23 November 2013

Urban Explorers aka trespassers

I recently tweeted and posted a link to a photographer who goes into abandoned buildings and takes pictures. A couple years ago I also saw a reality TV show on a team of guys who would do these guerrilla break in of places in order to take pictures of abandoned buildings. It sort of fascinates me and brings out the sneaky Scooby-doo feelings. (Loved that show as a kid.)

Once near where I lived an entire neighborhood was condemned. In a rather ominous bureaucratic move, the city decided they needed more commercial zoning and since they were landlocked the way to get it was to condemn a 40 year old neighborhood of small houses. Probably small voices as well. I don't know if the compensation was fair at all, I do know everyone wasn't happy.

Of course, it was prime real estate right along the freeway. One poor disgruntled soul spray painted a protest on the side of his house for everyone on the highway to see as they drove by. In time they were all given a date to get out and a fence was put around the entire four block square. Then it proceeded to sit there untouched for months.

I don't know what came over me but one blustery autumn day my significant other and I decided to explore the now abandoned neighborhood. The main entry street had a bar across it that was locked to keep cars out, but if you were walking there was no impediment to just ducking under the bar. So we did.

This is one of the most bizarre experiences I've had as an adult and it has really stuck with me. I have often described it to people and probably mentioned it in blogs before.

Because no one else was moving in or because they were mad, people had left random things they didn't want in their homes. Also all the doors stood open so in this entire neighborhood you could just randomly wander into the homes.

People had garage sales and just left the things that didn't sell standing on the trestle tables in the drive or garage. I actually picked up a couple little dishes that I still have and use on occasion. Souvenirs of sort.

Clothes were left in closets like someone was coming back. As we walked we managed to get onto creepy stories and in one house freaked ourselves out hearing strange noises. I think in a way it was better than any haunted house experience because it was very mental and real. As I'm prone to do, my imagination ran away with me and I thought someone could be roaming around inside this little neighborhood for weeks hiding, living off food left in cabinets, changing clothes. What if they came on us? What if they were a fugitive? We are in here where no one could hear us if we yelled.

It was a very satisfying, nosy, creepy, adventure and no one the wiser. It didn't occur to me until I read this article (The photos) and looked at his photos that we could have been arrested. The photographer has been arrested a lot for trespassing. I'd like to think we'd have gotten away with a warning and a "get out of here you kids" like Scooby-do and the gang.

We made another memorable trespass adventure now that I think of it, we probably also could have been arrested for too -- but we were young and carefree and enjoyed a good adrenaline kick from being spooked.

It was Halloween in Dover, England. We'd taken the ferry over for the weekend and had no car. We were staying in a little b & b. It was of course cool and rainy, but the b & b was basic to say the least and sitting indoors could get old. So we went out hiking after dinner in the dark and found ourselves exploring all around the grounds of Dover Castle. It was lit up for a nice view from afar, but we stayed to the shadows and poked all around, even tried a few doors I think but didn't get inside the walls. It was great fun and creepy. One of those accidental events that is a memory that sticks with you.

I remember as a kid making up stories and taking turns freaking each other out about the house on the corner that seemed to have no one in it. There's just something fascinating about an empty or abandoned place. The question always lurks - is it really abandoned?

So have you explored any odd urban sites or trespassed? Any you'd like to visit?

10 November 2013

English speaking friends and my writing habits

For the last eight weeks a friend I've known for 20 years has been here in Spain and another came to visit in the same time period. It has been unusual for us to have visitors the last two years. After seven years in Madrid the newness of that and visiting has worn off for a lot of our friends and family. A lot of people say they're coming but never get around to it. That international flight is a big pain in the internal time clock.

The writer in me has noticed that having a spontaneous friend to hang out with has ground my writing habits to a halt. The weather too has played a part. It's gotten cooler and sun down is coming earlier, so if I want to have a walk or anyone else in my social circle does, well that first hour after work needs to be taken advantage of immediately. 

Last year, I wrote after work for an hour usually. This was stronger in the summer when it was too hot to do anything involving motion. Plugging away an hour a or more a day produced a nice draft in about nine months. Editing is harder for me already and I've had some shifts in my day job responsibilities that have wrung out my brain soI've done little post work editing.

