Wednesday, December 25, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #492] Merry Christmas

In all honesty, it doesn't really feel like Christmas.  Perhaps that's willful, or maybe I just don't understand what Christmas without a Mom is yet.

When I think where I was a year ago - freezing in Chicagoland, with Mom, Dad, the rest of the family - it seems so impossibly distant.  And when I think about the weeks that followed Christmas, it drains me in a way that living through it never did.

But I'm also not sad.  I miss Mom, but I'm not sad.  Natasha has been staying with me while Marco's been home in Germany, so I am not alone.  My calendar has been full of travel, dinners, drinks and TV nights in.  I am living in a city I love, and a flat I love coming home to.

Maybe that's why it doesn't quite feel like Christmas.  I expected it to be harder, but mostly there is good in my life.  Mom's outlook on life was "live, laugh, love", and that's exactly what I'm doing.

Merry Christmas, Mama.  I love you.






__________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #491] London Fog

Despite London's reputation, it is rarely foggy here.  Today was an exception; when I woke up, the first thing I noticed was the blanket of whiteness outside my window, eight stories up.  Winter is here, and I love it.  After an exceptionally hot Summer, there's something comforting about the heavy Winter air.  It feels nearer, closer in around you.  While the short days can be a drag, the acute angle of the sun this time of year creates lingering dawns and dusks, with sunrises and sunsets whose colours slowly roll across the sky.

Soon the days will start lengthening towards our glorious 10:30pm Summer sunsets, but for now I am loving Winter in my city.

Cheers,
Shaun




Surnise over Canary Wharf from my balcony last week.




23 dazzling photos of the fog enveloping London



Posted at 6:05 pm, December 11, 2013 in Photos of London

mpsinthesky thing

You probably noticed it was a bit foggy today. So did lots of other people. Some of them with cameras! So on that note, here are some great shots of London shrouded in fog, bathed in a golden winter light, and looking pretty banging.

The invisible Shard reflecting sunshine through the mist:

shard fog photo

 [Photo:@BillyBeefeater]

 The Millenium Bridge disappearing into nothingness:

dave pearce

[Photo: Dave Pearce]

The Shard appearing over a bank of mist:

kjalee shard fog

 [Photo: @kjalee]

The low winter sun over Kenwood Park:

kenwood house sally_mckay

[Photo: @sally_mckay]

The tops of Canary Wharf's buildings above the clouds:

canary wharf - lovetofunk

[Photo: @lovetofunk]

Waves of mist seen from Galvin at Windows:

view from galvin

[Photo: @fredsirieix1]

Sunlight beaming through Tower Bridge:

recborg tower bridge

The Metropolitan Police helicopter got a fantastic view:

london mpsinthesky

You can just about see the O2 arena:
dome mpsinthesky

And Canary Wharf, of course:
fog over canary wharf mpsinthesky

Jamesdolphin1 was passing overhead too:

jamesdolphin1 canaryfog

 Close to the ground, things took on a more dystopian edge:

pseudoboy

[Photo: @pseudoboy]

Though it made for a nice sunset in places:

wiljc

[Photo: @wiljc]

lilian_tsui

[photo: @lilian_tsui]

At Stratford station:

sheastevie

 [Photo: @sheastevie]

And at the Tate Modern:

sophiastvillier ig

[photo: sophiastvillier]

From an elevated office:

auketts ig

 [Photo: auketts]

In the park:

londonaperture

[Photo: londonaperture]

By the river:

therealmikeyboy london fobg

 [Photo: therealmikeyboy]

Looking towards Westminster:

mattpike ig

[Photo: mattpike]

Kristijonas Dirse

[Photo: Kristijonas Dirse]

And finally in Barnet:

barnet vale


[Photo: Phillip Rocker]





__________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com

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Monday, December 09, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #490] psquared to the nth: 50 in 50

In my time in New York, I knew several people who "fell off the cliff" of addiction and into the inevitable downward spiral that results.  As far as I know, most never came back.  One that did is my friend Petr.  A bit over six years ago, he checked himself into rehab (for the final time) and has clawed his way, bit by bit, up those cliffs back to us, and is happy and warm in Southern California, preparing to get his Master's Degree from USC.  I find his story, and particularly the post below, very inspirational.

So, today I will step aside and instead give you a day in "The Life of Petr".

Cheers,
Shaun

__________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com




psquared to the nth
Follow the adventures of p²'s trip to the dark side, with breaks along the way to talk about American Idol, tennis and many other random topics. 

thumbnail 50 in 50
Dec 8th 2013, 16:57, by noreply@blogger.com (p²)

Improbably, considering the way I lived for several years in my 30s and early 40s, I'm going to be 50 in 50 days. Even though I've been sober for more than six years now – therefore less likely to do something that would lead to an early demise – I'm a little surprised that I've gotten so close. I never expected to live to be 50. Well, at least not from the time I was about 23.

