Monday, November 30, 2009

Safe Travelling

~ My entry about an encounter with pickpockets in Greece (see Three Man Crush) got me thinking about the issue of safety and security while travelling. As I wrote then, this failed attempt at stealing my wallet, was the only negative experience regarding my personal safety I faced in seven months of travel.

The problem with having been brought up on a steady diet of feature films, television news items, and a host of TV shows old and new depicting life on the streets of major American cities, is that a traveller can end up thinking these shows represent 'real life' as it is being lived today. Modern programs such as the plethora of CSI-type dramas are full of multiple murders and psychopathic killers who seem to lurk on every city corner.

Thankfully, the reality of life in cities like New York, London, Paris, and Athens, Greece, is nowhere near as dramatic for the average traveller.

In New York, for example, it helps that the Greenpoint YMCA, where I stayed for a large part of my visit, is directly opposite the 94th Police Precinct building, which certainly promotes a feeling of safety - and maybe even a degree of complacency.

On the other hand, reading the police reports in the Greenpoint Star (the local paper), did alert me to the fact that I should not take my personal safety for granted. There will always be some individuals who are quite ready to attack and rob people in broad daylight, let alone late at night, which encouraged me to keep my wits about me. I decided to get about with a minimum of cash on me, and to leave my wallet and credit card back in my room whenever I went out and about. That way, if the unexpected did happen, I would hopefully only lose $50-60 dollars at most.

Of course, there was also the issue of the safety and security of my YMCA room, but the more I stayed there, the more relaxed I become about my fellow residents. Besides, in my Internet research for accommodation in New York, any discussion about the Greenpoint 'Y' only touched on the state of the bedrooms, bathrooms, and the helpfulness (or otherwise), of some staff. I did not see any reports from former residents complaining about having their rooms broken into or being robbed while staying there.

How about safety on public transport? My understanding is that the New York subway system is a lot safer than it used to be in the 1980's and 90s, and one of the things I soon noticed while travelling on the subway late at night was the number of young women travelling alone who still used the service. I figured that if the local women felt safe enough to travel alone on the subway system at 2am in the morning, then I had little to worry about. And so it proved.

I also spent several weeks at the North Brooklyn/Tweleve Towns YMCA (570 Jamaica Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11208. Phone: 718 277 1600 or 1601) in Cypress Hills (click here for map).

Initially, I felt a loss less comfortable walking through the neighbourhoods surrounding this facility, but once I relaxed and began to observe the daily life of the mostly Hispanic immigrants around me, I realised my initial fears were unfounded. Directly opposite the North Brooklyn 'Y' is the massive Highland Park. On several occasions I wandered through the park and saw baseball competitions taking place. I also watched as local youths played basketball, handball and tennis on a series of well kept playing courts. In addition, every evening the childrens playground with filled with the laughter and shouts of young children who were out with their parents or older siblings, enjoying the warm evening air.

The YMCA ran many programs for its members which were always well patronised, including volley ball, basket ball, aerobics classes, and more. Everytime I walked past the gym it was always busy and filled with sweating bodies working out on the equipment there. All this activity seemed to indicate a vibrant, active community going about its daily life just like any other American community.

At some point you just have to stop worrying, and remember why it is you are travelling in the first place - so relax and enjoy your travels wherever they may lead you.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Three Man Crush

~ During the whole seven months I was travelling in 2008, I only experienced one incident which had the potential to spoil what had up until that point, been a fantastic vacation. Just days before I was due to leave Greece and fly to London before my return to Australia, a team of pickpockets tried to steal my wallet.

It was the classic 'three man crush' routine (that's the name I am given it anyway), which goes like this: a team of three thieves unobtrusively surrounds you just as you are about to board a train - as in my case - a bus, or while you are caught in a large crowd.

One person stands directly in front of you while the other two stand on either side of you. Depending on where your wallet or purse is being held - mine was in my left-side pants pocket - the team moves in for the steal. Just as I was about to board the train, the man on my right bumps into me, knocking me slightly off balance into his accomplice in front of me. In the few seconds that I am distracted and trying to regain my balance, the man on my left is putting his hand into my pocket trying to lift my wallet out.

While this routine was being put into effect, I was thinking: Hey, there's no need to push and shove! Let the disembarking passengers get off first. But I could also feel something tickling my thigh! It was not until I was in the carriage that I realised what had taken place, and that the thing tickling my thigh had been someones hand.

