On being a good photographer (or maybe just on taking lots of pictures)

I was recently in Girona on my way from Murcia towards Berlin.

Girona is a really pretty city, at least what I saw in the 17 or so hours I was there. Much friendlier than Barcelona and much less scary to walk around at night.

I wandered between the old old houses and shops, admiring the art nouveau balconies and door handles, stopping ever few hundred metres to take photos of things people probably mostly ignore. Missing bricks, the compass worked into the street, the street signs and the people on the traffic lights.

I visited the ancient Arabic baths and tried to visit the cathedral (but decided the entrance fee was unjustified). I was on my way to the remains of the tall wall that originally enclosed the city when I met Amanda.

I didn’t know she was called Amanda and I wasn’t out to meet anyone. Especially someone as glamorous as Amanda. I wanted to know how to get onto the wall and she was the only person around to ask. If there’d been anyone else I would have asked them instead.

“I think there’s a staircase along here next to the tower, let’s go and find out.”

She set off and I followed at a distance, leaving her some space – space it turned out she wasn’t really all that interested in.

***

“Do you think you could take a picture of me?”

She’d been fighting her phone for a while, trying to find a way to fit herself, the wall and the cathedral onto one photo.

“Yeah, sure, if you show me how your phone works..”

She handed it over (“Just press here”) and started posing, adjusting her hair and sunglasses, shuffling her position, arranging and rearranging herself, letting the sun dance on her face and make her earrings sparkle – obviously this is something she’s used to doing.

Click.

“Hey, give me your bag and your water bottle – they don’t need to be in the picture, and I’ll move my bag out of the way too. There.”

Click click click.

“The wind keeps messing my hair up..”

“I think if you turn just a bit more to the left.. Perfect.. Hold that…”

Click. Click. Click click click.

“Here, have a look to see if you’re happy with them. I can take more if you don’t like them.” I hand her phone back.

“Wow! You took loads! Thank you! I love this one, and this one. And this one’s good with the cathedral – you’re a really good photographer. Thank you so much!” She smiled as she flicked through the pictures. “Can you take another one of me in close up? From over there..”

Click. Click click. Shuffle. Rearrange. Click.

“There you go.”

“Thanks ever so much. That’s brilliant. Thank you!” she gushes. “Most people just take one and don’t check if you have your eyes shut or if you’re smiling. They don’t even make sure that the scenery fits on the photo. You’re lucky if they don’t cut part of your head off..” She paused. “Do you want me to take some of you?”

*panic* “Uh…” My mind races. Me? No way. Why not? I can’t. Just because you don’t usually. You can’t always hide behind the camera.. Ugh. “Ok. Go ahead. Please.”

My phone beeps as I hand it over – less than 10% battery life left. I hope it lasts until I’ve found my way back to the station. I hope there are plugs on the train. I hope I’m there in time to catch the train. I hope..

Click.

I stop thinking about the rest of the journey for a minute and try and act a fraction as cool as Amanda while she takes pictures. I think I need more practice at this posing lark.

Then it’s over (“Is that ok? Want any more?” “No, that’s more than enough, I have to get back to the station..”). I jump down off the wall, get my phone back, pick up my bags, start to leave.

Halfway down the steps I remember the other lady who’d been sitting by herself and who’d watched us taking pictures of each other for a few seconds before turning back to stare across the city. I go back up to the platform and ask her if she wants her photo taken too. She looks up, shy, and tells me she was going to take a selfie, but if I’m offering.. She stops mid-sentence, reminding me more of myself than of Amanda. I put down my bags and take her phone. She looks like she feels even more awkward than me as she balances on the wall, hugging her knees. I take a couple of pictures and ask her if she wants to move along the wall a bit – the sun’s behind her and I can only take pictures of her silhouette. She laughs, moves, resettles. “Better?” “Much.”

Click click. Click. Click click click.

I move too, trying to get her and the cathedral and the wall and the clouds onto a picture without anything getting in the way of anything else.

“This is like a proper photo shoot!”

I doubt it but we laugh anyway. She’s finally relaxed enough to sit naturally.

Click. Click.

Click.

Beep! My phone is still in the process of dying, reminding me that I have a train to catch. I hand her phone back and say I have to go. She thanks me and goes back to her original position, looks across the city, looks at the pictures I’ve taken. Smiles.

