Thursday, January 2, 2014

Anno delle Meduse- Year of the Jellyfish


I started writing this post over 6 months ago, but never finished. Now I have completed the daunting task of bringing my stories up to date since my last post over a year ago! I guess it's been a busy year. Sorry if this gigantic post is's funny how much I remember while writing!

                                                                                 Me and my sicilian roomies
Upon my re-arrival in Palermo in October 2012, things were feeling a little different. Like vacation was over, and it was real life now. After finishing the storyboarding contract in August and spending September in Canada, I was encountering some questions of what's next? And I decided to invest the money I'd earned suffering it out storyboarding, into giving myself time to paint with the intention of organizing a gallery show in the new year. Thanks to jet lag, I got a head start, painting a set of canvases into the early hours of the night.
                                                              Playing with Paolo's kids
Within a few days of my arrival, what luck! There were waves and Marco and I set out for Isola Delle Femmine, the surfing beach. It was a beautiful day and still hot like the summer; a wetsuit wasn't even necessary. That was the way to get reacquainted with my life in Palermo. A few days later, I reunited with some friends at skateboarding night, and handed out stickers from 'The Source', the skateboarding store in calgary and chocolate loonies.

As winter is the season with the most waves in Sicily, the opportunity to surf became more and more available. I decided to sign up for a month of surf camp in December, seeing as I wasn't dancing anymore, and sometimes I was able to go 3-4 times a week, even in the rain, wind, crazy waves, everything, I was there. My progress started to show as I was catching more waves and getting faster popping up. Once, when I came in from a surf session (which often lasted many hours, involved many wipe-outs, and only a few successful waves), Danilo, the surf coach was super pumped and told me that he saw me surfing the face of the wave (when you get the side of the board totally making contact with the steep part of the wave) . I actually didn't realize it at the time but I knew something felt good haha.

In this season there were days when the sea was full of jellyfish. They are beautiful to look at but nasty if you touch them. I was full of jellyfish stings on my hands and feet, which had me waking up in the night itching. I even got swatted with a tentacle on my face once. I have scars on my feet that I don't think will ever totally heal. My battle scars. Some days all the jellyfish get washed onto shore, and the beach is totally covered in gushy jelly. Then they get shriveled up with the sun. There was one day without any waves that I went out on the sea with the SUP board (stand up paddling) board for the first time. Looking into the water, there were swarms of jellyfish and I marveled while watching them through the super clear water and trying so hard to keep my balance so I wouldn't fall in and get stung. But your first time out, a few falls are inevitable. Despite my shrieks and the anticipation of a sting, the blow of the fall actually made the jellyfish scatter, so that day I remained sting free.

Due to my limited budget, I was only intending to do surf camp for a month, but one day Danilo proposed me a deal to trade him english lessons in exchange for surfing. That was probably the best proposition anyone has ever made me, ever. So from January on, I started giving him lessons about once a week, sometimes during the car ride back to Palermo while he was driving. And texting his friends on his iphone. Yes Italians are super multitaskers, as seen in my illustrations: Things Italians Do. Although he was a bit shy in the beginning and sometimes he got bored with the exercises I gave him, he made considerable improvement and is now quite comfortable having conversations with me in English. I've been teaching him lots of slang and surf lingo, but sometimes I'm caught off-guard when he responds back to me 'gimme a break' or the day I taught him 'I ate shitloads of pasta' hahaha. 

In the beginning of November I had a visitor, Rosie, my old roomate from Florence, who had since returned to live in England as she'd finished her studies at the portrait school in Florence. We first celebrated the first of november with friends of Marco at a house in the country and then, with her ability to drive a stick, we decided to rent a car and tour around a bit on the west side of Sicily. Day 1 we started off to Agrigento and visted the amazing Scale dei Turchi at sunset which was already the highlight of the trip for me.
Le scale dei Turchi
The next day we visited an archeological site of greek temples before passing through Sciacca and Mazara del Vallo and finding our hotel in Marsala. As it was off season we were able to stay in nice accomodations for a fraction of the regular price. The next morning upon waking up however, we had a little surprise. Rosie opened our balcony doors and gasped. Somebody hit the car!

                                                                       The view from our balcony in Marsala

 This resulted in delaying our plans for the day to go to the police station and file a report. We were a bit nervous as although we had insurance on the rental car, we'd bought it online from a 3rd party, so for sure it'd end up being a little complicated. We went to the police station immediately but they told us we could only file a report after 2pm, so we killed some time in the quiet center of Marsala before coming back promptly at 2. We waited over an hour before finally being called in.

The police officers were friendly and even a little flirty as probably two foreign girls coming into their office was the highlight of the day. They gave us some recommendations of places to eat on our next destination, Trapani. We had to nix our plans to visit the island of Mozia as there wasn't enough time but we stopped along the road for a few photo ops. We got settled in our B&B and got dressed up to hit the town, but unfortunately it was a monday night and we were the only ones out. We had a nice dinner in a vacant restaurant, and I ate a sicilian speciality for the first time, pasta with ricci (sea-urchins), as the restaurant offered gluten free pasta. I can't say I was crazy about it but maybe it merits another try one day.
Day 4 we were off to Erice, a medieval town on the top of a mountain. It takes a good half hour up winding roads to arrive, but the view is amazing the whole way. We wandered around and took in a bit of sunshine before heading back down the mountain for our next destination, some other greek ruins in Segesta (Rosie's request), followed by a hunt for the natural hot springs in the area (my request). The marking on the map was a bit confusing and the signs on the roads were too. We stopped at a few places that had constructed spas out of the springs, but what I really wanted was the all natural outdoor hotsprings which I had read about, which we finally found after getting directions.

