30 Jul 2013

Sea, sun and... pizza: a holiday in Sardinia

Today I want to share with you some photos of my holidays in Sardinia. If you're not familiar with the place, Sardinia is an Italian island situated West of the mainland, just South of French Corsica. It's hot, dry, the sun shines bright and the land is incredibly beautiful. I've never really been down to the Mediterranean before; I went to Madrid once, but apart from that, all I've seen of the South is the Alps. So naturally, I was pretty excited to discover what it felt like to go on holiday to an actual sunny place and swim in water that wasn't 18°C (yes I'm talking to you, Atlantic.)

Me and the man stayed at his family house all the way down on the Southern coast of Sardinia. The landscape was all mountains and sea, with a striking contrast between the perfect transparent blue of the water and the incredibly bright colours of the flowers that are grown in every single garden. We pretty much spent our days sleeping, either soothed by the lull of the aircon at home during the very hot afternoons, or lying on the beach with the rest of the town's population—me lying very much under the umbrella to make sure I didn't burn my whiter-than-white skin.

I was surprised to discover the Mediterranean way of life: the place is ghost-like for most of the day when the sun is too high to work, and as soon as it sets, everyone comes out. At night, the streets are crowded with tourists browsing craft stalls and eating ice cream. Ohhh, the ice cream. Sardinia is a great place to go if you like to eat. We had some delicious pizzas topped with local cheese and Sardinian sausage, all kinds of deep-fried seafood, and the best octopus salad ever. Also seadas (photo below), delicious little ricotta or mozzarella filled pastries that are fried and served covered in honey. Drink wise, Sardinia has its own national beer, the Ichnusa. 'Vorrei una birra nazionale' is definitely one of the tag lines of our trip!

Just so you know, this last picture hasn't been edited. The colour of the sea is 100% authentic. If with that you're not booking your tickets... One thing's for sure, I definitely want to go back!

14 Jul 2013

Tales from Worthy Farm

So two weeks ago I went to Glastonbury. HOW COOL IS THAT.

It was my first real festival experience, since I had only ever attended one day of a festival, back in 2009, when Bruce Springsteen headlined Les Vieilles Charrues. It was incredible and remains a great memory, but Glasto was entirely different.

First: the size of it. If I thought that the Charrues were big, Glastonbury took it to a whole new level. We first got to see it from the coach as me and eternal wingwoman Courtney approached the site. Our first thought was along the lines of "how the hell are we going to find our friends in this total maze?!" (Spoiler: we did easily.) I loved experiencing this little world of its own. The festival literally emerges from the ground to create a fantastic town full of amazing sights, incredible crowds, never ending streets of food stalls and hat/sunglasses/wellies/waterproof shops, and gig after gig after gig. Performers are literally everywhere, and I loved seeing the big acts as much as I did hanging in hidden open mic tents in the middle of the night.

Ben Howard at the Pyramid stage
Second: camping. I had never camped for more than a night in my garden, since my parents put a absolute ban on it after traumatising childhood camping experiences, but it all went well. OH WAIT NO, our brand new tent turned out to be the most terrible pain to put up due to missing pieces, and some sneaky b*stards got into our tent at night and stole our money. Fortunately, this was an 'every huge silver lined extravaganza of awesomeness has a cloudy moment' type of event, and we powered on with our wallets empty.

As for the music, there is no doubt about it: Glastonbury Festival is the place to be. I got to see some of my favourite bands: Noah and the Whale, such dynamic and cool chaps and the perfect gig on a sunny afternoon; hipster rockers Foals who got the crowd going and me singing at the top of my voice; The Staves, the perfect chilled out act to enjoy in the sun with a (very) early drink. Some other highlights were starting the festival with The Hives being simply exceptional (props to lead singer Almqvist for being the best I've seen at interacting with the crowd), dancing like there was no tomorrow to Major Lazer, getting to see Rufus Wainwright play Hallelujah, Ben Howard being Ben Howard, and ending the festival on a French note with Phoenix's singer Thomas Mars crowdsurfing towards a pole of the John Peel stage and singing a song hanging from there.

