I’m writing this to you from Paris, like a sort of electronic postcard that is being sent to a mass amount of people and is no way personal. Welcome to the 21st century, my friends.
Paris is a strange city because as the world’s most clichéd and romanticized city, it’s difficult to imagine lives being lived here.
Sitting on the metro on my ride into the city, we passed the Eiffel Tower. It isn’t that we just passed the Eiffel Tower, we had a two-minute view of the French icon backlit by the setting sun. And the dozens of Parisians surrounding me just went on staring angrily at the floor. At moments like that, I am very much aware of my Midwest roots.
Let me qualify the angst that is about to explode in the following paragraphs with the statement that my time in Paris has been parfait. When not touring the city’s obligatory and overwhelmingly impressive landmarks, I’ve wandered aimlessly around various neighborhoods.
I’m very much a planner, so the aimlessness of my wandering is not exactly comfortable yet, but I’m getting there.
Being American in France
Coming to France, I had to adjust a bit to France’s repositioned angle of hatred towards Americans. In the U.K., our country may be mocked, our government a punch line, and our diet inaccurately and incessantly judged, but the Brits have a warm spot in their hearts for Americans. It’s a feeling on par with the statement: hate the game, not the player.
That’s wrong. I don’t care enough to change it.
In Paris, I’ve been hiding my American-ness by never speaking and instead pointing like a mute. I try to remain impassive as we pass the Eiffel Tower on the metro, but I still grin. It’s a subtle grin, but nonetheless. I try to counteract my happiness with an even deeper scowl. I think it’s working.
The struggle began when I arrived in Dover on Friday evening. I booked an overnight bus to Paris, so I would have a full five days in the city.
But, in a censored statement of what I would like to say, life happened.
And here the angst begins.
England is currently experiencing some intense weather. A fact I was very much aware of thanks to my walks onto campus, ability to sense water and cold, and general knack for surviving. Nevertheless, I believed in my ability to walk across Dover to the ferry port in the dark during one such storm. Mind you, the walk to the ferry port is along the pier.
It seemed as if Ursula was escaping from her murky underwater tomb. The waves crashed into the pier, and like the evil tentacles of a terrifying she-octopus, reached nearly thirty-feet into the sky.
I would cackle every time I escaped the unwanted shower, and then inevitably be whipped into form by the wind or a wave out of nowhere. Life really wanted to establish a chain of command.
My very wet and very windblown self followed the signs to the Dover ferry port blindly, and suddenly I found myself at the end of the footpath. I braved the wind for a second to look up, and found myself in the middle of what can best be described at the interstate. I saw the entrance to the ferry port, but it was across five lanes of traffic. So whoever says that the Dover ferry port is accessible by foot is lying to you and most likely harboring a secret desire to see you killed.
When the semi-truck traffic died down, I skipped across the roundabout. I think I now have a sense of what bikers feel as they cycle along the highway.
An hour later, my bus still had not arrived. Apparently, there was an extraordinary amount of gridlock on the interstate I had just skipped across. Eventually, the bus arrives one hour late. I quickly boarded and nagged a seat near the back.
We moved slowly for twenty minutes, and then went through passport control, meaning that we were now stuck on our bus. At 12:45 AM (One hour and 45 minutes past our scheduled departure), our bus driver made an announcement, but his absurdly thick accent meant that we only understood three words, which he said much too casually: “too late…way too late.”
Okay, so we’re sitting in this dark bus in a suspended state of confusion.
He gets back on the intercom, and this time we discern a few very important words: “We missed ferry…next one comes one to two hours, I don’t know.”
Like an unhinged person, I begin to uncontrollably laugh. Because what else can you do in that situation when life is flipping you the bird. It was not the most sensitive thing I could have done seeing as I was surrounded by non-English speakers who took my laughter as a sign that the bus driver was a funny man playing a joke on us. They began to laugh as well. A woman had to explain to them that we were, in fact, imprisoned on this bus for the foreseeable future. I had given them hope when there was none, and for that I was not easily forgiven.
The lights went out, and so did my faith in humanity, transportation, and myself.
Eight hours later, the sun rose on the cliffs of Dover. I know because I was there, in England. As in we had not left the ferry port. As in I was still imprisoned on a bus.
At 9:45, we boarded the ferry, and desperately crawled off that hellhole called a bus. As a peace offering, the on-board cafeteria offered us a complimentary full-English breakfast. Two large sausages, two pieces of ham, baked beans, chips, and eggs over easy are not restitution enough for our pain, ferry people.
My stifling angst coupled with my hunger coupled with the fact that I was on a boat made me queasy. And English breakfast makes my stomach turn because I find it repulsive. So, I’m sitting there, with my hand over my mouth on the off-chance that I actually do vomit watching these people eat English cuisine.
I began chronicling my experience thus far, and started thinking about my bad luck. I can be overly dramatic, so I assumed that my claim to bad luck was just another dramatization, but sitting on that ferry I was not so easily convinced. I began listing the accidents, troubling situations, and unfiltered bad luck I’ve experienced in my life. In fifteen minutes, I had a list fifty items long.
So, I officially have bad luck.
At 11:30, I reluctantly boarded the bus again. We had a five-hour drive ahead of us. A fact one man took into account when he bought a bottle of Smirnoff vodka for the ride. Within the first two hours, he and a friend finished the bottle and began their drunken escapades.
He had a guitar, and would routinely pull it out and play one of his original songs. This is a great representation of the descent into belligerence. One of his songs went unfinished, “Every moment I see you feels like…”
He fell asleep at that point. I will spend the rest of my life wondering about the end to that metaphor.
We arrived in Paris at 6:00 PM, nearly twenty hours past our departure time. I managed to find my hostel, and took a few hours to pull it together before meeting my friend, Anu.
Anu is spending the semester in Paris; you can read about her adventures here.
The day’s horrible beginning was quickly turned around as we wandered through the Indian quarter, met up with Anu’s friends at a local bar, and capped the evening with a midnight crepe.
All’s well that ends well.
The Sights and the Gypsies
Although I lost a day in Paris, I’ve been making up for lost time ever since. We’ve eaten fabulous falafels in the Jewish quarter. We’ve visited the Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company, the Sacre Coeur, and the Eiffel Tower.
