Sunday, November 29, 2009

I'm Standing at the Crossroads, I believe I'm Sinking Down...

We stopped by Greece. Literally. Did you know it's possible to treat a country like a fast food restaurant? Cause it definitely is. We landed, got on a tour bus, drove to the Acropolis, said hi, got back on the bus, drove around, got off the bus, and hopped on another flight.
Hey, Greece.
You were pretty darn cool. Athens looks like a lot of fun. And thanks for everything, like democracy, geometry, and philosophy. We appreciate it.
Love, Westmont College Europe Semester '09
After our little Greece tour (which really was cool albeit short. I mean, we stood on Mars Hill for Gentiles' sake), we were on our way to Istanbul. Welp... goodbye Western world, hello... um... well... something else?
On the flight, I got giddy. So did Sam, Lizzy MacRae, and Megan Woods. See, we have been waiting all semester to give our city presentation, on Istanbul. Lizzy and I were in rows across from each other (Side Note: Olympic Air? Very nice. Westmont basically had a plane to ourselves. I mean, I had a whole row to myself, as did about 10 other students. They also served a meal on a one hour flight, complete with a cookie run, and two drink runs. Gotta love government subsidized airlines. Take note, America), and our eyes were glued to the windows. When Istanbul became visible through the darkness and fog, we both turned to each other. We smiled, and then simultaneously mouthed the words: "Istanbul! What the...?"
We landed in a pretty darn modern airport, and I was already taken aback. Despite reading it various times over the semester, I had somehow forgotten that Turks use a Latin alphabet. I was expecting to see Arabic calligraphy everywhere, and I wasn't. My paradigm wanted something to be there that just was not... It was weird. We took a coach to our hotel. Yes... we have hotels while we're in Turkey. As in: room-service-bringing-turn-down-service-comfortable-bed-nice-shower-in-room-TV hotel rooms. Wow... what a welcome change. I mean, don't get me wrong, the hostel thing was fun while it lasted, but Merci Dieu for hotels.
The next morning we gave our presentation. You know those dreams you have where you wake up five minutes before you have to give a big speech and you're totally unprepared? Yeah, that actually happens. I forgot that we gained an hour from Italy, and so my alarm was set to go off fifteen minutes into my presentation. Thankfully, my roommate came in 5 minutes before class and woke me up. Let's just say that I gave my parts of the speech in Kent Hotel - Istanbul slippers. Definitely bringing those things home as a souvenir.
Then, we went out to the Crossroads. See, Turkey's not quite the West... but it's definitely not the East either. It's unique. I get woken up often to the Islamic Call to Prayer (which is absolutely beautiful, by the way.), but the streets and shops here feel totally Western. It is just blatantly obvious that this is a Middle Eastern culture (as in an honor/shame paradigm, mixed with some nomadic traditions) that has fallen in love with Western culture. I have been treated SO well by the Turkish locals. Everyone wants to know where I'm from, and they will come right out and talk to you, even if English is far from natural for them. This was most evident in the Grand Bazaar.
Which has a perfect name. It's grand (it makes the Mall of America look small), and it is bizarre. The shop owners all stand outside and lure you into their shops. But they're not pushy. Italians were pushy, they'd almost guilt you into eating at their restaurant. Turks are just nice. They've got a sense of humor too. I walked by a carpet shop, and the owner looked at me and said "Let me sell you something you don't need!". I gave him a thumbs up as I walked away belly laughing. I met a really kind Macedonian who let me custom build a hookah. I'm thoroughly pleased with it. The best story comes from the jewelry shop owner though. I was hanging out with Joy in the Bazaar, partially because I didn't want her to be alone in there. It is unbelievably easy to get lost in a place that has no readable signs and where every shop looks identical. Anyway, I was just hanging with the owner ("Your name is Kurt? Like Kurt Cobain? Oh, I like Nirvana. I listen to them in high school"), while Joy shopped ("Here, sir, you sit while lady shops. It's hard when woman shops for hours. I know"). We talked for probably a half-hour about quite a bit of things, including my major ("Politics? really? Well, then maybe you can be Kurt Bush. No! Wait...Kurt Obama, that's much better."). The funniest part of the conversation went like this though:
Shop-owner (I believe his name was Ashmet, but I could be wrong, he will be referred to as "A" from now on)
A: So... how long?
Me: ... (thinking) how long? what the..? ... What do you mean?
A: How long have you been married *pointing towards Joy*?
Me: hahahaha... oh! Well, actually we're not married.
A: Oh oh, boyfriend and girlfriend?
Me: No, no... we're just friends.
A: ... Really? *looks blankly at her. Looks back at me* ... *Looks at her again. Then to me again* Just friends?
Me: Heh heh, yup just friends...

