Leo looked down at my two open suitcases, put his arm around me and whistled approvingly, “Looks like you’ve done it.” I smiled.
When rumours of the financial crisis began circulating in 2008, I questioned clients who were merchant bankers and corporate lawyers, as my knowledge of international finances could best be summed up as “total ignorance.” When I realized that they, in fact, didn’t know any more about it than me, it was time for concern.
Even though I possess the mathematical acumen of a four-year old, I quickly figured out that working freelance, living in inner-city Sydney, maintaining a decadent lifestyle and having an unpredictable income added up to a precarious perch during an economic meltdown.
In November 2008 – I was 55 at the time - I announced that I was moving to Casablanca in six weeks. Presented as a fait accompli – the one-way ticket already booked – people were shocked, as I hadn’t “mentioned” anything. I keep my own council and only ever consult two or three people.
My reasons for moving to Morocco: I’d never been there, didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the language. It was, however, an ideal place to teach English, the global lingua franca. I’d had a spectacular eight-year run in Australia, but I craved adventure. I needed to put myself out there, to see if I could cut it. Parachuting into the Arabic world would be a challenge for a woman who was born in liberal Canada.
Total downsizing – nothing was going into storage – taught me the difference between “need” and “want.” Could I reduce a two-bedroom flat to two suitcases and a carry-on in six weeks? I had no choice. I figured it was simply a matter of establishing priorities. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, so that trait took over.
Twenty kilograms of heirlooms – paternal grandmother’s hand stitched quilt, maternal grandmother’s crocheted bedspread – were shipped to Canada and passed on to my nieces. Friends were invited to pick a piece of art they liked. The art – and some of it was quite valuable – was too personal to sell, and I wanted it to go to good homes, where it would be appreciated. My research files and personal journals went to the archives at Flinders University, to join the other materials deposited there over the last decade.
Some downsizing issues came from out of left field. I decided, for example, to simplify my will. I called my brother, Hank, and asked,
“Will you be the executor of my will?”
“Okay, then I’m going to leave everything to you.”
“You know, there are times when you really piss me right off.”
Next priorities were packing my absolute essentials – passports, degrees, copy of my updated will – into the carry-on. I left space for the laptop and other can’t-get-by-without items.
Then I gutted my photo albums and put together a small one of my family in Canada and another one of my wildly assorted collection of friends in New Zealand and Australia. The important people in my life range from Carmen, a well-known drag queen who lives on a state pension, to a multimillionaire spy of the James Bond variety.
Clothes proved relatively easy. I separated them into “can’t live without,” “would like to take” and “only if there is room” piles. In terms of gadgets and such, everything was already in appropriate size bags collected on overseas junkets: travel iron, detergent and rubber gloves in a bag from India; Epilady and attachments in one from Senegal; cup, immersion heater and instant coffee in another from Thailand. I’d often quipped that I was going to grow up to be a bag lady – I forgot to get married, have children or save any money – and now it was all unfolding before my very eyes. All my worldly goods were, literally, in bags.
Amanda Upton, my artist friend next door, designed a “Moving to Morocco” sign that I put up around Surry Hills. The sale lasted a week. Everything that was left went to charity.
Pricing the furniture was also on the to-do list. People bought what they wanted and collected it the last two days I was there. I didn’t have an emotional attachment to the fridge or the desk, but the white leather Italian sofa, hand-knotted wool rug and designer coffee table caused a momentary pang of remorse that I couldn’t enjoy them longer. But I quickly got over it, because there were still things that needed to be done. The new tenants wanted a bed and other items, so that simplified where to sleep for the last couple of nights.
Post office box cancelled, electricity and telephone cut offs arranged, final inspection of house organized – the list went on. As I threw out my files, I scanned documents and sent them to a gmail account. Now, if I lose my Australian passport, for example, the copy can be downloaded anywhere in the world. Travel has become so easy.
Samantha from Brisbane arrived to spend Christmas with me. Leaving friends is always the most difficult part of moving. There were lots of parties and dinners, but it was also important to spend quiet personal time with those who were closest to me. Australia was my fifth country of residence, so I had no doubt I would maintain contact with my inner-circle friends and those who were close. Others would drop off my radar screen.
I cherished my role as the official documentary photographer for the Salvation Army Christmas lunch. Consequently, I spent the better part of the week leading up to my departure trekking the kilometre or so up Crown Street to the headquarters to take photos of the activities leading up to the lunch. Samantha minded the sale while I was away.
Christmas Day consisted of photographs and more photographs from set-up, through the lunch to clean up. When it was all over, there was time to take a shower and set up for my annual Urban Tribal Gathering. It was my last party in Sydney, and people could take their piece of art home.
My annual gathering involved sending open invitations to “orphans, strays and raconteurs,” inviting them to “bring food to share, something to drink and stories to tell.” I never had any idea who, exactly, was going to show up or how late the gathering would last. Going back to the collection, there was a pilot talking to a cross-dresser and a doctor playing jazz on the electric piano with the most notorious paparazzo in Sydney capturing it all for posterity. It was a spectacular night.
The furniture disappeared and the house echoed. I left a bottle of wine and a note for the new tenants, “I hope you enjoy living in this house as much as I have.”
Then, I closed the door, dropped the keys through the mail slot and headed for the airport with my two suitcases and a carry-on. Even though the bags were heavy, I felt unencumbered. One chapter ended, another began.
FEBRUARY 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND