I don’t know how to start this entry so I’ll just launch right into the heart of it:
I spent most of this year homeless, broke and starving on the streets of Europe.
And I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Most of you read this blog soley for all the amazing street art that I find (as you should, I have found some incredible and moving stuff!), and I don’t really talk about myself on this blog anymore. I’ve barely posted any photographs of me on here this year, so let’s change that right now before I launch into it all…
Ahhh, that’s better.
So here’s the skinny
I will try not to ramble on for brevity’s sake and because everyone has ADD, but perhaps you might take 5 mins to read this, as this post, like most of my posts, will be mostly photographs anyway.
I started off the year in London. It was rough from the beginning. I was freelancing a lot to pay my bills, but money was still tight tight tight! My friends kept insisting on paying for me just because they wanted me to come out and see them, but I felt pretty shitty about having my friends pay for me. I mean, they offered, but what kind of woman does that make me? Always relying on the generosity of friends? I refused the majority of the time.
Still I managed to have some wonderful early experiences in London, like being invited to speak THREE TIMES at Spark London, which is a live-storytelling event.
This below video is from my first and most popular story. It has almost 6,000 views on YouTube, I guess it resonated with people.
Also, as many of you remember, I was cast in Channel 4’s documentary series, First Dates. My episode, the premiere episode of the season, had millions of viewers and broke the internet. Here’s the trailer and some screencaps from my small screen glory:
But life in London was still giving me headaches. I won’t go into too much detail on this point, but I was being sexually harassed by someone who had stolen all of my contact details and had been to my house. I had to call the police just to get him to stop. I couldn’t even get him arrested, I could only get them to force him to stop. It was truly frightening to be the victim of something like this that was completely out of my hands. I didn’t know this person at all, and to have my details stolen like that and used for such nefarious purposes really shocked my system. I didn’t leave my flat for a week because I was petrified to walk outside and find him there. Bless the London Police, they were so kind and understanding and helpful and full of useful information.
But the money issue started to grate on me. London is too expensive for a freelancer like me, and when my uptight and awkward landlady (who would burst into my room when I was sleeping naked and demand I get her a paracetamol because she was sick… or would bore me to tears by yammering on about her ridiculous love life like it was any of my business) decided to raise the rent on me for no good reason, I decided enough was enough. London clearly doesn’t want me here, so fuck it, I’m leaving for something better.
I consciously chose to be homeless. I stuffed everything I owned in the world into my backpack, and set off for mainland Europe. I didn’t have the money to pay rent, so I decided I just wouldn’t pay rent. I would get by with Couchsurfing and Housesitting. And those housesitting gigs would last for months, so I would get to stay in these cosmopolitan European capitals for free; places like Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels (and a smattering of smaller rural towns).
But it wasn’t easy. I was so broke that I was living off of €40 a week. A WEEK. That’s how much most people spend in one meal, and that is what I was LIVING off of for a week. There were some really lean moments where I was like, “Should I put the peanuts in the yoghurt, or have the peanuts as a side-dish?” For example, the entire month that I lived in Paris, I only spent €150 in total, and that’s being generous. I couldn’t afford to take the trains anymore between cities, so I started hitchhiking… which any woman will tell you is, well, interesting. (The one time that I posted on Facebook about my hitchhiking, a friend that I haven’t seen in about 15 years since high school transferred money into my PayPal and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She was like, “TAKE IT AND GET ON A TRAIN DAMMIT” and I was moved to tears. People can be so kind). I’m ashamed to admit that I did a bit of dumpster-diving when I needed to. But the worst it ever got was when I was attacked in Brussels and in Paris. In Brussels, this guy smacked me right across the face in broad daylight. On the Paris Metro, I walked away with a huge welt on my thigh that lasted a month, and the tissue there is still sore, if I’m being honest.
Life as a waif isn’t all romantic and adventure. Sometimes it is pure depravity and despair.
But, for as bad as it was sometimes, I felt like going through all of this was good for me. Like I really needed it. The whole point is to go through a river of shit. The whole point is to crawl up a long ladder on your knees. That’s the whole point. Because it taught me exactly what I’m made of. I am resilient when the shit hits the fan. I am resourceful and crafty, sometimes hustler-charlatan, and sometimes the lucky beneficiary of the kindness of strangers. I never gave up. Going through the worst time of my life, oddly, was the best thing for me. I truly feel like the worst year of my life was also the best year of my life. I am so grateful this happened to me.
