Thursday, 29 June 2017

This lesson is brought to you by the letter E... eureka!

Once again, I've neglected this space for a wee bit, partly because I've been so darn busy looking busy and partly because I've been a tad lazy. Then one day, while waiting to break my fast, my fingers felt the itch and once I started, it all came back to me. 

It began when the boxing Coach* came back to his round of #ringphilosophy thanks to his (really) psychotic GF drama… 

Then came conversations over chocolate waffles about epiphanies.. It led me to realise how dangerously close I was to falling through the gates of frustration, disappointment and that overwhelming sense that every avenue, lane, alleyway and path I’ve tried seems to have led to absolute naught, every time.

Over the past year, I've continued orbiting in an industry that has been my passion for more than half my life with organisations and individuals that I've felt deserved my attention. 

Ruled by passion and emotion over logic, I have of late been thrown accusations that I am wasting my time, effort, energy and emotions on folks who either don’t notice, deserve care or even bother. 

Training in Ramadhan is hard. Was inspired by Hakeem Olajuwon who
played for the Houston Rockets in the 90s, he still played all his NBA
games while observing Ramadhan. Respect.
“Why? Why do you bother when he / she / they clearly don’t / doesn’t care??!” At times, in the dead of night when insomnia takes over, that small voice in the cavity where a heart used to be would yell out, “for heaven’s sake, stop caring about them already. Walk away.” 

All I know is that I’m sitting on an obscure edge right now. Truth be told, I can feel the anger surge within me, in spite of my pathetic attempts to suppress it. It’s a nasty feeling that is being compounded by the roundabout insults hurled at me by the very folks I have agreed to help.

Interestingly enough, I find these out in the most unlikely situations, conversation openers that begin with, "he / they said to not say anything to Farah," or "whatever you do, don't let Farah find out.." or even one that wins the Olivier Award for ultimate ridiculousness, "I refuse to discuss anything about this with Farah, what does she know.. nothing!" Seriously? OK.

So, do I, should I, ought I stop caring? Some have said that those I try to help don’t deserve all the energy or effort I put in. See that’s just it. I’ve never proclaimed to be an expert at anything. In fact, I think I’m really good at just winging it and on the odd occasion I actually pull it off, surprising myself even. Lately, I’ve felt that that strategy has failed me. I’ve even let myself stumble over something so mundanely stupid and so out of character that it would seem that I’ve been stumped by some invisible kryptonitic force. WTH?? 

Why do I effing bother? Because I care? Because I want to achieve something that I never thought was possible? Because I feel some strange magnetic pull from a deep dark place somewhere in a black hole hidden away in the universe? Because I feel the urge for an impossible challenge? Hell if I know. 

Then I’m reminded of something Morgan Freeman said in Million Dollar Baby -- and yes, live with the fact that all my friggin analogies will gravitate around BOXING.. not kickboxing, muay thai, mma.. BOXING -- “the magic of risking everything for the dream no one else sees but you.” 

And, yes, it seems Tim the Coach senses these things (I reckon he’s super freaking observant.. I really must rethink this relationship...) and out of the blue, Mr. Coach sends me a flurry of cryptic messages, like: “you’re feeling like you’ve been KO’d with still half the bout left to fight. GET UP! 

This is often followed up with, “you’re tripping up shuffling on two left feet, try one foot over the other, SLOWLY, then pick up the pace. Still stumbling? Stop.. start again."

As something that is becoming rather frighteningly too regular when in conversation between jabs and hooks or footwork over the past few months, I’m befuddled. I'm begging him to stop throwing me these cryptograms and of course, he gives his weird smile over his nasty scar under his crooked nose and says, "it applies, you want to quit, give up and stop bothering.. but that's just it, deep down you care too much.. You BELIEVE. Take a step back, breathe, look, then move forward and take one step at a time.. observe, learn and then decide." 

He then adds, but don’t do it for them.. do it for YOU, damned it! Get the satisfaction of doing something for yourself and if it helps them, great, a bonus for them.” 

Honestly, training during Ramadhan has been especially mind-numbingly hard.. 2am wake up calls, intense timed sessions and I always end the session crying in pain. 

Strangely though, in between the ridiculously excruciating footwork and boxing, my mind lapses into a truly bizarre and very surreal state of calm for a brief moment and I’m at ease - yes, panting and sweating profusely with my heart about ready to burst out of my rib cage. Why do I work so damned hard? 

The first epiphany at 3.45a.m is this: though it seems I’ve been enraged at having wasted my time on this, that or those ungrateful sod(s), it seems I’ve overlooked the fact that I’ve learnt something new or picked up a new skill or established a new connection or reestablished an old one. 