Thankfully, the trousers I was wearing that day had deep pockets. Literally. And the thief was unable to steal my wallet. The bizarre thing is, that since we were all in the process of boarding the train when all this was happening, the three man team had to enter the carriage as well. Of course, they pretended they didn't know each other, but I couldn't help notice the little sidelong glances that passed between them before they left the subway train at the next station.

To this day, I regret not confronting the three thieves in some way, or alerting authorities, but then I hadn't lost anything, and they of course, would have denied everything.

I'm pretty certain they were not Greek nationals themselves, and I'm also sure that this type of thing probably takes place every day in every major city in the world.

The lesson here is to wear trousers with deep pockets, and keep your wits about you - you never know when you might be caught in a three man crush.

Friday, November 27, 2009

New York Impressions

~ In a previous entry (My New York Marathon), I wrote about my first full day walking from Greenpoint, Brooklyn across the Williamsburg Bridge to Chinatown and the Lower East Side, down past City Hall, then back across the East River via the Brooklyn Bridge, and back to Greenpoint after passing through the Hasidic Jewish enclave in Williamsburg. Although I described in some detail my route on that extended - and exhausting - walk, on reading through it again, I see that it was light on my actual impressions of New York City. So I've decided to remedy that oversight in this post.

Some people travel only to see the famous attractions, while others travel to immerse themselves as much as possible in the locations they have chosen to visit. I prefer the immersive experience, and as such, I was happy to explore the city on foot as far as I was able to. Right from the start, I tried to blend in as much as I could with native New Yorkers. Of course, this was an almost impossible task given that everywhere I went I carried a digital still camera and a video camera - and nothing cries out 'tourist' more than someone running around taking lots of photographs of tall buildings and famous landmarks. However...

Maybe it's the songwriter and composer in me, but I loved listening to the sound and rhythm of the city. The wailing sirens of emergency service vehicles, the subway trains, the car horns, the whistles and shouts of traffic cops, and the constant hum a city like New York imparts 24 hours a day. But most of all, I tried to tune into the voices. The cadences and rhythms of the staff and regular customers at the Brooklyn diner where I ate breakfast each morning; the heavy accents of the Polish immigrants around Greenpoint; the Russians in Coney Island, and the Hasidic Jews of Williamsburg; and most common of all, the voices of so many African-Americans and Hispanics that now call New York City, home.

Although I was on my first visit to New York City, I had in a sense been there a thousand times before. In many respects I have grown up visiting New York vacariously over a period of some 50 years in the form of feature films, novels, television series, evening news reports, music videos, documentaries, and even Batman and Superman comics. However, it doesn't matter how many movies, television programs or other forms of second-hand experiences you use to form your opinions of New York City, nothing can match the experience of walking those city streets for yourself, taking in the scale of the place with your own eyes.

I loved the familiarity of the city, but even more I loved the serendipidous nature of simply wandering hapazardly around the neighbourhood of the Greenpoint YMCA and over to Manhattan and back again, all the while following anything that caught my attention, or looked or sounded interesting. In fact, New York is a city that engages all the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and even feel.

New York was everything I expected it to be - and more. Bigger, louder, faster, brasher, taller, grander, and so on. It was also safer, friendlier, easier to get around, and surprisingly, cheaper than I expected it to be. Unfortunately, it was also dirtier. But then the city does have a permanent population of around eight million, which is boosted on any given day by thousands of visitors who help add to the problem of trash creation and disposal.

Browsing through the hundreds of photographs I took during those first days, I see images of brownstone buildings, fire escapes, stoops leading directly onto New York sidewalks, a bright yellow Hummer, Polish language business signs, graffiti and large murals adorning city walls, and colourful dispensers for the many free publications that can be found all over New York. Then there are the images of unusual and interesting architectural features that are waiting to be discovered right across the city. Everyone takes photographs of the skyscrapers, of course, but my eyes were also drawn towards the swirling iron rails and curved wooden seating on the forecourt of the US Social Security Administration building on Federal Plaza.

Another series of images tries to record many of the other buildings around City Hall: The New York City Supreme Court; the United States Courthouse, and the US Court of Appeals office where I saw my first protest by (presumably) court workers, over some matter of great importance - to them, at least.

And there, in the midst of all this legal activity, I also discovered the magnificent African Burial Ground Monument (designed by Haitian-American architect Rodney Leon). The monument preserves a site containing the remains of more than 400 African Americans buried during the 17th and 18th centuries. According to the Wikipedia entry on the burial ground, historians estimate there may have been 15,000-20,000 burials there. The site's excavation and study was regarded as the most important historic urban archeological project in the United States, which in turn has led to the site being designated a National Historic Landmark and National Monument.