Ask just about anyone who was gay and in his 20s in 1987 and you won't find a ton of who expected to live this long. And you will find a lot of us who didn't. More than 25,000 people died of AIDS in the US in the 80s. I couldn't find stats on how many of them were gay, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was a lot. The original name for the disease was GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). I remember reading an article in the paper about it in 1982 or 1983. I wasn't even 20 years old and hadn't even acknowledged to myself that I was gay, and already I was terrified of dying.

I only mention all that to explain why I, and so many other gay men my age, had no expectation of a life past 30, let alone 50. The irony, at least with regard to me, is that it wasn't until I was a few years into my 30s that I started to go off the rails. It started pretty slowly, which led to an overlapping period where my life was veering off course, but no one would have noticed. At 35, I was the development director for a non-profit organization in Philly. It was a good job and had I stayed that course, I might have ended up making a pretty decent living. But at 35 I was also just getting introduced to club drugs like ecstasy and ketamine (K).

The problem, I think, was that while I did a really good job of making sure I lived past 30 I never changed my thinking about how unlikely that was. So by the time I was 35, I really had this mentality that I living in the bonus round. I had accomplished the biggest goal I had when I was 25.

I had a lot of fun from 35 to 38. We ran up and down the east coast to celebrate gay pride events, NYE, Tuesdays. And when we weren't traveling we just turned the spotlight on the disco ball hanging in my living room, smoked pot and watched the room spin. We came up with so many brilliant ideas in that apartment in South Philly. I wish any of us could have remembered even one of them a day later.

Of course, the more fun we had the more fun I wanted. The answer to the question of how much do I want (of anything) is always more. I always want another piece of cake. Another day off. Another bump of K.

That pursuit of more led to a string of bad decisions. For about five years it seemed like there was no problem so bad that I couldn't find an even worse solution. I know by the time I was 40 I was very keenly aware that I never expected to live that long. What I'm not sure about is whether I thought death was chasing me at that point or if I started chasing death.

Whichever the case, it only took a few more years before it was apparent that death and long prison term were waaaaaaay higher on the list of probability than good job and house with a picket fence.

So now I'm closing in on 50 and somehow death seems farther away than it has at any point in my life. I live in an awesome city, with a wonderful man and I'm about ten days away from having a master's degree from USC. I never wanted to be this old. But only because I had no idea it could be so much fun.

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #489] Behind the Sundevil

A funny thing happened tonight while watching "Behind the Candelabra", a story about Liberace.  Midway through the movie, my flatmate, Marco, came in and we talked a bit, during which I mentioned how fun it was to see the film because I remember growing up and Liberace being a part of Vegas.  I never saw him perform, but he was there, on billboards and TV, in conversations and the newspapers, Mom would go see him with visitors from out of town.

Whenever I tell people I grew up in Vegas, they have two reactions (often both, in succession): surprised that anyone lives in Vegas; what an interesting place it must be to grow up.  At the height of my loathing of Las Vegas, I would draw on a well-rehearsed vocabulary in response: vapid, soulless, conservative, stifling, unhealthy.  As my physical and emotional distance grew, I toned down the vitriol (especially in Europe, where Vegas seems to most as magical and remote as any place could), politely acknowledging its unique character, while mentioning the less uplifting aspects of being under 21 and gay in the world's second-largest Mormon city in days before Glee.

Marco's reaction when I said I remember Liberace (including where he lived - everyone knew which house was his) took me aback, and a few images of Vegas came to the fore: Liberace, Siegfried & Roy (for whom I played "welcome back" music for in Eldorado High School marching band regalia after a world tour), Kenny Kerr, Casino, living with the showgirl from the billboards - and suddenly I understood a little bit better people's reactions to my roots.  

Not that I knew, or had even met all these people, but these were the people that made Las Vegas, what made up the colour and character of my hometown - this was my normal.  Other cities have their mayor, the birthplace of a president, a baseball team; Vegas has the Rat Pack, Elvis and Bugsy Siegel.  Perhaps there were conservatism, homophobia and ugly stripmalls, but where didn't in America?  At least ours sparkled with a little neon and glitter.  

I always say I'd love to see Vegas through a non-native's eyes.  Tonight, for an instant, I did.


Too much of a good thing is wonderful.


My flatmate (in Vegas, not Marco). 

__________________________________________________________________________

Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #488] The end of the line

Last, but certainly not least, in my whirlwind tour was Kerala.

When I went to India last time, I looked into taking an overnight train for one of the journeys.  India has an extensive train network, with routes crisscrossing the entire subcontinent.  The order of the cities we travelled, however, would have meant an unbearably long ride, though (up to 30 hours), so I stuck to the air.  However, the journey from Chennai to Alleppey crosses the narrower point of the Indian peninsula and allows for a manageable 14-hour ride.

The journey itself neither lived up to any romanticised notion of train travel, nor down to any horror stories.  The quarters were more cramped than I'd supposed, but tamer.  There's not a whole lot to do on the train, especially as there are unspoken rules that, once 10:00pm hits, if someone decides to go to sleep, their "room"-mates do as well.  So I spent some time with an old man and his wife and who I think was their daughter, with her child (sharing one bunk), before the wife decided to turn in.  I got to catch up on The Economist and fell asleep easily to the rocking of the train, and had a pretty good full night's sleep.