Because Anu has class, I have the majority of the day to explore the different Parisian neighborhoods. An itinerary I found daunting at first, especially given the fact that I speak no French whatsoever. But my tactic of pointing and whispering “Merci” as I run out of the establishment seems to be working.
Yesterday, I visited the Louvre. When I arrived, I was overcome by the beauty of the place, and decided to sit on a bench and write about the experience. At this point, I was swindled by gypsy kids.
As I finished my self-important scribbling, a girl approached me asking for my signature. In her broken English, I understood the word “orphan,” so I agreed thinking that I was signing a petition to improve the state of French orphan care.
This sheet asked for your name, country of residence, and donation. I ended up giving her ten Euro. The second I handed her the bill, ten of her gypsy friends swarm me telling me that it is a “20 Euro minimum.” There is no minimum to charity, you dimwit. After a few stern words, they retreated; and I was out ten Euro and my dignity.
That was the money I allotted for the Louvre, so instead I bought a pain au chocolate and sat in the Parc de Tulieres, reading The Little Prince for an hour or so. Maybe my ten Euro went to good use, like to buy drugs or end world hunger or something. A girl can dream.
… … … … … … … …
It may not seem like it, but this trip has been one of my best. I’ll never cease to be amazed at the turn around on a shitty experience. The best experience is one that you never thought could be made positive in any sense of the word. What I’m trying to say is that bad luck heals quickly. Life gets better faster than you expect.
The next time you find yourself trapped on a bus for 21 hours, remember that you’re on your way to Paris. Metaphorically. Or literally.
My thoughts are disorganized, and so is this post. You can look for coherence and deeper meaning in what I wrote, but chances are you’re just like any Literature student: reading into unimportant details that the author did not mean to be significant.
Yes, I just undermined my entire undergraduate education. Moving on.
That Time I Went to Ireland
After surprising my family with a spontaneous trip home for the holidays, I arrived back in England with one week left of my winter vacation. And because Carpe Diem and YOLO and all of that, I caught a flight to Ireland for a week overflowing with Guinness, sponsored by Bus Eireann, and featuring Irish music at its finest.
Dublin is exciting. If you happen to be in town on a Sunday or Monday there is a free comedy club: The Comedy Crunch. They serve free ice cream (though really it’s a wedge of something that resembles ice cream on a purely atomic level), and the emcee is a bit of a riot. There’s plenty to do in the capital city, but you’ll most likely ache for the quintessential image of an Irish countryside with sheep and a handsome wandering Irishman.
For the second time, I stayed at a hostel. This time, however, I was not the one harboring a murderous rage towards a snoring she-devil. This time, I’m fairly certain I was sharing a room with a future murderer.
Let me explain myself. We were sharing a room with seven other men and women. That was perfectly fine for approximately seven hours. The next morning, we’re dressing relatively early to tour the city. As I’m putting on my shoes, I look up and see Jack the Ripper incarnate sitting up in his bed just staring at us. We held eye contact for 4 seconds. Even then, when he’d been found out, he just went on sitting there.
Okay, I realize that’s not enough evidence to convict, but bear with me. That night, we went on a bar crawl with our hostel, but I left early to finish an essay. So, as I’m sitting in the hallway of our hostel, writing what I think is the next great American novel, I can sense him the way your once-broken bones can sense a storm coming. And like every horror movie ever, I slowly turn my head and there he is at the top of the stairs. Just staring.
Anticlimactically, he belligerently stumbled down the stairs after a few seconds of contemplation (a few seconds I interpreted as him plotting my murder), and collapsed onto his bed in a drunken heap.
Still, though. Close call.
About Those Sheep and Handsome Irishmen
The sheep were sighted within twenty minutes of leaving Dublin. The handsome wandering Irishman, however, was a bit harder to come by.
But because life has a sense of humour –
I JUST SPELLED HUMOR WITH A ‘U.’
(Interminable pause to allow for crisis of conscience.)
As I was saying, life has a sense of humor. So after settling into our hostel that had a particularly pungent smell that can be credited for the concierge’s hazy look, slurred speech, and absurdly high level of chill, we headed to a local pub.
I’ll level with you. I watched P.S. I Love You the night before because:
1. I was going to stay awake as long as humanly possible to avoid being murdered by Jack the Ripper.
2. I was in Ireland, so obviously I watched that movie.
I had some high expectations walking into this pub. Alas, we did not meet Gerard Butler (although in Dublin we did have a drink at Whelan’s – the pub at which a part of the movie was filmed). No, instead we had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of gypsies.
Specifically, three gypsy men. One of whom was wearing a shirt that read: Free Hugs. And on the back: Free Hugs for Sluts. I’d be interested to know just how successful he thought that outfit choice would be.
I couldn’t understand the majority of what they said, and by majority I mean that in two hours of conversation I understood one dirty joke, their brother lives in Dublin, and they work laying pavement. So I did what anyone does when talking with a mumbler or at a loud concert: I smiled and nodded. But that put me in a sticky situation. Their enthusiasm grew as the night wore on and I kept politely laughing and nodding. I was half convinced that I inadvertently agreed to run away with them. We left before I became a gypsy bride.
Dingle was beautiful. Quit your job and work the land for 40 years sort of beautiful.
When I arrived home, I was lucky enough to have two friends from back home waiting in my room. Both Audrey and Alli are studying abroad for the foreseeable future, and in our long overdue reunion that stretched into a week we visited the cold, deserted English beach, hunkered down with tea, coffee cake, and a movie when the English weather threw a fit, and tried to work through our study abroad/imminent graduation anxiety the way you would navigate a difficult calculus problem. I’ve never been that gifted at math, so it comes as no surprise that an answer wasn’t easily forthcoming.
Alli has since left for the Netherlands, but not before promising to see us again before we head back to the good old US of A.
My Nightlife is Bananas
No, but really. My nightlife actually involves bananas. A few nights ago, a French-American-Cyprian-British group of us went to an on-campus bar. Well, it felt like a club to me, but I’m sure that is inaccurate. The mere sight of hard alcohol makes any environment – my parent’s living room, my kitchen – seem like a nightclub. My life has a low tolerance for shenanigans.
I was not drinking because I had an important meeting the next morning. I played flip-cup with water. Which is a terrific way to stay hydrated. I almost drank a full 8 ounces of water that evening.
