Zesty Mumma's Words

A life lived without passion is a life half lived

The Argentine Art of Exaggeration and Land Mines!

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My first few days of pounding the pavements of Buenos Aires were fraught with peril. The mean streets of BA, as the residents like to think of their city, definitely hold many dangers for the unsuspecting traveller, but not all are what you might imagine. Yes there is crime and all the usual suspects; pick pockets, bag snatchers and worse. However, in spite of all the poverty and human woe it is surprisingly safe. What I like to term the “Agentinean art of exaggeration” without a doubt can take some responsibility for this belief by the city dwellers. If it wasn’t safe the Argentinean habit of going for dinner after 10.00 pm would have been extinct along time ago. 

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The volume of people moving around the streets of the capital late at night proves that this aspect of their culture is alive and well. One of the most endearing aspects of Buenos Aires, the abundant small cafes and restaurants, with their outdoor seating and twinkling lights, would likewise have closed their doors for good. The public transport buses run for 24 hours a day and while their regularity is questionable in the early morning hours, they do eventually turn up, so you can get home.

 

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Which brings me back to my early days in BA and my steps laden with perilous pitfalls. The culprit; Buenos Aires shocking (truly this is not an exaggeration) footpaths. Consisting essentially of large tiles that often spurt water up your legs when the slightest pressure is exerted on them, made me feel like I was picking my way through a field of land mines. These are not the only land mines pedestrians have to navigate. Those left by the canine inhabitants are everywhere, as well as their pee. So when the tiles spurt water after the rain, it’s not just water that you get hit by. Then there is the holes. The only thing I will say about them is if you have ever seen photos of bombed roadways, pock marked by mortar shells in a war zone, then you have seen many of BA’s footpaths.

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Those early weeks spent wandering the city resulted in many evenings of pain because of the twisting torture my ankles and knees experienced. Then I noticed something remarkable, I leant to walk like an Argentine and this is a very particular skill. Buenos Aireans  through necessity walk great distances to and from public transport, to work, to their homes and anywhere else in the city they need to go. All this walking as I have already explain could be very dangerous for your health without this skill. How do you walk like an Argentine you may ask? Simple, you never fully plant your foot down completely when you take a step, being ready to quickly glide over a tile that shows signs of movement. At the same time your vision is both directed to the distance and directly in front of your path. In this way you are also able to avoid falling into bomb craters.

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You would be right in thinking that the poor condition of the footpaths really limits the type of footwear the women of BA can safely wear and you wouldn’t be wrong. There are more joggers worn here than I have ever seen in my life. Having said that, we all know however, that women have a particular love for shoes and to deprive the female members of Buenos Aires citizenry of heels would be a crime. 

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Now let me introduce you to Frankenboots. This particularly unique Porteno fashion statement answers a need by utilising my old friend, the Buenos Airean “art of exaggeration”. These oversized platforms keep women raised above the the splashing water, while the soft rubbery sole minimises the impact of any smaller holes  they may miss. The sky is the limit with these platforms, just when you think you’ve seen the highest or most outlandish example you notice a version that boggles your mind.

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So while I walk the streets in my low open sandals, squealing inside everytime a splash of putrid water touches my skin, my Buenos Arian sisters glide around their city.

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Peruvian Grannies Selling Flowers In Buenos Aires Are Not To Be Messed With!

I first saw the colourful Peruvian Jasmine sellers at the end of my street. The family were strategically stationed in a prime position to attract passers by as they existed the subway after the daily commute. Grandma, mum, a little girl of about four years and a baby boy around six months of age. The baby had caught my attention on that cool, damp BA evening, wrapped warmly in his vibrant Peruvian blanket. Strands of black hair sneaking out from under the traditional bonnet and a happy little smile on his face, he was just so cute as he sat snuggly in his cardboard box on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help myself, the photo opportunity was too good; but as I pulled my phone out of my bag the grandma reached into box and took the baby out.  

When I saw the same family only a couple of block from my house I was again struck by how cute they were. Different location but exactly the same scene, minus the Granny. The opportunity to get that shot I had so desired a few weeks previous was invigorating, I couldn’t believe it. The sun was shining, the air was clear and life was good. I got the first photo no problem but I new it wasn’t good, so I walked half way across the road preparing for the next. That’s  when granny came barreling around the corner, screaming Peruvian unpleasantries at me. I did attempt to explain, for about ten seconds, but there was no placating her with my limited Spanish. All I could do was turn and walked away, granny still raging.

