“This photo might not be perfect – it was taken from the inside of a bus in movement – but it is meaningful: it is my last image of Porto, when I left the city last 16th March to return to Lisbon, my hometown, and spend this period of confinement. After a few months traveling around Germany and Poland, Ukraine and Romania, I returned to Portugal and decided to take some time in Porto. My idea was to discover the north of Portugal and Spain and collect info about Porto for a future ebook that I’m working on. In this photo there’s a beautiful sunset but what I appreciate the most is the cloud. It’s kind of enigmatic and, I believe, a great metaphor for these days.
*Van Gogh’s Last Words- ” The Sadness Will Last Forever”
Vincent Van Gogh spent the last three months of his life living in Auvers-Sur-Oise, outside Paris, France. Walking through the streets there, seeing the mundane things he transfigured with his canvas and brush, is like sharing a fragment of his life. In the few months he was there, he created 77 paintings, including The Church at Auvers, Portrait of Doctor Gachet, and Daubigny’s Garden. This tree, which resides in the courtyard of the Auberge Ravoux, where Van Gogh lived, likely wasn’t there when he was alive. But it’s the sort of tree that would have captured his imagination, and when I saw it I thought it also captured a bit of his spirit. Seeing the tree in the courtyard was like seeing one of Van Gogh’s paintings come to life, one he never had the chance to create. Auvers is infused with his memory, and nothing encapsulated his presence more than this tree in bloom, transformed for a brief moment in the place where Van Gogh walked for a while.
Aspasia S. Bissas is an amateur photographer and professional writer. She is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. Her latest short story, Tooth & Claw, is available for free download. Find out more athttps://aspasiasbissas.com/books.
The summer I finally got my picture ID (since I didn’t have a driver’s license yet) my best friend Kaye decided she would take me out on the town. Never mind that the last words out of my mom’s mouth were, “NO Drinking!” We were out to prove a point, by God we were going through with this thing. The plan had been in the works for quite some time, Kaye’s brother worked at a honky-tonk bar in south Ft Worth, she considered herself the authority on drinking. What I couldn’t have known and should have learned that night was this night would go down in history as the worst yet funniest drunk story in my long history of drinking; I should have learned something about mixing my alcohols, however, that lesson did not stick. I like every other teenager on the planet, considered it a rite of passage to go out drinking once I became the legal age. At that time in Texas, legal was eighteen. I had never had a drink in my life unless you consider sneaking sips from the glasses of Tom Collins I would occasionally make for my dad. My parents were champion drinkers; my mom had one of those nifty little beer coolers where the keg goes inside, and the tap is part of the bar top that makes up the cooler. She literally went into the city every week or two to the Miller Brewing Company and had her keg refilled. Or bought a new one, I was a little kid, how do I know how these things work? All I know is we accompanied her, marveling at the giant brewery and all the cool neon beer lights on display. Once we got home, she would roll the keg inside somehow and hook it up to the tap. Dad kept his liquor and bar tools on the tiny bar next to the tap. At some point, she became the proud owner of a neon beer sign, probably a gift from the management for all those years of weekly purchases. I could not even stand the smell of beer, Mom’s beers didn’t interest me, so of course, it makes total sense that the first thing I did after procuring my ID was to go purchase a six-pack of beer. Not only that, they didn’t evencard me! I was incensed! Regardless, I headed back to Kaye’s car, popped the top off the first bad boy and chugged it like I knew what I was doing. It was gross, so I had another thinking it must need to “grow” on me or something. Nope, not so much. Well, of course that was not the end. Kaye had much bigger plans in store for this lucky girl. I should have been smart enough to sense the doom looming in my future, but no, I was so happy with my newfound freedom I didn’t think about what could possibly be next. The next stop was her brother’s bar, The Daily Double. I had never been to a bar before, even with my parents, in fact, I don’t remember them drinking at a restaurant or anything. They were the at-home or at a friend’s house kind of drinkers. Kaye decided it would be a good idea for me to order something called a “Wild-ass Indian,” which was a mixed drink served in a mason jar that consisted of a shot of everything behind the bar yet tasted like Kool-Aid. I was in trouble then. Walking around the bar like I was cool or something, it never dawned on me that mixing beer with liquor was going to have serious consequences. Kaye was on a mission I tell ya because the next thing I know, I’m puking in the bar’s parking lot and she offers me a cigarette, telling me it would make me feel better. This was my best friend, can I remind yall of that fact right now? I vaguely remember her brother Kent lurking around in the parking lot, possibly checking on us, and Kaye trying to hide from him. She must not have wanted him to know she was trying to corrupt me. What I did not know at the time and didn’t find out until years later was that I am also severely allergic to gin. That must have been one of the ten or so shots that went into the drink. It’s a miracle I ever touched liquor again. After the cigarette, as if I wasn’t dizzy enough already, the world
