About one year after I packed my bags and ventured into the colorful abyss that is our world, I noticed a comment on one of my Instagram photos asking, “Cass, are you still in Narnia?”
For a moment, I thought my friend Kelly had simply been duped by the snickering rascal that is auto-correct while attempting to write Bosnia; but then I realized, she was sincerely asking if I was still in my whimsical world of fictional animals and Turkish Delight.
It never really occurred to me until that moment, that most of my friends and family have no fathomable idea of where I am in the world. My inability to commit to plans whilst traveling means my GPS check-in on social media could land anywhere on a map, at any hour of the day. I write about goulash and black squid pasta, Delhi shopping bazaars and Indonesian volcanoes. I may as well be writing tales of chance encounters with snow queens and coffee dates with centaurs at Hogwarts. As one place blends with the next, I’ve found myself questioning my own existence in these vastly varying landscapes, as the gods of travel continue to bless me with blurred lines between reality and fable.
But now I’m here to tell you, Narnia is real; or at least, the peculiar lands of archaic lizards and nose-horned mammals are real. And somewhere between Amritsar and China, I seem to have slipped between the silver apple trees and a colorful balloon dropped me off in a world they call Oz.
Don’t get me wrong, spirits are just as jolly, and laughter is nearly as abundant as iced bottles in esky’s. Only this year, instead of sipping thick nog with warmed bourbon to take the chill off of a winter’s day, I found myself nestled nearest the blender of frozen fruit tingle, licking the blue curaçao from my sweaty knuckles. Instead of sporting jingle bells on my crochet sweater, I wore a bikini top under a kicky red Santa tank… or singlet… and rather than fur boots, I ran through green grass in flip-flops… um, thongs… wait, jandals. They do speak an odd language here in Oz, so forgive my broken attempts to adhere to both American English and the Australian lingo.
I spent this incredible Chrissy at the family home of two of my best friends, Ash and Casey; a lovely sister duo I met a million and half hours ago on the sunny beaches of Lagos, Portugal. The three of us, plus our perfectly charming pal Shani, made the 9 hour, overnight drive south to the quaint Fuller estate in Belford, New South Wales. Christmas at the Fuller home consists mostly of tall tales from Pop Greg (also coined as Gig by Shani), hugs from Mum Lorrae, incessant videography from giggling Aunts and a slow, steady stream of wine. Everyone refrains from sunbathing long enough to engage in a tacky Christmas gift swap, which left me in a gaping grin and one fabulously Australian visor, complete with a solar powered fan. Hashtag winning.
I, of course, arrived on Christmas Eve realizing I had forgotten my particularly tacky “Tailgater’s Wine Glass” back in Goldie, which was simply the typical Amercanized red solo cup, glued atop a cheap, glass candlestick. So, sticking with the theme of tacky meets innovation, I convinced Gig to provide me with enough tools to fashion a bottle opener from the handle of a worn, wire brush, a screw, and an old 2 cent Australian coin. (Though Gig now blames the mid-afternoon storm on my defacing of the queen… I plead American ignorance).
Though as odd as this hot, muggy Christmas in Oz may have been, it wasn’t the exchange of tacky gifts or the presence of kangaroos in the front lawn that struck me as strange… it was the breaky feast that was prepared the following morning.
I woke up to Gig stamping through the house asking if we’d prefer bacon and eggs or bubble and squeak for breaky. After a twenty minute verbal ping pong match between Gig and I, I finally determined that he was in fact saying, bubble and squeak, not babbled in squid. Though, this still left me befuddled, as I had no earthly clue what edible breakfast concoction could be referred to as a bubble and a squeak. Apparently this is just a skillet tossed on the grill full of leftover potatoes from the previous evening’s dinner, plus whatever veggies may have been left behind. Crack a few dozen eggs on the barbie and enough sausage to feed the population of China, and you’ve got yourself an Australian breaky. Plus buttered toast. Heaps of buttered toast.
It’s an odd land, this Oz… but it’s got the greatest of people, and a second family I never knew I had.
I don’t think I realized I was in Neverland when I was in Vail, or that I had entered Narnia in Berlin. But I know now what it’s like to live in Oz, a place that will always read like a nearly fictional book of adventure in my life. When I packed a bag and left my comfortable, seemingly finite routine for this year long odyssey, I knew that the tarmac wouldn’t be a wooden wardrobe, or a universe-traveling tornado, but I suspected I would wake up in a new, and possibly strange world. I found my Narnia somewhere between the discovery of red lipstick in Paris and street food in Shanghai, then I landed in Oz shortly after a trek through southeast Asia.
Last Christmas, I was wrapped in fleece blankets, smelling firewood burning and watching the cold outside from the comfort of my snowflake pajamas. I never could have imagined that I would get to experience Christmas in a different hemisphere–or a different world, with friends I met on midnight trains to everywhere or on the furthest edges of the earth.
Spending the holidays away again this year, I found myself missing the familiar and now distant land that is home. But just as I was jonesing for a kiss from my toddler nephew, I glanced down and saw a water dragon (the giant lizard native to Australia). Yep, I’m still in the land of Oz. I’m still walking along rows of trees that don’t exist in my known world. My pallet has shifted from cornbread to buttered na’an. My hair color is bleached from a sun that shines from a different angle. The ocean is turquoise and the sand sings a kazoo-like melody with every step. Santa wears board shorts and his sled is led by kangaroos. I’ve learned that the holidays abroad can be daunting, but this year I genuinely embraced the wondrous world I’ve entered. After all, I can always get home by following the River Shribble and clicking my heels, right?