Watering Dreams… My Bucket List

VANESSA SMEETS

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. 
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”
– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

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CROSSROADS: 27… A year for change and growth. PIC: Internet

27 marks an incredible crossroad.
I’m ready to settle on a career (or two), yet fascinated by my surroundings. It’s also an age doomed for rock-stars like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix, amongst others… Which is what influenced me to get started on my bucket list. One never knows when today is the last day.

Things already completed:

  • Reunion with my best friends from primary school. We laughed, we cried, we shared, after a long 14 years. Unfortunately, there was one missing member. She passed away tragically last year, but we felt her presence in so many ways – through the memories we shared and photos/ letters we brought.
  • Be part of Hillsong Church Australia. This church probably has the biggest congregation in the world, with millions of members worldwide. Its band, Hillsong United, has gone platinum several times. I was first introduced to them in 2007, a year which ultimately was filled with as much good as bad. Their music kept me grounded, when nothing else could.
  • Become a published poet. When you least expect it, doors open. Since the age of 15, I’ve been in love with William Shakespeare and John Keats. At 17, I finally started writing my own and four years later, my two favourite poems made the cut: one in an American anthology Twilight Musings and the other in a Christian anthology Angels &Little Scrolls.
  • Take a photo that changes the world… Well, my picture of two male students kissing didn’t change the world, but it certainly opened up the homophobia debate in South Africa and helped many scared individuals come out in an unaccepting world. See: Maties’ Gay Kiss Goes Viral

Things to come:

  • Do Spain walk (Santiago de Compostela) with my brother. I first heard about this incredible pilgrimage reading Paulo Coelho’s books. It is bound to change one’s life forever, bring you closer to those who accompany you and help you find yourself again.
  • Do Oktoberfest with my mom. Munich’s Oktoberfest is filled with hundreds of beers, incredible outfits, fun drinking songs till the early hours… What more could a photojournalist and true Belgian ask for?
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RED HOT: La Tomatina Festival in Spain sees about 50 000 people gathered in the month of August to throw tomatoes at each other. PIC: Internet

  • Do tomato fight (La Tomatina) near Valencia, Spain, with my dad. I’m not sure why I chose my dad for this epic adventure, but probably because he’s the most adventurous person I know.
  • Finish my book. I started a book in 2007, which unlocks a lot about the mystery of life and true characters I met along the way… Just need to find the guts to complete it.
  • Publish a children’s series of books, bring them to the television screen, change their lives. I hope I don’t jinx this dream by placing it here, but children have always been life’s greatest teachers.
  • Work in the vineyards in France. Simple. Beautiful. I thank the movie A Good Year for this dream.
French vineyards

C’EST LA VIE: French wine. French sunset. Perfection. PIC: Internet

  • Go on a Contiki tour. Yes, next year may be it: my BFF and I traversing the Golden Age for our Golden Birthdays. Holding thumbs.
  • blog_machu-picchu

    LA VIDA LOCA: Exploring Machu Picchu was even on Che Guevara’s bucket list. PIC: Internet

    See Machu Picchu… Clichéd, yes. But Che Guevara proved anything is possible, even just with a motorbike.

  • Interview a head of state… I’d prefer someone who didn’t murder millions of people. Maybe someone who set them free instead, Nelson Mandela would be ideal.
  • Publish my blog as a book… YES!
  • Try out for Idols. Okay, Singstar doesn’t really count. I just love singing.
  • Work for Top Billing, South Africa’s most successful lifestyle programme. Getting paid to travel, interview amazing people and witness the oddest events? Hell yeah!
  • blog_paris hot air balloon

    LA VIE EN ROSE: Imagine seeing Paris from the sky? Incredible… PIC: Internet

    Fly in a hot air balloon in Paris. Why Paris? Its history, culture and people fascinate me…

  • Sell some art. My art isn’t amazing… but it would be amazing to see it in someone else’s home apart from my family members.
  • Be part of a flash-mob. I thank Channing Tatum and Step Up 4 for molding this dream. Booyah!
  • Go on a road-trip with good friends. Wherever. Whenever. As long as we’re together.
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    BRAVE DREAMS: The Casa di Giulietta provides women all over the world the opportunity to wish for love, heal it or find it, by placing letters in what is believed to be Juliet’s home in the real Verona… As the movie “Letters to Juliet” proved. PIC: Internet

    Write a love letter… Italian style, at the Casa de Giulietta in Verona.