So how did I end up back in Toronto?
I was making some money freelancing, so I wasn’t completely in the shitter. I was even translated into Swiss-German when I sold a couple of articles to AufBau Magazine (and they paid me in SWISS FRANCS too! When you exchange that into Canadian dollars, it was more than double. I was like PIZZA FOR EVERYBODY!). But I couldn’t afford the planet ticket home. Then, the Polish Ministry of Economy who sent me on my #Polska14 adventure that you can read about here, paid for my transatlantic flight home. Without that, I would still be a wandering European nomad with no fixed address. So thanks, Poland!
Along this strange 12 month journey that was 2014, there were a lot of poignant and unique moments that will never come again. I was in Copenhagen during the Eurovision Song Contest, I was in Berlin when Germany won the World Cup, I was in Paris during the 70th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of Paris, I was in Amsterdam for their Remembrance Day, and I was in Brussels during Nuit Blanche.
I think one of my favourite moments of the entire year was in Amsterdam when my friend Laser 3.14 dedicated some street art to me.
But my favourite thing to do in all of these places (other than photograph street art, of course) was to visit the flea markets every weekend. Because I had no space in my backpack to actually buy anything of substance, the only thing I could buy on the flea markets were old love letters and monochrome photographs from 1900-1940s. The only spot I could keep them was in the space between my iPad and its case, because it was the only spot to keep them flat and safe. After a while, that little slot was bulging.
Here are some examples of what I managed to procure:
Most days I would spend all the money I had saved for eating on these photographs. I usually only ate 2 small meals a day anyway, and would load up on coffee during the day to suppress my appetite.
The small moments I never blogged…
Dancing with friends in London! Everybody in this photograph looks cool except for me. I need to increase my cool-game.
Celebrating World Cup in Berlin with friends! Aw Eric, tu me manques!
Enjoying the view of Berlin from the Klunkerkranich with my two favourite Germans!
Acrobatic performers at the Boxhagenerplatz flohmarkt in Berlin!
This photograph and street-art-hunt made it to the front page of WordPress!
In London, I was cast in a movie, and the costume/hair/makeup would take an hour every day. I was playing a 16th century Spanish lady in King Phillip’s court. My hair was teased, pinned, curled, and yanked within an inch of my life. That hat had to be SEWN INTO MY HEAD to keep it in place. And the corset & neck piece dug into my skin and took out huge chunks of flesh.
This is what my hair looked like after all the pieces were taken out of it.
Hanging out inside an 800-year-old tree in Copenhagen.
At the Jewish Memorial in Berlin, which is a re-staging of a photograph I took of myself 8 years ago…
Berlin olympic stadium … fuck yeah jesse owens.
Fireworks soar above the Brandenburg Gate the night that Germany won the World Cup
A massive drumming/capoeira parade in Paris that I just happened to stumble upon. They basically shut down Boulevard Saint-Denis!
Click on the volume button to hear! I made this and many other Vines, btw.
My last night in Paris, I cycled to L’Arc de Triomphe and just sat there, watching the city run circles around it.
Nuit Blanche in Brussels was a rainy, glorious night I will never forget. I love Brussels so much!
Overlooking the small medieval-walled village of Regensburg in the south of Germany.
Leaving Berlin, and for the last time too…
Dancing with the gang in Dalston… as all the hipsters do.
This was my housesit in Paris; a two-bedroom flat all to myself. Yes, I am a huge asshole.
And this was my housesit in Amsterdam. Being homeless isn’t all that bad.
Somedays I would wake up in my housesit and just be so happy!
Although, when I was Couchsurfing, some days I would wake up looking like this. Ugh. Don’t fuck with a recently-awoken woman!
Snugglecat in Brussels loves his kisses!
I saw Nils Frahm live in concert four times this year (for a total of 5 if you include last year). Luckily he performed free concerts, so my broke-ass could still get a little culture. I saw him twice in Copenhagen….