We followed a bumpy road in the middle of nowhere, parked the car, and walked down a path including rocks to hop across a river. It was so beautiful and magical, the water was super clear and warm. If there hadn't been 3 slightly grizzly middle-aged men there, I definitely would've gone in, but as it was nearing sunset, it didn't seem like a good idea. We stayed a few minutes and chatted with the least grizzly of the men before making our way back to the car and completing the loop back to Palermo.
We pulled up at Hertz, the car rental place, with the police report in hand, ready to deal with whatever had to be done. The man looked at the police report, looked at the car, looked at us and said, don't worry, don't tell anyone, just make sure you take the insurance through us next time. I was like really????! and we thanked him profusely. We were so relieved as we walked back to my place. I'm not sure but probably it was another case in which being foreign and female helped.

Upon Rosie's departure, I was back to my routine of surfing and painting. My computer was broken, skateboarding night was suspended, and life was feeling pretty quiet some days as I was in my room alone for hours on end, hunched over with a paint brush in my pajamas. But it was so satisfying to have the images in my head finally taking shape for real. I was really enjoying the whole process, without being overly focused on the end result while working. It really takes the anguish out of it, working in this way, feeling present the whole time, without rushing or forcing anything, just planning the image out and then following the steps to take it to completion, of course with unexpected issues along the way, but keeping it on track.

I think the biggest difference which has allowed me to work in this way is the subject matter, painting things to tell stories and feelings, with the aesthetic and the technique take a back seat, and are allowed to be just the tool for communication of the idea instead of the purpose itself. So thinking in this way really helps me to take the pressure off, and resulted in finishing paintings that I was really satisfied with. In the past I've had the tendency to suffer from perfectionism which can be super stifling and lead to lots of unfinished work and low self esteem. Now that I'm aware of this hopefully there won't be any relapses.

With December came Christmas, and the weekend prior I decided to have a little getaway to Napoli (Naples). A cheap ticket on a brutal 10 hour ferry ride was all it took! I'd only passed through there once before, on a bus ride returning from Pompeii when I was 17 with my high school trip. They wouldn't let us off the bus because they said it as too dangerous! The city was breathtaking however, with the historic center on the coast, some islands in view, and Mount Vesuvius, the volcano, hovering on the side. Amazing.

A Napolitano friend I'd met in Palermo while he was on a business trip picked me up one afternoon and showed me around his suburb, which was simultaneously entertaining and frustrating. His two cell phones were ringing non-stop and we were waiting long periods at random places for people for reasons I didn't understand. And often they didn't show up. However driving around with him I was able to decode italian communication via horn honking. One short honk = watch out! Two short honks= Hello friend! One long honk= What the hell are you doing??!!! Finally he finished 'working' as he called it (it was since suggested by italian friends upon recounting this experience that this guy may have been doing some shady business...) and he took me to eat were I got to taste some napolitano specialties. Most famously pizza, fresh buffalo mozzarella, babba`(an alcoholic dessert), and sfogliatelle (a pastry with sweet ricotta inside).

I'd decided before leaving on the trip to experience the Christmas season like a normal person, that is eating things with gluten, which definitely made traveling a lot easier (and delicious). The rest of my time in Napoli involved a ton of walking to see all the different neighborhoods and some monuments scattered throughout. There were lots of people out and about doing christmas shopping and socializing. I hung out for a few hours in Piazza San Domenico the following afternoon, watching an amazing band play.

I arrived back in Palermo, super bagged at 6am on Christmas eve day. After crashing for a few hours I headed over to Marco's parent's apartment building with the intention to take place in the Lio Cup, an annual soccer game, involving wine on the sidelines, with Marco's childhood friends who grew up in the same building. Marco had described it to me as very casual and that even girls play, but instead, I showed up late and was still the only girl on site. The guys were all decked out in their soccer gear and passionately arguing in good italian style. Yeah, I should've know that the italian guys can't take soccer lightly, especially with wine in their systems. So I refused the invitation to participate and witnessed the fun from the sidelines. It was good that I did because then I received an important call. My niece was born!

Marco's family was very kind to invite me to both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. If there was ever an occasion to eat normally this was it, with amazing lasagnas, ravioli, desserts, and cheeses available. I survived the festivities without too much digestive discomfort. Festivities continued for New Years at our friend, Giulia's house where there was more amazing food and I got to eat for the first time another sicilian specialty of Pasta al Forno (Baked Pasta). It wasn't long after all these feasts that I wasn't feeling weel and needed to return to my gluten free ways, but I was glad that I got to enjoy food, restriction free, over the holidays.