The RBF queen - Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra in the 
1945 film Caesar and Cleopatra
I am only human after all and a scorpion to boot who’s lightning quick reaction to bullshit is more instinctual than intellectual and very much predicated on a built-in primal force. Thus, the failure to look past the fire. 

As the stunningly gorgeous Vivien Leigh with the perfectly executed RBF (Resting Bitch Face) so eloquently put it, “My birth sign is Scorpio and they eat themselves up and burn themselves out. I swing between happiness and misery. I am part prude and part nonconformist. I say what I think and I don’t pretend, and I am prepared to accept the consequences of my actions.” 

But most of all, what came out loud and clear ringing through the rigorous pain I subject my body to is as the great Muhammad Ali put it, "it isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe..

It is my choice. I am the one that can slow it down or speed it up, if I want or care to. I can choose what I need to discard and the moves I need to change.

So with Ali's words: "Inside of a ring or out, ain't nothing wrong with going down. It's staying down that's wrong," whispered by Mr. Coach in my ear, the second painful epiphany at 4am is this: 

Yes, I'm down but I'm getting up. I know what I need to do. 
Gloves on... 

And as usual, Mr. Coach has to have the last word and says, "look on the underside of your gloves. What does it say?" I want to say that I think if I had a spirit animal, it'd be an Amur leopard, but what the heck.

* and in case you haven't already figured it out, since I was last on, I only managed one snowboarding return trip to Norway and had to postpone the one planned for March. So, I picked up boxing to fill up the need to be active. I miss snowboarding terribly and stare longingly at my board every night. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

a clamorous cacophony of epiphanies .. tiptoeing on the art side..

Oh no, another random post! Random in that it fits neither the outward personality nor the seemingly incredulous nature of this author. And judging from that visceral opener, my apologies as I attempt to take on a subject I am not a master of, being neither schooled in nor partial to an iota of talent for it. 

It all began with my very random decision to visit the National Art Gallery on Jalan Tun Razak and the Islamic Arts Museum (IAAM) near the National Mosque. Yes, imagine me at an art gallery or art-related museum!? A frightening thought I dare say so myself. Despite your thinking that I've taken leave of my senses, the trek was actually for a good reason -  I was gift hunting (which proved an excellent course of action as it gave me a plethora of gift ideas as I sought to diverge from the convention of gifting kitchen items or even vouchers), whilst at the same time endowing oneself with the preconception of being "schooled" in art.. 

The compound around Paris' Louvre at night.. and yes, I did in fact almost
go all Robert Langdon on that Pyramid..
Though I have had the privilege of visiting the giants like the Guggenheim, Smithsonian, MoMA and the Louvre in a past life, I cannot with absolute certainty say that I was able to gain any valuable insight into the very ethereal subject of "art". 

But there was an overwhelming sense of desperation as I stepped into the National Art Gallery, not because of what was being exhibited (which was the Art of Mapping at the time of my visit and the fact the gift shop was closed forever). What struck me was the the glaring lack of a vibrant feel that I did thankfully feel in the air at the IAAM, even if at the time of my mid-afternoon weekday visit, both venues were not exactly filled with people. That experience was enough to make me want to launch into a discussion into why that was, but that is not the purpose of this particular narrative. I digress... (what's new?!!)

Looking, seeing, a personal take

The thing is, the experience made me want to look at the idea of "art" from a very unacademic manner, particularly here where my feet is currently rooted. But I ought to start this with a disclaimer that my understanding of "art" barely skims the surface for I would not want to get into an argument or even a dialectic discussion with any "art" expert or exponent or practitioner, for I will be shamed and banished to an uninhabited rock in the middle of some distant ocean, not that I would be complaining, so long as it comes with a mountain and abundant snow for half the year. 

I had a headache and neck pain staring at these.. How Baroque..
and that drew me to imagine the music of Bach, Handel and 
Vivaldi playing in rooms such as these back in the day
Suffice to say, if I had to explain my knowledge of "art", it would be in the "little to none" category. That is confounded by the fact that I am neither inclined towards the mystery that is "art" having had little interest in it or inclination for it from a young age. A shame really, as I could never truly embrace the talent nor master the patience to nurture it. 

Having said that, I genuinely have a healthy respect for those more capable than I when it comes to the visual "arts". Whilst I may not have the eye for it, (staring at an art piece demands too many neurons in the right half of my brain, enough for a slight throbbing headache), I am in awe of the intricacies in the "art" that is often pointed out to me by those better trained. 

Whatever little genetic predisposition is probably dormant in my being as I do come from a family blessed with the talent for the "arts" courtesy of my late grand uncle, an aunt and countless cousins. Above them all being a younger sibling, who in her student years, used to share her passion by enlightening me with the masters that she studied like Matisse and Kandinsky.. oh, please don't ask me to list them for I'll definitely draw a blank. I'm still clueless.. 