…once in Berlin…
…and then in Toronto!
Favourite 2014 Street Art Hunts
I found some amazing works this year, so it’s hard to pick the BEST, as everyone is a winner, but here are some highlights!
#1 Space Invader does Star Wars in London!
#2 Accidentally finding a Banksy in Copenhagen!
#3 El Bocho in Berlin, baby!
#4 Icy and Sot on the streets of Amsterdam!
#5 Finding 183 Space Invaders in one month in Paris!
#6 Jimmy C’s Ziggy Stardust mural in Brixton!
#8 JR’s “wrinkles of the city” in Berlin!
#9 Roa in Dulwich!
#10 Phlegm in Dulwich!
Here are my greatest street-art hits from Instagram! What a year it’s been!
Favourite 2014 Albums
#1 Spaces by my beloved Nils. Although it came out in late 2013, it really picked up steam in 2014 so that’s why it’s included here. I would walk around my neighbourhood in South London (Crystal Palace) and would listen to Spaces as I wandered up and down the hills, and it kept me sane. Lend an ear to song “Says,” it will be the best 8 minutes of your life, I promise.
#2 Are We There by Sharon Van Etten. I would wander around Kreuzberg and Neükoln in Berlin, along the canal, sit on Admiralbrücke, drink a cola from the Späti, and listen to “Our Love” or “I Know” off this album and feel like someone else understood me finally.
Favourite 2014 Singles
#1 Enemies by Hannah Georgas. The song is simply gorgeous, but it was the music video for it that left me breathless. There’s something about that man’s face. I think it was his eyes. He broke my heart.
#2 Habits by Tove Lo. I know this song was pretty overplayed by the end of the year, but when it first came out, I would walk around Berlin during those hot summer nights when it’s still light out at 9pm, photograph street art, listen to this, and sing when I was sure no one was listening.
Favourite 2014 Films
#1 Grand Budapest Hotel, obviously! I saw this in London with Robin and we couldn’t stop talking about how great it was for hours afterward.
#2 Boyhood. I saw this in Berlin with David and he fell asleep during it, so it could have used a tighter edit (3 hours is too long, guys!) but it was still a tour-de-force.
Speaking of men…
When it comes to the end…
Like I have for the past three years, I will be spending New Years in a country other than my own (2012 in Germany, 2013 in London, and now 2014 in….)
New York City!!
I’ll be housesitting (obvi) for a month (until the end of January) in the Upper West Side. Another place to live rent-free, another amazing city. I haven’t been in NYC since 2012 so it will be great to rediscover all my favourite places (Bushwick here I come!!) and also discover places I never knew before (I’m coming for you, Adele Bloch-Bauer).
NYC, like all the other cities I have lived in this year, is one of those places where you’re never bored. And if you are, you are doing it wrong.
So I’d like to end 2014 on a similar note:
“I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say.
I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing.
So you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.”
2014 was never boring. May that continue in 2015.
See ya in NEW YORK CITY!!!
December 22, 2014 | Categories: Christine Estima, GIFs, photography, travel | Tags: 2014 best of, 2015, acting, adventure, Aladdin Sane, Amsterdam, antique, antiques, backpacking, Banksy, belgium, Berlin, best albums of 2014, best films of 2014, best singles of 2014, boyhood, bravery, broke, brussels, cats, Channel 4, Christine Estima, concentration camp, concerts, Copenhagen, couchsurfing, courage, Crystal Palace, David Bowie, defiance, Denmark, do it for the vine, dumpster-diving, El Bocho, end of year reflections, england, feminism, feminist, FIFA World Cup, First Dates, Flash Invaders, flea market, flea markets, flohmarkt, france, friends, friendship, Germany, GIFs, graffiti, grand budapest hotel, hannah georgas, hitch-hiking, hitchhiking, Holland, homeless, House-sitting, housesitting, Icy and Sot, instagram, Invader, Invader Was Here, James Cochran, jesse owens, Jewish memorial, Jimmy C, JR, kreuzberg, kreuzkölln, L'arc de triomphe, Laser 3.14, Laser314, latergram, live-storytelling, London, men with beards, movies, Neukölln, New Years, new years day, new years eve, new years resolutions, Nils Frahm, Nils Frahm live, Nuit Blance Bruxelles, nuit blanche, Nuit Blanche Brussels, NuitBlancheBxl, olympic stadium, Pablo Delgado, parades, paris, Phlegm, Photography, picoftheday, Poland, Polska 14, Polska14, Regensburg, resolution, Roa, Sachsenhausen, sexual harassment, sharon van etten, solo women travellers, Space Invader, Spark, spark london, spoken word, starving, statigram, storytelling, street art, strength, tagsforlikes, television, The Netherlands, the year that was, tove lo, travel, typewriter, united kingdom, urban art, vine, viner, viners, vines, vintage, women, World Cup 2014, wrinkles of the city, year in review, Ziggy Stardust | 8 Comments
In the past I have frequented Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, so I knew that the event in Brussels would encompass performance art, light installations, concerts, film, and a mash of everything in between. The entire city was alive with ideas and provocative thoughts from 8pm until 5am. As I ran around all night in the rainy, haunted, winding streets of Brussels, I couldn’t have been giddier. I love Brussels so much. It is the city that saved me, and suffused me.