I continued painting and surfing throughout January 2013 but was feeling an itch for another of my favorite activities and ended up signing up for a month of salsa, this time cuban, with a new instructor who insisted that I come to the choreography class despite my request to be in the normal class. He was african from the island Cape verde and was pretty entertaining. Despite obviously being a great dancer, he would occasionally have a temper tantrum on one of the students or make them do a step a thousand times over, each time yelling out the details that they hadn't perfected. Eg. Arm! Arm! Arm! I was his victim a few times and it just made me laugh because he was so vague and I usually didn't understand what he wanted. Anyway, I would've liked to continue the class as I was learning some advanced combinations but entering February I was surprised to be getting zero responses to my teaching english ads, and was starting to get a little nervous about money.

Luckily my trips to the surfing beach started to include a bit of earning, as the owners of the bar/restaurant where the surf school is had asked me to tutor their teenage son, Tonino (little Tony), as he was flunking his english course. I knew Tonino already as he was a surfer, although not the conventional type. It was a bit ironic that his name is little Tony as he is anything but. Some of his friends call him the big kahuna which is more fitting. My first conversation with Tonino went like this, months before we started lessons, when I recognized him on the train one day:

Me: “Are you going surfing today?”
Tonino (without making eye contact): “ Boh” (a sound italians make which means I don't know)
The End.

Haha. Well as our lessons went on, he started to open up, and I found out about his love for english music. Every so often upon studying his textbook he'd burst into song when he recognized a word or phrase from one of his favorite pop songs. Eg. Studying the present perfect sparked Rihanna, 'Where have you been all my liiiii iiii iiii iiife?'

Plans for my first ever solo exhibition lined up perfectly as the place I had my eye on accepted my request to host it. I had met the event organizer of the bar/restaurant/concert venue the first time I had been in the spring. The friend's sister worked there, and I had mentioned to my friend upon walking in that I liked the place and would like to do an exhibition there one day. The organizer happened to be walking by in that moment so she made the introduction immediately. When I returned nearly 9 months later he said he didn't remember me but it didn't matter as he liked the painting I'd brought and he showed me the space and we discussed my intentions to open on March 1. He told me to call 2 weeks before and he would confirm.

Knowing that things in Sicily don't always tend to go to plan, I continued to work on my paintings while keeping in mind that it wouldn't be 100 percent until I was actually hanging the paintings on the walls, but I felt a lot more confident when I made the scheduled phone call two weeks before and he told me to design an ad which he put up on their website. So I continued with preparations and figured things out as I went along, getting giant sheets of plastic printed with my designs for the lightboxes above of the bar, figuring out how to hang the paintings, and cutting out tons of paper dolls for the installation. When the day came I was super exhausted but super happy, as it felt like a huge personal accomplishment for me and I shared it with many people who came to support me. Two reviews were written for online sites and I felt very satisfied.

Shortly after the opening I started to panic a little as I realized I didn't have much planned in my life after that important date, creative or otherwise. So I plunged into an idea that I had for a super short animated film about surfing, as well as going forward with a collaboration at a bar/hangout to offer super affordable group english classes aimed at young people, using music and film as learning materials. It seemed like a great idea and so many people expressed their interest, however the maximum number of students that actually ever showed up was 4, the usual amount being 0, and after sticking it out for a good six weeks, I had to give up.

One day I decided to hang out in front of the cathedral where the tourists gathered and offer caricatures. I drew an example in my sketchbook and held it out as people walked by, asking 'Do you want a caricature?' in clear English. But I think the majority of the tourists that day were non english speaking eastern europeans as many didn't even acknowledge me. A few italian guys were flirting a bit and asked me how much, but when I told them I understood they weren't interested in paying so I asked if they'd let me draw them to use as an example. They agreed but it was funny how they went from confident to self-conscious as they had to stand still for me to inspect them and draw.

Then a group of enthusiastic italian school kids came by and asked me how much. They said they didn't have money and I said that I'd do one for them anyway. So it went from a group of about 4 kids to the whole class (about 20) as they all jumped in, including the teacher. So my pencil fired across the page and the kids who I finished crowded behind and marveled and yelled at each kid when I had finished their part so they could leave their position. At the end the teacher was insisting that they had to go so I blasted through the last couple of kids and handed them the drawing before she whisked them away. They were very complimentary and appreciative and despite not making any money that day as was my intention, I felt really happy.

Another of my great ideas for income was to convert my 'Things Italians Do' illustrations into postcards, with the intention of selling them in the souvenir stores in Palermo and other cities in Italy. As I tend to be overly positive, I jumped the gun a bit and printed 1000 due to bulk printing deals.....and then started making the rounds in the tourist district, only to hear the same thing over and over.

They weren't interested, tourists only buy postcards of monuments and things particular to Palermo, ect. and I was a first hand observer of the closed minded Sicilian mentality, but tried to stay positive and perfect my sales pitch, telling an anecdote of how, when I traveled through italy previously as a tourist, was always searching for an amusing postcard to send to my friends back home. Well that didn't really help. I went to around 20 shops hearing no after no, until one place, agreed to take 5 of each. Not a total bust at least, but without much promise, after that I changed my focus to other things.