But, see there in lies a dilemma. What exactly is "art"? If you look it up, there will be multiple definitions. One such definition includes - "the conscious use of the imagination in the production of objects intended to be contemplated and/or appreciated as beautiful as in the arrangements of form, sounds or words". I suppose, one could go down the academic path and tear that definition apart and declare it as flawed. But I won't, but will say that in addition to many many definitions, there are also long drawn-out narratives (!!) about how truly difficult it is to define and classify it. This is why I've put the word "art" in inverted commas. At the end of the day, as much as it is something that is very publicly appreciated, it is also (admittedly) quite personal, often referred to as being somewhat of an acquired taste. 

What I have been able to discern from the multitude of definitions is that the words "creative" and "imagination" are prevalent across the board, be it in the manner of its translation into the visual (sculpture, picture, painting or photograph), the vibratory (sounds, music) or in the vernacular (words). 

Whilst through the years, I have grown none the wiser for it, in whatever form it manifests itself in, I dare say that with age comes a measure of respect for it as well as the "art" of faking it or winging it. #lol

The Back story 

Age also allows for a bit of refinement, particularly in my demonstrating the patience and perseverance of going through a gallery filled with art. I might not see deeper than what's visually demonstrated at face value, I can spend the time required to browse through a collection. 

I'll admire the use of colours, the juxtaposing of the subjects depicted and to some extent the choice of materials, but rest assured I will be drawn more toward the back story, the period from which the piece was created and even the tragic and/or dramatic story that may have prompted the artist in the first place. For me, the intrigue of the arts comes more in the history of the piece itself and/or the artist him/herself. It's much the same in the way I appreciate music, I am far more attracted to the underlying elements behind a piece. 

For instance, I recently reacquainted myself with my obsession with Beethoven's 9th Symphony in D minor aka The Choral (I bet you'd know it if I hummed it to you, pray that I don't) - arguably his most daring, magnificently monumental and mammoth creation. The thing is, being note-blind (thanks to an awfully evil organ teacher to obliterate whatever talent I might have had as a kid), I cannot appreciate the intricacies and inflections of the musical passages nor marvel at how its played in all its magnificent parts from the string, wind, percussion right through to the choral parts in the fourth movement. That said, the beauty of the piece still reduces me to a sobbing wreck after the entire length of its glorious 74 minutes*. 

What attracted me the most was that Ludwig was almost if not already, categorically and completely deaf, if not intolerably of an unsound mind by the time he finally premiered the 9th at the Theatre am Kärntnertor in Vienna, 192 years ago. Giuseppe Verdi (the man who penned amongst the world's most famous operas like La Traviata and Rigoletto - you know that tune La Donna è Mobile) who was amongst the audience was however amongst the symphony's detractors particular on the vocal arrangement in the fourth and final movement. 

The thing is, my imagination runs riot whenever I come to the inevitable conclusion of the 9th, seeing in my mind's eye how Ludwig, with his back to the audience, was unable to hear the thundering, rapturous and colossal response from the crowd. It took one of the musicians (the lady who sang the contralto part it was said) to turn him around to see the waving hats and hankies in appreciation - thanks to Gary Oldman who plays Beethoven in the film Immortal Beloved, that image has forever been burned onto my psyche. Bottom line, when a piece like that has such a rich historical tapestry attached to it, I am inexplicably drawn to it, even if I cannot read a single musical note from it. 

Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris
Similarly, it is perhaps the pseudo-wannabe-historian in me that is awakened whenever I brush past an artwork. I once caught myself ogling at the written description just underneath Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the world-famous Louvre. Valued at over US$700million, it is arguably the world's most expensive painting, most viewed, endlessly discussed and most imitated piece of work

Whilst many stood staring admiring his brush work, absorbed in Leo's attention to detail and choice of colours (and taking selfies), I was far more intrigued with the many speculative conjectures behind the woman at the centre of the painting. If you'd asked me if it was painted in watercolour or oil, I would have no idea (OK! OK! I know it's in oil, painted in the high renaissance period of the 1500s). What is intriguing is the fact that so many differing hypothesis have sprung out of signor Da Vinci's work, which to me is far too interesting to ignore. 

Homer, the ancient bard, credited with the
infamous works of The Iliad & Odyssey

In part, being a lover of ancient histories, I accord that same innate attraction to a backstory and willingly admit that my choice of "Athena" as my name during my long-forgotten inline-hockey days was deliberate. Looking back, it was so lame!! 