I have no idea why she objected, it could have been any number of things; fear of the authorities as there has been recent changes to immigration laws, maybe fear that the baby would be considered at risk. Really though it didn’t matter what the reason was or how picture perfect I considered the scene to be. It wasn’t just a photograph op for them, it was their life and that was hard enough without worrying about some foreigner taking photographs of them.

In a land where welfare support is virtually non existent or you aren’t a citizen you do what you have to, it’s all about survival. The number of people estimated to be living below the poverty line is approximately about 20% of the population of Buenos Aires. With another 10 – 20% considered vulnerable should prices increase or the bread winner unable to work. Considering the inflation rate for 2018 was 40% i that could be sooner rather than later

Sellers of every description inhabit the streets, alleyways and metro of Buenos Aires. The Subte (as the BA metro is called) provides the perfect market place for street hawkers. Sometimes they begin in booming voices explaining in detail what circumstances have let him or her to be in the position of needing to sell a product on the train. Other times they weave through the carriage placing their product on your knee. It could be chewing gum, a pair of socks, chocolate, hair ties or any number of other items. After they have covered the carriage they come back to either take the product back or take the money. On some lines you can be approach by three to five sellers in a journey of 15 minutes.

The “Cartoneros” though, take the award for the most original occupation and definitely fall under the banner of “only in Buenos Aires”. Hauling their huge carts around the street they serve the city as recyclers and actually receive a basic retainer. They are also able to sell whatever they find in the huge bell shaped recycling bins placed around the suburbs. There are approximately 5000 government appointed “Cartoneros”, however another 50000 also work the streets illegally but only get money for what they can sell. The dirty, hot and tiring work is not for the faint hearted.

… And what of my Peruvian flower sellers you may ask? Yes I have seen them at the end of my street once again but the baby now has his own pram. So I’m guessing that the main concern of the granny was the baby. I even think that on the very first occasion I noticed them, she had also noticed me and my attempt to get my camera out. Don’t mess with a Peruvian granny I say!

The Dead Centre of Town – The Best in The World!i

Saturday dawned and yet again the rain threatened. Not the huge dumping sub tropical down pours, where streets become rivers in a matter of minutes that I am used to, but enough to put a dent in your day. Another difference with the rain in Buenos Aires and my home is that it is cold, not the reprieve from the sticky heat of summer usual on the Sunshine Coast. I had forgotten that when rain falls in most places and you get wet, you get very cold, very quickly, as is the case in BA.

The sun eventually made its appearance from behind the clouds around 4.00 pm and I took the opportunity to wander around my neighbourhood, including the Recoleta Cemetery, which apparently holds much prized title of “Best Cemetery in the World”. If the bus loads of visitors is the criteria on which the title is judged then I know why it won. The 5.5 hectares of burial ground sits snuggly nestled in amongst the busy up market shopping and restaurant precinct. Just walk out McDonalds front door, across a narrow cobbled road and you literally run into the 2 metre high encircling brick wall. What really earns the cemetery it’s renown is the approximately 4961 tombs. Tightly packed like everything in Buenos Aires, the ornate mausoleum’s are the last resting places of some of Argentina’s most prominent citizens.

On the the southern flank of the cemetery lies a lush green park, the abundant muddy puddles indicating just how much rain the city had received. As it was Saturday the regular weekend market was in full swing. I walked along the path between the two trying to decide which course to take; finally take the opportunity to visit Evita’s tomb or wander aimlessly around the market? Of course I chose the markets but in my defence I did reason that as I live around the corner I could go on a day I wasn’t battling crowds.

Once I had made that fateful decision what happened next was almost a forgone conclusion. As I walked my brain became totally engrossed in thoughts of what I may find at the market. Stepping off the concrete path I was blissfully unaware that I was walking onto what could only be described as a skating rink of slimy mud. One, two, three steps, it was fine because I was still propelled by the momentum of forward motion. The point at which my upper body didn’t have as much momentum as my feet to keep it moving forward came quickly after that. The actual feeling of sliding through the mud was quite exciting really, it was just not that much fun landing on my knees and then struggling to get up onto my feet.