Danilo had suggested that I could custom paint surfboards and it had the potential to go over well. Overly optimistic once again I ordered a bunch of special markers on ebay (well I wanted all the colors!) and did research on the process. My first design was for a fellow surf student who had come to my exhibition and had full faith in me to work on his brand new board. I really enjoyed it and charged him a modest rate for being my first customer. Since then I painted a board for Danilo, myself, and a couple others friend for free, and just recently had my second paying customer. 

                                                     Gianluca and the first board I painted

                                                           Danilo and his balinese board

As I wasn't continuing with any dance lessons during that time due to tight finances, I decided to invest in my friend's second hand skateboard, that way whenever I wanted to get some exercise, it was at my disposal. Plus it would help with my surfing. So from then on I spent many evenings alone behind the tribunale (courthouse), listening to music and practicing my moves. It's like a new form of dancing.

My finances were helped that I got a few months break in paying rent, as Marco needed some graphic work for the tour he was setting up, the now famous 'STEAT Palermo Tour'. A tour which started as him showing friends around the city to taste the sicilian food in the markets has now evolved into his full time job and is generating a lot of publicity between TV, magazines, radio, and the internet. This spring he should be in full swing!

On Easter weekend I was invited to San Vito Lo Capo, a place I'd heard about many times but had never been to, with my friends Andrea, Claudia, and Eliana who were celebrating Pasquetta (Easter Monday) with Andrea's relatives in the typical sicialian way, that is barbequing tons and tons of food, mostly meat, in a house in the countryside. We took an intermission to see the town on the sea and go for a little skateboarding before returning for dessert. 

At the end of April my first family visitors in Sicily arrived, Uncle Barry and Auntie Pam, who had booked a beautiful apartment across from the port. They were excited to be guinea pigs on Marco's Street Food Tour, and we took them through the markets and had them taste all the foods on the eating passport (which I designed) to earn their stamps.

Another day I brought them with me to the surfing beach outside Palermo, and they had a nice lunch while I hit some waves. Another evening I took them to my exhibition and they were very generous to become my best clients. As they were wishing to visit my great-granparents town in Calabria, we put together a little toad trip tour through Sicily and Calabria, which would make the most of the 3 day car rental.

                                                                           on the ferry 
With Uncle Barry confident and calm behind the wheel (despite the crazy drivers on every side of him) we set out for Tropea, a very charming town on the west coast of Calabria. This meant taking the ferry across the sea to Calabria from Messina on the eastern tip of Sicily. Spring was in the air and it was a nice day to stand on the deck and take in the views as we sailed to the italian mainland. Our GPS was a bit confused in taking us to the hotel we'd booked in Tropea, but once we found it and enjoyed the complimentary desserts they brought us, we set out for the beach. I soaked in some sun and even went for a dip, not bad for the end of April! Later in the evening we went for a nice dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hotel, which happened to be the same restaurant I had eaten at before with Giuseppe and his cousins when I had been there 2 years prior. Before going to bed we watched the glowing lava in the distance, coming from one of the volcanoes on the aeolian islands.

The next day we were off to Amato, the mountain top village where my great-grandparents grew up and got married before deciding to immigrate to Canada. Our GPS brought us up the back way, a bit-treacherous and time consuming, but breathtaking amidst the olive trees and valleys and little farm houses. We stopped periodically for pictures and upon crossing paths with a local, we knew they must have been wondering who we were and what the heck we were doing. We finally made it to the top and we found the road that was listed on great-grandma's identity card before making a little loop and finding our way into the main piazza.

                                                                   View in Tropea 

                                                            The back roads to Amato

                                                           The empty streets in Amato

We entered the only bar in town to use the bathroom but as it was sunday afternoon, the place was deserted as were all the streets. I chatted with the men working for a few minutes as they asked what we were doing there (it's generally not a town where tourists drop by) and I told them our story. They informed me, as I had found out last time, that the last Cardamone in the town had passed a way many years ago, and only the widow was left (I had knocked on her door last time). He sent there were many people with the last name of Masi (my great-grandma's maiden name) but there were actually so many of them and they weren't all related. They were shutting down the bar for lunch time but they said if we hung around until late afternoon there would likely be some men in the bar later that could give us more information. We decided not to wait around as there was no guarantee and we wanted to carry on to our next destination. We hung out in the main piazza a little longer and I climbed a tree before we hit the road, this time taking the main road back down the mountain which took a tiny fraction of the time.

Our next stop was Catanzaro Lido, on the east coast, where we had something to eat and then I had a little relax time on the stoney beach while Uncle Barry and Auntie Pam went for a walk. Then we were back on the road, all the way down the east coast of Calabria on a slower highway often with a view of the sea which we got to observe during sunset. We powered through and made it all the way to Reggio Calabria, a city with a view of Sicily across the way, so we could easily cross back over on the ferry the next morning. We managed to find a hotel near the sea and had dinner at a modern restaurant right on the water before calling it a night.