So, now the running joke is that Joy and I are married (It was really fast, I know. Heck, we can't even remember the ceremony... or the engagement, for that matter).
Anyways, back to Turkey. We have done a good amount of touring. First of all, Mosques are beautiful. Seriously beautiful. The Blue Mosque is jaw-dropping. The Haghia Sofia is a breed of it's own. It's gorgeous as a church, it's impressive as a mosque, and as both it defines the history of this place so well. The Ottoman palace was greatly impressive, but it's blatantly obvious that you have been on Europe Semester when you're in the middle of a palace and you think Eh...I've seen better. Yikes. Just yikes.
The last little anecdote begins with a pun. We were in Turkey for Thanksgiving. It was perfect cause we got a little bit of Hungary as we flew over, just got a little bit of Greece, and then had our Turkey. Thanksgiving was interesting. Our dinner was a nice attempt. We had chicken shish kabob and french fries. Almost turkey and mashed potatoes, right? The real feast was after, when 12 of us went to a hookah/tea garden. We were all around tables, just sitting, laughing, talking, and enjoying each other. I got thankful there. A little culture shock made me grateful, that's cool. If you want some more info on this event, I ended up writing an essay on it. I'm not sure it's quite what the profs want, but even if it tanks in the grade category, it's one of the best essays I've ever written.

That's been Byzantium so far... er, I mean Constantinople... ummm... Istanbul. Yeah, Istanbul, that's it. That's been Istanbul so far.

Return of the Empire...