We walked to this bar. And because we just couldn’t have a lull in our evening, our French friend Zephyr brought a portable stereo with him. (This piece of technology must have a better name, but I don’t know what it is.) One of us was craving chocolate, so we made a pit stop at the campus convenience store. The rest of the group took this as an opportunity to buy more alcohol, but I needed bananas for my oatmeal the next morning. So I bought bananas. Why this caused such a commotion is beyond me.
I needed bananas.
There were bananas.
I bought said bananas.
After about half of an hour of dancing, I was famished. Conveniently, I had six bananas in my bag.
Life lesson: snacks are never a bad idea. The bouncer may laugh at you, your friends may gawk, but I’m telling you that if after 45 minutes of dancing you whip out six bananas on an overcrowded dance floor, you will be a hero. You will not have bananas for your oatmeal in the morning, but you will be a hero. Like Jesus with his fishes and loaves. Only not because I had six bananas and they only fed six people.
Post script: in reality, you should not bring bananas onto a dance floor because you will inevitably face the issue of disposal. People will not typically look for a trashcan while raging, and will instead throw the banana peels into the air. Gravity being what it is nowadays, the banana peels will then land on the floor. And you will find yourself searching for six banana peels in a sea of sweaty bodies in what could be a prototype for a failed 90’s computer game.
… … … … …
There really isn’t any rhyme or reason to the structuring of this post. I would spin it so that there was some sort of loose connection between getting my daily fix of potassium and traveling around Ireland, but I’m not that talented a thinker. I suppose that we need adventure the same way we need potassium, or zinc, or whatever else we need to survive. Without adventure – whatever form it might take – we’re restless. We’re unable to be here, wherever here may be.
But adventure is harder to take than a multivitamin. It’s expensive and it’s exhausting. But more than that, being abroad, the young twenty-something is particularly vulnerable to a horror known as the quarter-life crisis. The crisis doesn’t discriminate, and comes in many forms, but will invariably come out of nowhere, and take hold of your mind like a parasite. And all of a sudden, you can do nothing but ask questions like: Who am I? Where am I going? Does life have purpose?
Asking these questions is like looking into the Eye of Sauron. You’re left in a cold sweat, terrified, and desperate to forget what you’ve seen. So you find the nearest source of alcohol or you journal, or both. Lately, though, I’ve been watching Bill Murray movies.
If there ever was a modern mythical creature that could fight the real-life Mordor known as twentydom, it is Bill Murray.
So, I suppose we should eat potassium to keep our bodies strong. We should find adventure to keep our spirits strong. And we should watch Bill Murray to deal with the inevitable crises that come our way. And if none of that works, we should drink.
Faucets. Let me tell you something about faucets. There is a time and a place for extreme-ism. It is not when I am washing my hands. British faucets have two spigots: one for hot, and one for cold water. This system is flawed. My options are either to freeze or burn. I do not like these options. Yes, I understand that if I, for some strange reason, would like reasonably tempered water I can make a bath. However, here are the steps involved in making a bath:
1. Walk to the kitchen to retrieve a bowl.
2. Walk back upstairs.
3. Fill said bowl with hot and cold water.
4. Angstily proceed.
Here are the steps of having a proper faucet:
1. Turn spigot – adjust as necessary.
I rest my case.
In the spirit of the New Year, I have a confession: I’ve never read The Canterbury Tales. Yes, I realize that I should hang my head in shame. I am an English literature major living in Canterbury, so trust me I understand the depth of my illiteracy. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Chaucer – I’ve heard nothing but praise. It’s not that I don’t have access to it – I’m looking at a copy sitting dejectedly on my bookshelf. I simply did not and do not want to. Very millennial of me, I know. It’s this same reason that has kept me from posting on this blog for nearly a month: I did not want to. To ring in the New Year, I’ve decided to give Chaucer a go and to finally sit down and tell you about the last four weeks of my life.
Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone, but for the sake of this post I’d like for you to temporarily ignore this fact. Hopefully your holidays were everything you needed and wanted them to be, I’d hope for nothing less, but if this holiday season has taught me anything it’s that the unexpected is what makes a holiday unforgettable.
Let’s start with Thanksgiving.
Everything’s Better in Threes: Thanksgiving 2013
November 27th: The Americans at the University of Kent banded together for our first holiday away from home. The University played its part – hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all of its international students the day before the big day. They hit all of the high notes with a menu featuring turkey, stuffing, green beans, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, pumpkin pie, and a seemingly endless supply of wine. Homesick Americans and Canadians (and a few displaced Britons) spent hours talking about the food we were missing back home, our vacation plans, and our stream of unending schoolwork. We only remembered our homesickness when a coldhearted DJ decided to play ‘Take me Home Country Roads” after the Vice-President’s speech. Low blow, Mr. DJ.
November 28th: My American housemate Laura and I introduced our deprived European housemates Leo and Pepe to Thanksgiving. We also came to realize that Thanksgiving divides the European Christmas experience in half for all Americans. Roll Thanksgiving and Christmas together and you have a European Christmas. It’s intimidating. We made a very college-like Thanksgiving dinner – only doing the bare minimum to classify our meal as celebratory. What we ended up calling Thanksgiving dinner is undoubtedly just another Tuesday night dinner for 97 percent of the world. It’s the thought that counts.
Even then, with two Thanksgivings under my belt, I was not ready to let the holiday die – reminiscent of the torture tactics used on Native Americans in the years following this day of celebration.
That Friday, I flew to Madrid to celebrate with my very good friend and former roommate, Sarah. After an interesting flight with RyanAir I safely landed in Madrid – a point the pilot felt the need to celebrate with a big “We made it!” upon landing. Sarah and I were headed off to León early the next morning for a weekend with her former host family, but instead of sensibly calling it a night we decided to walk aimlessly around the city until two in the morning. Four hours later, we were up and on our way north.
León is fantastic. It’s a smaller city in Northern Spain that is very much what you would think of when you picture quintessential Spain. I met the Garcías who generously let us stay in their home, eat their food, and let me brokenly speak to them in Spanish. For the first time in my life, I was forced to use the Spanish I’ve spent fourteen years ‘learning.’ By the end of day one, however, I was comfortably blundering my way through conjugates and pluperfect verbs.
