landscape. Brown-red contrasting with the silver-grey of the rocks, the green of the grass, and the dark grey of the sea. It was beautiful.

I’ll miss the fresh, salty air the most. But I suspect I’m going to love the mild mediterranean climate, the beautiful nature, the food and the lovely people in my new home. It’s been quite an experience to prepare the move, sell off my things here and throw out others. I’ve never been a hoarder, but nothing forces you to clear out junk like an international move. It’s a relief to let go of things.


Winter Solstice dawn between two lakes (Mt. Nephin in the distance)

The hardest part was letting go of my piano. After my solstice celebrations, I’ve had the first few days off in a long time over Christmas, and I would have loved to spend hours practising. I do not know how I ever managed to live without a piano. They were desperate times, and I hope I’ll never be in such a dire situation again.

But really it’s not all that sad because I’ve fulfilled another dream – one I’ve had for over 20 years. You see, before the little Laniem I bought last year (and now sold again), I’d never really owned a piano. My parents always stressed that the piano I practised on at home as a child, belonged to the whole family. Later I rented pianos wherever I lived at the time.

It was in a piano store in Vienna some time in the 90s that I sat down at an August Förster upright and felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. An attack like silk and velvet, and a full, bell-like sound made my chin drop. I fell in love then and there and have been dreaming of my own Förster since.

By now, I’ve saved about half the 13k Euro for the smallest August Förster model (how they manage to keep them so affordable, I do not know – remember a piano has more parts than a car and lasts many decades longer than a car, if looked after properly!). I had the choice of either buying another cheap compromise that I’ll sell at a loss when I have the money for my Förster saved, or being bold. And I made a decision, took the other half out of my savings (which I’ll have replenished in about three years), and ordered a Förster from a piano store in Austria.

I have told very few people about this. Mostly because I wasn’t coherent for the first weeks afterwards. I’m still tingly and can’t believe it’s actually happening! I’m getting my own August Förster piano!!

The best part? When I ordered it, they started building it, and I kept getting updates. If you’d like to know what this process involves, here’s a short video – Förster are the only traditional piano manufactory that still builds their pianos in Germany from A to Z. After some weeks, the update was that they were doing the final voicing and tuning, and a little later my piano arrived at the store in Austria. From which it’ll be delivered to me in early January, once I’ve moved into the kućica!

How gorgeous is this?? And trust me, it sounds even better.

The next time you’ll hear from me, I’ll be in my new home. Please understand that I’ll not be able to reply to messages or emails in the next week; I’ll have limited access to internet and stay in guest houses and similar. I’ll probably still see your message, but please don’t expect to hear back before the 3rd of January or so. Until then, a very happy New Year to you!

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