My first photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge fail to do that magnificent structure any sort of justice and are hardly worth keeping - but I keep them anyway. What is it about the Brooklyn Bridge that makes it such an iconic attraction anyway? Why do hundreds, if not thousands of visitors line up every day to take photographs of this bridge, and why do they not also line up to take photographs of themselves standing on the Manhattan Bridge? Or the Williamsburg or Queensboro bridges? I don't know the answer, but I too stood on the Brooklyn Bridge and tried without much success to capture an angle; a vision; a unique perspective that hadn't been photographed a thousand times before.

Back on the Brooklyn side of the East River I stumbled across the first of many public art works that are scattered across New York. This was the wonderful NMS - Nature Matching System mural created by Tattfoo Tan (see image above) with the help of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association. This huge, beautiful work can be found directly beneath the Manhattan Bridge on Front Street, Brooklyn.

And so it went. My two months in New York passed far too quickly, and I only got to scratch the surface of this vast metropolis. That I will return next year for another look is a guarantee I am prepared to make right here and now. If you have yet to visit for yourself, I urge you to put the city at the top of your 'bucket list' and start your planning now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My New York Marathon

~ The weather for the first full day of my New York adventure promised to be cloudy but fine (and bloody freezing).

And just so you are not expecting an account of my running of the New York marathon – a feat I am never going to perform – this entry refers to my marathon walking tour through Greenpoint, Brooklyn, across the Williamsburg Bridge to Chinatown and the Lower East Side, back across the East River via the Brooklyn Bridge, and on to my accommodations at the YMCA through the suburbs of Williamsburg and beyond.

I left the YMCA at around 9am and went for my first breakfast at the Manhattan 3 Decker Restaurant just down the road. The 'Y' gives you a voucher for free breakfast, which you redeem when you order your food. I had eggs, bacon, toast and fried potatoes (a bit like potato fritters), and coffee. You can sit up at the counter (just like you see in the movies), or you can sit at tables. I got the impression that if you are eating alone, they prefer you to eat at the counter where you occupy one seat instead of a table for four, but if there are several people dining, you are expected to sit at the tables.

After breakfast I went off to explore the neighbourhood, and before I knew it, I was at the Williamsburg Bridge. The bridge is one of several which spans the East River linking Long Island, where Brooklyn is, to Manhattan.

The Williamsburg Bridge is a suspension bridge across the East River connecting the Lower East Side of Manhattan at Delancey Street with the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn on Long Island. Construction on the bridge, the second to cross the East River, began in 1896. The bridge opened on December 19, 1903 and was completed at a cost of $12,000,000. At the time it was constructed, the Williamsburg Bridge set the record for the longest suspension bridge span in the world – the main span of the bridge being 1600 feet (488 m) long. (Source:

I was feeling pretty good, so away I went across the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan.

By the way, I was delighted to see that the final confrontation between Denzel Washington and John Travolta in the recent remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 took place on the same pedestrian walkway I myself used to cross the bridge to Manhattan. But I digress.

After crossing the bridge, I came to ground around the Lower East Side where Chinatown and Little Italy are located, and where I stumbled across the Lower East Side Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street.

The Lower East Side Tenement National Historic Site (designated a National Historic Landmark in April, 1994), preserves a six-story brick tenement building that was home to an estimated 7,000 people, from over 20 nations, between 1863 and 1935. In that year, the owner, rather than continue to modify the building, evicted the residents and the building was boarded up and sealed, leaving only the storefronts open for business. The building is able to convey a vivid sense of the deplorable living conditions experienced by its tenants, especially the top two floors which contain rooms, wallpaper, plumbing and paper preserved as they were found in 1988. (Source:

By this time I had been walking for around three hours, and I knew I needed to sit down for a while, so I sat down in the museums little theatre to watch a couple of short videos about the history of the building. An hour later, feeling somewhat more refreshed, I went off through Chinatown in search of something to eat.

Bearing in mind the adage: “When in Rome, eat where the Romans do,” or something to that effect. I found a tiny little Chinese restaurant which seemed to be popular with the local population so I pointed to a couple of things on display in the window, and sat down to eat a full plate of rice, chicken, and vegetables. The whole meal cost me a whopping $3.00, which made it the cheapest meal by far on the whole trip.