To say that my legs, from the knees down, were caked in mud is no exaggeration. Maybe a centimetre thick all over, including my sandals, it was horrific. Thankfully I was wearing a coat, which had suffered a little bit of mud but not as much as I first thought and at least my clothes underneath were protected. Feeling very sorry for myself I stood in a state of confusion for about five minutes, trying to think how I was going to get myself cleaned up enough to make my way home. The realisation that the cemetery should have public toilets ( believe me when I say that isn’t always a given in Latin countries) was a very welcomed thought. As I made my way to the front gates I wondered if the security guard would let me in. Then I realised that with my hair in disarray, some tear tracks down my face ( and possibly running mascara) not to mention the mud, they probably thought I was something that had crept out of the crypt and needed to go back.

…… PS …. if you’re wondering …… as you can see from the photo’s I did eventually go for a walk around the cemetery. Yes Evita’s grave is there but quite unremarkable really. The cemetery is still in used for burials if you have the right family connections. The last internment being only two weeks ago.

Iguazu Falls, Not the Amazon but Just As Impressive

The Boeing 737 began its decent into Puerto Iguazu Aeroporto and from my window seat I had a birds eye view of the vast expanse of rainforest stretching out before me. It was truly humbling and here I will show my ignorance by telling you that as I knew the bottom of Brazil was just across the river somewhere, I did think it was the beginning of the Amazon. As I came to realise, what I was looking at was actually still Argentina and was the Parque de Nacional which surrounds Iguazu Falls. The Amazon is still many hundreds of Kilometres away. This doesn’t take away from the fact that the rainforest, fed by a massive average yearly rainfall of more than 2000mm is immense, dense and very impressive.

Stepping through the aeroplane doors and out onto the exit stairs the steaming heat of the tropics hit me with a bit more force than I had expected. Not quite the wall of heat I have experienced in the past but close. The dark red volcanic earth common in Northern Australia was immediately noticeable. So rich with nutrients that whatever is planted in it grows rampantly but so insidious that the stain paints every surface and crack a rich ochre, far better though than petrochemical black.

The town of Puerto Iguazu, seems to have found renown for its Falls in relatively recent times as the ramshackle appearance of much of the impoverished residential area is intermingled with a range of hotels. The savaging dogs, homes that appear to be about to crumble, derelict cars and ragged children is always an unsettling situation for me. I can’t I help but understand how much of a temptation it must be for the inhabitants to try to take from visitors of richer lands a little more than the actual economy dictates.

Arara Azul, my hotel, sits on the bank (quite literally) of the imposing Piranha River. Verdant green tropical gardens surround a series of rustic cabins, all with their own view of the mighty river. Without the frills of a western resort but a charm all of its own and of course a setting that is the envy of the aforementioned. However, I hadn’t realised it was quite so isolated, so my arrival at the hottest part of the day, with the hotel apparently deserted and an empty stomach didn’t make me quite as positive as I would usually have been.

When a staff member eventually arrive and took me to see my room I felt a little better. The cabin itself was beautiful and clean but the moment I realised there were no mosquito screens on the windows or doors I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Between my own knowledge if Mosquito born diseases and my friends mention of the Japanese encephalitis scare that is currently gripping Bali, it was nearly a recipe for insanity. I could see myself locked up in my room all night with no way of getting fresh air, my worst nightmare come to reality. “ I can’t stay here,” I blurted out. The young guy looked at me mystified. “No screens” I said pointing to the windows while performing very bad charades. Looking straight at me he held my gaze for a few seconds, obviously trying to work out what I was on, before pointing behind his back to something on the wall. “An air conditioner, of course,” I said. Ok so it isn’t the same as having windows open with fresh air coming in but at list I was going to suffocate.

My next biggest problem, that of getting to Iguazu Falls the next day, was solved by a beautiful Argentinean family who I met in the pool not long after their arrival. After a brief and patchy conversation ( they only spoke a few words of English) they extended an offer to go to the falls with them the next day, they even took me to a supermarket on the way home. The kindness of strangers truly astounds me sometimes, humans can be beautiful.

Iguazu Falls itself is worth the expense of getting there. Argentina has done a great job of creating the infrastructure to support a daily intake of 4,00 visitors a day. With three great trails and a free train to help when you are exhausted from all your walking, it is an awesome experience. The pure volume of water thundering over the edge every second is almost mind boggling. The beauty of creation very inspiring.

…. If you are wondering how I finally got some food on my first day, it turns out the local takeaway store delivered but not until I had nearly gnawed my arms off at 7.00pm. So finally after the worst chips I have ever had and a not so good hamburger, I was feeling a lot better!