Earlier, I described it as "reading a book for the second time", and coming back to Rome was exactly that (Ironically, I finished my third book of the semester Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol in Rome. I've read over 1,200 pages on my own this semester. Hmm... maybe less textbook reading isn't a bad idea at all. Profs, take note). It was wonderful to be able to share some excellent sites with my friends this time. We stayed literally a block from Colosseum. That was rather epic. Seeing that ancient sports arena lit up at night makes the Staples Center look like a joke. I ended up at Trevi Fountain 3 of my 5 nights in Rome, and every time I ended up seeing my friend Joy. She corrected me on my mythology every time we were there. Thanks, Joyful. We're also now apparently married, but more on that later.
Trevi has a pretty magical feel to it. I mean it's these perfectly sculpted Roman gods erupting from marble slabs and the back of this building. But honestly, it was the people that made that place so cool. My friend Pecos showed up again in Rome. My only words for that were: "Yes. Please." He had just finished up his semester in Cortona, and he brought his friend John to join us on their way out. So we spent two days hanging out. The best part was at Trevi though. The five of us (John, Pecos, Sam E, and Justin D) all bought Cuban cigars, and then sat on top of one of the massive marble side railings. We puffed away, and a haze of smoke left our area and floated above all the tourists at Trevi. We just sat there; smoking and talking. We laughed hard, and even got deep into conversation. It was the ideal boys night out. Other people agreed, apparently. Sam spied 6 or 7 people set up their tripods and take some photos of us; feet dangling over the marble, stogies in hand, mid-laugh. I'm just waiting to see myself show up on some Italian anti-smoking billboard.
Having Pecos around was again a breath of fresh air. He's got this "life" thing down, and it's just plain fun to be around someone like that. You know?
I ended up at the Hard Rock Café twice during that span. It was pretty great. I haven't really let myself enjoy any of the American "exports" here in Europe (besides the occasional Starbucks), but this was just too refreshing. I actually felt at home with a massive burger in front of me. With loud music and ridiculous videos all around. With Free Refills. I didn't realize how precious those words actually are. The feeling of comfortability was absurd. It was just so relaxing to be in a place where I didn't have to be conscious of the fact that I was in a group of loud people speaking English. Course, the most ironic thing about all of this is that Hard Rock started in London...
So clearly, going back to Rome was great, but in order to get a better picture of it, there's a bit more. You have to top all of these little magic moments off with two more magical places: the Pantheon and the Forum. Pantheon is just darn impressive. Awe is literally ripped from your lungs when you stare at its dome. It actually does not make sense. Plus, it has a wonderful piazza in front of it. I brought some friends to dinner at one of the restaurants that my mom and I ended up at right out front of Pantheon, and had one of the best dinners of the trip so far.
The Forum is kind of indescribable. As I was walking over the uneven cobblestone, I literally felt like I was wearing a toga, on my way to Senate. Sheesh...what a nerd. Anyway, going through the roads of the Forum for a second time was my favorite tourist part of Rome. The first time I heard about X number of the ruins and former temples, and the second time I heard about totally different ones. Combining the knowledge from both times seriously brought those old roads to life. We also went inside the senate building this time. Yeah, inside the senate building. You know how we think? Our entire mindset, our paradigm? Yeah, that is because of the people in that building. Rome is responsible for our history, and I was standing in the room where history was written. Not the books of history, but the events. They came forth from that place.
I was standing among Titans...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks...

Gratitude. It's an interesting emotion isn't it? It's hard to put into words, so... I'll let someone else do it for me. This is a song called Give Me Strength by Snow Patrol. It's on their new album Up To Now, and you actually need to get it. I know it's a bit emotional, but hey, I think it says it nicely:

I choked back tears today because I can’t begin to say how much you've shaped this boy,
these last ten years or more.

My friends we've seen it all, triumphs to drunken falls and our bones are broken still,
but our hearts are joined until,
time slips its tired hand into our tired hands we've years 'til that day
and so much more to say.

You give the strength to me, a strength I never had, I was a mess you see,
I'd lost the plot so bad, you dragged me up and out,
out of the darkest place, there's not a single doubt when I can see your faces.

My friends we've seen it all, when it made no sense at all,
you dare to light my path and found the beauty in the aftermath.

Let me hold you up like you held me up, it's too long to never say this,
you must know I've always thought,

You give the strength to me, a strength I never had,
I was a mess you see, I'd lost the plot so bad,
you dragged me up and out, out of the darkest place,
there's not a single doubt when I can see your faces.

You give the strength to me, a strength I never had,
I was a mess you see, I'd lost the plot so bad,
you dragged me up and out, out of the darkest place,
there's not a single doubt when I can see your faces.

Thanks, everybody.

Updates from Rome the Sequel and Turkey on their way... I promise

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ashes from the Inferno...

Here's a bit more of the ashes left from the creative inferno.

This is a discription of a couple I saw on the Pitti Palazzo, which is my favorite part of Florence. Picture yourself in a sandstone courtyard that glows in a golden colour...
The young couple clutches. They embrace. It's hard to tell where her purple ends and his navy begins. He pulls away, setting up the timer on his digital camera. She poses, chin in hand, arm on knee. She pretends to be looking off into the distance. Her eyes may not be gazing at him, but he's all she sees. He gets up, comes over, and she pretends that he just entered her vision. He slides his hand under her chin, and pulls her face close to his. Their noses barely miss as love manifests in lips. Click...Flash. Never to be forgotten.