I catch up with Amanda at the bottom of the tower, she’s been waiting for me. She wants me to take more photos of her along the next section of the wall.

We align clouds, walls, towers, roofs, trees as we make our way towards the end of the wall, sharing fragments of our lives – and the current moment – with each other. It appears we’re not so different after all, our reasons for being in Girona, our opinion of Barcelona, our travel plans for the next few days. Not identical, but similar enough to feel more than coincidental. The realisation that there’s a person under all that make-up is a surprise. Especially a person I can relate to. I am always surprised by this; in my mind at least, I still associate heavily made up people with the “cool” girls in my class at school. The ones who would rather do anything than talk to me and risk losing their coolness. The ones I had less than nothing in common with. The ones I still ‘see’ despite the years and miles between us.

At the end of the wall she thanks me again, profusely, for all the photos I took along the way, telling me again that I’m a great photographer. She ignore my protests that I just take lots of pictures and occasionally some work well, and instead wishes me a good time travelling. She insists we take a selfie together. One each. To remember.

Together. Me and Amanda. The laid back, perfectly made up, glamorous Amanda from Brazil, with her pearl earrings and flowing hair, who wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine or on one of those huge roadside posters advertising sunglasses or perfume, and me. In one picture. On purpose. Despite my messy bun and crumpled skirt and bag lady luggage. My word.

One day, I decide, I will lose some of my shallowness. Some of my prejudice. And maybe, maybe also some of my reluctance to talk to [makeup wearing] strangers.

***

This is me, sitting at the top of a tower on Girona’s city wall in November, taken by Amanda from Brazil:

On being an awful partner

I currently have a friend over for a long weekend and I am becoming more and more aware that I am not cut out for a long-term female partnership..

How do I know?

I have no patience for conversations about frilly knickers, nail varnish, the best way to burn candles or which bread has the lowest glycemic index. (But I can sit for hours listening to people talk about the finer points of changing the blades on a thickness planer machine, despite never having seen one).

I am not very knowledgeable about yoga, stretching, running, or really any exercise in general.

I don’t care much about fashion, fabric, design, pattern, or clothes as long as I’m dressed and warm enough.

I have less than no idea about hairdryers. I don’t blow-dry my hair unless I absolutely have to. That happens maybe once a year, twice if I go to the hairdressers. I have a small hot-air-blowing device which I use on the rare occasions when I deem it necessary, and which packs into a small bag in a cupboard for the rest of the year. (Naja, that’s not quite true, it’s also pretty good at drying paint/woodstain if I’m too impatient to let things dry by themselves, so it does get to come out of the cupboard sometimes). It turns out it isn’t a proper hairdryer but rather a styling brush (and therefore not useful for drying one’s hair). Who knew?

I wouldn’t recognize an electric nail file if I tripped over it, nevermind know which way to hold it or how (or why) to use it. Or an electric callous grinder (see? no idea what they’re even supposed to be called). I don’t remember ever having or doing a pedicure, unless you count filing the pointy edges off my toenails when they break and threaten to make holes in my socks.

I am used to being the dithery party. I am used to getting lost in places I’ve been before. I am used to people complaining about how long it takes me to get ready to go anywhere. I am used to people getting stroppy about me leaving a trail of my things strewn across the house. I am used to people laughing at or not understanding my clothes (“so what is this thing anyway?!” – talking about a wrap around skirt).

I am not used to waiting for more than an hour to get into the bathroom in the morning.

I am not used to working round other people’s PMS.

I am not used to multiple (many many many) bottles of ‘body care’ potions appearing all over the house.

I am not used to getting home and being greeted by a wave of ‘girly smells’. Perfume and baby powder and shampoo and conditioner and body lotion and hand cream and whathaveyou each with a different (but strong) fragrance.

I can’t work up any excitement (at all) for an evening of ‘pampering’ if it involves anything other than massage. Start talking about mutual makeovers and I will bail.

I can’t deal with “What’s up?” “Nothing.” conversations.

I don’t understand freezing but simultaneously objecting to either finding another jumper or turning the radiators on.

I don’t understand why anyone would [regularly and willingly] eat nothing but salad for dinner and then get up in the middle of the night to raid the fridge and the breadbin.

When I get ill, I am more likely to have manflu and go to bed with honey-and-lemon and a hot water bottle (and maybe my laptop) than to try and keep up my manic schedule while sneezing, snuffling and coughing, at least for the worst couple of days.