Noah and the Whale at the Other stage
A thing I discovered at Glasto is that music festivals are about more than music. I went with quite a large group, we all had bands we really wanted to see, and in some cases music came first and we had to go our separate ways. I was at first a bit bummed I'd have to go see acts alone, but it turned out to be pretty cool. Dancing by myself to my favourite songs by Noah and the Whale was super fun; in fact I even got a high five and a 'great dancing!' from the guy next to me. But at other times, it was fun, exploration and chilling that prevailed. I spent quite a lot of times in the Healing Fields, drinking mulled cider and making pizza at Tin Village; avoided Shangri-La at night (who wants to queue 45mn?!) for late night drinks on the hills being The Park, and lazed around at the camp with friends when we couldn't bear walking past the stinking toilets to get to the stages. Glastonbury is an overwhelming experience that takes over everything, and feels very much out of this world (and this especially since it's almost impossible to get any form of phone signal.)

Solange at The Park stage (actually quite average, we left two songs in)
One note: Glastonbury involves a lot of waiting. Not so much necessarily during the festival (unless you want to charge your phone, in which case, bring a book) but rather to get there and back. I found it quite anticlimatic in both cases. When we got there, I was already tired and kinda fed up, and coming home took so long it felt like I had left the farm days before when I finally got home.

Also, Glasto involves a lot of smells. And not a lot of cleaning. Be warned.

The view of the festival from The Fish
Now it's over, and I could keep talking about it for ages and tell you about every single story that happened — although in some cases, a 'what happens at Glasto stays at Glasto' philosophy might be best. But there's too much to say, so I'd rather leave you on a simple word: REGISTER. I'll see you there next year!

(All crappy photos taken with my iPhone since I was (rightly so) worried my camera could get stolen.)

2 Jul 2013

The Great Drumming Circle of Life - a love letter to technology

Let me tell you a story.

When he was very little, about eight I think, my brother was given a drums kit as a present. My mum wasn't entirely thrilled, but he was ecstatic. We still have pictures of 3 years old him playing with his toddler plastic kit; I guess my parents should've seen it coming. So my mum thanked the present giver for his generous, if not excessively loud gift, and scoured the Internet for someone to teach little Alex. She found a nice guy in his late teens who'd come to the house on his skateboard and show my bro how to bang his toms, and he got better, and everyone got happier.

The bro back in the day, when his kit was so new it hasn't made it to his room yet

Fast forward almost ten years. My brother still plays drums, and at the end of every year, his music school puts on several gigs for all kids to perform songs they rehearse during the year. Kids pick the songs at the beginning of the year, a way to get them more involved and motivated. My little brother, now 17, picked a song by the French band Shaka Ponk, one of his favourite bands — they're so cool he actually got the whole family hooked!

And man, the world must be a really tiny thing, because Shaka Ponk's current drummer is none else than that teenager on his skateboard.

But the best part is, I got to watch him play it live.

I got to see him play a gig live in a small town in Western France while sitting in my living-room in London, England; thanks to my dad deciding to Skype in from the audience; thanks to his phone network being strong enough to handle it; and thanks to my Internet connection staying live for ten minutes straight for once.

The Internet and all these brilliant little pieces of technology allowed me to be part of an event that my family and I have been attending for years, and watch my brother complete what I shall from now on refer to as the Great Drumming Circle of Life. So yes, you guessed it, I teared up a little bit. I suddenly had a lot of these things called feelings and got stuck in a warm bubble of gratefulness for a few days.

So many things are blamed every day on the Internet and technology. From children violence, procrastination and broken marriages to back aches, conspiracies and poor work performances, it always has a role to play in them. What people seem to often forget or at least downplay, in my opinion, is the other side of the coin. Internet connects people. I really like John Clang's Being Together series of Skype family portraits.

Being Together - John Clang
Clang told The Atlantic: "I am marking the time for these families, enabling them to remember these strange moments of togetherness with the technology presently available. The picture (...) embraces the intimacy and closeness of a family, no matter how far apart they are."

In a strange manner, but a way that I think many expats have experienced, distance has brought me closer to my family. When I get to see them, I enjoy the moments as much as I can because I rarely know when I'll be home next. And when I get to skype them, or receive an email from my mum showing off her new shoes, or wake up to a video message on Whatsapp to wish me happy birthday, I feel a little tingle of sadness that we're apart.

But first and foremost, I'm grateful that technology makes it possible for us to be together for big things and small things and everyday things.