My entry (with some edits) to the “Blue Bic Lighter” Mini-Contest on Scribophile
We don’t always choose what to notice. I was drawn to his hands, performing the automated cigarette-lighting gesture. Inevitably, I noticed the lighter — a blue Bic — and what he smoked — Cavalier Mild — one can tell by the brand names that smoking is an outdated habit.
“I started in the army — smokers were the only ones allowed breaks.”
“I started in my first job — everybody smoked.”
“Now we’re the only two out here.” He exhaled slowly. “Look at them — I wonder which is worse: cigarette breaks, or no breaks at all.”
An incomplete attempt to synthesize my impressions of the blog and newsletter created by tourist Megan Jamer, “writing from the perspective of living on a bicycle.”
So, who’s Megan Jamer?
To me, anyway, Megan is a fellow traveler.
Although we’ve never met in person, i mean that somewhat literally — she has also dropped out of a reputable career to organize her life around long-term travel — Megan has been on the road since 2014, cycle touring (with long breaks in between) since 2015, and is currently riding with her partner from South Africa to Morocco, along the West Coast of Africa.
I also mean that figuratively — i’ve identified with her ever-evolving character as she travels, experiences, reflects, and reiterates — i look up and aspire to the sincerity and vulnerability with which Megan has come to express her conflicts, victories, and intervening lessons.
There’s enough to draw attention to in Megan’s writing that has been the premise for 131,144 words (approximately) in email exchanges between the two of us throughout the year — yep, i counted (or TextWrangler did).
I believe this is a great place to start reading Megan’s blog for at least a couple of different reasons.
First, because it gets straight to what she wants you to know about who she has come to be in her own words — this will help you understand where Megan is coming from in reading further.
That post also offers an immensely valuable counterpoint to Tom Allen‘s perspective.
Tom is another cycle traveler i follow (and respect) who has emphasized how cycle touring can be made cheap and straightforward. Megan’s naked awareness of her initial conditions and present circumstances doesn’t mean that Tom was wrong, but it dramatically refines his viewpoint — wherever i find myself along the spectrum between Tom’s yardsale kit and Megan’s trust fund (not to mention my values, priorities, mindset, and other intangibles), i have much i’m not responsible for to be grateful to for the privilege to live as i do — Megan’s writing has helped me further understand and accept that.
Because it’s not as public as the blog (and maybe also because i’m not as attentive as i’d like to think i am), it took me a while to notice that Megan has a second outlet for her creative output, where she shares entrancing chronicles of [Where she and her partner] rode lately — they’re published as an email newsletter that is open for anyone to join but don’t appear on the blog roll. My favorite of the issues i’ve read since joining the newsletter is #21 – The Cameroon Gift Exchange, in which she develops gift into a make-shift metaphor anchoring the various stories of what they gave and received during their ride through the country.
But don’t take my word for it — go check out Megan’s blog and newsletter yourself, and read it all from her own fingertips! Once again, you may subscribe to Megan Jamer’s blog updates here, and you may subscribe to We rode here lately, by Megan Jamerhere — it should be safe to begin with whatever pops in your inbox next 😉
__ Featured photo: courtesy of Megan Jamer— “Bike traveling stopped feeling simple, but maybe it never was”
Besides my own writing and photography, my weekly newsletter occasionally includes reviews like this of work i appreciate — interested?
“Official measures and targets can never quantify the messy reality of the world perfectly, but they have enough power to change it. Since the measurement isn’t perfect, the change may well be for the worse.”
Remember when i said in the last roundup that Nastia and i were planning to leave Odesa in a few days to continue our eastbound bicycle ride across Ukraine? Anyway — that didn’t happen — we came back to the city to meet an old friend from the US who was visiting the country on vacation, and i decided to stay longer.
“In a Countrie” roundup
A feature of the Ukrainian language i find notable as a native Portuguese speaker is the absence of articles, definite or indefinite — they’re implied by the context, which seems to work great for them, native Ukrainian speakers. I can’t complain about a practical challenge that gives such artistic flexibility to my pun — as i traveled through the country and experienced a few of its multitudes, trials, and uncertainties, i decided to relax the article in my working-title for this project, and translate “у країні” as “in a countrie.”
At the same time i settle on a name for this project, i’m putting it on hold. Unfortunately, i don’t have anything i could produce in the same format about our time in the L’viv and Ivano-Frankivs’k regions earlier in the tour. And because i plan to stay in Odesa at least until it’s warm again, i don’t expect to have anything to show about other regions of Ukraine any time soon either.
Plans for Odesa
Having said that, there are a few more articles i’d like to write in reaction to my experience on the road these past three months — thoughts that don’t pertain specifically to Ukraine or the parts of it i visited on tour, but that arose as a result of my being on the road.
As i spend time in the city, i might share a note or another about Odesa itself, with a slight bias towards non-touristic places or anachronistic Soviet symbols.
Besides writing, i’ll keep playing with light, colors, and post-processing. I’m excited that some of that will be done together with my dear friend, star-winged artist, and supporter Fuji Hoffmann, with whom i’m running another creative challenge this season — i’ll say more about it in a separate dispatch in a couple of weeks — the first quest is already underway!
Finally, i want to bring my Ukrainian to the SAYWHAT level of fluency, and take the opportunity that i’ll be living in Odesa to pick up some Russian as well. Say what? Oh, sorry — that’s a recently introduced measure of proficiency — the acronym stands for Stop Asking Your Wife for Help All the Time!
OK — i think that’s enough public puns and commitments on the learning/creating front for now. You’ll be the first to hear if there are any new developments or dramatic turns of events — or puns.