Manhattan's Chinatown is one of the largest Chinese communities outside of Asia. After an enormous growth spurt during the 1990s, it has been declining in recent years, partly as a result of the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, which forced the relocation of many Chinese businesses and residents, and also as a result of Manhattan's high rent increases. Unlike most other urban Chinatowns, Manhattan's Chinatown is both a residential area as well as commercial area – most population estimates are in the range of 90,000 to 100,000 residents.

The only park in Chinatown, Columbus Park, was built on what was once the center of the infamous Five Points neighborhood of New York. During the 19th century, this was the most dangerous slum area of immigrant New York (as portrayed in the movie Gangs of New York). (Source:

I was to return to Chinatown several times during my New York stay, but on this visit, my explorations where kept brief since I still had much to discover.

From Chinatown I headed down into the Financial District, and started noticing signs pointing to the Brooklyn Bridge. Well, it was on my list of must see attractions, so off I went.

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, stretching 5,989 feet (1825 m) over the East River, connecting the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Upon completion in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world (the Williamsburg Bridge took that title 20 years later), the first steel-wire suspension bridge, and the first bridge to connect to Manhattan.

Originally referred to as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, it was dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge in an 1867 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and formally given that name by the city government in 1915. Since its opening, it has become an iconic part of the New York skyline, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. (Source:

Of course, hundreds of other tourists also had the bridge on their list of must see places, and sure enough, they had turned out to see one of New York City’s most iconic images at exactly the same time as I had. Undaunted, I headed out across the Bridge for the Long Island side, snapping photos, and shooting video as I went. Having made it to the other side, I figured there was no point in walking back to Manhattan, so I started out for Greenpoint.

Big mistake. I had no idea where I was going, except that I worked out that as long as I kept roughly parallel to the East River, and headed west, I would eventually get to Greenpoint.

By now it was around 4pm and I had been walking for some eight hours.

It was around this time that I also faced a problem I was to encounter constantly during my New York stay. Namely, the lack of accessible public toilets and restrooms throughout the city. Thankfully, the New York headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the rescue! Seriously. Tired, feet aching, and with a bladder fit to burst I entered this imposing building (located on Columbia Heights, Brooklyn), in search of desperate relief. An impeccably dressed young man pointed my towards the restrooms and I quickly found the salvation I was seeking!

Off I headed again, through Brooklyn Heights and Vinegar Hill, and on past the New York Naval yards. On a whim I decided to hop on a bus which seemed to be going in my direction. After a short ride I saw Driggs Avenue, and thought I must have been getting close to Greenpoint, so I jumped off the bus.

Big mistake. Again.

Up Driggs Avenue I plodded (or was it down?) towards Williamsburg, and stumbled headlong into the heart of the Orthodox Jewish community in New York.

Williamsburg is inhabited by tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews, most belonging to the Satmar Hasidic court. Satmar is among the fastest-growing communities in the world, as its families have a very high number of children. The Satmar community of Williamsburg is no exception, and typically celebrates eight to ten sholom zochors (male births), and the same number of female births, each week. In addition, each year the community celebrates between 300 and 400 weddings. To date there are over 60,000 Satmar hasidim living in Williamsburg. (Source:

The sight of hundreds of Jewish men and boys dressed in traditional black outfits (long black coats, wide brimmed black hats, etc), was a sight to behold. There were men, women and kids everywhere, and all seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere. There were also men, women and young girls pushing prams around the streets, and not all of the prams had babies in them. Some were just being used to move stuff around the neighbourhood. From what I could hear, almost no-one spoke English. They were all speaking Yiddish – men, women, and children. In deed, the Wikipedia entry cited above confirms that the Satmar hasidim study almost exclusively in Yiddish in their schools.

It was like being caught in a time warp. It was as if I had crossed an invisible boundary into this community, and then just as oddly, crossed another invisible boundary out of it again.

By now, I was exhausted. I had been on my feet for close to ten hours and they were killing me. Some how or other, I found myself back on Bedford Avenue, and knew I was getting close to ‘home’. I decided I should have dinner before I want back to the 'Y', and discovered a Greek restaurant on Bedford called Socrates. I walked in and tired and close to collapse, I ordered a meal of roast beef and vegetables, which I ate without much enthusiasm or appetite.

I finally got back to the YMCA at around 8pm, almost twelve hours after first setting out that morning. I got my shoes off as quickly as I could. I didn’t think I was every going to walk again, my feet hurt so much.

