Monthly Archives: December 2011

Productive ease

Confession: I really have no idea what day of the week it is, and I love that.

There really was no particular reason that I needed to know today either.  Oftentimes, schedule-less days quickly descend to couch potato restlessness that eats away at nearly all my interest in the books in my kindle queue.  But not this week.

A perfect mix of basis tasks (errands, bills, tearing down the Christmas tree) and family has maintained enough order, and it has been perfect.  I’d criticize myself for not tearing through job research, networking emails, and most other real-life related tasks, but I can’t help but think that this continued non-mind numbing rest is actually productive.   I’ve come to think, just maybe, that the the what-am-I-going-to-do-next-summer-and-how-am-I-going-to-get-there-exactly feeling might clear up a little bit if I just take a couple days.

So that’s what I’m going to give it, and in the meantime, categorize, label, and subdivide every photo and video in my iphoto library.  Spain already feels so far away, and I need to keep it real.  I’ll finish an imovie project on the trip by the start of the spring semester.


Grip the moments

I’ve been struck by a few things so far this Christmas season.  Among them, how truly nice it is to be home.  The mountains in Santiago may have floored me, but the flat land and triangular roofs feel much more comfortable than the red clay tiles ever did.

Though it is more uncomfortable than ever to fit the six (seven when Andrew’s girlfriend was visiting) of us into the van, we do it fine.  Mychelle still yells to have the music turned down, “please turn the radio on” still means Rush to dad, and he who sits in the middle left seat, being by the controls, still determines whether everyone else in the back of the car is cold or not,  but other than that…it’s been great.

Like Tuesday night when I took the younger two out for Starbucks downtown.  I made a real big deal of it, and we walked around outside with our coffee.  Watson even went as far as to offer both of his arms to his sisters and escorted us by the Embassy Theater and Botanical Gardens.

We ended up in front of the large wreath at the Summit building where Mychelle and I took turns dancing with Watson.  I can’t recall ever having so much fun with my younger siblings.

We have been taking advantage of some great deals over at Pro Bowl West, where we’ve been twice this week now.  Having not bowled since high school, I’ve been far from impressive, but it’s been fun.

 

Honestly, just about every moment has been perfect.


By Starbucks and Christmas lights

It’s how I finally learned these darn streets (and found my way home last night). I figure it’s finally about time I got a grip on the landscape here.

I’m officially almost 12 hours away from my 36 hour journey home.  It will commence in the morning with a trip to the airport, waiting at the airport, an 8 hour flight to New York, a 22 hour layover in New York (which will include a truly restful night’s sleep on a hard chair somewhere inside JFK airport), a flight to Chicago, another layover, and at last a short flight to Fort Wayne.

I’m ready.

Spain has been uneasily laced with an abundance of challenging frustrations, but at the end of the day, of course it was a great experience.  I think I’m a little too close to the situation to have any kind of an objective perspective though.

Right now, my heart is heavy with home and the ineptitudes of the educational system.  I’m remembering all the lonely nights and times that just weren’t quite everything I had hoped they would be.  But I think I only feel that way because I’m tired and thoroughly burnt out.

But even exhaustion can’t ever take away the magic week where I suddenly understood everything going on around me, what it was like to learn Paris all by myself in the middle of the night, or even what it was like in that taxi ride from the airport in Morocco.

My frame of mind is quickly transitioning to what I’m going to do next summer, where I’m going to live next year, my thesis, how I’m going to pay off school, and who’s going to hire me.  I think there’s something about going forward that will make looking back and recognizing everything I have because of this trip much more obvious.  Actually, I’m sure there is.

And I am truly thankful that I will have this blog as a record to go back and remember exactly what it was like, because, good and bad, it was all a learning experience.

In the coming months, there will be no spontaneous last minute cancelled trips to Ireland or tales of Moroccan orange juice.  So for the time being, the travel commentary has pretty much dried up (along with my bank account), but that doesn’t mean this blog is going anywhere.

I like to think that by writing things down, I’m not merely recanting inane facts from my day, but actually expressing what I’m thinking and learning along the way.  As such, I almost feel that converting the regular everyday to thoughtful text has more value.  A racing mind on a CSS Thursday night is truly magical, and coping with all the crazy stuff that goes down at Wes often takes all the energy I have.  Committing those experiences to text gives a whole new kind of long-term prospective.

All this traveling has convinced me that it in the end, it really is all the same.   As such, living someplace long enough to call it a real home  has got to really mean something.

So stay tuned, because I’m not going anywhere.  I’m just coming home.

ps

wordpress officially stinks because it is not letting me upload the lovely photo I took of my host family last night.