Young woman walks at a rapid pace. She throws one hand around; fluttering a piece of paper held tightly. She gesticulates, but the person on the phone can't see her desperate body language. She finds herself at a curb, not knowing where it came from. Her words slow, they become cold. She spins and sits simultanesouly. The words stop all together. Her head hangs, finding rest in the hand not holding the phone. Defeat eminates from the curb. She mutters three words.
Are. You. Sure?
Then she rises. The world seems to spin, but she isn't dizzy. She finds that rapid pace again. And goes back the way she came.

Here's my third attempt at poetry. Yeah, I know. It's real cheezy...
What is searching for the spark?
Itìs not pursuing prefection.
It's not pining for peace.
It's not looking for love,
That's always in the wrong place.
It's really the mixing of music.
It's the tracking of a tempo.
The blending of beats,
It's rhyming rhythms; it's melding melodies.
It's called hunting for harmony.
It's about knoting knowledge,
Welding worries, and building beauty.
It's grafting graces,
Or fusing fires,
It's an integrated interlace.
It's about stitiching synchronicity;
It's hand-held heartbeats.
It's called hunting for harmony.

Sorry if there are various and numerous spelling and grammar errors here. I'm typing away on an Italian keyboard, so weird keys and placements, and no spell check. Course, I should mention that I'm typing in an internet café with a view of the moonlit Colloseum.

Ah... life is sweet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Firenze is the Birthplace of the Renaissance After All...

Over a week. Sheesh... I'm ashamed. Here's what's beautiful though: I've been writing a ton. Let's recap the past 8 days a little bit shall we?

Basically, for the first week, Florence sucked. Reasons: 1)It rained, a ton. And if you know me, you know that I love rain. However, I love snow more. I wanted snow. Bad. I got rain. A ton of rain. 2) Our residence is pretty cool, but it's also pretty cool. I mean seriously drafty. So, I was wet and cold, all the time. Yuck. 3) I just wanted to sleep, but my bed was really firm, and my pillow gave me wicked bad neck aches. 4) My bed was also a buffet. For bed bugs. I got eaten alive. I was symmetrical for a while. This also made sleeping not-so-good, as I would wake up due to extreme itchiness, and then couldn't go back to sleep because of visions of bed bugs danced in my head.

Ok, so combine all that into a week, and you get suck. Blech. It was no good. BUT I'm done whining. Which is why I called this entry renaissance, or rebirth, to the lay man.

Yesterday was the brutal day. I woke up at 5 in the morning, and couldn't get back to sleep. Shower was cold. Breakfast wasn't for two and a half hours. yikes. So, I got on the internet and talked with people from home. Ah, home. Those conversations were sparks, they got a bit of a fire going. I combined those sparks with a bit of oxygen in the form of Battle Studies (I got it early and it's incredible). Now, I had a fire. A serious creative fire. You know how artists always seem to be moody, brooding, angry, dirty, and overall just un-content?
I think that they do it on purpose.
It makes for GOOD inspiration.
I went on a writing tear. I think I doubled the amount of space taken up in my journal. Poems, lyrics, quips, creative stories, observations, you name it. It was sweet. Never been in a writing inferno before.
The problem is, that this writing tear completely changed my mood. I'm SO happy right now. I'm on a creative high. I mean, I wrote a poem an hour before our café night last night, and then read it cause I liked it enough (I also read the poem I wrote about Auschwitz [Apparently there's been some confusion, but I did write that poem down there] and the lyrics to the song Wheel.)
I also have a new bed. Thanks to my sympathetic professors, who came and helped me put my old bed into make-shift quarantine, got me a new one, and gave me Benadryl. Basically, I woke up to a totally new city. I went on a walk today, totally alone, and loved it.
I'm now currently trying to emulate my writing inferno, but it's not as easy as it was.
I'm enjoying the trouble though.
I like poetry for the first time in my life. I think I'm gonna keep writing it...