Our first night in León, Sarah, Emi (the Garcías’ fabulously kind exchange student from Japan), and I went into town. It was there that I was introduced to a beautiful thing called tapas. A good portion of my progress in Spanish that weekend was because of my overwhelming need to express to everyone around me just how much I loved this Spanish tradition. Tapas are essentially a wide variety of Spanish appetizers, but in practice much more exciting. To a starved college student at least. We meandered in and out of bars conveniently located a few seconds walk away from one another. At each establishment, when we ordered a beer, we were offered one of usually three appetizers. For someone who had spent two months living off of bland English food and discount bread, this was a revelatory experience. We dined (and by dined I mean stood in an overly crowded bar) on patatas bravas and tortillas españolas.
Later, we met Emi’s friends for a drink at a local bar. As the night went on, drinks flowed and so did my Spanish. Correlation? Causation? Who’s to say.
A Spanish Thanksgiving
Sunday, our last day in León, we spent cooking the Thanksgiving meal to end all Thanksgiving meals. I say ‘we’, but that is not exactly accurate. I sat in the kitchen and performed menial tasks while Emi, Flor (Señora García), and Sarah cooked. That is, until the onions.
An onion was cut in a kitchen twenty-four hours ago? I cry.
A day-old, sliced onion is sitting in your trashcan? I cry.
Mention the word onion? I cry.
Nevertheless, after every chemically induced breakdown I believe that I have achieved a superpower that keeps my eyes dry. I’m always sorely disappointed. This Sunday I fell under this misconception once again. With an inflated sense of self, I defied my stinging eyes and with a focus only a stubborn, obsessive-compulsive person can understand chopped a red onion. My eyes began to burn and leak like the faucet my father said he would fix and never did, but I kept chopping. Then they began to burn like I had mistaken hot sauce for eye drops. It was at this point that I declared defeat.
I blindly stumbled out of the kitchen. It would make sense that I then sat in another room: namely the living room or guest bedroom. I didn’t. I wanted to be alone to revel in my suffering. Or, less poetically put, I am anti-social and was going to avoid explaining myself in Spanish to relative strangers at all costs. Long story short, I shut myself in the unheated pantry. Which was a perfectly reasonable decision. At least it seemed perfectly reasonable to me, until Flor opened the pantry door. I can only imagine what was going through her head when she saw her American houseguest crying alone, in the dark, in her pantry. The word ‘unstable’ comes to mind.
After awkwardly laughing that off, there was nothing in the way of our Thanksgiving dinner. Well, two hours of preparation, but regardless. Two hours later, the six of us: the Garcías, Emi, Sarah, and I sat down to enjoy the meal we’d put our blood, sweat, and tears into. The food was fabulous, as was the conversation. I found myself laughing at jokes in Spanish, telling stories in Spanglish, and quietly enjoying being there, in León, with such incredible people. It was a meal in a million.
Later that night, after touring the city with the Garcías and watching Real Madrid’s match in a nearby café, Sarah and I video chatted with our good friend, Gabriel. Gabe was finishing his term abroad in Barcelona, and had originally planned on spending Thanksgiving with us in Leon, but his crazy schedule hadn’t allowed. In our two-hour conversation, though, the fact that he was six hours away didn’t seem to matter. We shared our experiences living abroad, agreeing that it’s harder than it seems and also so much more than we imagined. We talked nonsense, and yawned as we began to fall asleep on screen. That night when we said goodbye to Gabe, and to León early the next morning, I realized that I couldn’t have asked for a better Thanksgiving or better company – cyber or otherwise.
Our train ride to Madrid was early, but beautiful. The three hours flew by, and I was able to really see Spain. As much as you can ‘really see Spain’ from the window of a high-speed train, anyway.
Our first stop in Madrid? El Parque del Buen Retiro.
We began what quickly turned into the most romantic day of our lives rowing a boat. Like any adventure involving two uncoordinated people, we proved incapable in a matter of minutes. More specifically, we were unable to coordinate our movements and therefore unable to leave the dock. For two minutes that stretched into eternity we blocked anyone from docking or disembarking. Eventually, the man in charge told me to let Sarah take charge. I happily agreed, and Sarah steered us away from the scene of our shame.
Despite the messy beginning, I enjoyed our row boating. As we drifted (paddling became difficult), listening to a violinist play the theme to The Godfather, we talked about…us. We talked about our time spent abroad and how it seemed to have already changed us. We talked about our fears that we were right in thinking this, and our fears that we were wrong. We talked about our plans and we talked about the F word: the most dreaded of all words to the college student: the Future.
We wandered through Madrid’s streets, squares, and markets. Eventually, we made our way to a restaurant known for their paella, only to be told that they did not have a vegetarian option. The owner, or maître de, or waiter, or someone was kind enough to walk us to a nearby restaurant that did cater to us non-meat eaters.
We had a sense that the restaurant was a bit higher up the totem pole than our reach allowed, but our hunger won out over our wallets. We were the youngest by nearly forty years. We were also the poorest by thousands of euros. We sat down at our dimly lit, white tablecloth clad table with unease. Our uneasiness grew when we took a good look at the prices. Just as the server placed a bottle of water, bread basket, and hors d’oeuvres on our table, Sarah had the presence of mind to realize that in Spain they have a propensity to charge you for everything.
We sat staring at the water, bread, and strange Spanish hors d’oeuvres with equal parts suspicion and hunger. After five minutes of internal struggle, we did what any millennial would do: we Googled it. Funny thing, though, googling “do you have to pay for hors d’oeuvres, water, and bread in Spain?” gets a variety of answers. We drank the water. And ate the bread. And the hors d’oeuvres.
They charged us.
The paella was fantastic, though.
Later that evening, we headed to the Galileo Galilei – a local music club – for a flamenco show. The show was derailed, however, when the flamenco woman fell ill and was unable to make the performance. The flamenco man used his god given flare for the dramatic to entertain us for fifteen minutes alone on stage, but he seemed to realize that he couldn’t flamenco alone. Fifteen minutes in, he began pulling ‘random’ women up on stage to sing with him, and guitarists appeared out of thin air to accompany his dramatic vocals. Flamenco-wise, the venture was probably a failure. Experience-wise, I’d say it was a success.
I rounded out my time in Madrid eating chocolate con churros at Madrid’s famous Chocolatería, and then falling asleep watching Love Actually.
Twelve hours later, I was on a flight back to England. My carry-on weighed a bit more, but more importantly I came back with the energy to finish out the term. Or more accurately, write two terribly long critical essays.