I turned my energies to writer work on the weekends earlier this year. It sounds really dull and there was a time in my life I would have never been able to sit still and write or edit on weekends, but now I  do, happily. Perhaps because I don't need (or think I need) to shop for house stuff or clothes. I do like to explore Madrid, but that takes a lot of energy I can't always muster.

So the last eight weeks, my visitor friends have wanted to go walking after work and see things on the weekends. Generally I've had people to be with and it's made me realize how absent that is from my life lately and I hadn't noticed.

I have friends who are permanent residents here in Spain, but they don't generally invite us places, many have kids and organizing outtings is a challenge. While we speak the language, it's still a lot more work to socialize in amother tongue and we often don't make the effort. We travel for work often so people aren't in the habit of connecting with us.  I really hadn't realized this until my English speaking friend came. It didn't hurt that she stayed in our area since we aren't in a central location either. 

I've realized I need to be more disciplined with my writing and not just rely on the absence of social activities as my writing crutch! I guess I enjoy time with my imaginary friends and forget to make the effort to get out and see real ones. 

04 November 2013

The Comfort Tour

So due to visa restrictions in Russia when we traveled there earlier this year, we had to sign up for a tour. We were coming off of a busy season of life and didn't want a high speed pressure filled event, so we signed up for "comfort class" tour.

The group was small and consisted of those who'd past 70  -- and us! I don't know what I expected but not the senior citizen tour.

An old trucker and his wife from Texas. He was rambunctious and couldn't hear and she repeated things for him. He had his wallet stolen at the Peter and Paul Fortress in the line for the turnstile, but other than pride and a few choice words, no damage done. He only brought cash in his wallet from the boat since he was worried about pickpockets. I had to wonder if you didn't bring your credit card on land to buy foreign things, why did you have it with you at all? It was a strategy that paid off for him though. 
Two delightful Vietnamese sisters retired and living in California had an amazing sense of humor and traveled without their significant others. One of them spilled her water bottle as we were getting on the mini-bus and was very adamant that everyone would know she didn't pee.
A retired Canadian couple born in the UK but living in Ottawa had very British accents and almost felt like a comic sketch of a British couple. He thought everywhere was unsafe but had had to travel with a "government office" during his working days. He fancied himself an expert on everything and liked waxing eloquent on it. He was a major pro-picture taker.
A quiet tall older couple from Minnesota or the Dakotas were a matched set of tallness.  She was friendly; he didn't talk. I found myself standing by him on the 5 minute escalator ride to the bottom of the St. Petersburg metro station. It was dramatically long. He was so overcome he spoke, "You'd have to leave for work early." Then at the bottom of the long escalator was a booth with a guard sitting in it. "That'd be easy work." I guess he thought about work.

There was one other couple and they were an exact match to this northern pair where one was friendly and one didn't talk. For the life of me I couldn't keep them straight. Except one fella wore a fishing cap.
While my mother has told me that I'm middle aged, I am not even beginning to be able to imagine the word retirement, so this was not my normal social set. It was almost like any group of quirky people but the quirks seem to be on steroids. Maybe our oddities increase as we get older? Is it harder to hold in our natural instincts of telling all you know or announcing loudly how bad the food or prices might be? I just don't know, not yet anyway.

 One thing that was unexpected for my husband and myself was that we felt responsible for all these people. I'm not sure if it is that we are used to living overseas and often are taking others around to see sites. We perhaps are in the habit of watching over folks. On this day, of course, we'd all paid dearly for a tour guide. She was a nice English teacher and probably around our age.

Nevertheless, my husband and I were tech support for the earphone technology, along with the tour guide, checking channels and volume buttons. We would hang back if we noticed one of the pack falling behind. We were cautioning them about pickpockets when we went into the metro station. We were definitely in mother hen mode even though it wasn't our job.

The cute thing is when we arrived late the first day (see earlier post) they were all worried if we were okay especially those from the north that must have skipped breakfast knowing the passport lines were long. It was our first time, how were we to know?

We compared notes with some younger people on the normal-non-comfort tours. It sounded miserable. They were road marched past a few more sites than us but never allowed to stop or ask questions. It sounded like a race to run past famous monuments, plus that tour was made up of three full sized bus loads of people and we were only 12. We could chat with our tour guide and ask for random potty stops while the big tour people did not have these luxuries. I was thrilled we had taken the comfort tour and had been able to enjoy the sites. To tell the truth, the comfort tour managed to wear me out anyway.