The Culinary Stewing Pot Of Agentinean Cuisine

When I told people I was coming to Argentina the most common reaction was, “I hope you like steak”, but the funny thing is I haven’t actually seen much steak at all. Except for my third night in Buenos Aires. It was around nine o’clock in the evening and I hadn’t eaten since lunch. My steps were hurried as I marched along, clutching my backpack to my chest. Having heard all the stories about motorbikes coming past and grabbing your bag I wasn’t letting that baby go. My worrying wasn’t confined to loosing the contents of my bag, it also included the fear of getting off at the wrong station on the subway and if so would I then get lost and be forever doomed to wander the streets of BA. Over thinking as I went, the sharp but familiar scent of bbq hit my olfactory nerves and thankfully sent enough of a message to my brain to rid it of any other thought as I followed the aroma to its source.

This turned out to be takeaway store, traditional Argentinean in style, which in another life could easily double as a butchery or “carnetaria” as they are called in Spanish. A huge vaulted ceiling towered over the strangely empty shop, the main feature being an ancient metal grill that resembled the cattle grid found at every farm gate. Slapped squarely in the middle of the grill was the rib section of Argentina’s most abundant export, Bos Taurus, and I don’t think I have ever been so in love with a bbq in my life. Sorry to all the vegan members of my family and readership. My order was sliced from the carcass, two huge pieces, wacked on the grill to sizzle a little longer, then placed inside a giant bread roll and handed to me loosely wrapped in butchers paper.

Oh the joy of the first bite, pure carnivorous delight. You’ll be happy to know I didn’t suddenly become an unrestrained meat eater at that moment, I actually made two meals out of it. I ate one piece immediately and it was good and made a stir fry out of the other piece the next night.

The migrants from Europe have all left their mark in some way on the common food of Argentina and none more so than the Italians. Of all the foods available in BUenos Aires I would have to say pizza is king, hands down, there is no competition, except maybe pasta but that’s harder to eat on the go. However, this is no mere imitation Italian, it is by far the best I have ever seen and Argentina is addicted.

I had imagined that Spanish culture would influence the diet of Argentina and maybe in the provinces this maybe so but not so much in BA. Very little fish is available, some rice and no tapas, but there is Jamon ( the special ham cured from pork that is fed on acorns before being slaughtered). Another stark difference to my experience in Spain is the abundant salad vegetables available here (All my friends will have fun times remember my constant whining about that lack). Argentinean’s seem to be very much like Australians when it comes to recognising the value of fresh fruit and vegetables.

I can’t finish this discussion about Argentinean food without mentioning one more essential food category, pastries sweet and savoury. The quality of of which rivals the shop fronts of Paris. The humble empanada is Argentina’s answer to the Aussie pie, a pillow of pastry stuffed with a variety of fillings. They may have originated in Spain but Argentina has made their own. Everywhere you go there are mounds of them and they are cheap, usually around 15 pesos or about sixty Australians cents.

Which brings me to the cost of living, Argentina is struggling and in Buenos Aires the true condition of the economy is very evident. Food costs are approximately two thirds of Australia but their actual wage is way under that. The average monthly wage in BA is around $20000 pesos per month, which equates to about 800 AU dollars where as in Australia it is about $4800 ( both after tax). In addition Argentina has something Australia doesn’t, rampaging inflation. By the end of this year, 2018, inflation will have reached approximately 40%. A street vendor who last year spent $200 au to buy enough flour for a month of making donuts now has to pay $550 au. So you say why can’t they put their price up, well then people won’t by and won’t they can’t recoup their expenditure.

The price squeeze that effects daily life in BA is less evident in Recoleta, where I am based or one one of the other more affluent barrios. However in the poverty stricken barrios, aptly named “villas miserias” ( I don’t think I need to translate that ) this is all to obvious. Oozing with the tears of of mothers trying to feed their children, the homeless and unemployed scratching through dumpsters looking for anything to sell to buy food, the dream of an average monthly wage of $20000 pesos is pure fairytale.

…… just a postscript to my earlier mention of the Argentinian love of steak. I will forever have “Cows With Guns” playing in my head when I think of Argentina or as one friend renamed the song “Cows on Buns”!

Below is my new favourite cafe in Palermo, BA…. Bellissimo!

No Longer the Place of the Beautiful Air, But Definitely the Beautiful People!