If This Were a Movie There Would be a Montage Here
Two weeks later, and I was saying goodbye again. This time to my first term in Canterbury. The time flew by. It’s terrifying to think that soon I’ll be saying goodbye again, much more permanently. It’s even more terrifying to think of the decisions to be made when I do.
One week later, and I was saying hello. An unexpected, though not unwelcome hello I traveled four thousand miles to deliver.
Originally, I planned to stay in Israel for the holidays, but the region’s unpredictability made me pause. In that pause, I calculated how expensive it would be to travel to Israel. This made me pause again, indefinitely. While in Copenhagen, I offhandedly mentioned to my friend Emily that it was almost as expensive to fly home as it would be to stay in Israel. And thus the idea was born. That weekend, I bought a flight, and for two months I silently plotted to overthrow Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, I caught a bus to London for a matinee performance of Les Misérables on the West End. A few tears later, I settled in for a night’s rest in one of Heathrow’s few armchairs in an effort to save myself some hassle and money. With the help of my Aunt Landry, twenty hours and no sleep later I had made it from London to Paris to Chicago to my front door.
My mother bawled, my father stared, my sister screamed. It was only when I saw their faces that it began to feel like Christmas to me.
Now that I’m here, I have to say that I struggled choosing to come home. I know that this was my one chance to save money by going somewhere new and exciting for the holidays. But I’ve realized that I wanted to be here. And that is some kind of revelation for someone who has always been trying to escape the 46220 zip code.
Since being home, I’ve slept in my own bed and eaten home cooked meals. I’ve uncomfortably seen Wolf of Wall Street with an aghast and talkative ninety-year-old woman sitting behind me. I’ve had friends and family over for dinner, and listened to a blue grass band in Broad Ripple’s Wine Cellar. I’ve seen snow. Lots of snow.
So, two weeks late that is my extraordinary holiday in ordinary Indiana.
Happy belated New Year; I hope 2014 is everything you wish it will be. More than that, I hope it’s unforgettable, unexpected, and more than you ever wished it could be.
You know what’s funny? Explaining Thanksgiving to tens of curious non-Americans. I alternate between describing the various cornucopias on the table at the very first Thanksgiving and recounting how we, as a nation, proceeded to decimate an entire civilization. Lately, I’ve abandoned all pretenses and just begun to inaccurately fold the two versions of my Thanksgiving in on one another. Something like:
At the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims and their Native American comrades sat at a beautifully set table of togetherness, understanding, and friendship. The table was itself a representation of overcome hardship and intercultural alliance. In its center rest a cornucopia overflowing with gourds, corn, and other grain products. Stuffed between friendship gourds, however, were live ammunition, diseased blankets, and a general desire for conquest. Merriment abound, Squanto laughingly reached for the gravy, but in his haste he knocked over the cornucopia of hope. Slowly, it spilled its secrets. An unaware Squanto bent to collect the contents of the cornucopia, and realized all too late the true nature of his dinner companions. With a bang, a mortally wounded Squanto fell to the ground. In the ensuing chaos, the Thanksgiving table, and all of its promise, was upturned. As Squanto lay dying, a trail of tears running down his cheek, a single phrase came to his mind: “screw hospitality.”
I have mixed feelings on the subject. I have mixed feelings on most subjects. This is a good segue into my next point: I swear my life is a mixture of both trial and triumph. I realized when writing this post that most of my stories are accounts of particularly sticky moments that most often result in angst. In the spirit of the availability bias, it would seem that my life is just one long angst-filled bus ride of horror. I could include the days that pleasantly pass without event, but they just don’t make for such good stories.
Last weekend, a friend and I booked tickets to tour Stonehenge and Bath. Super cultured, I know. The tour left from London’s Victoria Station at 8 AM on Saturday, so we traveled to the capital the night before to avoid any urges to commit murder and/or suicide due to lack of sleep. Now, a lot happened on this trip, and I don’t want to recount it in a storyline because I think I would include tangents that no one particularly wants to read, and I don’t particularly want to write. Also, I don’t feel like dealing with transitions right now. So here is London in six parts:
Because we are college students and because we are in Britain, we have no spare poundage. Therefore, we stayed in a hostel. This was my first time staying in a hostel, and I was pleasantly surprised. Contrary to what I had been told, no one tried to rob me while I slept, there were no rodents to be seen, and I was not sold into white slavery at any point. There was even a bar in the basement.
There was, however, one minor issue that almost led to my incarceration: Clarissa’s deviated septum. See, there is one thing on earth for which I have absolutely no tolerance: snoring. If I was Clark Kent, snoring would be my kryptonite. Snoring and televised golf matches.
Let me explain. My mother snores. Sorry mom, you do. When I was seventeen, my mom, sister (Caroline), and I traveled to Chicago for some reason that I now forget. We stayed in a suite that had a kitchenette, living room, and snazzy bedroom. Because I am older and therefore more coercive, I managed to secure a spot on the bed with my mom, leaving my sister to sleep on the couch.
I should have just accepted the couch. My sister has a particular method for dealing with my mom’s snoring: she kicks her until she wakes up. Now, this may seem cruel. Probably because it is mildly cruel. It seems even crueler if you witness it in person because in addition to snoring, my mother is jumpy. Every time Caroline kicks her, she gasps as if she has just looked Death in the face. It’s a very stressful sleeping environment.
Anyway, I have trouble executing this method of dealing with her snoring. I don’t enjoy kicking her, and I am also jumpy. Extremely jumpy. When I kick her, I understand that I am the cause of the gasp, but it still terrifies me. I have no explanation. On that particular night, I woke at 3 AM to that hellish noise. Long story short, I slept on the kitchen floor using a sweater as a blanket.
I’ve slept in my fair share of bathtubs on family vacations. Earplugs are a necessity before any major overnight venture. In short, I have methods in place to deal with snoring. But Clarissa was not my mother, so I could not kick her into submission. And I couldn’t sleep in a bathtub because there were no bathtubs. It was my own personal hell.
In the night, other women seemed to gather strength from Clarissa. At one point, there was a horrible symphony of snoring, and each woman seemed to be competing for center stage. At 5:34 AM, the race was in dead heat between Clarissa and a woman in the left corner, but after an overwhelmingly deep inhale, the woman in the corner had to raggedly regain her breath. Clarissa came away victorious.
I never met Clarissa. She remains a faceless horror. I made a point of checking the name on her luggage before leaving so I would know what to name my least favorite child. In my mind, she looks something like the monster in Pan’s Labyrinth.