To my own defense, I was then (and still) attracted to her attributes - strength, femininity and wisdom as described in ancient Greek mythology. And when I ambled into the Louvre's collection of Greek art, I went numb marvelling at the sculptures of Athena, Artemis and Ares and even that of the most famous of ancient bards of them all, Homer - the Greek poet who lived somewhere around 800BCE.

That drew my mind back to a time when I devoured Homer's Iliad and Odyssey with utter fascination as I imagined what it must have been like to witness how the power-crazed Mycenae King Agamemnon used the poor excuse of the kidnapping of his brother Menelaus' wife Helen to embark on a decade long seige on Troy. To me, it is incredible that such a work continues to thrive and capture the imagination of so many generations, inspiring painters, poets, sculptures, writers and even Warner Bros. Pictures (pfft)! Oh dang it Paris, did you have to shoot your blasted arrow that mortally wounded the mighty Achilles??! (and please I beg you to NOT THINK OF BRAD PITT either)!  

Were it not for the artists who laboriously sculptured that piece of stone or bronze, people like me would not be able to visualise beyond our limited imagination what ancient historical figures like the famed Myrmidon hero or the King of Ithaca might have looked like.  

what a gift.. to be able to sculpt these from an unassuming rock.. the Greek deities / heroes as represented in the eye of the artists... TL: Artemis, BL: Hermes, TR: Diomedes, BR: Ares and in the centre: Athena

Respect, don't teach to discriminate

My late grandfather loved his books and he had an extraordinarily 
marverlous collection of leather-bound books including Alexander 
Pope's translation of Homer's Iliad. It's mine now!! 
Anyway back to the intent of this boring, aimless narrative. In a past life, I was given a healthy dose of exposure to the visual arts (and music) being in very close proximity to those whose vocations in life is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of it as well as to those of a higher proclivity to appreciate it. I was also most fortunate to have had the pleasure of a boss whose passion for the arts had a spillover effect on someone as art-stupid as I am. 

Anyway, that exposure opened my eyes to how difficult and challenging life as an artist can be. For instance, as one art advocate once said to me, "for every one artist that sells a major artpiece for a huge chunk of money, you can be assured of an entire army of other artists struggling to put food in their mouth, let alone attempt to feed a family with that talent.

A humbling thought and one I can relate to as a struggling pseudo-wannabe-writer (or stringer of random words). As if to add insult to injury, some, if not most, do not get even an iota of recognition in their lifetime. At best, whatever ambiguous attention they may have received in their day was at the cruel end of the stick of contemptuous ridicule. I dare say, perhaps obscurity is a lonely dance that artists all share..

One art antagonist once argued with me about how art is absolutely useless and that life ought to be focused on the more practical things in life. Good thing I was gasping with air lest I throttle him with my bare hands. I only had enough energy to ask him if he enjoyed staring at the bare walls of his home when there's a thunderstorm that's wiped out the cable service or if he enjoyed the enveloping silence sat in that hour drive home in the traffic jam. Oh wait, you watch TV no? And didn't you profess your undying love for Daenerys Targaryen as evidenced in the marathon reruns of Game of Thrones? And didn't I see you ferrying Tolkien's Lord of the Rings about the other day?? Was that to show off and make you look more learned in the eyes of your fellows? Whatever dude, why discriminate a form of art whilst favouring another? Just because you don't or can't appreciate art in all its forms, doesn't mean you have to be a complete and utter **** about it either. A**h*le. 

Anyway, as this point was made blindingly clear to me that perhaps more than irritation, I actually felt sorry for him, sorry that he is so ignorant, sorry that he fails to realise that art is all around him, from the music he hums to at the gym, or the book he reads (and picked out based on the pretty cover), or the movie he spent RM14 to go see or the pretty pictures of the sunsets while on vacation to post on his Facebook and Instagram. The point is perhaps, some people just don't, can't or won't see it. And that perhaps comes down to a number of reasons to which I shall in no way attempt to delve into, for I am neither an anthropologist or a master of the human sciences nor do I dare say I'm expert enough to attempt a futile attempt to convincingly sway any detractors. 

Cool, Calm, Creative

I will say this, ignorance is dangerous. And blind, blissful ignorance is malevolent. I believe we humans are naturally attracted to pretty things, and that some are blessed with the enviable gift of being able to capture that beauty in a multitude of ways. 

In some people they hear the chirping of the birds in the morning as the beginnings of a symphonic arrangement; the haphazardness of mindless traffic along Jalan Sultan Ismail the seed to what might become a visual masterpiece of metallic art. Some might see the ritualism of everydayness in ones life a source of inspiration that gives birth to a wonderfully crafted rhythmic prose. There are those amongst us who have the gift of transforming tragedy and utter hopelessness into a profound piece of writing or photograph, whilst some are better able to articulate and emote through movement in dance. 