spun out of control, but I was not giving in. I refused to pussy out on what was supposed to be an epic night, so when Kaye spied the Opry House-an historic movie house at the time, I was not going to refuse the chance to see the latest hit…The Deer Hunter. Unfortunately for me, the only seats left were on the front row, so we literally had to slink as far down in our seats as we could go while staring up at the overly large screen. All that action moving in front of my eyes was evidently more than I could take, I puked again right there on the front row. Laughing at me now, Kaye escorts me to the bathroom, hanging over the stall next to me as I puked some more and asks me if I’m having a good time yet. I was too naïve to know she was messing with me, having a grand ole time at my expense, and so I said yes and that I still wanted to try and watch the movie. We found a seat further back this time, but the motion was still more than I could take, we ended up leaving before the intermission. Had I known it was going to be such a depressing flick, I would have asked for my money back. Back we went to the car which had the beer growing hot in the back seat, so Kaye could drive me home. I dreaded trying to sneak into the house, remembering the warning Mom had left us with. Somehow, I managed to play it cool, kept my head down and walked right past her to my room. She never said a thing, knowing full well I was drunk but never letting on. The next day I had a hangover from hell, she left me alone to sleep it off, never mentioning it again until days later in passing. Of course, I lied about it, I didn’t want further escapades with Kaye cut off forever. Let’s just say though for the record that I never trusted her again to order my cocktails.
Kim Smyth is a freelance blogger, a writer from the DFW Metroplex who lives at home with her hubby Dave and their three furbabies. She runs two blogs, contributes to different publications on Medium and has been published in Therapeutic Thymes and VitaBella magazines.
If you’re a parent, or a teacher, or someone who spends any time around small people, the phrase “there’s no such thing…” will no doubt have you reciting rhyming couplets about tusks and claws and teeth and jaws. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about – that’s a shame, it’s actually quite sweet poetry. Check out The Gruffalo, it’s ace).
So I’m going to say this quietly, because it’s flying in the face of the zeitgeist of the day. There’s no such thing as zero waste. Even though it’s on every lifestyle blog and featured in every weekend supplement you lay your eyes on at the moment. Live the zero waste life. 20 steps to reduce your waste. The 10 must-have zero waste beauty products. Zero waste your kitchen! (Insta-yuck).
I think that the concept of zero waste is approximately as realistic as the big, bad Gruffalo himself. And definitely more dangerous.
So what is it all actually about? Throw nothing away, ever again? The basic principle of zero waste is to send nothing to landfill. Ok, great. I think it’s not hugely controversial to say that burying huge amounts of rubbish in big holes scarring the surface of the planet is not a great idea. Landfill sites can leak methane and other dangerous gases into the atmosphere as waste breaks down, and plastic waste in landfill will cause microplastic pollution into the watercourse. All very bad. BUT. Only 24% of UK waste now goes to landfill (2017 figures, sorry… it’s ridiculously difficult to find more recent waste data for the UK online). An increasing amount is now being incinerated.
It’s also difficult to find out the absolute percentage of UK waste being incinerated – possibly 10% in England? Possibly 42%? (Maybe it’s hard to find this out, as these Energy Recovery Facilities are usually run by private companies?) Certainly, incineration has increased hugely in recent years. Proponents says it’s a good thing – generate heat and energy from waste, closed loop system. Bingo. (Also avoid the new landfill tax). But there are opponents too of course, raising concerns in terms of air pollution, contribution to climate change and undermining recycling. Plus, there seems to be a pretty major problem with the ash residue – it can be filtered to separate out potentially recyclable materials such as glass and metal, then used as a building material, but does it contain microplastics which will leach into the watercourses?
But the hands of local councils appear to have been forced; the UK has nowhere near the infrastructure required to keep up with its plastic recycling demands, and many developing countries are now refusing to take imports. Quite rightly. (There is a whole other article here about climate injustice and the grim post-colonial approach of outsourcing this problem overseas). So more and more waste is being incinerated.
Honestly, I’m not a waste management expert, or a physics person; I’m a mum and a blogger with an English degree who’s also done 15 years hard labour in the NHS. I don’t understand the science behind all this stuff, but I’m worried about it.
Is it better to incinerate your plastic Coke bottle, and contribute to global heating and air pollution, or put it in the recycling bin, knowing it might end up on a rubbish tip in a faraway country, or in the ocean? How can we possibly know?