It’s for reasons like this that I did not go to overnight camp as a child.
II. The Honeymooners
Stonehenge is about an hour outside of London, and Bath is another two hours outside of Stonehenge. Round trip, that’s approximately six hours of travel time. Now, this is not an issue for me. I love bus rides. It does, however, become an issue when two honeymooners are sitting in my immediate line of vision. For six hours, I watched PDA like I have never seen PDA before. The husband sucked on his wife’s fingers. They fed each other. At one point, she tried to take a nap, but he wouldn’t let her sleep. He kept petting her face. I mean, let her rest. So, that was easily the most uncomfortable six hours of my life.
III. The Rocks
Stonehenge is a collection of importantly positioned stones. I cannot actually write more on this subject because I abandoned the audio tour after the narrator’s third unwarranted use of the word penetrate immediately after equating Stonehenge to “an anthropological volcano erupting with importance, and forever melting the hearts of its visitors.” I’m happy with my decision, but consequently the first sentence of this paragraph is everything I know about Stonehenge.
IV. Water is Best
Bath is a pretty cool place – I recommend visiting if you ever have the opportunity. It’s nestled in the crook of three hills, so from the center of town you can see up into the rest of the city. Bath is known for its rejuvenating waters that are said to cure all sorts of ailments. Because we are college students living abroad, we couldn’t afford to tour the actual bathhouses, so I can’t rule on the rejuvenating effect of the water. However, the water they served us at lunch had lemons in it and was particularly refreshing.
V. My Candidacy for Survivor
In Bath, I ate a mealworm offered to me by a salesman. He was selling mealworms and crickets, so it’s not as if I accepted an insect he kept in his pocket. I felt like a brave adventurer. Then I realized that this was the closest thing to meat that I’ve eaten in over eight years.
We spent Saturday night traipsing around London. Our favorite site was Trafalgar Square which is awesome in its own right, but that night had carolers, a snow globe the size of my house back home, and approximately fifteen street performers. Most importantly, Trafalgar Square is home to the M&M store. As a twenty-one year old, I could hardly handle the store’s sensory stimulation, so I cannot understand how parents would even consider bringing their children within a five mile radius of the place.
That being said, I spent £12 on chocolate in this store. 12 pounds. That’s roughly 22 U.S. dollars. I am convinced that this is a result of my failing self-control and the store’s failing principles. See, you fill a bag with as much candy as you please, but the store charges by every 150 grams. However, there is no scale in sight, so you have no idea how much you are purchasing.
Okay, someone with a good sense of weight would succeed here, but I am not that person. Hence the 12 pounds spent on .0025 pounds of chocolate.
We sprinted through the London experience – tag teaming with a few historical sites along the way. I’ve never been particularly gifted at short distances. Or long distances. The best parts of my trip were the moments when we stopped to catch our breath: pizza at a bonafide Italian restaurant, Bailey’s at the hostel’s bar, chocolate and people watching in Trafalgar square, more chocolate at Buckingham Palace, a stroll along the river, and the sound of silence in the night.
I kept up with the fast pace of traveling in true Lance Armstrong fashion: under the influence of a drug.
Before you start researching twelve step programs in my area, hear me out. The way I see it, traveling is itself a drug. It cures ailments: boredom, restlessness, and ignorance. It is expensive. Trips can be exhilarating, terrifying, or (more than likely) both. It has a recovery process known as reverse culture shock. It can take over your life. And, like drugs, traveling changes your brain chemistry. But unlike drugs, it does so in a uniquely and unbelievably positive way.
And you know what? I think I’m addicted.
It’s raining in England today, not that this is all that special. It rains most days. But today I had the absolute best rainy day. It was perfect in a way that Jack Johnson, introverts, and those with large families or children can appreciate.
Before I tell you about my marvelously empty day, let me talk to you about my third favorite form of transportation:
Okay, so I love flying. I love it.
I love flying for the same reason I love car, train, and bus rides: I love feeling like I’m going somewhere.
Traveling is the answer to the cognitive dissonance of productivity. Usually, you’re either productive and wishing you were being unproductive, or you’re unproductive and feeling like you should be productive. When you travel, you can sit and do nothing but listen to music under the guise of productivity: getting from point A to point B.
Now, some people would disagree with me. They would say flying is horrible. I don’t think that’s accurate. Flying is awkward. As an awkward person, I can easily see awkwardness in the world around me, and flights are awkward. Awkward moments during a flight include:
- When you find your seat and have to ask someone to move to let you in.
- When you try to put your luggage in the overhead compartment and it’s either full, or your bag is too heavy to lift. And everyone standing behind you is watching.
- When your seatmates arrive and you have to choose between awkward small talk and ignoring each other’s existence for the next 2-24 hours.
- When you have the window seat and the person next to you is looking out the window, but it feels like they’re looking at you so you look out the window too.
- When you need to go to the bathroom. Everything about this is awkward: asking to be let out, walking there, waiting there, being there, walking back. Everything.
- When you want to ask for alcohol, but everyone around you asked for water or Coca Cola, and you don’t want to be that person.
- When you want to readjust yourself, but it feels like a huge commotion. So, you don’t move for an hour, and both of your legs fall asleep.
Trust me, I get it. But, I’ve found that if you have four things: a good book, good music, window seat, and an empty bladder, then it’s okay.
Over a week ago, I flew to Copenhagen to visit my friend Emily who is studying there for the semester. You can read about her adventures here.
Copenhagen is my soul city for the following reasons: They have blankets everywhere. I love blankets. They have pillows everywhere. I love pillows. Their coins look like donuts. I love donuts. The people don’t wear color. I don’t like color. Oh, and everyone there is beautiful. I like beautiful people.
My friend Emily, her boyfriend Jeremy, and I spent a few days walking around the city. We visited Christiania. It’s this self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood in Copenhagen. Wikipedia calls it a micronation, but I think that’s a bit much. You can’t take pictures inside of the neighborhood because what happens is not strictly legal.
We also spent some nice nights in. We had a scary movie marathon, ate pie at Jeremy’s basketball game, had family dinner, and went thrift-store shopping.