Whatever form art takes on, I dedicate this humble, haphazard collection of random words and congratulate those of you who have chosen this thankless vocation of the arts. May that well of inspiration never run dry, even if I will never have the art of making enough money to buy your remarkable piece, watch every performance you do or go to every exhibition you're in. 

this is my niece's artwork done when she was 8 years-old. 
I do also hope that there are more of us to keep you at your art, and that parents don't teach ignorance to your young ones, so that they would be able to see and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us everyday. Perhaps there is a seed of that talent waiting to bloom into the next Mozart, Rembrandt or Tolkien? Perhaps with your encouragement, that talent does not need to be needlessly quashed but rather moulded to become something truly wonderful.

I also respect that art is very personal and subject to taste - aye!! beauty is in the eye of the beholder (gagging at being forced to pull that cliché out!!), but I am firm believer that as rational beings, surely it is not difficult to at the very least acknowledge that our experiences are shaped by that which surrounds us, even artists and their work. So even if you cannot understand the motive behind a person's art in whatever form it manifests itself, surely you can respect that person's choice and appreciate that he/she is expressing him/herself in ways only they can. 

Don't we all want to be heard in some way? So on that premise alone why not respect that artists might prefer or can only articulate what they wish to communicate in the form of a painting, sketch or sculpture, a piece of music, a dance choreography or poetic prose, etc..? This regardless of how dreamy, dazzling, delectable, delicious, dreary, dark, disturbing, dubious, dangerous or even delirious our interpretation of that telling may be. 

I also do not honestly know what inspired me to scribble this particular seemingly nonsensical rambling down, other than to hope that perhaps the coming generation can be encouraged to learn to, at the very least, understand, appreciate and respect rather than discriminate. After all, the optimist in me likes to believe that tolerance is one of many things that defines humanity, especially for rational beings that exist in such a social human paradigm that is in itself diverse in creed, class and colour, as well as craft. 

Thanks.... that's off my chest.

this was my one and only sorry-a** excuse of a 
selfie at the Louvre, with Athena, no less

and Bach serenading me in my ear, I think..

Near-the-end-note: There are so many many many recordings of Beethoven's 9th and I couldn't find Furtwängler's 1942 version, which was said to have been the most apocalyptic and frightening and majestic.. oh well.

* FYI - the Compact Disc (CD) was (allegedly) deliberately invented to have a 74-minute play time in order to accommodate Beethoven's majestic 9th Symphony. 

Monday, 29 February 2016

Anonymous apparition astray in Andorra

Hola.. It's been a while. I know.. Lots has happened since my last post and I really did come dangerously close to ditching this futile attempt of a log.. So close.. But, I'm back and I did say from the very outset that the silence would be deafening.... 

This time, I've decided to commit my traipsing around in a tiny Andorran portion of the mighty Pyrenees to words. The Pyrenees in January can only mean one of two things = snow-hunting season has begun to ease my snowboarding itch or the search for the abominable snowman. Before reading this sad attempt of a record, consider the possibility of the latter over the former. 

Anyhow, considering the former option as the more likely candidate, there is always something quite exhilarating when after a nine-month hiatus from any snow, one finds oneself strapped back onto that board that has been longingly staring at you. I certainly don’t count the times when I’ve caught myself putting on my boots and strapping myself onto the board in the comfort of my 27°C bedroom in the tropics like a crazed woman. Strapping it on for real, on snow, and getting on the chairlift and looking down at the run you’re about to ride down from is really an indescribable sensation, probably akin to being reacquainted with a long lost friend. 

For a poor snowboarder like me, there’s a fair amount of trepidation laced with a small tinge of fear, out of the corner of your mind when you question whether you might have forgotten how to ride, or perhaps the prospect of utter humiliation when you fall on your ass as you alight from the chairlift. Sidenote: As a unbreakable rule, I never EVER take the T-bars, because to be quite frank, I absolutely, most definitely, unequivocally and unquestionably HATE T-bars. To me it was invented as a cruel (even borderline evil) joke by two-plankers on us snowboarders. 

Back to my random train of thought, so what if I fall? I’ve always maintained that my sole purpose of being on a snowboard is to provide entertainment to the other patrons. I get a good laugh at myself for worrying too damned much! And when I do fall, I cannot help but laugh at myself, much to the entertainment of everyone else! Mission: Accomplished!

Anyway, after mustering whatever little grace there is left in righting myself and strapping on my goofy foot, I set off. My goodness, to be back on my gorgeous board.. After some time, it does come back to you as you get reacquainted with riding the board. Up and down you go, tumbling off every now and then, righting yourself again, it all comes back, the good, bad and ugly. All of it!