Formal break-up letter

Universidad de Carlos III,

I would address my letter to you with a “Dear,” but somehow that seems deeply inappropriate.  Because even with the most formal of kind regards, I do not believe I could honestly greet you with such affection.

Now, let me be clear, I do not write you out of spite.  Neither do I deny that you house many a kindred spirit.   However, I do believe it is my duty to convey the magnitude of unkindness I felt on your grounds, with the hopes that you will welcome the new group much more warmly.   I do recognize that you will be cycling a whole new round of foreigners next semester, and I sincerely wish that you get along better with them.

I have attended 10 schools in my life, and I must say, you are indeed the crème de la crème in terms of un-welcomness, even worse than high school.  I repeatedly put myself out there for you.  I asked questions, took initiative, and even went so far as to order complete mystery foods from your ticketed vending machines, yet you continued to ignore me as yet another ignorant non-native speaker.

In very few cases do I believe you actually meant to be giving me the cold shoulder, but unfortunately good intentions only go so far.  See Carlos, you never even bothered to even learn my name, or where I was from, or what I liked.

I understand that we have cultural differences, so you might show your affection a little differently,  But even bearing those in mind, you just seemed to prefer to stay within your own groups and ignore the foreigners, many of whom were just desperately trying to make our way through you.

I do believe this phenomenon is best exemplified by our interaction today.  I was walking up from the basement where I had hoped to use the computer lab, you know, where the professor gave me a dirty look and yelled at me because I mistakenly walked in an open door (generally means the lab is free to use) while she was teaching a small class.   Anyways, I was almost up the stairs when I fell, very hard.

My knee and foot have been throbbing for an hour and half now.  I sat on those ugly old stairs, clutching my leg, wondering if I would be able to walk without help, and cried out in pain.  And not a soul came by to give me a hand.

Carlos, next time lend a hand.  It’s too late for us, but remember who’ll be arriving in January.   Please do try to do better.

 

With hopes for a better future,

Tori

 

PS

Don’t bother calling.


Bookends

It’s a good thing I never ended up booking that trip to Barcelona, because I’ve spent the last two days more or less locked up in the house fighting off sickness.

But, then again, after the last two weeks, maybe slowing down isn’t such a bad idea regardless.

Despite not being able to go out this evening and look at the Christmas lights like I had originally planned, the night turned out rather nicely.

I dug up a few old episodes of Gilmore Girls and started packing, just like I did in my stuffy bedroom four months ago in New York.  Except this time, instead of dreaming of foreign lands and actually being able to speak Spanish, I was just thinking about home.

 

 


I thought deserts were hot (Morocco: Part III)

Saturday was full of all kinds of adventures, but the morning started early, quite mistakenly.  Turns out Morocco is in a different time zone.  We figured that out at about 5:30am.

The guy from the Sahara Expeditions tour came knocking on the door of our hostel at ten after seven and walked us to the 15 passenger vans we would be going out in.

I was quiet disappointed that we didn’t get to go around with the folks we had met in our hostel that morning, but because our expedition was only one day instead of two or three, we were in a different group.

As far as people that you spend the entire day with in a freezing bus with, we really could have lucked out better.

In our larger group of about a dozen folks, there was a smaller group of about five late-20 to early-30 year old guys that were really obnoxious.  They spoke loudly, and their conversation seemlessly flowed between German, Spanish, and English in a way that you just knew that they were changing languages so certain people wouldn’t be able to understand them.  

The trip started out with the long drive up the Atlas Mountains.  We stopped several times to take photos, but it was so foggy that we couldn’t see much.  That is until we reached the crest of the mountains, where small mounds of snow surrounded us.

I found the situation mildly comical and was convinced that our not knowing French or Arabic had caused a mix up.  Surely this cold trip wasn’t what we signed up for when we said we wanted to go to the Sahara.   Poor Veronica was really, really freezing.

Worse yet, was how many turns you have to make to drive up and down a mountain.  I spent a good portion of the morning with my eyes closed and my head pressed tightly against the seat in front of me, because it alleviated the motion sickness.  Some time later, I sat up and was delighted to discover that we were at last surrounded by earthen, orange dust.

And I must say, it looked nothing like the smooth mounds of sand I had imagined.  It was rocky and bumpy and not nearly as pretty as I’d thought it’d be.  Of course, part of that was just the part of the Sahara we were in.

Some time later, our van stopped in a small village on the side of a small mountain.  Veronica and I both bought the kinds of scarfs you wrap around and over your head to keep the sand from getting in your face.   As a result of that experience, I can now officially say that while I can’t tie a tie, I can indeed tie a turban.