Here's my second attempt:

When does a cycle become a spiral?
After all, they're both a type of circle.
What if life is just an orbit?
What if this is all just another cog in the Karma machine?
Is it just a looped rhythm-beat?
Isn't getting dirty just another form of coming clean?
How do you stop a wave's ebbs and flows,
When even a ring's got it's highs and lows?
Do we always remember the sound,
of a boomerang coming back around?
Maybe we're not supposed to change our life-ring,
Maybe I'm thinking just a bit clearer,
Thinking a circle's just a wave on a mirror.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Senatus Populus Que Romanus...

Rome. Wow, that’s a name with some history. Most of the places I’ve been going seem to have a history that begins around 1939. Maybe 1914. Rome began around 750. B.C.! There’s another one of those paradigm shifts I keep talking about. They tend to happen just when I think I’ve got my head around the world, you know?

I ventured on down to Rome about 2 weeks before my group, for a great reason.

Mama flew into town.

Over our 4-day break, we were able to travel basically where we wanted, and I was lucky enough to have my mom meet me out here in Italy. I hopped a flight from Praha to Roma. Took Czech Airlines. You’ve gotta love state-supported airlines, they treat you right. Traveling on my own was pretty nice. I do it enough in the States to have a good routine and some travel sense. The only drawback was having to actually think for myself instead of being a travel-sheep.

My first real encounter with Italy was the most stereotypical encounter I’ve had in Europe. I needed to grab a taxi from the train station to the hotel. I waited in line a bit, and then WHAM! Two Roman cabbies start yelling, gesticulating, turning red, and altogether being Italian. Here’s an excellent example of what I saw:

It was only after I got to the hotel that I could laugh.

It was so incredibly nice to see my mom. Not only was it a new yet familiar face (the first in 2 months), but it was my mama! I got to spend four relaxing days just seeing sites, walking at our own natural pace, and eating great food. Oh! And sleeping… I actually got to sleep a decent amount. That was a nice change of pace.

Rome was a pretty fascinating place, because really, it’s three cities.

First, it’s the modern-day capitol of Italy. I’ve spent a year hearing how far behind the Italian government is, and how muddled the bureaucracy is. Not to mention hearing about Berlusconi. American politics ain’t seen a guy like him. Couple that with the European stereotypes of Italians as lazy, loud, and rude, and I didn’t exactly have the best expectations for the Romans. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Every single person we encountered was extremely nice. Waiters were perfectly willing to bend-over-backwards for their diners; tour guides were patient with stupid questions. I was flabbergasted. In a good way.

The second city is the medieval/renaissance city. This place is absolutely riddled with art. GOOD art. The Trevi Fountain is astounding. Strike that, all of the Bernini’s are astounding, especially Pluto and Persephone Wow… There are remnants of artistic masters on nearly every road.

Finally, Rome is the capitol of the Western world. You know that B.C. date that I threw out there? There’s a whole section of town dedicated to the remains of the Roman Empire. Now that’s history. I stood where Augustus ruled the world. Where Peter and Paul looked death in the eye. Where Nero burned Christians for light, and Constantine gave Christianity the last laugh. It’s kind of overwhelming to stand in those spots. It certainly makes one feel miniscule.


And throw another country into that whole 3-city thing. The Vatican is impressive. I mean, really impressive. The whole city just exudes power. I was dumbstruck. A lot. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Museums (including the School of Athens) are all they’re cracked up to be. The carry the power they deserve. However, it’s very easy to see how that church got caught up in its own glory and forgot its role as a conduit for glory. It is trying, though. Vatican II has definitely made its mark.

Rome is quite the city. I’m real excited to go back with the group soon. It’s going to be like reading a good book for a second time, you notice totally different things.

Leaving Rome was no fun. Saying by to Mama was a rather large bummer, I tried to get her to come to Florence with me, but she had to get back to the States to see Britty. What a lame reason… J I then hopped a 1½ hour train ride to Florence. I now know why people take the train.