I know a couple of my instructors from past excursions would be hopping up an down if they were to see me at my latest destination – Vallnord in Andorra. Yes, Andorra. Thank goodness, they are halfway across the other side of the world! Hehehe! Worry not, how can anyone ever forget Tayler’s constant sitting down on chair analogy while making the heel turn or Megu’s “keep your back straight!” reminders. That, as well as Bianca and Dario’s constant aide memoire to look where the heck I want the board to go, and not down the blasted mountain.

The Principality in the Pyrenees: Andorra 

OK, a little bit about this principality of Andorra, the sixth smallest nation in Europe, nestled in the Pyrenees mountain range between France and Spain. In addition to its tax-haven status, it is almost akin to a shopping (and probably, banking) asylum for residents of the European nations either in its immediate vicinity or slightly beyond. Even though it is not a member of the European Union, it actually doesn’t have its own currency, though everything is traded exclusively in Euros €. 

Anyway, there is an entire street (Av. Meritxell) dedicated to mid- to high-end brands you will recognise. It stretches from the hub of Andorra la Vella all the way up into Escaldes-Engordany. From a Mango outlet store to Bauhaus, Zara to Bershka, hubbies, beware! For a non-shopper like me, who cares not for the perils, ills and trappings of high-street retail therapy, it’s amusing observing the scrunched up faces of partners as they watch their better (or worse) halves, unleashed into the mayhem that is shopping. Rest assured oh those of the opposite sex, all hope is not lost as there are a plethora of sports shops to explore. My three favourites are Tiki Snowboards, ESports Yeti, Kilvil and Viladomat (the latter two being a large chain of sports shops) who have, hands-down, the nicest shop attendants ever. There’s even a massive cycling shop, for those inclined. 

A view of Andorra La Vella (sort of) from Andorra's famous Caldea Spa

By the way, my advice is change whatever currency you have into Euros BEFORE you arrive here. The local banks charge an astronomical fee on top of the exchange rate to change any amount of money; that’s unless you’re changing like a billion US Dollars into Euros, then by all means change (treading lightly here) your money here.

How the pin dropped on the map

Andorra was actually recommended to me by several people, one of whom talked me into it when I saw him at last year’s MotoGP test as I was about to depart for the wonder that was Norway. He said, I paraphrase, “why do you go to Norway? You should try Andorra!” Honestly, it would be very unfair for me to compare the two countries, but I think if you were to put a gun to my head, I would hands down pick the Scandinavian winter wonderland, home of the mythical Norse deities, despite not meeting Loki-aka-Tom Hiddleston.. Why? Well, in a nutshell, Norway is absolutely gorgeous in every sense; from its jaw-droppingly breathtaking landscape to its wonderfully warm charm, even if it is ridiculously expensive and will break the bank in more ways than an outright atomic explosion.

Before I lose it and go on and on about my Nordic experience, I’ll (reluctantly) come back to this small principality. Prior to coming out here, without being egged on by my MotoGP acquaintance, I had read about the historic significance of the Pyrenees, particularly during my reading obsession with Hannibal’s Punic War campaign against the Romans and his overland march across the Iberian Peninsula over the Pyrenees as he sought to punish the Roman Empire. 

So the thought of strapping myself onto my board to ride down what might have been relatively close to one of Hannibal’s army crossing was quite something, even if it is as relevant as cheese is to wallpaper. If you haven't figured it out by now, I am strange, so stuff like that was special to me OK?!

The one and only time I managed to grab a picture of the range, on the gondola up to the station

Having taken the 10,620km trip across I do not know how many time zones, I stepped off the plane in Barcelona before continuing the 200+ kilometer journey by road up to Andorra. I do not know a single soul in Andorra, as is typical in my solo-snowboarding trips. Having had the experience of meeting a wonderful Uruguayan lady in Barcelona, my spirits were quite high. However, as I stepped off the bus in Andorra la Vella, amongst the first thing that greeted me were stares, and lots of it. That isn’t exactly unusual as I normally get stared at as if I have a huge massive witch’s wart on my nose. I am used to it, though I am seriously considering including a proper rustic broomstick and a proper cape instead of a snowboard jacket to my travel ensemble. It would at least legitimise the stares.. Pfft..

Unfortunately, the stares did continue unabated, which did get on my nerves throughout my stay. During my travels elsewhere, it would stop after a couple of days as the novelty of having an Asian-looking girl travelling by herself wore off. And in places like Norway, Switzerland and Austria, I guess once the locals have seen you more than once, they tend to go past the, “oh, look she’s a tourist from Asia,” phase and move about their daily lives and even holler a greeting at you. Here, in Andorra, I continued to endure the scrutinising stares right through from locals and a handful of other tourists through to the end, which is undoubtedly the most uncomfortable thing one can possibly endure.