Buenos Aires, a city of 14 million, literally means “the place of the beautiful air”. You could be excused if your first reaction may be to ask how for a city of that size, and believe me seemingly the same amount of cars, could that be possible and why hasn’t it been renamed. However, as surprising as it would seem, BA air is not that bad. In fact, it could be a lot worse, think Bangkok and the thick smog that greets you on leaving the airport. The prevailing south westerly wind blowing across the Atlantic from pristine Antarctica helps exceptionally. Not that the black stain so often permeating the walls, awnings or any other stationary structure in most cities isn’t present. Far from it, there’s barely a surface that doesn’t suffer from vehicle exhaust residue. In reality though, there is nothing a good stiff sea breeze can’t fix and other problems facing the Buenos Aires government far out weigh the little bit of air born petrochemical pollutants that is left.

During the 19th century BA was called the Paris of Latin America and in fact was so wealthy due to agriculture that a common saying in Europe was to be “as wealthy as an Argentine”, but for a select group, those days are long gone. Which brings me to the present, flying over greater Buenos Aires on my arrival it wasn’t hard to noticed an area of larger homes to the north of the city, each with their own swimming pool and well maintained garden. You can never truly be prepared for what you will find until you arrive in any untravelled destination but this was unexpected and lulled me into a false reality.

In contrast the trip from the airport had barely begun when the level of urban decay became apparent and my research was confirmed. Crumbling shells of buildings, some of much grander origin but most just poorly built and aged prematurely, packed like shipping containers for kilometre after kilometre. Some cities you travel to for the architecture, but that is definitely not Buenos Aires.

The past glory of BA is evident in unexpected moments, The Water Company Palace for incident was and still is a water pumping station and yet could easily double for the abode of royalty. However, for the most part, old and new alike, stand without any obvious attempt at preservation. A hodgepodge of era’s and styles, shapes and use, the built environment of Buenos Aires seems to have had no real control and developed in chaos.

Amongst all of the mayhem of downtown BA live at least three million residents, as well as visitors and innumerable undocumented migrants. Add to this mix another ten million plus who live in greater Buenos Aires, many of who commute daily into El Centro, and you have teeming mass of humanity, all struggling to survive. The actually population mix amongst the Portenos, the old term for a resident of Buenos Aires, is of course Spanish but almost equally Italian, many of whom came in the nineteenth century when agricultural work took off. This ethnic mix, along with some Germans, Eastern Europeans and English remained quite static until the late twentieth century when migrants from other central and South American countries, like Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela arrived in search of a better life . Such is the number of people crammed into central BA the two hundred and fifty thousand Chinese I have been told live in the city are barely noticeable.

….. and back to the beautiful homes I flew over, where space is abundant, children play in lovely gardens or in green manicured parks. Where there is no litter on the street, no black grime covering every surface, where residents go to sleep in peace without honking horns or screaming sirens or yelling from the street. These are gated communities with razor wire on walls surrounding the enclosure and security guards with guns. Where segregation from the wider population is practised in a very “Truman Show” esque reality.

While those in the “Countries” as the gated communities are called keep themselves separate from the wider population, living in a controlled environment, where life revolves in ordered security, for the rest of the population of Buenos Aires there is an order in the chaos. They expect the unexpected and are not ruffled by it when it comes. BA has a lot that could be better but the people for the most part are beautiful and happy. They have nothing but they laugh and sing, they welcome you and they have their music and oh how good it is!

Forget the Flight of the Condor – Latam Makes it all Worthwhile!

Cool damp air kissed my cheeks as I stepped outside in the the predawn light. A drenching storm had pummelled the coast the night before but it was now long gone. Leaving in its wake a crisp clearness to the air. I had a clarity of thought not normally associated with an early morning journey, this I am sure must have been partly due to the heavy scent of eucalyptus escaping from battered and bruised leaves lying stripped on the ground. Thanks to some of my beautiful friends my latest trip begins.

Travel has been a long held dream of mine, not just travel however, but living in another country to experience life beyond my cultural limitations. I have, as all of you past readers of my blog may know, over the last six years been attempting to deliver that experience to myself.

The first destination on my list, New Zealand, was a little like dunking your toes to test the water, which in NZ isn’t that warm. On the scale of cultural differences with Australia and I’m sure they won’t mind me saying this, there isn’t that much to notice. I was definitely on a winner when I travelled to Spain for three months in 2016.