All in all, i’m looking forward to spending six months at the same place — or more than three months, for that matter — i haven’t been for longer than that in the same country (let alone in the same location) since i was still employed in Denmark over three years ago. I could use the time to process some of what’s happened so far, and prepare for whatever comes next.
___ Featured photo: playing with light, colors, textures, and movement, and still not having bothered to invest in a tripod at the entrance to the bar Dvor 12 (Odesa, Summer/Autumn ’19)
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UPDATED October 25th, 2019 — this is a dispatch from my cycle tour of Ukraine and surroundings this past Summer with my partner Nastia, an open project on an Autumn/Winter hiatus — check out the project page more information, and sign up for my newsletter if you would like to be notified when it resumes 🙂
When i thought about documenting some of the languages used in Odesa, i was aware that i’d only start taking photos for the project about a week into our ride in the region, after we crossed the Dniester Estuary into the segment between that and the Danube Delta. I had no idea how that would turn out, so i decided to photograph our various sources of water as a backup.
I like what came out of that process, and i decided to share it as an encore of sorts — i hope you’ll also enjoy, and find it . . . refreshing 😉
“ ‘But I have a penny.’ — ‘Water costs two pennies. (…) However, you can enjoy free access to any movie ever made, or pornography, or a simulation of a deceased family member for you to interact with as you die from dehydration. Your social networks will be automatically updated with the news of your death.’ ”
This time the photos are not organized chronologically or grouped by district — they’re loosely categorized by source. As a second counterpoint to my previous couple of lengthy posts, i tried to keep the text here to a minimum — just a handful of independent floating stories outlining the process.
. . . down the path and through the gate, you’ll find the generous spring flowing downstairs. That was a sad, sad day — the apple so purely gifted by a child the evening before radiated in contrast, flashing hope for a bright future — that’s why i kept the fruit in my handlebar bag for so many days before eating it — i enjoyed remembering the sweet kid’s spontaneous gesture every time i had to set the apple aside when reaching for something inside the bag . . .
. . . the first well in the region was great — bam! It appeared after 10 or 15 endless kilometers under smoldering sun along a trippy, straight, dry, dusty dirt road that felt like the purgatory. Besides cool water and a shade in which to enjoy it, we were further redeemed by a meal of corn on the cob, and enough raspberries for another meal later on that day (when we added cottage cheese and honey to them) — courtesy of some Ol‘a, whose smile might as well have been Mother Mary’s at the gates of heaven. Ol’a reminded me of my grandmother . . .
. . . our water collection was always mediated by locals. A few times, that meant handing out our empty bottles, watching them being taken out of our sight, then having them reappear full a minute or two later. In those cases, the secondary source was obscured by their kindness — more than once, we were offered cold water from their fridge . . .
. . . i’m not particularly eager to pay for water, and Nastia doesn’t like to buy single-use plastic bottles. What can i say, i feel entitled to water — despite Grandpa’s lessons, i still subscribe to the notion that drinking water is (or at least should be) abundant — someone (else) just has to dig a deep enough hole on the ground and take good care of it before our arrival, right? People in Petrivka had done that, and didn’t mind sharing the result of their labor with us, but the water was heavy on sulfur — good for the skin, not as much for the uninitiated bowels. While most people eventually adapt to it without negative long-term consequences, i’d already had a fair share of relentless two-way purging from sulfurated water earlier on the tour, and didn’t want to risk — Nastia didn’t like the taste — we gave in . . .
. . . someone warned Nastia and i of the “Gypsies” a couple of villages down the road — déjà vu. I’m still not above being influenced by someone else’s prejudice, but the alarmist was alone even among his friends, who told us not to worry and just ignore him — we didn’t change our route. The irony — that wound up being where we next refilled our water bottles — from a cistern, which someone had not only to build and maintain but also keep full — although i don’t feel like we stole the water, i’m not sure how we paid for it either, at least not in that particular occasion . . .
. . . on what we thought would have been our way out of Odesa, we took water from a curious setting i hadn’t experienced before. I have no idea how this water comes to be, except that it, too, must cost somebody money — the treatment, the delivery, the salaries of the mysterious employees watching TV (or listening to the radio) the whole day behind the panels and curtains — the electricity to keep the TV (or radio) on. More than a month after that false start, that’s still where i collect my drinking water. Note to self: go there just before it opens one morning, and learn more about it . . .
. . . on occasion, taking photos of yet another spring, well, cistern, or tap felt dull. There were also a couple of times when the water source didn’t want to be documented. One strategy to cope with the numbing boredom or annoying restriction was to turn the camera away from the water, and see what else might be going on . . .
. . . and that’s a bit of how it went.
Now i did not attempt to account for every molecule of water we were given — the photos above refer essentially to the circumstances two or three times a day when we filled/topped up one or more of our water bottles for consumption on the road ahead. This leaves me without much of an opportunity to acknowledge equally generous hosts such as Viorica and her family, or the Old Believers.
Whether or not we should pay, or even say thanks for water in Ukraine (something Nastia kept chastising me for doing), i appreciate every sip of water people shared with us — especially where drinking water supplies are not seamlessly built into the baseline infrastructure <3
This will be the last In a Countrie post for a while. As i explained in my a couple of dispatches ago, my cycle tour of Ukraine and surroundings is on an Autumn/Winter hiatus — i plan to be stationed in Odesa at least until it’s warm again.
This does not at all signal a break from the blog and newsletter though — on the contrary! Stay tuned — plenty is going on that i want to explore and give life.