  • Learn two more languages: Spanish and German fluently.
  • Write poetry in French. Not as easy as it seems.
  • See Neuschwanstein Castle in the spring. I saw it covered in snow in December 2010. It was magical, yet mostly hidden.
  • japan autumn

    AMAZING AUTUMN: One of my favourite months, in a land far far away… PIC: Internet

    See Japan in the autumn. Burning colours, peaceful music: a feastful zen for the eyes and soul.

  • Work on a cruise ship. I want to photograph people, places, lives, all religions and races.
  • Go back to Israel, live in a kibbutz. Israel was the most spiritual place I have ever been to, yet in 1996 I was too young to soak it all in.
  • Find someone to do this with. Fall in love. Be loved in return… That seems to be the biggest challenge of all. In the words of  Ursula K. Le Guin: “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” 

Once upon a time…

FAMILY TIDES: Nymphenburg Palace is situated in Munich, where the Wittelsbach family clan spent most of their political time... PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

 

… in the Kingdom of Bavaria, Ludwig II was born on the 25th of August, 1845 in Nymphenburg. He was a complicated, lonely prince who loved riding horses, but hated the idea of hunting animals just for the sake of killing them. Instead, he adorned his palaces with swans, peacocks (his favourite creature) and horses.

Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle and the most photographed castle in the world, took 17 years to be built and yet Ludwig II only spent six months of his life in it. He was found drowned in the lake near by at the age of 40, alongside his doctor who had pronounced him clinically insane six months before.

It is still a mystery who killed whom or whether it was a matter of suicide.

Surrounded by stone tables imported from Afghanistan, a collection of Chinese porcelain vases (but handcrafted by artists in Munich) and ivory chandeliers from India, Ludwig II had expensive taste and was obsessed with being as extravagant as Louis XIV, the sun king of France and his father’s godfather. Instead, Ludwig II became known as the moon king, awake only at night surrounded by candles. He also imported flowers constantly to his palaces, making sure every season was spring.

MAJESTIC: Inside, Nymphenburg Palace is incredibly breathtaking... a mix between the Sistine Chapel and the Palace of Versailles. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

It took his family over 20 years to pay off an estimated 40 million marks. Unlike most believe, Ludwig II did not use taxpayer’s money to pay off his obsession with fairytale kingdoms. He used as best he could, his personal wealth or asked his family members to contribute. Yet, he never invited any of them to visit him. He loved being alone. Even his dining room had a huge mirror in front of his seating place, so he could watch himself eat.

 

Neuschwanstein

CINDERELLA CASTLE: Neuschwanstein inspired Walt Disney's castle and is the most photographed castle in the world. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

In order not to be disturbed, it included a trap door underneath, so that servants could place food or remove it as he wished. It is rumoured, being so handsome and over 6ft4, he found everyone else disgustingly ugly. Being extremely religious and Catholic, he also struggled with homosexual feelings. Especially when it came to his obsession with Richard Wagner, the German genius of operas and one of his few guests. Although he wrote love letters to his cousin Elizabeth, they were more a make-believe game, writing to each other as characters from Wagner’s operas.

 

Ludwig II expressed his anguish at being born 150 years too late and his dire need to escape to places like the Palace of Versailles, where monarchies still had influence over their people. Instead, he paved the way as the most modern king of his time. His palaces, apart from trap doors and revolving pieces, included electric candles and even a coffee grinder.

He lived most of his life at Linderhof Palace, originally intended as his hunting grounds. The rooms here were very similar to the ones set out at Neuschwanstein, which he never saw finished. Every room at Linderhof is adorned in gold-plated hand-encrafted wall-paper, where even paintings on the wall turn into 3-D masterpieces (such as a foot is sculpted out of the picture).

Linderhof

UNIQUE: Linderhof Palace was reserved as Ludwig II's hunting grounds, but he spent most of his life here, even creating a building in the garden similar to a mosque for his love for all cultures. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Ludwig II’s imagination got the better of him. He wanted and saw too much, yet was never satisfied. Every room in each palace is a reflection of his favourite Shakespeare play, Wagner opera or mythological legend; in search of his own muse. He died a mysterious death, which folklore claims his own family masterminded. His fairytale dreams drove him to insanity and despair, forever in search of the “happily ever after” his soul craved for…