Sunday, February 24, 2008
I'm sick. It sucks.
I have all these plans, these things I want to do. First and foremost on this list is to shed the ten pounds I acquired on my tour abroad. To do so would require exercise; running, biking, working out, the works. I have created an extensive workout plan over the last few months that I've been itching to integrate into my daily life. Now that I'm back home, all I want to do is dive into this new routine and make this workout scheme a foundational habit for the rest of my life. After waiting so long to start this workout routine, and now being within such an intimate proximity to it, I'm highly irritated at this relatively minor sickness that is, with surprising persistence, stealing my attention and energy away from courting my beautiful new fitness programme.
Logic tells me to humour this sickness, and stay with it until our relationship is over. This relationship was, however, forced upon me by uncontrollable circumstances, and while I must see it too its end, my heart yearns for another.
I'm also very restless. I've been on a plane for 12 hours, I was traveling for something like 15, i didn't sleep for 25 straight hours on the way back, and since I've been back all I've been doing is visiting family, sitting, eating, and sleeping. Sounds like some people's dreams. Not mine. I've been stationary for long enough. I want to get out and move; I want to run, I want to be outside. But again, not wanting to become even more sick, I'm remaining fairly stationary. I feel like a caged animal; caged by my own accord with the knowledge that leaving the cage now is potentially worse than being cooped up in it.
Anyway, you get the idea. I'm sick and restless.
To state some other irritations: The massive amount of things to do before schools starts is epic. My glasses are broken which means I can't see anything. Which will also postpone my trip to Seattle because I can't drive on the freeway like that. My Elvis-esque microphone has died. It was working last night but now it's... dead. So I'll need to fix that. Today I'm frustrated by a massive amount of minor irritations bombarding me. Needless to say, I'm not handling them well.
However! I met a man in Scotland named Brian. He told me to always look for some good in the bad. I'll try that now.
The inability to go-go-go immediately after my return might be a good thing. If I had been able to, I might possibly have worn myself into sickness anyway.
Also, being unable to exercise is making me want to do it all the more. So when that day does come... It'll feel amazing.
As for the glasses, I was very lucky they didn't break while I was abroad. Now that I'm here, I can get them fixed in a more timely manner, and perhaps even get a spare.
The Microphone Breaking... well... that just sucks. But hopefully it'll jump back to life like it's been doing. Maybe if i take it apart... but that's scary. Haha
Ok I'm done. I really needed to rant a bit.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
I find Edinburgh in no way scary, though as the heavy dusky veil falls upon the city and the fog sneaks into every jagged crack and back alley, it’s not hard to imagine a time when conditions were different and walking through a similar heavy mist would have been petrifying. Not only did Stevenson gain inspiration from Edinburgh, but he also got the basis of his character from a man who lived there. This man, whose name now escapes me, was a very prominent member in society, on the city council, well to do, and a cabinet maker. However, by night he would frequent the pubs, get rough with the roughest, and entertain the most brazen of hussies. So the template for Stevenson’s multi-ego protagonist was cast in Edinburgh mold. With but a few tweaks to the character’s details and some elaborative rhetoric, Stevenson introduced Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I happened to adore that book, and it’s nice to see that the Scottish appreciate it as much as I. References to it inundate the city; some of the pubs are named in honour of the characters while alternatively, the National Library of Scotland has this month announced that the common book will be The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, complete with events ranging from book readings, poetry, performances, and movie showings all related to the book. Very cool.
Edinburgh suits me much like Berlin did, perhaps even more snugly. However, while Berlin felt great to be in, I’d never felt like I’d been there before; it was all new to me because I had no idea what the city had to offer. Edinburgh and Berlin shared that common quality; I had basically no preconceived notion of how it was going to be because I’d seen no pictures of it, and heard very vague descriptions such as “It’s incredible”.
I cannot say the moment I got off the train I felt at home in Edinburgh as I was burdened with an incredible load. Not only did I have my normal backpack on my chest with computer inside, but I had my hiking backpack, (which I lovingly refer to as my rucksack), on my back. To add to the already awkward way to travel, I had to bring a rolling suitcase behind me which held four months of paperwork, clothes, some trinkets from my travels, and a collection of mugs from varying coffee shops in Bristol. Needless to say, it’s heavy. It’s nice that it has wheels, but they’re useless for stairs and to get out of Edinburgh Waverley you have to go up a lot of stairs! So my first impression of Edinburgh didn’t really exist because I was too preoccupied with the strain of my luggage and oblivious to the wondrous city I was in. However, in the morning I got a taste that I’ll never forget.