Which brings me to the present, October 2018, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Why Buenos Aires you might ask? It’s simple really, a) they’re Spanish speakers and I wanted to improve on what I had learnt two years ago, b) it isn’t a hot Spanish speaking country and c) the exchange rate is ok!

Part of the fun of travel is definitely the trip to your destination, at least most things will be fun when you look back. No matter how hard we try to eliminate problems, however, sometimes you just don’t see them coming. As was the case in Brisbane airport two days ago. I had my support team with me, everyone is happy and boom just like that I’m not going anywhere. Apparently according to Qantas computers my stay in Argentina totalled ninety one days and the maximum allowable with out a visa is ninety days. In reality this was incorrect but they wouldn’t let me argue the point because according to the customer service person a computer doesn’t lie.

I was informed by the rep that the only option I had was to attempt to reschedule my return flight for one day earlier. This was impossible because my flight was due to depart at 7.30 am and cause I had booked through an on line booking site Qantas couldn’t do anything to help and the online company weren’t open till 9.00 am. Trying not to hyperventilate I remembered that I had seen travel advice that said Australians didn’t need a visa for Argentina. When I showed it to the rep it made no difference to her, however it did cause another customer service person to look over the details. What she realised was that the computer was counting my days from when I landed in Chile which was the day before my arrival in Buenos Aires. To cut a long story short my friends farewelled me fifteen minutes later happy that they could ditch the plans they were formulating so I could live undercover without anyone finding out I was still in Australia.

The story doesn’t end there however. A few weeks ago I was told my stop over in Santiago, Chile had been changed from just a few hours to approximately nineteen, which forced me to book a hotel for the night. Because if this change my entry date into Argentina was delayed by a day and had this not occurred I would not have been able to fly. Amazing how things work out sometimes isn’t it!

The flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires over the Andes makes everything worth it!

Ps….. having said all that I’m still not happy that I had to pay $164 entry fee into Chile for one night…..lol

Tips

* Make sure you’re really clear about visa requirements…. it could be very expensive otherwise

* Carry a multi purpose power adapter ( I had found out that Argentina has the same power. sockets as Australia but forgot about Chile)

Who Said You Can’t Go To Wellington For A Beach Holiday?

A southerly buster has descended on Wellington for my last day here. Not the bone chilling, joint aching version that so often holds this weather driven city to ransom. It is, however enough of a breeze to send most Wellingtonians in to rapturous praise for the return of the southerly. The fact that for much of the past two weeks a relatively balmy North Westerly wind has fuelled record breaking January temperatures of between 23 to 28 degrees, has been an almost unbearable heat waive for native residents.

The complaints have ranged from the lack of sleep caused by the heatwave conditions to the fact that the water coming out of the cold tap is too tepid to drink. I did feel it was my duty to point out on more than one occasion that experiencing an Australian summer is like living in an oven for most of the time, but this fact seemed to be beyond most peoples comprehension. To be fair, in reality if you live in a city that averages approximately 173 days with wind speed of at least 60 km’s an hour, you can be excused for thinking that a run of days with winds less than 20kms an hour is a heatwave.

When talking about Wellington the weather is never far removed from the conversation but it really is so much more. Often called the San Francisco of the Southern Hemisphere the comparison is very close. The old wooden houses sitting precariously on the side of the ridiculously steep hills around greater Wellington is just one similarity and another being the ever present threat of earthquake. Really it’s a wonder there isn’t many more stress related crimes considering the residents live with knowledge that the weather is trying to blow them off the face of the earth for more that fifty percent of the time and if that doesn’t happen the earth could swallow them up!

The other similarity to San Fran is the amazing harbour and coastline. Due it’s weird geography Wellington is surrounded on many sides by a myriad of rocky bays filled with some of the cleanest water in the world. It’s also very cold, compared to the Sunshine Coast at any rate who’s water averages 25 degrees C in summer, while Wellington’s is only16 – 18 degrees Celsius.

As a city Wellington has everything that you usually find and more, great food in particular (it is the most multicultural city on the planet) but for me the biggest draw card will always be the natural environment, especially the water. So undeveloped are most of the beaches and bays it is easy to forget that on the other side of the hill are about 500,000 people simply going about their life. I crave the clarity and temperature of Wellington water when I’m away, it’s totally addictive. The other day, while diving with a friend I realised I do fear one thing. As I floated in a bed of seaweed, cocooned by its soft silky tendrils and gently rocked by the ebb and flow of the glacial ocean, I thought came to me that I’m turning into an Otter!