The next day we crossed back to the island and I led us in the direction of Taormina, a pretty town I had visited with my friend, Alex, and a place I figured they'd like to see. With an amazing view over the coast and a lively atmosphere with many tourists and shops, we enjoyed an afternoon there before heading for our next destination, Mount Etna, the volcano which mesmerized Uncle Barry. We took the road up that allowed us to drive as close to it as possible and we stopped at the cabin at the end some pictures and a drink. It was a lot colder up there. Somewhat satisfying his curiosity of the smoking mounting, we started the long journey home, through winding mountain roads and villages that would take us back to the main highway....or so we thought.
                                                           The view from Taormina

on the base of Mount Etna
Poor Auntie Pam was feeling a little car sick from all the winding, but just as we were making our way down a mountain which connected to the highway underneath, we passed a strange road sign and then all of a sudden, we found ourselves stopped in front of a barrier completely blocking the road. We were really confused but with no other options, we turned around and started back up the mountain while I scrutinized the map for an alternative. It was about 9pm and fortunately upon returning to the town at the top of the mountain, there happened to be a little mini mart still open. I went inside with the map and told the people what had happened, to which they nodded knowingly and said that the road had been closed for a couple months due to a landslide.

They said there were a few alternatives and started explaining. However, first, these were rural folk and I had a hard time understanding as they talked primarily in dialect, and second, they don't know how to read maps, so they were giving me directions based on landmarks (mostly restaurants) and lefts and rights, nothing I could really program into the GPS, and seeing as it was dark and we were tired and Auntie Pam was sick, I was getting a little nervous. Then by chance a man walked in and said he was taking an alternate road that connected to the highway and that we could follow him, so after consulting my companions in the car, we decided to go for it. The man was kind to wave us on after he'd reached his destination and it wasn't long before we were on the homestretch of our journey, exhausted but relieved.

After seeing them off a few days later, it wasn't long before I had another visitor. Rosie was back for a few days but this time the farthest we traveled was to Mondello beach and back. One day I had left Rosie suntanning to do a bit of skateboarding with my friend, Andrea, and after saying goodbye to him I was walking back to the beach when I got stopped by a girl on her bike. She asked 'Are you American?'. I smiled and said 'I'm Canadian' and her next question was ' Are you Sergio's friend?' and I said 'Yeah! Are you his frisbee friend?' and she said 'Yeah!'. My friend Sergio from Tuesday night skateboarding had told me a number of times about an english friend of his who he played was a frisbee expert that he played with on sundays. Apparently he had told her about me too, as his Canadian skateboarding friend, so that's how she had recognized me. I invited her to hang out on the beach with Rosie and I that afternoon and she also accompanied us later on to party with some New Zealand guys that Rosie had met on her flight. Since then, I've seen Eue regulary and we've become good friends.

With all my visitors gone I was getting a more worried about finances and discouraged that my endeavors hadn't worked out. Then by some stroke of luck I received an email. It was from a magazine art director in Vienna who had been on vacation in Palermo and happened to buy my postcards. Well she liked it so much that she wanted to publish it in the italian issue of the magazine she worked for. I couldn't have been happier! The payment for the illustration quintupled the printing costs of all the postcards, so it made everything worth it. I was so fired up that I made another round at the souvenir stores with my postcards, convincing the place who had taken 5 of each to take a larger load, and even making a second attempt at some of the others that had turned me away. Unsuccessfully. But at least I told them they were wrong that people DON'T only want to buy postcards of monuments.

In another stroke of luck I was asked to record a voice over for a publicity video that an advertising agency was working on. They needed a mother tongue english speaker and it's hilarious that due to slim pickings, I was one of few candidates for the job. It was kind of amusing doing it, and paid well for the time spent, but in the end they didn't end up using it as the client wanted a male voice instead.

Taking whatever jobs I could come up with, I also filled in a few times for a girl who needed me to do check ins and check outs at her family's villa that they rented to tourists. It seemed like an alright deal as they would pay 25 euro for each check in and check out, and in theory it wouldn't have taken longer than 20 minutes each. However, as I didn't have a car I needed to make arrangements with the girl's father to pick me up and take me to the villa, about 20 mins out of town. Well, as I learned after my 'orientation session' when the girl picked me up one day to show me the villa and give me the run through; every day I was involved with this family, it was a full day operation. And there would also be voices at high volumes involved. They were quite friendly and I was always fed lunch and invited to make myself at home when the Dad needed to nap after lunch before driving me back to the city, but what they didn't realize is that there were many other ways I would have preferred to spend my time. Once spending an exhausting 8 hours with them just for 25 Euro.

Apart from these one off jobs, I had gotten a call from a doctor who wanted english lessons at his office twice a week, and so I had a more regular gig for a couple months. He was a very nice and intelligent man and I didn't mind the 25 min bike ride to his office each way, especially because we spent most of the lesson in conversation and I didn't have to prepare much.

Despite my reluctance, I had also contacted the animation studio in Rome who I had done some work for previously, as they had informed me earlier in the year that they were expecting an animation project that I could work on. I hadn't been very thorough in following up previously because a) they had said the same thing to me times before when nothing actually came through and b) I was so desperately trying to find an alternative to working in this field, and c) they didn't pay me for 8 months after completing the last project......but as I was trying practically everything and struggling, I had to trust that the thing that came through was the right thing, and so, when this animation work came through I accepted.