There was a moment were Jeremy got robbed. We were on a very crowded bus. Two women hurried off after only one stop, and Jeremy ran after them saying, “They took my wallet.” Crime stoppers that we are, Emily and I stood confused on the bus while we, along with everyone else, watched a very awkward exchange between Jeremy and the two women. His exact words were, “I know you have my wallet. Give it back.” She gave it back. It reminded me of kindergarten. And that is an example of happily avoiding a potentially horrible situation.
I encountered a potentially horrible situation of my own on my way back to Canterbury. On Monday, my flight home was cancelled. The worst storm Amsterdam had seen in ten years was due Tuesday, and the airport pre-emptively shut down like the U.S. government.
We hunkered down in Emily’s apartment to wait it out. For a few hours, Copenhagen looked almost apocalyptic. People ran from doorway to doorway, windows crashed in, and the wind blew over seemingly immovable objects.
I was scheduled for a flight home the following evening. Emily and Jeremy put me on the train, and I began to make my way back to jolly old England.That was not the potentially horrible situation.
Just before boarding my plane in Copenhagen, I realized that I had 40 minutes
between the arrival of my plane and the departure of my connecting flight. This is the potentially horrible situation.
The entire flight, I obsessed over the idea of not making my connection. After leaving the plane, I had about 25 minutes to get my ticket, find the transfer area, go through passport control and security, and board my flight.
I pretty much came to terms with not making my connection when the loading bridge broke. I understood that I was going to sleep in the airport, but in my mind it was super cool like in the movie The Terminal. It was a very strange environment, being so close to that many unhappily anxious people. Ten minutes later, it was fixed and we were let off of the plane. That gave me 15 minutes to catch my connection.
I had already decided not to run. Now, this may seem ill advised. In my mind, there are very few things worth running for. If at any point in my life, I face a masked stranger in a dark alley, yes, I will run. Most other scenarios: probably not. Like any hang-up, Freud would trace it back to a childhood memory. Specifically, my being told in no uncertain terms that I look like a chicken when I run.
So, I speed walked. I speed walked like a retired woman wearing a sweat suit in the mall. I’d like to think I looked dignified, but I realize that’s probably in vain. All the while, some Swedish woman kept asking me to report to my terminal via the intercom.
By some miracle, I made it. Ticket, passport control, and security in under 20 minutes, and I didn’t even run. And, because no one flies to Manston ever, this flight was practically half-empty. As a result, I had an entire row of seats to myself. Please appreciate how rare and fabulous this was.
Like I said, it’s raining here in Canterbury. Slow and steady. I told you it’s been a marvelous day of nothingness, and then interrupted myself to talk about airplanes (doesn’t really make sense to me either). Well, here’s a breakdown of my Saturday, November 9, 2013:
- Woke up at 10:55.
- Woke up for real at 1:00.
- Cleaned my room. I love cleaning. This was a highlight.
- Put away notes for the 30%-of-my-grade essay due yesterday.
- Listened to rainy day music.
- Decided to make pancakes.
- Made pancakes.
- Watched The Fellowship of the Ring while I ate pancakes.
And now I’m writing this post.
Now, let me say something. Detailing the events of the past 20 hours of my life makes me uncomfortable. See, I have one rule for this whole online presence thing. That rule is simple: Do not post anything on the Internet that is not interesting.
This rule has an addendum that reads: The Internet is not your personal diary.
Note: I hate the word diary. It sounds feminine and like it’s full of frilly things. I like journal. I think heroes and kings had journals. It sounds strong. I only used diary here because it better made my point.
The Internet was originally created as APRAnet (Advanced Research Project Agency). It was created because researchers at liberal arts colleges and NGOs were upset that they weren’t given one of the few, powerful research computers.
I watched The Matrix last night, so I’m pretty much an expert on all things technology now.
The point is that the Internet was made for important things. It’s great that everyone’s connected, but the general public does not particularly care what you or I had for breakfast, and doesn’t care that you’re going to take a nap. And now you’ve permanently archived that thought in cyber space. Some things are not worth permanent documentation on the worldwide web. They just aren’t.
So, when I write this blog, I get anxious. I just told you the sequence of the last 20 hours of my life and one of those events was watching The Lord of the Rings while I ate pancakes. It feels very self-righteous to post the mundane details of your life on the Internet. I mean, it’s a capitalized word.
And then I get nervous in a very libertarian, Ron Swanson kind of way. I’ll be permanently linked to this blog. After I’m gone and technology takes over the world and humans become batteries, this will be floating in cyberspace.
It’s like leaving an online footprint. Like the environmentalists, I’m very self-conscious of my footprint.
I listed my perfectly non-eventful day because I have a point that I thought merited its listing. See, today I am supposed to be in London. My housemates and I planned a two-day trip earlier this week, but yesterday I missed my bus. It’s always the damn bus. There is a story here, but it’s not particularly interesting, and I’ve informed you of my one rule.
Suffice it to say that I was up very late working on a very important paper. I slept through my very loud alarm, and turned in this very important paper very close to its deadline. And afterwards, I was very tired.
So, today could have been a very bad day (I swear it’s the last one). A depressingly routine Saturday of nothingness in Canterbury. But it wasn’t.
Sometimes a series of unfortunate events (a stolen wallet, a cancelled flight, a missed bus) lead to a perfectly good ending. I guess that’s why I didn’t run and I didn’t mind so much when I missed my bus.
Things may not turn out as you planned, but they’ll turn out perfectly well. I would say ‘as they should,’ but I’m not sure how much stock I put in fate.
So, miss a bus and take a rainy day once in a while. It may not be what you wanted, but it may be just what you need.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
I’m going to level with you: I don’t know how to write a blog and I don’t have much to write about.
I’m 21 years old. I have virtually the same practical experience as an infant. I can tell you stories for the next eight months, but it seems to me that a blog should have some coherency. I should have a message or something. I don’t want to incessantly post stories that are of no benefit to anyone other than my mother who uses this blog to track my whereabouts and to confirm that I am, in fact, alive. Hi, mom.
I spent some time thinking about what idea or issue I wanted to write about in this post, and came up with the following gem:
So, growing up. What’s up with that? This sounds like a doomed opening line for a comedy routine. Like a really, really bad comedy routine. One that ends with tomatoes or whatever people throw nowadays. Beer bottles probably. Man, that’s dangerous. People: don’t throw beer bottles. Throw toilet paper or something. That’s soft and suggestive of the quality of their material.