Though I have harnessed my power of ignorance to a level 1 sorceress stage (one step shy of being a super mage), it does get to you. That did limit my ability to go out exploring a bit, confining the bulk of my time exclusively to the pistes, which is fine by me, really.

With the opportunity to breathe in views like these, I much preferred the company of the mountains

Thereby wanting to confine my time to spending as much time getting to know my snowboard riding it on the slopes, there is one little feedback I would probably offer the powers-that-be in Andorra. Re: skiing / snowboarding tourists wanting to go up to your many resorts - my one constructive feedback would perhaps be to consider increasing the frequency of the free skibus that runs between your beautiful little towns. The irregularity of them makes for a rather chilling wait at the appointed bus stops, which is more often than not, a superbly and insanely long one. Thank goodness for me the weather was especially and perhaps unusually warmer than it should have been in mid-January. Be it down to El Niño or the blue planet shifting axis.. I have no clue. Anyway, had the wait been in the sub-zero temperatures I had to endure in Niseko, I might have been tempted to hitchhike or begged the Coca Cola deliveryman to drop me in La Massana or Ordino-Arcalis.

Stumbling on Charm, Tripping on Kindness

Despite the exhausting wait, there is a flip side, really! You will not be suffering alone, which opens up the possibility of meeting all kinds of people, from all walks of life. I became acquainted with two Argentineans who were wonderfully friendly and we got off talking about all kinds of things. Sadly, I don’t speak any Russian, so I couldn’t really converse with the large Eastern Slavic ethnic group I found myself with on the daily ride up the mountain.  However, I would say, the most important individual I got to know was perhaps the bus driver

If you have a sad enough looking face, he’ll take pity and even offer you a seat next to him and even drop you right off on the street you want to be, well, close enough. He’ll recognise you and even if the language barrier is as complex as deciphering the runes on a Dwarfish burial temple, you will kinda guess what he’s trying to convey to you. He even went so far as to once “rescue” my board from the fate of being buried under a landslide of skis, saving it from the torment of scratches, bumps and bruises, nestling it right next to him. Thank you Mr. Bus man!! You have no idea how grateful I am. Alas, it did get scratched on later trips when you were not on driving duty. *sad face*

Avoiding the town centre, you do get to meet some extremely interesting people. Undoubtedly, I find the people I meet anywhere in the world to be quite interesting. I befriended a lovely Argentinean girl I met on one of those arduously long waits at the bus stop, who not only decided to offer unsolicited advise on what to ask the bus driver, but became a great companion as we ended up spending the entire journey talking in English. I begrudgingly admit that I found that to be a very refreshing change to the predominant Eastern Slavic language that I had become rather accustomed to listening to from Alexei, Vitaly, Dmitry, Ekaterina, Zoya, Oksana and their comrades during my trek up to the piste. 

On another separate occasion, I met her fellow compatriot who also offered to help when quite frankly no one else seemed to care, as we battled the insane crowd trying to get on a bus already bursting at the seams. Though I did manage to get on that blasted bus, I didn’t sit with the Argentinean boy but ended up being offered a seat next to three Brits, the first I had seen in many many days. The trio were very cool and befriended this poor Asian girl. Nice guys! 


Overall, the majority of the people I met in Andorra were not from Andorra, Spain or even France. A large Dutch ski group I met while riding down one of the longest runs I have ever been on in the short time that I had been snowboarding were insanely hilarious, creating quite a ruckus, and made me chuckle as they politely asked me in Spanish to take a picture of their rather eccentric assemblage. When I answered in English, they were overwhelmingly nice and almost embraced me as one of their own, thus befuddling me. Another Dutchman in another group of tourists was also rather friendly asking if I had ever lived in New York (oddly), which started a prolonged conversation about the Rockies and Whistler, suspiciously much to the chagrin of his Spanish girlfriend, whoops. Come on lady, one look at me, and you really cannot possibly think that I would be a threat of any kind! Lol!


Anyhow, I once watched a travel documentary that in certain places, some group of tourists from certain parts of the world tend to be more inclined to help other tourists. Given my experience in Andorra, I am inclined to agree, though I must employ a caveat that my experience is by no means exclusive or conclusive or can be categorical proof of any kind. It would be a gross overgeneralisation on my part to say that my experience in the Pyrenees was completely shaped by other visiting tourists from either South America or Northern Europe, as there were those residents who were incredibly nice, in particular, the dude at Kilvil who went above and beyond to gift me a book that I could share with my dad. Very cool guy, thanks Mr. Silver-hair!