This poetic light installation was in Place Des Martyrs.
Always take the stairs.
If you undress me, I’ll undress you.
The body as a pendulum.
Homoeroticisms projected onto Place de la Monnaie.
Inside the beautiful Bourse, which has been empty for many years because of the expanding Stock Exchange, they projected 14 moving images (and when I say moving, I mean emotive and literally moving in slow mo) of a modern day crucifixion with a live quintet playing an aria called 14 Emotions.
I stumbled home sometime around 2am, after having taken the nightbus (which was free for Nuit Blanchers), and as the bus wound through the streets, I just kept repeating to myself, “I love this fucking town. I love it so much.”
October 10, 2014 | Categories: Brussels, concert, events, photography, street culture | Tags: art, belgium, brussels, bruxelles, chamber music, cinema, concert, crucifixion, film, homoerotic, iconography, la Bourse, light installation, light installations, Nuit Blance Bruxelles, nuit blanche, Nuit Blanche Brussels, NuitBlancheBxl, performance art, Place de la Monnaie, Place des Martyrs, quintet | 3 Comments
The 48 hour Neukölln arts fest is very much like Nuit Blanche in Toronto, except it lasts for 48 hours, and it’s not in the freezing cold. Berlin has always been known for its arts scene, and for welcoming artists from all across Europe into their embrace, so this was a perfect way to induct me into the wonderful German hipster dudebro artistic experience.
Obvi, I adored it.
I got drunk on it.
I ate that shit up.
First we found these artists who gave us a tutorial on how to make street art stencils. Of course, I plopped down to make a masterpiece. *cough*
This was a guerilla poetry space, where thousands of newspaper headlines were chopped up for us, and we got to fashion poetry… like one would fashion an anonymous ransom note! Or like refrigerator magnet poetry. Or like found poetry.
And so on.
This was ours. “I think to be seduced is the right solution.”
This was someone elses. The wall behind it said “Courage is…” so this poem finishes the sentence with “…unlikely to result in vaginal dryness.”
I’ll get my coat.
Courage is… “What was going on in the East German sky without us.”
Chris, there’s a giant frog with a cell phone growing out of your back.
Then this tenor emerged from his balcony and sang Nessun Dorma to all of us down below. It was the crowning moment of the fest, for me.
There were 1000 origami cranes. There was a pillow fort where we affixed our adult dreams to. There were shopping carts woven into a circle. There were art-convenience-stores. There were angel-birds. There was sunshine. There was FIFA. There was dancing and music.
There was Berlin.
**Unless bearing my watermark, all pics are copyright Moneim Eltohami.
June 29, 2014 | Categories: Berlin, events, graffiti, hipsters, Occupy Street Walls, photography, street culture | Tags: 1000 origami cranes, 48 hours, 48 Stunden Neukölln, 48hnk, art, artists, Berlin, courage is, Germany, kreuzberg, kreuzkölln, kunst, kunstler, mut ist, nessun dorma, Neukölln, nuit blanche, occupy street walls, opera, poems, Poetry, singing, street arts, tenor, urban art | Leave a comment