I woke up after sleeping with the stillness of a dead man. In the morning we were meant to go on a free tour of the city, but after our bus took about twenty minutes longer than it said, we arrived very short on time. As I was still very tired, and quite grouchy, I told Kate to go off without me. That was probably the best thing I could have done. I needed my alone time. I’ve needed my alone time with increasing regularity as this trip has progressed. I think it’s made the trip better for both of us as we’ve discovered that we don’t travel very well together. While I still love Kate very much, I would surmise that this trip has not met either of our expectations; our modes of travel and our visions of the trip vary to a large degree. It’s been frustrating for me, and I can tell frustrating for her. I’ve tried to bring up dialogue about it, but there isn’t much to say I guess. We’re just baring through it and doing our own thing. That’s fine. I only hope that our relationship can survive this test and not hold resentment in the future.
I know that I haven’t made it easy for Kate, and she hasn’t made it easy for me. However, I think that if you’re traveling with the right person, it can make all the different. I had an absolutely chill and fabulous time on my other excursions and I made them with three separate women. I think that Kate and I just clash and I cannot figure out the reason. It’s not like we explode at each other, it just sort tension that lingers beneath the surface, a tension whose origins escape me.
Well, continuing on, my first taste of Edinburgh was like a bite of forbidden fruit; once taken I ached for more. The sun was shining and the sky clear when I found a coffee shop. After entering into the warm bubble of coffee aroma, I ushered in my good spirits with a latte and some reading. After weeks of battling with The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was finally able to get into it again. After a portion of time I collected my effects and strolled deeper into the city.
Not at all surprising to me, though I felt that it should have been, was the fact that the mist had settled on the city by the time I left. It had gone from clear skies to a mist so thick you couldn’t see ten metres in front of you. It had come from the ocean and rolled over Arthurs Seat to find it’s resting place amongst the wondrous buildings of the “Old Town”. I climbed up to the top of a nearby hill to see if there was anything to see, and I also wanted a bit of a hike. However, when I got to the top, there was absolutely zero visibility down to the city, but there were some monuments on the top of the hill; one to Lord Nelson, and the other to Scottish independence. I trotted back down the hill and was determined to find the Scottish parliament. I’d seen a sign for it pointing off into the deeper part of the glen.
Winding down the paths and backstreets I found myself at the bottom of High Street, more popularly known as the Royal Mile. It goes from the Scottish palace at the bottom of the glen, to the top of the hill where Edinburgh Castle sits. I didn’t go inside Parliament because it was closed but it is one of the coolest modern buildings I’ve ever seen. I’d love to work there if I were a politician. As for the Palace, I thought I might see that with Kate and it didn’t interest me terribly, so I opted to forgo it and instead began climbing up a road parallel to the royal mile.
The royal mile is full of the most posh stores and largest tourist trinket stops; naturally I wanted to avoid it. It was along the side street that I stumbled into Edinburgh University. It’s hard not to do as it’s spread out over half the city, but rather providentially I found myself next to the social sciences building. I wanted to find the student union building but when I asked a passerby I found that it was about halfway across the city. I wanted to see a few other things first so I moved on.
I basically made my way around to all the free attractions that day and got my bearings on the city. It wasn’t hard because, as I mentioned earlier, I felt like I’d been there before. There was something about the city that didn’t awe me like other cities did. That’s not to say it’s not awe-inspiring, as it very much is, but I just feel like I’ve lived here for a long long time. Like I grew up around the old stone buildings and belonged to its majesty. That feeling of being home was reinforced when I made my way into the highlands and into Lothian over the next two days.
Mid Lothian is where my Clan is from, Clan Ramsay, and I believe it includes Edinburgh. It was on Monday, when we went on our first tour, that I got to know this area better. The tour we’d signed up for was to see Rosslyn Chapel and various places along the way. However, it seems that Fate was a little cranky from her weekend partying, and dealt us some unexpected monday morning cards. For example, the fog was so thick that day that our driver, Bryan, could barely see the road ahead of us, and concurrently, our view of the lovely lowlands was hindered. Bryan, wanting to end with Rosslyn Chapel in hopes the fog would burn off, decided to take us first to a whiskey distillery.