To defend myself, I had just experienced the very illuminating task of using my hard-earned money to buy laundry detergent. I had never purchased laundry detergent before, and I did not enjoy the transaction.
For your sake and my dignity, I’ve decided to stick with anecdotes for the time being. In the spirit of brevity, I’ve compiled a collection of short stories covering the last two weeks of my life here in the UK:
My housemate Pepe decided to cook something Spanish sounding for us. It was an omelet with potatoes and onions, and I could walk downstairs and ask him, but I don’t feel like moving. As the token vegetarian, I was assigned to the salad.
I waited to go downtown to buy ingredients for the salad until around 5:00 because I spent the better part of the day trudging through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Nevertheless, I boarded the bus to town to get the mixin’s. However, it was Sunday, and all shops close at 5:00 on Sunday. As do the buses.
In the sequel to my first night in this country, I walked forty-five minutes uphill in the dark. Because it gets dark at 6:00 here. Also, I accidentally off-roaded it, and was certain – and I mean absolutely certain – that I was going to be murdered. I lived. Either the murderer chickened out, or I’m a super good runner.
The kitchen smelled fantastic. I hadn’t eaten because I had not gone grocery shopping in over a week, so I was really feeling these omelets. I was practically salivating in our kitchen when Pepe frantically said he needed my help flipping the omelet.
Okay, so I don’t have any culinary skills. Another thing I don’t have: hand-eye coordination. So, when Pepe asked me to support his movement (I have no idea how to articulate this action – use your imagination) as he flipped the omelet in our pan that is too small and was covered with a plate that is even smaller, I was not optimistic. And rightly so. Before I knew it, the pan was upside down and half of the omelet was on the floor.
As we stood there looking at the egg that now covered the counter, stovetop and floor, I’m fairly certain we had a similar thought that can be best explained as: In this moment, I realize that I am suited neither for adulthood nor early adulthood. I have no idea what I am doing and the egg on the ground is a representation of this fact.
As is often the case, things turned out perfectly swell.
Pepe finished cooking the omelet. I supported five more flips, each more successful than the last. I am told that has more to do with the consistency of the egg than my talent at supporting others, but nevertheless. We had a great dinner. Really, it was fantastic.
Afterwards, we spent the better part of twenty minutes cleaning up egg, but it was worth it. Despite the walk uphill, my near-murder, and the omelet fiasco, we had a household dinner. #Success
Clubbing with Ezra Pound
Despite the fact that I am only in class for six hours every week, I am still enrolled at a university. To maintain that status, I went to the library to read up on the Fascist and Anti-Semite, Ezra Pound. I promised to meet friends afterwards at an on-campus club.
Problem: I still had my backpack.
And that is how I found myself dancing to “Stacey’s Mom” in the middle of a fire-safety violation amount of people with my backpack on. Really worked my way up the social ladder with that one.
Whitstable: Take Three
Last weekend, my housemates and I walked to Whitstable. To be clear, I voluntarily and knowingly walked roughly six miles to a town I had already visited. If you know me personally, take this to be a testament to my growth as an individual. And here’s the kicker: I didn’t complain. Not once.
If you are my mother, you will have read my previous posts about five times a piece and easily remember that my first night in Canterbury I inadvertently started a journey to this town. I followed up on this unwanted adventure with a nicely planned trip a week later – an account of which can be seen and read in earlier posts. Well, I now feel that I deserve the keys to the city.
In a Subtle Subject Change, I Have a Pitch
This winter, my good friend Alyssa is traveling to Panama, and needs help to get there. Financial help, she’s not hitchhiking. We bonded over a shared love of exercise (joke), and now she’s traveling to Panama to teach dance at three orphanages as a form of therapy and cross-cultural understanding.
In case you didn’t gather as much from the previous sentence, she is easily one of the best people I’ve ever met; and the very fact that she’s going on this trip is a testament to that fact.
So, here’s the link. Check it out: Get Alyssa to Panama
Consider it my early Thanksgiving, Christmas, or just I-am-away-from-my-family-for-all-major-holidays gift. Or as a good deed, pay it forward type of situation. Whichever is more convincing.
Note: Please appreciate my surreptitiousness.
I expected the Canterbury Cathedral to be incredible. Therefore, it didn’t surprise me much that I was overcome with awe upon first seeing it. Nevertheless, that building is fantastic.
I realize that I can get worked up over seemingly mundane things, but people built this Cathedral. Actual human beings constructed this building out of stone.
I can’t even properly play with Lincoln logs.
Earlier this week, I went with a friend to a joint fundraising event for the Kent Snowboarding and Live Music Societies. While I love snowboarding and wish the best to those who choose to ride down a mountain, I was more interested in the live music. Our first week in Canterbury, a band called the Aztec played at a campus event, and this was our opportunity to see them once again. They sound like angels. They have a saxophone. I mean, come on.
To understand our mental state, know that while listening to melodious harmony we were drinking Cluster Bombs – some sort of alcoholic beverage (unimportant) rimmed with Pop Rocks (important). In retrospect, this is a very aggressively named and creatively made drink.
We danced, listened to two sets, and then casually and confidently made our way back to the bus station after a successful night out on the town. However, and this should come as no surprise to you, the buses stopped running. We misread the timetable and after thirty minutes waiting for a nonexistent bus, we came to terms with the walk ahead of us.
I say ‘we’, but that is generous of me. I have not reached complete acceptance yet. As can be evidenced by my request for a man’s cigarette, so “I can burn this bus station to the ground.”
I have some growing to do.
However, I would still deem the night a success. I would even deem the walk home a success. Entirely because we passed a Subway, which was miraculously still open, and bought three cookies for a pound.
. . .
I’ve found that life is generally the same on this side of the Atlantic. The humdrum of life is pretty universal. I still write papers, buy groceries, and sleep through my alarm.
If I were going to try to send you a message (and not in a terrifying mobster sort of way) it would be to not get too caught up in the humdrum. While I’m in the midst of a hefty amount of reading, it’s easy to forget that I’m here – in the UK. It’s easy to buckle down, attend to the tasks of everyday living and forget to look up. It’s easy to forget that adventure is right there, if you really wanted it.
Maybe we should live as though we were abroad every day of our lives. We should see adventure, whatever form it might take, as necessary. Not something to be put off for a later date, an imaginary date when the issues of everyday life won’t get in the way. Maybe we should appreciate the time we have here – wherever here may be.
Those are my two pence.