The view from the sky

Here are some photos of our two gorgeous flights last Sunday. (Yes, I realise not everyone is as obsessed with this as I am, but bear with me.) That’s the launch site. It’s covered in carpet and is smooth and beautiful. (You don’t want too many stones and twigs and things, as they get caught in your lines.)

And here’s someone taking off (not either of us, but isn’t he elegant!).

And that’s the view from the sky. There were lots of pockets of lift around, and I managed to stay up for about forty minutes. Michael took the aerial shots, though. Here’s the view in the other direction, over Monaco. It’s a bit hazy from the sunlight.

We flew over houses and skyscrapers and tennis courts and swimming pools and highways and trainlines. The best fun of all was zooming around this hotel. How’s that for a swimming pool?

Then, when it’s time to land, you fly over the beach. The water is blue and clear and mesmerising. You have to fly quite low over the water in order to get low enough to land on the beach. This is a little disconcerting, as whatever happens, you don’t want to land in it!

Over the water, the air is quiet and silky. Then you turn in, and there is the small matter of not landing on the sun-bathers. They seem to have no fear. Luckily, we didn’t disappoint.

It was still warm after our last flight, and having forgotten our swimsuits, we made use of the nudist corner of the beach to jump right in, before watching the sun set over the mountains. A perfect day.

Writing/Dreaming/Flying

Yesterday morning when I checked my blogroll, everything pointed me back to writing. Well, not everything, but enough. Penni is applying for an amazing sounding PhD (amid writing a hundred other amazing sounding things), and Dr S is refocusing bird by bird (can’t link to the specific post, Oct 26, but that’s the book she links to). And fifi has been doing some pretty serious writing/painting/dreaming too.

Actually, now I think about it, all these posts mention birds.

And so, after zooming and twisting in the sky like a bird myself (more on that soon), I sat down to focus on the tracks and patterns of my thesis chapters, finding the links between them, finding the weak points that need fixing. And it will be done, it will.

(Oh, and on a tangentially related note, my cousin reminded me of some incredible icebergs we saw as we flew over Greenland on the way to New York a few weeks back. Beautiful. )

Weekend paragliding

in a place where the sun still warms the skin. Don’t worry, my thesis is here too! M has a conference all week, and I intend to make spectacular progress editing my various chapters. Below is a rare photo of M coming in to land (all our Utah photos seem to be of me). We didn’t actually launch from the place pictured above, as it had a very scary cliff. I’m sure we would have been fine but we decided to play it safe. We waited an hour for the next bus and then it didn’t stop for us! Luckily some young guys took pity on us and drove us up to the next launch site, where we got off no problems…

On my desk

I thought I’d get in on the action. Basically it’s an odd assortment of books about medievalism and Australian literary criticism. Mostly Australian literary criticism, but when that started giving me a serious headache last night I went back to the medievalism. I’m looking at how they fit together. And how they relate to my thesis. Anyway, back to my desk. Several drafts, in various states of being scribbled on. Tea, which is necessary hourly. And there are also creatures. Never underestimate creatures.

The rag-end of autumn

Do you like my new header? It’s from a photo that I took, but Michael did clever things to on photoshop. It’s on our regular walk, near the entrance to the fortress. We also posed with our autumn-coloured coats, on a break from thinking grumpy thoughts about my thesis.

Now, back to those grumpy thoughts.

Sign-posts

I have been taking photos of autumn leaves but can’t locate the camera adapter just at the moment so you’ll have to wait till tomorrow. They are falling down and cover the boardwalk by the river. I have been spiraling back into my thesis. It has felt, at times, like abseiling into a black hole. Re-reading my introduction was horrifying (oh the pain of editing!) but I am working out how to fix it. Vagueness, be banished! Structure, be found! Tonight, I combed through the opening and closing pages, crossing out sentences, underlining the ends of sentences that start well but end badly, circling terms I don’t really mean. Often writing has its own energy, an insistent rhythm, and I finish a sentence a certain way just because it sounds good. Now, it’s nice if it sounds good, but only if it says exactly what I mean. Only if the terms are essential, and useful, and point the way.

I’ve been thinking of the beginning and the end of my introduction as sign-posts. The sentences and terms I use must direct my argument. Before I started fixing them, the sign-posts clambered all over each other and pointed in myriads of directions. I have been straightening them out, one word at a time. Adding a sentence here, clarifying a phrase there. I’m sure this micro-editing will assist with the broader, looser structural changes I need to make to the body of my introduction.

So. Feeling slightly more positive, after a shuddering and painful transition into writing and thinking after blissful weeks spent floating in the wind and eating pancakes (don’t tell my supervisor). (Well, I came to Europe five years ago for adventures as much as education. And adventures I have had.)

Also trying to figure out my movements for the next two months. Initially I had planned to rent a room in Leeds for six weeks to really knock this thesis on its head. But it’s soooo nice here. Aside from being with the one I love, which is a definite bonus, I have my lovely desk here, and all my books, and my thick folders stuffed with photocopies, and a comfortable desk chair, and a thick duvet, and a kitchen I don’t have to share with five people, and, and… Camping out in a student room with only the bare essentials to keep me going, sharing a house with strangers, is not terribly appealing. I’m meeting my supervisors in Leeds in three weeks time, but maybe I’ll come straight back here after that. I’m sure I can get the thing basically finished with four weeks solid concentration, even here.