When we arrived and walked into the reception, the man behind the counter looked a little baffled. We said that we’d like to have a tour and he said… sorry, we don’t open until midday, which wasn’t for another 45 minutes. Oops. Well Bryan, being a seasoned veteran in the guidance of tours, asked if he could just take us into the building for a second and tell us a bit about it. The man said normally that would be fine, but the big wigs of the company were showing up and they were going to be in the same building as us, so the blunt answer was no. Bummer.
So we left for Rosslyn Chapel which Bryan was a bit upset about because he usually likes to finish it. Fate, it seemed, had sobered up a bit by then and took pity our discouraged faces, because she then dealt us a very cool alternative. The road to Rosslyn chapel was cut off due to road construction, and while this detour card seemed to be of ill luck, it turned into possibly my favourite part of the trip.
We were driving along and we stopped at a roundabout. I noticed a sign across the road that said “Dalhousie Castle”. I had been doing some research on the Clan Ramsay the previous night and I remembered that Dalhousie was the Ramsey Clan’s castle.
So I asked Brian, “Is that the Dalhousie Castle?”
“Yes it is” he said in his amazing Scottish accent.
“Isn’t that the Clan Ramsay’s castle?”
“Sure is, why do you ask?”
“That’s my clan, Ramsay clan!”
“Get out! You’re joking!” he said in a way that echoed Sean Connery in Goldfinger.
“No, I’m completely serious, blue tartan and everything!”
“Ha! I almost wore my Ramsay tie today. Well then” he said, “there’s only one thing to do! Let’s go take a look!”
So we went. He drove right up to the entrance. I was devastated that my camera was dead but luckily Bryan had a camera and he took some pictures of me in front of the castle and inside. He and I ducked in and grabbed some information on the place. There is a lot of history in that Castle, that’s a rather obvious thing to say as it’s so old. However, this castle was taken by Edward the First of England who marched against William Wallace. He stayed in the castle on his way to the battle where he would eventually defeat William Wallace’s forces. After a time, Ramsay Clan and another clan joined together under one chief and the centre for the Ramsay Clan moved north of the Firth of Fourth. The castle was sold and now it’s a hotel for hoity rich folk and business retreats. Still, it was wonderful to see my clan’s historical castle.
We saw another castle that day that we actually got to romp around in. That castles name escapes me but I’ll try and look it up. It might have been the castle sterling but I’m not sure. However, the point of the entire tour was Rosslyn Chapel and we did finally make it there. Bryan had been doing this tour for years and he knew all the little tidbits. He’s a wonderful older gentleman and I’m happy we got to meet him. Before we went into the church, we went to Roslin Castle (the name has been anglicized but it’s not proper to change the name of a church). That was very cool and majestic. The fog was still lingering but the sun was beating through dissipating the cloud. The Castle was very organic, as if it had always been part of the mound it rested upon. Its stones were made of red sandstone and it gave it the most earthen appearance. I just cannot describe it; it is a place to be experienced. As if the Castle wasn’t enough, the Chapel was breathtaking.
I’ve never seen such intricacy in a church before, and while this one is very small in comparison to the churches I’ve seen, it is perhaps my favourite one of all. It has a large history with the Knights Templar and the Stone Masons. You can see this in the structure. The Templar’s were almost eradicated after the pope issued a decree for their annihilation, but they sought refuge in Scotland and found it. There, they went about sharing their secrets of warfare and construction with the Scots and thus Rosslyn Chapel came to be. In it are the three classic pillars of the Stone Masons; the apprentice, the craftsman, and the master. There is quite a tale about the apprentice and master pillars, perhaps I’ll tell that later, but everything about the place screams organic. There are leaves and flowers, the pagan nature face, there are scriptures carved in stone, the seven deadly sins and virtues, there are imps and the devil, and Jesus waving down at you from the vaulted ceiling. This church had everything that a church should and should not have; it went against the customs of the age because by this time Scotland had separated from the pope.
Well, that day was wonderful and ended well. Everything Edinburgh has to offer has been uplifting and unforgettable, and yet, it’s been unable to restore my energy. Perhaps if I was not running to and fro trying to experience everything Edinburgh has to offer then I could recharge my reserves, but as of now I still feel worn by my previous travels.