It was the first time that I animated professionally in Flash, but it didn't take long to get the hang of it. However I quickly realized that I'd made a huge mistake to accept the project. Each animator was responsible for a full 6min and 40 sec episode and the management was so disorganized (or possibly there was no management), the material always late, the communication horrible, the pay peanuts, and the regular deadline super tight. Having some doubts about being able to work on it full time I had negotiated a longer time frame prior to starting, but I quickly saw that it didn't really matter as I couldn't do my work without the material I needed being ready.

                                         A summer day with Andrea and Claudia before work started

The Santa Rosalia celebration
So as it always seems to happen when I work in animation, the stress arrived in full force. It was summer but I was on house arrest. The only good thing was that I wasn't missing any waves because the summer is nearly completely flat. The one day we did get some waves and I escaped to the sea, one of the young surfers asked me really concerned “Jennie why are you so pale?!” That day I learned that surfing works best with a clear head, as I was distracted and stressed and couldn't get any waves. That was the day that I also had a giant burn on my leg after a glass pitcher full of boiling water broke while I was making tea. I had my leg desperately bandaged up with waterproof bandages despite the pharmacist's recommendation that I shouldn't risk going in the water because it could be infected. I told her I just wanted to go the the beach, but didn't say anything surfing hehe. Well the bandage managed to stay sealed and even though I surfed like crap that day, I was so happy to be out in the sun and water.

An eve out with friends

Somehow I managed to meet my deadline and finished the episode in time. My sister, Amy and her husband Darryl arrived shortly after I had sent off the files at the end of July, and I rushed over to meet them at their B & B. It was great to see them and I heard some stories about their experiences in Venice before we went for a little stroll and grabbed dinner. Over the next few days together we spent time on the beaches in Mondello and Cefalu` (with AC breaks and sunburn recuperation time for them inbetween), and toured the markets of Palermo. It wasn't long before our time was up and they were off to the airport to catch their flight to Rome. I was to followed their path to the airport a few hours later as I was off to Toronto.

I arrived in the center of Toronto around midnight, but had to make alternate arrangements as I found myself homeless due to a date mixup with the friend I was supposed to stay with. Luckily Firas took me in for a few nights and I spent the week catching up with friends, running errands, and having a few adventures with Tess including skateboarding on lakeshore and a random afterhours dance party in Trinity Bellwoods Park with a sound system equipped tall bike.

Soon I was off to Calgary, and reunited with my sis Amy who had a arrived back in Canada a few days prior. The month of August was spent in Alberta with my family and I got to meet my precious niece for the first time. I was juggling work revisions in the mix too, so it wasn't total relax, but I managed to have lots of family time, catch up with friends, and even hit up the Calgary skatepark. 

                                                                       My sis and Jayde

 Kelly's goodbye party



In the meantime, the animation studio had offered me another episode to animate, and I turned it down based on the scandalous workload to pay ratio. However they shocked me by agreeing to my proposed payment which was over 4 times the original, and so, I was locked in for another 7 weeks, interrupted for a week as I had a vacation already planned. I was going to France on a surf trip with the surf school in Palermo.

Back in Palermo for only a few days, I went out for dinner with my friends and Linda, Firas's sister, who was on vacation in Italy. Jet lagged and a little bit broken from a skateboarding spill I had in Alberta, I managed to make it to the airport early morning a few days later to meet the group of surfers (mostly teenage boys) before taking off to Bordeaux.

The italian waiting game began early on in the trip as we had time to kill before the flight and I resisted nodding off until I sat down on the plane. Upon arriving in the Bordeaux airport we were all eager to hit the waves immediately but our pick up from the surf house where we were staying was late and hours passed before we finally began the 2-3 hour journey to Hossegor. As one might guess from the tardiness, the surf house was ran by italians. We didn't waste anytime unloading the vehicles once we arrived, and as the rooms weren't ready yet, everyone changed into their wetsuits on the patio and made a run for the nearest beach, La Graviere, one of the beaches where the Quiksilver/Roxy pro would take place a few weeks later. The waves were big and powerful, a bit intimidating for the first day out after not surfing for months....
                                  My travel companions to Hossegor: Antonino, Vice`, Santo, Tonino (my ex student), and Giulio

It was difficult to just make it to the lineup, and I tried to stay off to the side, away from the good surfers as to not get in anyone's way. I made a few attempts to catch waves and had a few nasty wipe-outs before my head was clear and I was in rhythm to paddle for a wave coming my way. I popped up and found myself super high up on the biggest wave of my life. I managed to make the descent, pushing hard with my back leg to not get spit over the falls and made it to the bottom before the wave closed out. Feeling satisfied and lucky, I packed it in for the day shortly after, and watched the other surfers from the beach.

                                                   Ready for waves with my newly painted  board and taped shoulder

 After my first day epic wave

I went to bed early in the bottom bunk of a room I shared with 6 other boys and caught up on some well needed zzzz's before we packed up the vans the next morning to hit a nearby beach, La Penon, which would become one of our regular spots. It was always a bit complicated to decide what beach, and what time, would bring good waves. In the ocean it depends not only on weather conditions but also the tides which change many times throughout the day. One day I was the only sucker to set my alarm when Danilo had called for a 6am wakeup call. After we didn't actually leave the surf house until 10am, I never made that mistake again.