After downloading all the photographs and video footage from my cameras onto my laptop, I finally collapsed into bed for a much needed rest.

And so ended my first full day in New York City.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Photo #15: Columbus Park, NYC

Click image to view full size
Columbus Park Playground, New York City

It was Saturday, May 10, the eve of Mother's Day 2008 (or maybe it was in fact Mother's Day in the US that day), when I just happened to be wandering through the heart of New York's Chinatown area - centred around Columbus Park. The park was packed with Chinese-Americans of all ages enjoying a beautiful spring day.

Groups of older Chinese sat at tables playing cards (generally, women), while the men seemed to favour several types of Chinese board games which were totally unfamiliar to me. Others were dancing to the music and singing of a female Chinese performer in a pavilion at one end of the park. Elsewhere, a small group of elderly men sat in a semi-circle playing traditional Chinese instruments in what appeared to be an Oriental jam session. Scores of young children accompanied by their escorts played in the large playground incorporated into Columbus Park.

My attention was drawn to the distinctive colours of the children's playground, especially the bright red, symbolising good luck, and the bright orange and gold, presumably symbolising good fortune and success.

I hung around for an hour or so, soaking up the music and atmosphere, and marveling at the diversity that makes New York what it is today - that great melting pot that constitutes modern America.

I've also put together a short video made of up footage I shot during my brief time in Columbus Park. On the soundtrack you can hear (and see) the female performer singing in the pavilion, and also get glimpses of the 'jam session' taking place at the same time.

Image: Columbus Park Playground, NYC.

Photo: Jim Lesses, Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Travelling Lighter

~ Yesterday, I bought a new piece of luggage in preparation for my travels next year (see image).

It is a 54cm ‘Jet Stream’ bag from Tosca. That’s right, folks, 54cm. That is less than two feet high for those of you still using Imperial weights and measures. Anything smaller, and I would be restricting myself to carry-on luggage only!

I have written before on this blog about the concept of travelling light, and next year I hope to put my own advice into practise. As I said in an early post on House Sitting, I will be looking after a house for six weeks in Melbourne early in the new year, and I am using it as a practise run for my packing skills before I fly out to Europe in April or May.

I figure if can pack light enough to survive six weeks in Melbourne, I won’t need to pack anything extra for my European trip.

I should point out that I will also have a small carry-on backpack which will hold all my non-wearable gear such as camera, laptop computer, battery chargers, and other associated paraphernalia. I will also have a small ‘man bag’ – actually an old laptop computer bag for those extra items one always needs on long haul flights (water, ear plugs, reading material, etc).

Last year I used the 71cm version of the bag you see illustrating this post – as well as the backpack, and let me tell you, folks, a full 71cm bag is a pain in the back (not to mention the @ss) to drag around London, New York, Athens and the Greek islands!

I vowed that never again would I take such a large bag with me on my travels, and so the baby of the set, the 54cm piece will hopefully do the job for me. I say, ‘hopefully’, because I honestly don’t know if it will be enough, but then, one of the benefits of my six week house sitting gig is that it gives me the opportunity to fine tune my packing before I depart for Greece and beyond.

When I do eventually head off to Melbourne, I will post a complete packing list on this blog just so you can see what I have selected. Once the house sit is over, I will again post an entry letting you know what worked and what didn’t.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Summer Down Under

The long hot days of summer have begun in the Southern Hemisphere, where this week the average temperature in Adelaide is set to hover around 37 degrees Celcius (that's almost 100F).

Yesterday, I went for my first swim of the season, and although summer doesn't official begin until December, I get the feeling we are going to be in for a torrid summer.

Of course, no right thinking person would spend their days out in the heat of the midday sun. Not if they had a choice anyway. Mind you, this rules out most teenagers who think that frying their skin in the middle of the afternoon is the 'cool' thing to do.

Come to think of it - I was one of those teenagers once. I can still vividly remember taking a day off work one hot summer day to spend it at the beach. Stupidly, I didn't apply sunscreen to my back and legs (I can't remember if sunscreen was around in the late 1960s), and by the end of the day, it is no exaggeration to say that I left the beach as red as a lobster.

In deed, the next day my legs and parts of my back had broken out in blisters as a result of the damage I had inflicted on my body. It was a lesson I learned the hard way, and to this day I will not visit the beach or enter the water unless I wear a hat (to cover my balding head), and a t-shirt to protect my upper body from the burning sun. I also make it a rule to visit the beach late in the afternoon or early in the evening when the heat of the day has begun to ease. The added benefit of this policy is that I'm always on the beach to watch a golden sun dipping below the horizon in a blaze of yellow, orange and red.