Still, the next day brought another stunning adventure. Early in the morning Kate and I were off to the Highlands! Our trip started at about 7:15 in the morning and we didn’t return until at least that time. I cannot tell you all the things I saw that day, or the magnificent names of those places, but I’ll attempt to.
We headed West, towards the ocean, out of the Lowlands and into the “mountains” of the west. To anyone who’s seen the Rockies, these are not mountains, but they’re as big as you’ll see in the UK. We took these mountains up the west coast to Fort William, and then eventually to Inverness. We the drove back down through the fields of heather straight back to Edinburgh. It was definitely a nice introduction to Scotland, and it only inflamed in me a desire to stay here for longer, but there were some disadvantages to seeing it through a bus window. For one, we took a lot of pictures, but taking them from inside a bus doesn’t do the highlands justice in any way. So if you do see my pictures on picasa or in person, please forgive them, they’re a feeble attempt at conveying the incredibility of this place.
On this journey, we passed Ben Nevis, the UK’s largest mountain, as well as the glen where the Campbell’s exterminated another clan and tarnished their name forever. We passed one location of Haggrids hut in the Harry Potter films, as well as the glen where they filmed the village scenes in Braveheart. We stopped at Fort William which was one of the British attempt to control the Scots, and eventually made our way to Inverness, which sits quaintly next to the famous expanse of water known as Loch Ness. I didn’t get to go out on the water despite the beautiful day; the sun was out and the wind was tickling the water in a way which would have been perfect for sailing. Ultimately, every place we passed was soaked in history, sitting beautifully amongst the present and whispering of its past. I have to go back, and for longer than a day, which leads me nicely to my newest dream.
I want to live in Edinburgh. I know I know! I’ve said that about many cities, but I’ve narrowed it down to Edinburgh and Berlin first, then we’ll see about Paris and London. It would be lovely if I could work in the U.S. Embassy and go between each city developing new connections and better understanding each respective culture. If there is a cultural department or some job related to culture, community, and collaboration between the countries, then I’m in. If I could meet people, work together with them, speak in public, inspire community leaders to come together for the betterment of the city/world (I know, I know, ambitious… let me dream) Then that would be the job for me. What job is there then, that would allow me to create community events, work on cultural relations, build personal and world connections, and speak in front of a great many people, or even a small group of people! I’m rambling because I’m excited. I’m excited to get my degree, I’m excited to travel again, I’m excited to do my part in making the world a better place. As a tour guide of mine here said, and as a philosophy I believe in, there’s positive in every negative; our world has created a lot of negatives recently but it’s merely a chance to create more positives.
Ok, enough babble. I’m sure you got enough of that boundless hopeful enthusiasm from my Obama letter! I made a list first of things I wanted to speak of, but I’ve yet to touch on any of them. So I’ll give them each a short section in this entry. I’ll start by saying the world is so very small.
When we were up in Inverness on our second round of touring, I was sitting by the lakeside with my new friend from Ireland (I’ll get to that), when a bus pulls up into the parking lot right next to us. I look inside and much to my surprise is Bryan, my tour guide from the previous day! So I ran up and rapped on the door with a gigantic grin on my face. Bryan opened up and I shook his hand and thanked him again for a great tour the day before. He smiled back and told me it was his pleasure. We made small talk for a bit and then he was off again. I have his email and I’m going to email him right after this. He’s going to send me those pictures like I said earlier. However, continuing on with the small world bit, it was the same day just down the road when another incredible connection happened. We did a pit stop at a little whiskey shop and I was going around tasting the different malts when I chanced upon Nicki. Nicki was a gal that I’d met in our hostel, a nice Australian gal who wanted to listen to my guitar playing. Well we got to talking and eventually I met her friend Guy. They were just beginning their tour of Europe and I was on my final hurrah, so we shared information – or rather, I talked at them for a while – but both of us neglected to get each others’ information! Well, we weren’t about to make the same mistake twice so right then and there we swapped names and emails. She was going to find me on Facebook, or I her. But WOW! Twice in one day! Fate, what an absolutely brilliant woman you are! (I don’t know why Fate is always a woman in my imagination)
Ok, only a few more things. If you’ve come this far I know I’ve hooked you, but I’ll be more kind from now on. I met a nice gal on the tour through the Highlands. She’s sweet and classy, Canadian, and doesn’t know what she wants to do with herself. Her name escapes me even after I tried desperately to remember it. Callie or something along those lines I think, I could be severely off though. Anyway, we chatted of all things, I talked her ear off as I was excited to make a new friend, but eventually I quelled my rudeness and asked her more questions. She was living in Cork, Ireland, or just very near it. She was working at a boarding school as a teacher’s assistant. She had forgone university to do that because she didn’t know what she wanted to do with herself. She got this job which gives her room and board, as well as a weekly allowance, which she was saving and using for traveling. She has a boyfriend of six months and was flying back the day before Valentine’s day to be with him. She had big plans to travel Europe. We talked of great things like classic books and movies. We agreed that Swiss Family Robinson basically encompasses both of our childhoods. We smiled exuberantly when, simultaneously, we recalled the amazing tree house! She was a good friend and I hope to see her again. I gave her my contact info and we parted ways. I’ve been beating myself up all day for not asking her out for a drink or at least a wander. Now she’s gone back to Ireland. I can only hope she finds me on Facebook or calls me if she’s even in Seattle.