Back

Norway was draped with streamers of clouds as we flew in yesterday morning. It took me a while to come up with that word. Initially I thought rope. And then, in a sleep-deprived haze, I wondered about spaghetti strands. They were much thicker than spaghetti strands, the long slender clouds that hovered over the fields and rested on the hills. So many shades of grey. They were pretty from below as well – the fluted sky, soft enough to sleep in.

Streamers isn’t quite right either, as that gives the impression of movement, and these clouds were very still. Anyway…

Flying in to New York was extremely pretty too (we had to change planes there). Acres and acres of bright red forest. Incredible.

We dived gratefully into bed at two thirty in the afternoon. Michael woke me up at midnight insisting that we should get up for a few hours or we’d be up all night. Probably a good idea as we’ve made a dent in the sorting and unpacking, will go back to sleep in a bit and hopefully manage to stay awake tomorrow. We’ll see. The washing is done. The candles are lit. Thomas Tallis serenades. M says it feels like Christmas. I think we’ll survive the winter.

Heading back

We’re flying back to Norway tomorrow and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into my thesis again. I’ve had over twenty hours of airtime which has been brilliant. I’ve been working on keeping my wing stable in turbulent conditions, and practicing flying in strong and light winds. I seem to naturally fly higher than most other paragliders and some of the most fun times have been boating around for hours at the end of the ridge where the lift is strongest while other gliders can’t stay up… Here I am kiting at dawn, waiting for the wind to pick up.

The photo at the top of this post is my favourite from the whole trip. The wind was far too strong for us to fly that day – the paragliders behind me were experts on tiny wings (if the wing is too small for you it flies faster so you can fly in stronger conditions). But it was great just watching them go.

While we’re at it, I love this photo too. See you back in the land of birch trees and mirrored lakes!

An island in the sky

After a week of quite wonderful flying, we escaped down to south east Utah for the weekend to avoid a storm. It was the right move, as now all the mountains are capped with snow.

One of the best things about flying this time has been a growing sense of proficiency. We’ve been awarded our P3 licences – which means we are intermediate pilots, rather than novices. I’m not scared of the glider now – even in strong winds, I’m in control (if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can drag you all over the place as you try to launch). We also had a truly spectacular flight on the north side of  the ‘point of the mountain’ (the south side is pictured above). The north side has a lower ridge and an upper ridge. You launch at the lower ridge and if you get high enough you can fly back towards the upper ridge and end up soaring far, far above launch, with views beyond the mountains. There’s nothing quite like soaring along the top of a ridge and seeing the contours of the mountain beneath you – the dusty rock, the autumn colours of the low shrubs. There was a hawk flying alongside us – hovering just in front of Michael’s feet. It was incredible.

The national parks in south east Utah reminded me a bit of some places I’ve seen in Australia – the red rock, the dust, the desert plants – but in other ways they were like nothing else I’ve ever seen. We went to the iconic ‘Arches’ park, which is filled with stone arches, but my favourite was the section of the Canyonlands national park called ‘Island in the Sky’. We kept looking out at the mesas – crumbling rock formations that do look a bit like islands if you think about it, wondering – is that the island in the sky? Is it that one? Is it around the next corner? And then we came to the end of the road and saw this:

As we peered out over the cliff to the mottled, spiky, canyoned lanscape below, we realised – we were on the island in the sky. We had been all along.

Now we’re back in Salt Lake City, and hoping for some more soaring before we head back to Europe and work and thesis and all the rest of it. I want just a little more time on my very own island in the sky, bobbing upwards in the air currents and singing my favourite flying song: up up and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon

A medievalist in New York

In New York I couldn’t keep my eyes off old things, or echoes of old things. When we were discussing potential tourist destinations, possibly art galleries, one of Micheal’s colleagues only wanted to see contemporary art, the really new stuff, because she always thought of New York as new. But mock medieval spires crown the sky-scrapers, and we found a huge imitation Gothic cathedral, St Patrick’s. It was pretty good, but there were no gargoyles, which gave it a strangely smooth complexion.

There were plenty of gargoyles in the cloisters museum. And amazing unicorn tapestries. I was slightly horrified – we all know the picture of the unicorn sitting demurely within its white picket fence, but I had no idea that the story ended with him being torn to pieces by dogs and arrows, and dragged dead into the castle, slung on the back of a horse. Possibly a good thing that it was too dark in there to take pictures.

Then there’s the massive Disney store, and the princess craze that’s taking over the world. My friend bought a ‘baby princess’ for her little daughter. These princesses are medieval too, after a fashion.

We capped off this medieval New York tour with an evening of Spamalot. I was slightly suspicious and wishing we’d chosen something more traditionally broadway, but it turned out to be brilliant. An English pantomime on a massive scale, with king Arthur, dancing girls, a murderous rabbit, and giant confetti tumbling down on us at the end. Perfect.