Of such small pleasures are my days made whole!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

House Sitting

In the past I have featured a series of entries about house swapping on this blog. When you house swap, you exchange your home, unit, holiday home or apartment with another house swapper for an agreed period of time. That is, you move into someone else's home - say for three weeks - while they move into your home for the same period of time. You could even swap something unique like a houseboat or motor-home.

Today though, I thought I'd turn my attention to house sitting. House sitting involves you looking after someone's home while they are away for business, on vacation, or working far from home.

With house sitting, the homeowner engages the house sitter to move into their home for an agreed period ranging from a few days to in some cases 12-18 months - or more. In exchange for living in the owners home rent free, the sitter agrees to water plants, care for pets, and do any other tasks the owner asks of them for the duration of the agreement.

Personally, I am really excited by the possibilities that house sitting presents. In fact, early in 2010 I will be house sitting in Melbourne, Victoria, for a period of six weeks.

Since I have never spent more than a couple of days at a time in Melbourne, I can't wait to immerse myself in the life of Australia's second major city. The last time I visited Melbourne would have been back in the early 1990s. Much has changed in the Victoria capital since then, and I am looking forward to discovering just how much the city has grown and evolved for myself.

There are even international house sitting opportunities available to the right candidates. Yes, folks, you could be house sitting a Manhattan condo, a house on the French Riviera, or an apartment in Paris if you have the right credentials. As long as you can show that you are honest, reliable, trustworthy, and have no criminal record, prospective home owners may select you to look after their most precious possessions.

So how do you go about becoming a house sitter (or finding someone to look after your home)? You go online, of course.

All of these sites charge money for prospective house sitters to register their interest. This helps eliminate time wasters and people who have no real intention of following through with house sitting opportunites.

Here are just a few sites to get you started (all fees are in US dollars):
Aussie House Sitters ($60):
House Carers ($45):
Luxury House Sitting ($25):
House Sitters America ($30):
House Sit World ($40):

That will do to get you started. There are literally hundreds of opportunities to house sit available right now. If you are planning to travel next year, now might be the right time to register with one (or more) of the above sites, and familiarise yourself with the process. You may also like to try house sitting close to home first, so that you can accumulate some good references from home owners, which can in turn be used to help you get house sitting placements in other countries.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cutting The Ties That Bind

I know next to nothing about Buddhism. Nothing at all about the spiritual beliefs of Native Americans, of Hinduism, Judaism, or the beliefs of a host of other religions - but as I try to divest myself of the baggage I have accumulated over a lifetime of collecting, I can appreciate more and more the concept of 'travelling light'.

I'm thinking - and writing - about this today, having just completed a very successful sale of most of my vinyl record collection. At 61, I have been buying and collecting records since my early teens. To be honest, I probably haven't bought more than a dozen vinyl albums over the past ten years, so the bulk of my 700 plus record collection was acquired over a period of 30 years.

I don't know if scientists mapping the human genome have discovered the gene responsible for the human habit of collecting, but I'm sure it's there somewhere, because I can personally attest to its power.

Since I sold my home in May 2007, I have had a storage shed full of stuff that at the time, I simply found impossible to part with. Two years later, and a couple of thousand dollars poorer, I have finally begun the process of letting this stuff go.

Apart from some household goods, the bulk of this stuff consists of books, vinyl records, CDs, and DVDs. Those four categories alone would collectively add up to several thousand items. Add to this, magazine collections, personal documents, photo albums, and who knows what else, and it's not hard to see why a large storage shed was needed to house them.

And so the process of passing these things on to others has begun. Slowly at first - but as my plans for future travel draw closer - now faster, and faster, I am reselling books I will never get around to reading, and vinyl albums I will rarely sit down and listen to. At least the CDs and DVDs take up much less space, and are lighter to move around, but even these will eventually go to other homes.

I don't know where all this is leading, except that I want to cut these ties that bind, and try and reach a mental and physical state where I can move more freely from one location to another; one country to another, without feeling the pull - the constant drag - of stuff.

The upside of all this selling is that so far I have raised $2,500 which will go towards my forthcoming travel costs, and that makes the whole process just that little bit easier.
IMAGE: Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative Quilt - The Ties that Bind, © AmyB
Read more about this quilt here...
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