I am not naturally a tidy person. I don’t think anyone could reasonably call me a neat-freak (:)) – I severely dislike washing up and doing housework – but finding cups in the bookcase and plates left on the coffeetable instead of at least in the vicinity of the sink has helped me develop a new sympathy for people who are.

Also. Hair. I used to laugh at a long-distant-ex-boyfriend for complaining about the “hairy woman-beast” inhabiting his space. I’m not going to take sides with him, but I can at least see that he might have had a point.

In short, I feel like I’m suddenly on the wrong side of all the bloke-whinges-about-girlfriend cartoons/sketches/blogposts and I’m not used to it. I’m not sure I even like being on the other side of the frustration.

Ok, so frustration is frustrating on both sides.. I’m just usually defensively frustrated, at the people trying to hurry me for example, but I could never really see where they were coming from. I used to get upset at people who weren’t understanding or able to listen or were obviously disinterested by what I was saying, people who wouldn’t cooperate with me and/or my way of working, people who were more concerned about reaching a destination than enjoying the journey..

I am slowly starting to understand some of the people who complained about me, as well as some of the actions of the people I complained about… and that’s worrying!

I’m not a particularly good hetero girlfriend, but it seems I would be an incredibly awful lesbian… 😉

***

NB: Against the impression I’m probably giving, I do like this lady 🙂 I’ve just previously only seen her in smaller doses (like for an afternoon) and never had her to stay..

On letting the side down

Dear amazing women of the world,

I apologise.

I apologise for letting the side down. Again.

I apologise for not being able to compare to your incredible standards of awesomeness.
Again.

I apologise for my lack of ability (and interest) to keep house the way houses are supposed to be kept. For my chaos. For the unpacked boxes. For my shortage of prettifying touches. For the wrinkles in the spread when I’ve made the bed in a hurry. For leaving the washing up out to dry itself. For not replacing the towels when I’ve put the old ones in the wash. For not completely filling the washing machine when doing a hot wash. For forgetting to take it out of the machine afterwards or leaving on the stand way longer than necessary. For not folding it neatly enough and for not putting it away properly.

For not timing my cooking to a regular mealtime. For forgetting to take the milk out of the freezer before the other one’s empty. For letting the apples rot in their box.

For arriving late and without my keys or paperwork or paper hankies. For missing my train, bus, plane, or for making people wait for me.

For my lack of elegance and sexy underwear and make up. For the fat I’ve accumulated over the last year. For the frumpy clothing I wear until I’m thin enough to warrant going shopping.

I could go on.

I won’t because you won’t get it, you perfect people, and the other ones, the ones that aren’t perfect (I’m assuming I’m not the only one, despite being told otherwise), already know what I’m thinking and feeling, because they, presumably, think and feel it too.

I’m pretty sure no one has to be perfect before they can start enjoying life, but you, you perfect specimens, you make it hard for the rest of us. You stand up there on your pedestal with people looking up to you and down to us and making comparisons. If I wasn’t spending all my time bettering myself, I might look for something to criticise. I don’t actually have anything against you personally, just against people using you as the standard, unattainable as it may be.

You know what though? If the ground was made of diamonds instead of mud, the diamonds wouldn’t be special and nothing would grow..

Love,
Jesska

On make-up shopping

– or shopping with Swimming-D –

I don’t wear make-up.

I was going to add ‘ever’ but that would be lying. I dabbled in it a lot, or rather dabbled in a lot of it, as a toddler, smearing lipstick over my forehead, cheeks and chin while my mother wasn’t looking*, and again as a teenager, for parties where I had to be a pirate or a goth. I’d even tried ‘normal’ make-up a couple of times, but it hadn’t been a hit – my boyfriend at the time said he preferred me without any – and I was too lazy to learn to do it properly and/or fast enough for it to be an integral part of my being. I decided at some point that it’s much better to be “naturally beautiful” [insert cheesy smile here] and banished all things make-up related from my vocabulary and thoughts.

Recently though, I was caught on camera wearing make-up at a wedding.

Apparently going to weddings not only calls for pretty dresses, it also calls for make-up. Even if you don’t wear any the rest of the time.

Swimming-D told me this.