However, first impressions of Florence were rough. It was raining pretty hard. I bought a dysfunctional map. Got lost. Walked a half hour in said rain. Got to the residence about 5 hours before I could check-in to a room. Accidentally got a café to open their kitchen for me. Went out back into the rain. Sat in the outside courtyard of the residence for about an hour. Got mistaken for a homeless person due to using my bag as a pillow and my fingerless gloves. Yikes.

Well… it can only get better from here, eh? I mean lunch was real good.

How does that song go again? “Always look on the bright side of life… do do, do do, do do, do do, do do”

That was the Roman Empire after all, right?


Yup. They finally made me leave Germany for good. Dang. It’s ok though. Cool things lay ahead.

On our way out, we stopped in Dresden. I had low expectations. I thought ‘OK. It’s another World War II damaged city.’ I should have learned my lesson in Coventry.

This whole town was blitzed. Razed. I mean nothing left. Maybe three buildings, maybe. The British firebombed Dresden so hardcore it caused a “firestorm”. Basically, the whole town was burning at 1000° centigrade. The asphalt melted. In the process, St. Mary’s church was destroyed. Actually fully dismantled.

Thank God for rebuilding.

Before Dresden, Sacre Coure in Paris was my favorite church in the world. Not anymore.

The new St. May’s in Dresden, Germany takes the cake.

Before we entered, it was prefaced as a personification of resurrection (destroyed then rebuilt), perhaps this added to the beauty. It had just been rebuilt in 2006. You know when you enter anciten churches and you think ‘I wonder what this place felt like in its prime?’.

St. Mary’s is in its prime.

“Wow…” That’s all I can really say.

They call Prague the Paris of the East. I think I may like the East better. Everything from Berlin east has been phenomenal. Maybe its because it’s new for me, maybe it’s because I mesh with these cities better, or maybe it’s just being connected with the Aryan community, I dunno.

Regardless, Eastern Europe is incredible. The past 20 years have done it well.

Prague certainly feels 20. The metro didn’t even smell yet. The city itself is kind of a strange amalgamation. One can tell that these people haven’t self-ruled often. The medieval structures are all gothic and renaissance architecture, but they’ve been “baroqu-ed” (Gabriel-ism). Apparently, the Austria-Hungarian empire used Baroque architecture as a weapon in the counter-reformation against those rowdy, free-thinking protestants, The Austro-Hungarians rules until 1919. Then the Czechs got a bit of independence. They celebrated with a unique style of art. Art Nouveau was everywhere, and thus, Mucha was everywhere. That was awesome. I got to see an entire museum dedicated to my favorite artist. Definitely wouldn’t mind some Mucha hanging in my future residence.

Back to Czech history. They had their own country for 20 years. Then, the Nazis invade. Sweet. There goes all that Czech pride. So, no more neat art. Things just end up shot-up or blown-up. Then, in ’45, comes Communism. Most things stay shot-up or blown-up. Well, except for a massive Stalin statue (that eventually gets blown-up in the 50s). The poor Czechs don’t get their own place again until ’89.

Yeah, the year I was born.

3 of the countries I’ve been to are as old as I am. Maybe that’s why I like them so much.

Prague was definitely made better by Gabe’s presence. From teaching us to laugh at dumb tourists, to poking fun of couples at the castle gardens/discussing what a good date spot it is, to telling us what to do when a pistol-toting Nazi is walking towards you (RUN!), it just wouldn’t have been the same without him. Taking me out to a much-needed breakfast and discussing the information age/the 21st Century/the future was just icing on the cake.

Cheers, Gabriel. Hope to see you soon.

Best site – Prague Castle/St. Vitar’s Best stained glass ever, and incredible views

Best food – Lebanese Group Dinner – It just kept coming, and it was all awesome.

Best pun – Gabe’s talk about the victims of the 2nd Defenestration of Prague being the first bounced Czechs.