We had a little bit of a nerve-wracking encounter with a merchant who tried to get us to walk into his empty restaurant a little bit away from the rest of the group, but Veronica and I backed out right away and it all worked out well.

The next stop was a rural village that has been the site of many films set in the dessert.  I’d provide you with a complete list, but the guy was speaking French, so all I can tell you is that Lawrence of Arabia was taped there, but so were many other movies.

By this point, some major culture shock was setting in, but after eating (albeit a terrible, terrible meal) with a couple in our group from France, I felt much better.

A few hours later, we finally made it back to Marrakesh, just in time to catch the credits to the film rolling in the market square as a part of the city’s 11th annual film festival.

It is difficult to describe the intensity of the chaos going on around us.  Motorcycles weaved between massive groups of people walking in every direction.  While crossing the street on the way to dinner, I was hit in the leg by a biker who didn’t see me.

We heard probably almost as much Spanish in Morocco as we did English.  In fact, we ordered our food in Spanish, because our waiter had a better grip on the language.

After a final glass of fresh orange juice and a short stroll in front of the shops, we headed back to the hostel to call it a night.  I spent my last hour at Marrakesh the next morning on the roof watching the sunrise over the city.

The trip was short, but it ended perfectly.

PS

I just finalized my plans for my final European trip.  Next week, I’m going to Dublin!


Movie moments (Morocco: Part II)

Lest you get the wrong idea from my last post, Morocco was amazing.

Sometimes you have those moments, the kind that are like snapshots from a movie.  I had a day full of those moments on one magical summer day while I was at LI two summers ago and in Paris last October.   One awful night a year ago, I learned that the knee-shaking, nerves thing is legit too.

Friday night was one of those movie moments too.  It was like the opening sequence with credits.  With an inconspicuously dropped jaw and my head bouncing off the roof of the taxi (it was bumpy ride), my eyes darted back and forth at the sights in front of me.  Motorcycles with what looked like big bicycle tires weaved in and out of traffic on the crowded street.  On those little bikes were entire families, with little babies tucked between mom’s chest and dad’s back.

The cab driver tried to speak English, but it was very garbled and I didn’t actually understand anything he said.  But he was still sweet, because he was trying to point out all the sights to us.  The big mosque, the park (which was funny because I thought he was saying the police needed to check out passports), and a few other places.

It was like seeing Notre Dame for the first time, except every direction was a new sight.   You realize that it actually does look like all the photos you’ve seen, because despite all the logic and facts you know, somewhere deep inside of you, that you didn’t even knew existed, it was like you didn’t ever believe that it was really real.

And it is, oh so real.

The nice Moroccan guy with really good English, picked Veronica and I up on the street and walked us to the hostel, which was amazing.  It was all bright and colorful and full of all kinds of travelers.  Between the hostel, the airport, people in the Sahara, the market, and everyplace else we went, we met folks from Britain, Croatia, Hong Kong, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France, Spain, Morocco, and the Czech Republic (I think this list is accurate, can’t recall exactly)

Once in the hostel, we were greeted with fresh Moroccan mint tea.  And I must say, for a girl who’s had tea from seemingly every corner of the planet, I’ve only been able to sallow one type.  That is until I tried Moroccan tea.  It was actually amazing.  Now, I like two teas.

That night, Veronica and I ventured out to the market, which was quite literally almost right outside our door.  I’ve haggled with the best of them down on Canal Street (albeit poorly, but that’s besides the point).  But I’d never been in a market as aggressive as the one in Marrakesh.  Between the vendors, hagglers, merchants, beggars, children, and cat-callers we had to have been harassed by no less than 30 people (though maybe just 15 or so were actually trying to sell us stuff) just that night.

The children and the women would go so far as to come up and physically touch our hands and pull on our shirts.  Men who probably knew no more than 300 English words, certainly had adequate grip on how to insult women.

There’s just something about two tall, pale skinned women walking around the Marrakesh nightlife that just doesn’t blend in.  Can’t beat the couscous or fresh orange juice though.  Our dinner was wonderful.

We had a little scare finding our way back after dinner, but about half a dozen or so 10-year-old little boys helped us find our way.  Thank goodness I had thought to write our address on my hand before I left.

I was a little nervous about the whole hostel experience, just because I’d never been in one before.  But it all worked out wonderfully.  The roof of the building had the most incredible view of the city.  I went up there on the first night and just sat in silence for a few, precious moments.  I gazed at the stars, laid down on the chair, and said a quiet prayer, but the kind without words.