She was at my house to help me choose a dress and shoes and jewellery (serious business this wedding lark I tell you!) and asked where my make-up was. When I finished searching through my [newly organised] bathroom cupboard and [not so organised] jewellery box and presented her with a mascara, a bottle of bright red nail varnish and a couple of eyeshadows, she was appalled. Even more so when she discovered that the mascara had dried up (probably years ago) and most of the eyeshadow had seen more solid days. She decided we were going shopping.

This wedding had better be worth it – I’ve already been dress shopping this year!

SD went home, more in despair than disgust, having arranged to meet up in town the next day.

I wore one of my other new dresses to go shopping in. SD had said I should wear it “just because”, instead of just on ‘special occasions’ so I did. I figured going shopping for make-up needs different attire than my usual plain T-shirt and floppy skirt. One obviously can’t go out in a posh(ish) dress without wearing matching shoes (obviously!), so I wore the sandals I’d bought with E last year and hadn’t worn properly since, and I left my hair down. I hardly ever leave my hair ‘open’ because it flops in my eyes, gets in my way, makes my neck sweat. In turn, these factors have a tendency to make me aggressive. I’d only just had it cut though, and both Swimming-D and my DB (= dear Boyfriend) had told me I had to leave it down for the wedding. So I was practising.

She only just recognised me when we met up in town. Her bf had no idea who I was until SD made a beeline for me and hugged me.. To be fair I’ve only ever met him a handful of times, and if he stood with his back to me outside a shop wearing an army uniform (as an example of something I can’t imagine him ever wearing) I almost definitely wouldn’t recognise him either.

It’s quite disturbing how much of an impression clothes make.

So anyway.

There we both were in town. Me dressed up in a dress and high-heeled sandals, SD in her usual ‘chic-but-not-too-chic’ going shopping clothes.

As we made our way through the crowds of milling-about-people towards the closest make-up shop, I felt like a small child being dragged somewhere it really doesn’t want to go, but knows it has no choice. I generally steer away from the sort of shop that sells make-up, feeling out of place among the thousands of scantily-clad, but thickly-masked ladies, but on this occasion I was a woman on a mission. Or at least WITH a woman on a mission. SD led me directly to mascara aisle. Okay, so the aisle wasn’t entirely devoted to mascara, but every shelf along the aisle had its own mascara section. Why they have to sort the shop out by brand and not by product I don’t know. It seems a silly idea. If they tried doing the same thing in a supermarket they might as well open a dozen smaller shops inside the main building, as well as a load of stalls for the companies too small to warrant a whole shop.

Apparently mascara-application is a science. Each manufacturer has a range of brushes and they’re accompanied by a variety of silly names.. volcano for example. I think I’d actually rather not look like a volcano, nor would I like one to go off in my face. But there we are. I don’t have a clue.

Once we decided Volcano Mascara was the one to go for, it was time to look at face powder. I’ve never been at all convinced it’s necessary, but even I could see it was sneaky stuff. You can make the bags-under-your-eyes blend into the rest of your face, so even though you look worse close up, from a distance no one can see you haven’t slept enough for the last 3 years.

We chose one that doubles up as foundation if you apply it wet. It hadn’t got nearly as interesting a name. Not even the colour was exciting. It appears my face is beige. Well isn’t that dandy?! I’ve always wanted to know I have a beige face.

Next we moved onto nail varnish. I’d brought my dress with me, so we colour matched. The best match was naturally on the shelf marked ‘expensive nail varnish’ (or numbers to that effect),

I added it to my basket, along with a white pearly one, and 2 different clear lacks. Yes, I suppose I got carried away, but nail varnish is something I know more about, and actually wore on a regular basis until I started school here and my mother gave them to my aupair daughter. Okay, I didn’t wear them plain, the way most people do, I wore multiple colours, or stripes, or spots, or flowers or anything else I could be bothered to paint with them. I didn’t ever go as far as getting them done professionally though.

SD dragged me away from the brochure telling the world how fantastically cool it is to wear a different colour on each finger (amen!) with the words, “ARGH! You’re going to a WEDDING…”

The finishing touch was provided by an ‘enhancing’ lipstick, supposed to amplify your original colour. SD was more taken with various shades of pink, but I was adamant.

I paid, and the contents of the barely lined mini-basket cost as much as, if not more than, a weekly grocery shop.

Next stop perfume.

ARGH.