Awaiting me at the end of the journey was the highlight of the trip, a boat ride through the backwaters of Kerala.  The backwaters "...are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (known as the Malabar Coast) of Kerala state in southern India. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually half the length of Kerala state."  The scenery was awesome, just trees, rice paddies, water and people going about their lives.  The surroundings and leisurely pace of the boat lull you immediately into serenity, and the boat itself is a small house, complete with driver and two personal chefs at the ready.  It's not fancy by any means, but totally and completely comfortable and relaxing.  A perfect way to end a holiday.

Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the end - I had a day in Cochin city before heading back to Mumbai and onward to London.  There was a general strike in Kerala that day, so everything was closed.  I did get a few sights in before heading to the airport, but my mind and heart were really still back there on the water.

Till next time, India, namaste.



At Chennai train station, not everyone waits to board to sleep.


My AC sleeper car.  Each cubby on the left of the hall has a set of four beds, two up, two down, and on the right two perpendicular bunks. 


Me waking up in my luxury bunk.


The houseboat!


Living room


Bedroom


And the dining room, upstairs, with delicious South Indian food.


There are a number of houseboats out at any one time, squeezing together where the canals narrow.


And spreading out in the lakes.


Along the canals, you see people going about life, working cooking, cleaning...


...or commuting in paddleboats.  I didn't have my camera to hand at the time, but the best thing I saw on the water was one of these little boats with a mother, father, two kids and a cow.  The cow was just standing there, looking around, completely unconcerned by its circumstances.  It'd obviously made similar journeys many times before.


As it's a living community along the water, the shore is punctuated with restaurants, temples and other services.



Cochin and its environs aren't particularly remarkable - the area really just serves as a port of entry to tourists on their way to more bucolic parts of Kerala - but it does have some pleasant areas.


And also some signs that jar against modern native English-speaking sensibilities.


The city abuts a large port, so traditional wooden boats and fishing nets compete for space with container ships and industrial cranes.


But you are never far from modern urban India and its wonderful sights, such as families riding together on a single motorcycle, including a sleeping toddler.

__________________________________________________________________________

Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com
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Sunday, November 24, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #487] Tamil Nadu

The next destination on my Indian tour was Pondicherry, which was the French colony in India.  To get there, I had to fly into Chennai, the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, and take a bus onward to Pondicherry, so I decided to spend a day in Chennai as well.  Even the most supportive travel guides say there is not much to see in Chennai, so one day was enough.


Chennai is most known for having the longest beach in Asia (and second longest in the world); it runs for 13 kilometres and is around 400 metres wide, separating the city from the Bay of Bengal.  The driver told me that, as we were there on a Wednesday, the beach wasn't very crowded; it's much busier at weekends.


Any water near an urban centre in India is likely polluted, so I limited my seafaring to my feet.



Chennai is pretty much a sprawl of typical urban India (Anyone who's been there will know what I mean - kind of how American cities outside downtowns are all very similar, India has a very uniform urbanity.), but this new government building is breaking that mould.



Tucked inside a city-centre shopping complex is "Snow World".  India, South of the Himalayas, is a very hot country,  Indians will pay to go into a room chilled to -6° and play in "real" snow, ride on a sleigh, and go down ice slides.  At £2, it's a lot cheaper than a trip to Switzerland for a Winter experience.




Pondicherry, affectionately known as "Pondy", was about three hours away by bus.  The outskirts of the city are (again) typical urban India, but the core of the city, the old French colony, is distinctive.  It doesn't feel particularly French, other than the street signs in French as well as Tamil, but it is ordered, clean and colourful.  The fact that I can tell you street signs are in two languages is itself an oddity in India; in most cities, there are few if any street signs, in any language.

The city is seaside and has a promenade along the length of the original colony.  Quite remarkably, it is blocked off to most traffic, so it is a viable public space rather than a congested thoroughfare.  The core, encircled by an oval-shaped ring road, is very walkable, and there are hotels, restaurants, bars and other standard tourist fare throughout.  The pace of the city is noticeably leisurely, and its streets are remarkably free of traffic, a first for me in an Indian city.  The city is quite popular with the bohemian set, possibly owing to its proximity to Auroville, an experimental town of sorts which  "...is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity."  You see a lot of tie-dye and oversize cotton trousers in Pondy.




Typical Pondy street.


The buildings are often painted in vibrant colours, giving the city a bit of a Carribean feel.



Multilingual street sign on another flashy building.



The original French colony was bisected by a canal.  Originally, only the French were allowed to live on the Eastern side, between the canal and the beach.  Indians lived West of the canal.  Since independence in 1963*, the canal has had a hard time of things and is now more a sewer/drainage ditch.

*I was surprised to learn that not all of India became independent when it ceded from Britain in 1947.  French India maintained its interests for another sixteen years.  They don't cover that in "Gandhi".


The small beach and promenade, a storm rolling in behind.



And the storm arrives!

__________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com
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