Shredding Sideways in the Pyrenees 

I've just realised that I have not mentioned my semi-neophyte non-native experience on snow in any length anywhere in this narrative, my sincere apologies. After some research online, which is by no means the most extensive, I opted on exploring Vallnord, which is home to the two resorts of Pal-Arinsal and Ordino-Arcalis

Once you alight the gondola from La Massana, this is amongst the first views of Pal-Arinsal (more Pal actually) in Vallnord

The primary reason is purely cost as the Vallnord lift tickets are not as pricey as some of the preferred Alpine resorts or even neighbouring Granvalira, which is more famous (as it hosts major skiing events in the FIS calendar). The cost factor alone made Vallnord an attractive place for a skiing / snowboarding holiday for the budget conscious especially those hailing from parts of the world where the currency exchange can make one weep for months on end like your's truly. 

Anyway, access to the Pal-Arinsal resort is via La Massana or Arinsal, which is the closest to Andorra La Vella. Ordino-Arcalis meanwhile is a quite a bit further away, located in the northern part of the principality. 

The majority of people I speak to suggest Ordino-Arcalis for snowboarders. On top of the beautiful but long bus ride up, there are more off-piste areas to explore, the runs longer and wider. At the time I went in mid- to end-January, the snow cover (however little) was also a bit better than Pal-Arinsal at the mid-station. 

The views are quite astonishing especially on the La Bassera chairlift that takes forever to get to the top of the run. It goes up almost vertical in parts, facing the rocky cliff face of the mountain, it was admittedly a scary yet slightly exhilarating ride up for me especially if you look behind from where you took off.. 

The views from the bottom of Ordino-Arcalis, with the La Bassera chairlift just visible at the bottom left corner

The reds are hard (in my non-professional and rather beginner opinion), and superiorly daunting as you can see the entire way down from the side of the mountain. The other two chairlifts, doesn't go up as high as La Bassera, but offers up blue and red runs that takes you through pretty tree lines.. And there are the off-piste areas, which while I was there was being used by some professional group of freestyle skiers and snowboarders. Me? I stood in awe watching these guys and gals throw themselves off a temporary shelf from the peak. 

The snow, in this weird springtime climate during my time here in January, was invariably better and more powdery (not by Whistler or Niseko’s standards, of course) in Ordino-Arcalis. Even the green-run on the long 8.5km Megaverda takes you through some stunning scenery, nothing my iPhone camera could do justice to. 

Pal-Arinsal is not that bad, but was insanely crowded (especially on the weekends) and there are those evil and wicked T-bars. *gagging* But, Arinsal is worth a trip up if you're not averse to those damned T-bars. Me, I unfortunately avoided it as I wasn't feeling particularly adventurous that week, therefore rendering this narrative pretty useless to anyone who wants to know more. 

This is the view of the massive O located on the green  Megaverda run, which is a must stop for skiers / 

snowboarders of any levels
Sorry, I am no expert nor an authority in this subject. There are plenty of videos on youtube where you can see how the run from the Arinsal station looks like. My Argentinian friend on skis did go up, and the snow is more powdery than at the middle-station. Before I draw the ire of more accomplished skiers and snowboarders wanting more information, I shall draw a line here on my limited and poor narrative on the snowboarding experience especially my sole intent was to tighten up my riding skills. 

Bottom Line

As I bring this average narrative to a close, I would also say this, if your purpose coming to this little corner of the planet is to enjoy the snow with your two-planks or snowboard, I would strongly recommend coming in a group, not for any security concern, but rather to keep your sanity intact and as a strong deterrent against utter and complete boredom off the slopes. If you are intent on a solo travel, then make sure to stay near to the towns that have access to the ski-lifts. Staying downtown may sound like an attractive idea with the prospect of more dining or shopping options, but if you’re on a budget and are going to rely on the free ski-bus, then be prepared for the absurdly long wait. If your wallet is bottomless, then by all means fork out the €1.80 per trip on the local communal bus. 

Anyway, if you’re like me, Asian, novice rider and solo, and do decide to make downtown your preferred option for accommodation, then steel up the nerves and ignore the stares. Bring a big fat book (I brought Gav Thorpe's bumper Warhammer Time of Legends Omnibus The Sundering) and shut out the crowd with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's entire Die Entführung aus dem Serail opera blasting out of your massive headphones. 

Travel, like anything is about experiencing everything, good or bad, and to that end, I am really happy with my choice, even if not preferred, especially looking from the skewed lens of having had a great experience somewhere else. It is a beautiful country to look at with jaw-dropping views of the Pyrenees. Suffice to say, I am grateful to the few individuals who made my up and down two-week sojourn in Andorra memorable in every sense. 

moltes gràcies!

Another pathetic attempt of a selfie by the author