Hip Hip Hooray to International Women Day! But How Far Have We Really Come?

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Let me start this week’s blog by telling a little story….

An immaculately dressed women walks past a mirror and glances quickly at her reflection. As she does her focus zeros in on the aspects of her appearance that she particularly dislikes. She flinches, averting her eyes from the image of herself, as if she were the Hunchback of Notre Dame caught in a spot light. A man walks past the same mirror, his baggy tracksuit pants hang just below his jiggling belly and his ripped Tshirt wears the remains of breakfast. He glances in the mirror and thinks to himself, “looking good”! The point of this story is that women will always look at themselves and think there is something wrong with them; where as men will always see an image of themselves and think they are a chick magnet, no matter how they look.

So lets go back to International Day of Women.

Does it mean we women are suddenly at peace with ourself’…. I doubt it

Does it mean that we are kind to each other…. I doubt it

Does it mean that we like our body…. I seriously doubt it

Does that sound pessimistic? Well it was meant to be. I just despair sometimes that in spite of all the fanfare that goes along with initiatives such as International Women’s Day, women still judge each other harshly and judge themselves even harsher. If we are totally honest there isn’t a woman that hasn’t looked at a photo of some starlet in a magazine, gleefully noticing that tiny bit of cellulite on her butt and rejoiced. Let’s forget the month she may have spent raising awareness for street children in Cambodia, no lets just focus on the cellulite.

I’d like to blame the media for subjecting us to the barrage of images and stories we are exposed to daily, the same images and stories that feed our obsession with beauty over achievement. However I don’t think we can totally dump the blame on the media, I believe the problem starts a little closer to home. It’s a secret passed down from mother to daughter from generation to generation, the signs so seemingly insignificant that most men would never even notice. But we girls know the code don’t we?

It starts very early in life, the little girl watching her mother as she flinches at the glimpse of herself in the mirror, the child takes it all in. Picture a family gathered for dinner, but mum is on a diet so her meal is different from the rest of the family, her daughter sees all. These and the other thousand of unspoken signals women send to their daughters train them where to focus their attention far more successfully than words ever could.

Of course it isn’t all doom and gloom, there are great role models out there; Amal Clooney for one, the brilliant human rights lawyer that represents the likes of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. The trouble is the first thing we think of when we see a photo of Amal is that fact that she is stick thin, beautiful and managed to bag the worlds most eligible bachelor, because that’s what we were trained to focus on.

So if focus is the problem, what can we do to change it? Maybe it’s not focus, maybe its just perspective! Do you remember the story I told at the start of this blog? Well by chance I told this story to a group of friends thinking I would get a laugh, which I did. After the laughter and discussion ended a wise male friend gave me his perspective on my little tale. He told me that the real truth of the story was that neither perspective were balanced, they were both extreme. The fact was that while men are never as good looking as they think they are, we women are never as bad as we perceive ourselves to be. In fact most of the time we are pretty darn awesome!

Stepford Wives to Kim Kardashian -The pressure on Young Women

Long ago in the dark ages, the 1950’s that is, poise and the ability to dress attractively were desired attributes for the cultured young woman. These and the ability to clean a home and cook a roast dinner all the while dressed as a Stepford wife.

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You may think that these standards are long since resigned to the depths of history, but let me ask you what is the difference between the pressures on those 1950’s housewives and the images the likes of Kim Kardasian and her ilk are transmitting into the brains of young women today.

Poise was important then and just so today. Think of the skill involved in presenting the perfect selfie to the world. Surely the poses required in those social media posts are a reflection of the type of “poise” desired for the young in society today.

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Ok so the Stepford “pearls and twinset” look has well and truly gone by the wayside but young women today are faced with an equally unattainable standard splashed over the internet and magazines. Thanks to the same Kardasian clan and lesser media starlets it is not good enough for young wives and mothers to be just cute, they have to be sexy as well. Seductively posed pouting in the bathroom mirror or suggestively filmed with breasts partly exposed, while driving their children to school. This is standard fodder for the all powerful social media platforms. So while the unattainable 1950’s and 60’s standards of perfection is thankfully no longer valid, it has been replaced by an equally unattainable standard – pole dancer style.

You might call me a dreamer but in the words that just dropped out of Amy Farrah Fowler, as I write this blog and watch The Big Bang at the same time, “why can’t we go back to the time when brains were sexy.”

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