So the answer is to go zero waste, right? Rid your house of plastic, replace with glass and metal. Buy your Coke in a glass bottle. Put it in the recycling and it will almost certainly be recycled in the UK, in a closed loop system, to make another glass bottle. Ace. Next?
But it’s not that simple, is it? Glass is much heavier than plastic, so uses more fuel to transport, generating more carbon emissions. Contributing to the climate crisis, undoubtedly. The glass recycling process is hugely energy-hungry. Even Coca Cola themselves have got some qualms about the current spike in sales of their glass bottled products. So, buy your Coke in a can then? Well, drinking from cans might kill you… (Actually, not really – no evidence of harm from BPA lining or aluminium “leaching” unless you drink 1000 cans of soda per day, but hey it’s a good headline, isn’t it?)
Do you really need the Coke at all? Reduce, refuse, have a minimalist lifestyle. You should probably not be having all that sugar and nasty chemicals anyway, right?
It’s actually pretty easy for me to refuse soft drinks, in whatever packaging they come. Wine, less so. We all have our vices.
The point I am trying, possibly somewhat lumberingly, to reach, is that rejecting plastic absolutely shouldn’t be the sole point. Everything has a waste impact, absolutely everything you consume or bring into your house has been transported from somewhere and been packed in a material which has a carbon footprint of some degree. Let’s not forget that paper bags are made from trees, of course, and trees basically are the only credible solution currently existing to mitigating against humanity’s carbon emissions.
Much of the zero waste discourse urges you to rid your house of plastic, along with perpetuating all the myths and scandal about plastic leaching from every surface and poisoning you and your children. Not only does this create an unachievable and intimidating aim which could seem too huge to even contemplate, but also it’s all focused on the individual. You are responsible for fixing this, because you throw too much stuff away. You make bad purchasing choices. You should budget better to be able to afford more expensive, lower waste goods. The focus on the individual takes the pressure off corporations and governments, who arguably hold the key to real and sustainable change in relation to the climate crisis as a whole, as well as the complex issue of plastic pollution.
The ‘you’ in this discourse is, incidentally, almost always a woman. Women hold a huge amount of purchasing power as the key domestic decision-makers in the majority of households. But how do you manage to shop at a zero waste shop or organise delivery of an organic vegetable box when you’re out all day at work? How do you justify the expense of plastic-free toiletries if you’re a low income family? How do you respond when your kids are clamouring for the latest plastic LOL doll monstrosity which all their friends have? (Plastic toy snobbery is a particular personal pet loathing of mine). The added pressure on women to mastermind this stuff seems to me to be another largely unspoken problem.
The call to be “plastic-free” seems to generate some other weird paradoxes. Some examples I’ve witnessed:
Driving to the local zero waste shop to stock up on loose goods in nice glass containers (which are too heavy to carry on the bus or on foot, hence driving).
Trying out numerous plastic-free shampoo bars or deodorants before finding one which suits, thus wasting the resources used to make and package those products. Plastic or no plastic, it’s still waste.
Throwing away (yes, really) perfectly serviceable plastic food storage containers and replacing with glass and metal ones, to “become zero waste”.
Throwing away (again, yes, really) plastic toys that they disapprove of, which have been given to their children.
Some of this stuff is jaw-dropping in its ridiculousness to me, but people get caught up in their cause, and spend hours arguing and being vitriolic on the internet, criticising the efforts of others and making it seem like nothing is ever enough.
Ridiculous stories aside, it really is incredibly hard to know what to do for the best.
I used a tin of coconut milk in a vegan curry last night (we’re not vegan, we’re not doing Veganuary, but I love Jack Monroe’s recipes and we are gradually reducing our meat consumption). Is it better to use coconut milk from Thailand (ethically sourced and produced? Who knows…) or cream from a cow at an organic farm in Kent? Is it better to buy air-freighted strawberries from Panama, or a steak from Surrey?
I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. I’m scared about climate change, scared about the impact it’s going to have on my son’s life. I’m trying to make a difference, feeling constantly guilty that I’m not doing enough.
But I’m not going zero-waste. I’m trying to educate myself. I’m trying to reduce packaging waste, while also thinking about the wider impact of all my choices.
Like walking 50 minutes home from nursery school with my son, rather than driving. While he eats some Christmas chocolate that possibly has palm oil in it, and glugs a mini Tetrapack of apple juice, which may or may not actually be recycled. Because you can’t win ‘em all, folks, but you can win some of them. And I think that for now that’s good enough for me.
Hannah is a freelance writer and blogger, who shares ideas for living more sustainably at her blog, www.everydayradical.net