                                                                         My bunk

Some days when the current was so strong, I was using all my energy paddling to just try and stay in the right spot, (usually never actually getting there) and if a wave actually came to me I didn't have enough juice left in my arms to catch it. Another day we were blessed with some great waves at another spot to the south of where we were staying, but it was no secret as the water was packed with surfers. I was a bit intimidated as I was not used to the volume of people in the water, including not just surfers but bodyboarders (who have an advantage catching waves as they wear flippers) and Stand Up Paddlers (who also have an advantage catching waves as they have heavier boards and a paddle, which allows them to start from farther out).

When there are so many people, there becomes an air of desperation in the water and this can be dangerous. I saw a few people having arguments due to drop ins (when you catch a wave that someone else is on) and near collisions, and tried my best to keep an eye on everything going on around me when paddling for a wave. Unfortunately I'm not experienced enough to watch all the people AND the wave I'm trying to catch at the same time, and due to my nervousness to the possibility of getting hurt and/or of hurting someone else in the event of a mistake, I couldn't catch any good waves that day. Just the crappy ones that nobody else wanted. It was frustrating as I'd surely have been having the time of my life with the waves if I were on my own, and it made me appreciate how many sunsets I'd surfed in Sicily, completely alone.

In the whole area of Hossegor, surfing was everywhere. The shops, the schools, the people. I loved it. I explored the area on my own a few times and we checked out the outlet stores on the outskirts as a group too. Our trips to the supermarket were also fun, often minutes before closing time, with everyone running around desperately. On the Friday night, I made an escape from the Italians to a nearby town,Vieux Boucau, to meet up with my friend from Toronto, Olga, who was on a surf vacation too. Despite my efforts to rent a bicycle (I didn't have my id on me) and take the bus (I missed the last one), I ended up cabbing it to the town about a 20 minute drive north. It was amazing to see her and we sat down to a dinner she'd prepared at her hostel while we caught up. Partying with her friends was on the agenda that night and I was surprised by the campground completely full of Germans who had spent the summer there.

We had a good time dancing at the only club in town and crashed late. The next day morning, although small, the waves were long and super smooth. Olga lent me her spare wetsuit and a Belgian guy lent me his extra longboard and we all hit the water. After some adjustment to the longer board, I caught some waves that gave me the longest rides of my life. Famished after a couple hours in the water, we all went to eat before Olga's friend gave me a lift back to the Italian surf house.

Departure day was a bit sad as the waves weren't suitable for a quick surf session before hitting the road. Also because part of the group was staying another week. I helped the teenage surfers get checked in and arrive at the gate, and tried to keep them in order. Italians in general don't tend to be so aware of other people, like when they cut in line or stand in the middle of traffic flow, and not just when they're teenagers. Sometimes it seems intentional and shows a total disregard for manners, but other times (in the case with the teenagers), they're completely oblivious.

I would find out a few days later when I met up with the Grandes, a family from my town Drumheller, in Palermo, that we were on that same flight from Bordeaux to Palermo. Despite recognizing me from afar they had figured I was an italian woman, likely the wife of Paolo, the Italian man in our group with his 2 surfer kids. We met for dinner in Palermo one evening and upon sharing our stories about the preceding days, they put the pieces together, and realized that we had actually been sitting rows apart on the plane. We shared a number of bottles of wine and many laughs before saying goodnight. They continued on their trip the next day to Syracuse.

A few days after that was my 30th birthday, they eve of which was also the last night in Palermo for a girl who had become a good friend, Zoe. We decided to make a joint celebration out of it, and it would become an epic night that we'll never forget. As it was a Thursday we had some difficulty deciding on a place, but we came across an event on a hotel terrace and decided it would be perfect. In true italian spirit we arrived late, but our reserved table was waiting for us. Over the next few hours, a small group of good friends assembled and we joked and danced and drank and it was great. At midnight I not so conspicuously popped the bottle of champagne I'd brought (as it the customary way to celebrate birthdays in italy) and had a toast with my friends who I felt really lucky to have.

The night continued on in the Vucciria for a few of us and then back at Zoe's apartment where no one got much sleep. The next morning she was a bit frantic as she had a plane to catch, but I helped her get packed up and walk her to the bus stop. She was so sad to leave but I tried to console her and wished her well before seeing her off and riding my bike home to crash. It was 10am before I finally did. When I woke up in the afternoon I realized I still had time to catch some waves and my friend, Al, accompanied me to the surfing beach for my birthday surf session. We went for gluten free pizza after that and I crashed early with a smile on my face after having a great 2 day birthday.

Birthday surf!

It was only 2 weeks after that Zoe decided to accept a job she'd been offered in Palermo and move back. She was my house guest for a few days while she looked for an apartment and I was deep back into animation work by that point and it was nice to have her company and support to snap me out of zombie mode. One day, late at night after finishing my quota for the day, I glanced at my email to find a message from the New York Surf Film Festival. I had submitted my short surfer girl cartoon to an online surf film festival collective months ago, and they had seen it and wanted to include it in the festival in October. I was over the moon!

