Over the last three weeks, I have used more transport than I like to think about. But it was for a good cause and it wasn’t taken lightly. I am still not sure it was worth it and maybe you have your own opinions, but I am currently on the other side of the world to my home and I need to make the most of it. We came all this way to show a film, see the potential for collaboration with other filmmakers and academics and to visit family.
Three years ago we came back from spending four months in Spain, prepared to avoid too much plane travel in the future. Since then, we had one more child, I finished my film and I’ve been struggling to work out what to do next with my film and my career. My film was unsuccessfully entered in more than twenty film festivals and sent to dozens of transport academics and practitioners, before finally being accepted at the urban audiovisual festival in Lisbon, Portugal. I was suddenly faced with the opportunity to finally present my film at a festival, discuss the film with an informed audience and potentially find people to work on future projects with. I was also faced with a flight to the other side to the world.
After unsuccessfully trying to persuade my husband to take three months of unpaid leave so that we could make the most of the flight and potentially test out some of Europe’s finest cycling tracks, I struggled with the idea of a short trip to Europe. I felt quite sick at the idea, but I also saw the opportunity to not only show my film but also to introduce my children to the Spanish side of our family and potential to get us speaking a bit more Spanish. The relatively short distance between Madrid and Lisbon pushed me towards ‘sky scanner’ and I suddenly found myself hunting reasonably priced plane tickets.
With a click of a button you find yourself about to be involved in a massively polluting activity. I had decided to book my tickets to stay for one month and then let my husband work out if and when he would come. This meant a long long haul flight with a 1 year old and a 3 year old by myself. Remembering the trauma of two parents taking our 1 year old on a similar flight three years earlier, this seemed quite insane. I am not sure if I was searching for some kind of nemesis for thinking my film was worthy of flying.
So I survived the flight, thanks to some magnetic blocks, a toy dump truck, countless walks around the plane, a couple of siestas and my breasts. I still am not sure if I had jetlag because I was so caught up in the jetlag of the children and so tired from the trip, sleep could come any time that I could find the time. After a week of touring the playgrounds of Madrid, we were travelling again. This time I chose not to use the plane…
To get to Lisbon, we would visit the beautiful cities of Caceres and Merida, travelling overland in between. Now the train line in this part of Spain, is known to be unreliable, and we still don’t know what kind of animal we hit, but our trip to Caceres was an hour late. I was travelling with my mother-in-law who used up all her phone data on the train showing Dante Peppa Pig. The next day we had a quick walk around the walled city (which was stunning), before the objectives of the day turned towards croissants and playgrounds (which we struggled to find). Tourism with children makes you see the stunning streetscapes and architecture through your peripheral vision, with more pressing concerns being food and play.
We caught the train to Merida, and enjoyed the arid landscape with scattered trees and rocky hills. There was also amazing amounts of produce being grown, with cherries and olives and all sorts of orchards. The temperature in Spain was finally reaching the ridiculous heights of summer where shade is a survival tool. This meant hibernating until around 7pm and even then we felt the Sahara was close by. We found a playground and some food before heading back to the apartment for dinner and bed.
The next day we woke up early enough to visit an aqueduct and Roman amphitheatre before the heat became too much and we sought shelter in the bus station. The kids played and we tried to find a balance between giving them the opportunity to let out their energy and the general peace of this place of waiting. After a couple of last minute toilet emergencies, we got on the bus to Lisbon. The children were exhausted and quickly found ways to fall asleep almost all the way to the bus station of Lisbon. We had made it!
The next problem was trying to work out what transport to use and how to get tickets. We ended up paying for each transport individually but I would recommend people buy a transport card as soon as they arrive. I won’t go into the details of our accommodation issues but we moved to another place the next day after walking through the enchanting streets of Alfama and yes, searching for a playground. We had a couple of days of site seeing and working out how compatible different modes of transport were with a pram. Indeed walking the narrow steep footpaths proved a challenge at times.
The day before my screening, I dashed off to the festival to see “All else being equal” https://vimeo.com/309867679. After a last minute feed and a sprint to the metro I just missed the route planned by google. Instead I decided to get off at a metro stop a couple of kilometres away and walk. The place I found myself after coming out of the metro was nothing like anything else I had seen in Lisbon. There were wide long roads, surrounded my fields of no mans land, beyond which were basic tall apartment. While I had a memory from the map to help me guide my way, I had no idea where I really was and I started to question whether I was safe or whether I needed local know-how to go through this neighbourhood. I walked and then I talked … in Spanish to an old couple at the bus stop. I followed their Portuguese instructions and found myself at Marvila Library. I felt like I had conquered something – whether is was fear, confusion or just a slight transition in my relationship with the streets, it was a good feeling.
The film showed transport from the perspective of woman, with a focus on the issues that tend to be more prevalent for women – from the fear of sexual harassment to the challenging transition between getting children ready and out the door to transporting them through the city. It was well shot and I could see some similarities to my film with a focus on the human lives in transport. I retraced my steps (with a different stride to my lost little lady moment earlier) to get back to my wild children, who were half asleep.
The next day was my film. We arrived super-early and let the children go a little wild in the library. There were only about 25 people who came to watch my film and I felt quite disheartened at that moment. If one person had turned up for every hour of travel I had made with two children to get there, there would be more people in the room. However, I just sat back and watched my film and listened for the reactions in the audience. I felt relieved when I heard the first laughs, because I had feared this audience might be a bit serious.
After the film, there were questions and comments. The first question was about the women who weren’t in the film, those that struggle with transport. While there are a few mentions of small struggles, my film had a focus on the positive experiences of our time on transport – it’s not a complete picture, but it’s a bit of a celebration, just like cars tend to be celebrate in the media. There was a lot of praise and discussion of liminality and non-spaces. There was even the mention that the film should be mandatory viewing for all geography and architecture students. It was interesting to hear discussion about my film that went slightly over my head. There were also questions about how I chose the chapters and what was my aim in making the film. I enjoyed the discussion and I have to keep remembering that when I question why I came so far.
That evening we were waiting in the chilly Lisbon air on the platform for the ‘hotel train’ to take us back to Madrid. We had a cabin to ourselves in Coche 3. Asking around for where might Coche 3 line up, I met a man who hadn’t slept for 36 hours and was waiting for a train back to Porto with a story that was too long to tell me there and then. But when the train arrived we had a pram, suitcase, backpack about 50 metres between us and Coche 3. We arrived to the door and started trying to get everything inside with haste. However, the pram was too wide and we created a bottleneck of baggage. It was all a bit hectic, and if you are ever taking a sleeper train, I recommend keeping everything narrow for entry.
When we were finally on board and moving, the children got quite excited by the cabin, the little cup holder next to the bed and the bed light. I managed to squeeze Tasio’s port-a-cot between the bunk beds while Dante was taking sips of water and turning on and off the light. Eventually they settled down to sleep while I found myself quite unable to. Perhaps it was the rattling shaking train or the glimpses of different lights through the window, or perhaps it was the feeling of not being sure where I am. As the train went through places I have never visited, I wondered where I was and where to next for my film and for me.