Also in early October I had the motivation to meet my deadline before the upcoming weekend as an old friend wanted to visit. My ex Giuseppe, who I hadn't seen in over a year and a half. I managed to send all the files off in time and although wasn't exactly in top form afterwards, I was happy to see him and took him on Marco's street food tour and to the beach and for a few nights out during his quick trip.

Early November I helped assemble an Eco-Exhibition with Danilo and Paolo from the surf school. They had done a project involving surf therapy for young offenders, taking them surfing and on beach cleanups, which they collected material from to use to make sculptures. I attended one of the creative work shops in the spring to make a creative contribution, and now it was time that they were going to display the works. I helped Paolo bring together his vision and had the idea to add a background with bright blue waves.

                                                                                Me , Paolo, and Danilo

                                                   The colorful fish I constructed in the spring

My surfing escapes in late september and early october were some of my best surf sessions yet as I was nailing some maneuvers and was so satisfied. I had less and less opportunities to surf over the next few months as work took over and the few days I could have spared didn't bring waves. Through November the weather was really rainy and that meant no skateboarding either in the evenings after I finished my work. During an anticipated lighter work week of revisions I convinced Al to attend a trial tango lesson with me. Intrigued, we decided we had nothing to lose by signing up for the promotion for a month. We had some laughs whenever we were able to make it, but from about the second lesson on I was bored with the repeated basic steps, and wanted to learn faster. I was often just watching the clock and waiting for the lesson to end. There was also a lack of men which meant the girls had to rotate off and I was sitting on the sidelines for too much of the time. I stopped going for the last two weeks as it wasn't living up to my expectations as a stress relief activity. Al had come down with the flu so he didn't go either. Tango itself is lovely and I really like it, but as always, finding the right class can be challenging.
                                                                     Dinner at Al's

As December neared, my life had completely fused with work and I was fighting an internal battle against my conversion from human to robot. I was struggling with the old familiar high-stress and low energy pessimism that unfulfilling animation work brings out in me. Having good friends around helped, as did having a light at the end of tunnel. I was finishing just before Christmas and ready to plan a change in scenery immediately in order to help wipe the slate clean. I considered escaping for a few days on my own to a sicilan island over Christmas but upon skyping with my mom one day, we happened to find a cheap flight home and we booked it right away. Afterall, there was no better place for me to recuperate and I was so happy to get to share Christmas with my family after missing out last year.

In the days before setting off for Canada, we threw a party for our friend, Eue, and another British friend, Vicky aka. wonderwoman, hosted an amazing christmas dinner for which she cooked a 13 kg turkey among many other things.

Having a week and a half of work to go, I started a long day of journey across the ocean, working in airports and on the plane and was relieved to arrive in Calgary where my sis, Amy was waiting. I had been warned about the weather and had all my winter gear ready to go, but was still surprised upon exiting the airport into -15 degree, snowy weather. It'd been awhile since I'd been in real canadian winter. I spent a nice weekend with Amy in Calgary before heading to Drumheller. Due to jet lag, I was often starting my work day at 5am, which at least left the evenings free to spend with family. I enjoyed celebrating my little neice's birthday who had grown so much since I'd seen her 4 months before, and by Christmas I had my work totally sent off.

                                                                    The indisputable
The holidays were nice and relaxing and just what the doctor ordered. We had lots of family time between a Christmas morning card game, watching movies, a jam session, snowmobiling, and sledding and although the two weeks passed quickly, I was so thankful to be so comfortable in my mom's warm house and have lots of hugs and love everyday I was there. I caught up with Canadian friends on the phone and got to meet up with my best friend from high school, Kelly, to hear about her adventures living in New York. Before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport and I was able to squeeze in one more visit with my 'cousin' Martinho who I had known in Florence and was back in Calgary for the holidays. 

24 hours later I rolled into my apartment in Palermo, exhausted, and chatted with Marco before taking a hot bath and crawling into bed at 9 pm. I knew there were waves the next day and had it in the back of my mind to go, but sleep was the priority and I woke up at 4pm (16 hours later). That evening was Marco and Andrea's joint birthday celebration and then the following day New Year's Eve. We put together a dinner at my place, including 2 Canadian friends of Andrea's on vacation. It turns out, Jenny (one of these Canadian girls who was Andrea's colleague in Sydney) and I we both worked at Core Digital Pictures in Toronto around the same period and we knew a number of the same people. It was just a group of 5 of us girls that continued the party after the cheers at midnight. We'd reserved tickets across the street from my place at a theater turned disco. We danced until the early hours and didn't have any of the usual new years hassle of waiting for a cab as we just walked right back across the street to bed afterwards. Strategically planned of course.

Zoe is staying with me for the week as her apartment had been rented to tourists, and on new years day (yesterday) we had a number of visitors with whom we shared leftovers from dinner. Today is sunny and fresh and I'm feeling like I may have beat jet lag already after the couple of late nights and sleep ins. 2014 is feeling super exciting as I have a number of things in the works including another gallery show and and a big move, all left to unfold in the upcoming months. I'm so glad to have finished working for now and can dedicate my time to myself for awhile instead of to making money. Let's just hope the animation studio will pay me within a reasonable time frame. It looks like we'll have some waves arriving on the weekend, fingers crossed!

Thanks for reading! 

                                                       Giving Al and Eue a surf lesson