On a sadder note, I lost my beloved Klean Kanteen. It was Sunday night and I couldn’t tell you where. I know I had it at the National Museum of Scotland which closed at five. I retraced all my steps, went in every store and sifted through their lost properties boxes, but to no avail. I sent out emails, made calls, and queries in person but it seems to have been taken or left absentmindedly somewhere in the vastness that is Edinburgh. It will be sorely missed. It’s been with me through Bristol, London, Rome, Barcelona, Wales, Cornwall, Amsterdam, Paris, Normandy, Saint Raphael, Rome again, Venice, Berlin, Bristol again, and it saw its final days with me in Scotland. I only hope that someone, who was in desperate need of a beautiful stainless steel canteen, has lovingly adopted it and will continue taking it on adventures for many years to come. I miss you my lovely canteen, I hope you’re safe and well wherever you are! (Seriously, this is devastating for me).
Ending on a lighter note, yes I’m ending, I’ve finished Dorian Gray! Oh thank god, that book seemed to drag on and on! However, I forced myself to read it and amazingly it became exciting again! The quarrel I had with the famous piece of literature was its egoism. I’d spent a semester studying Karl Marx and his views on Egoism, of which none of them are good, and to be honest, I shared some of his disgust in the selfishness of man, albeit to a lesser degree; I’m not going to dedicate my life to preaching against it. Though, I digress. There comes a point in the book when it speaks of Dorian’s selfishness, and his progression into the evil creature he’d eventually become. It didn’t interest me very much; I like inspiration and good and become disenchanted with the evil. Evil makes wondrous villains and advances plotlines nicely, but this is the main character and for a great while he seems to have no inner turmoil about the atrocities he is committing. Towards the end, he begins to resent his actions, and tried to atone for his sins, and that’s when things got interesting for me again. This internal struggle for good gave me hope in the character again, not simply disgust and disillusionment. The ending was great, it was the perfect ending for this story and I’m happy how it ended, though I wanted Dorian to be able to change and become good again. It seems that Wilde thought the return to good impossible, at least for this character. The end is suiting for the book, but it leaves me for want of something else, something better, the hope for change I suppose. I guess I’m just in the mood right now!
Saturday, February 9, 2008
My throat tightened and the lump in my throat made it hard to swallow. I summoned every fiber of my will to keep me composed as the train drew further away from the life I’d led; it plodded steadily along its fixed iron way unsympathetic to the pain it was causing me. The wheels had been set in motion and adventure lay before me, but all I wanted to do is go back. Freshly formed tears grew steadily in the corners of my eyes; it was only a matter of time before they overcame their bounds. I turned my head towards the window just as the tears rolled down my cheeks. With my hand shielding my face, I fixed my eyes out the window but I never saw a thing. On the outside I was silent, on the inside I was sobbing.
I left Queens Road in high spirits. I’m terrible at goodbyes because I cannot take them seriously. “Goodbye, I’ll miss you” seems to me a lie; it feels as if I’ll be seeing them in but a few hours time. Also, “Goodbye, I’ll miss you” is such an inadequate statement when describing how I really feel; I cannot put that into words. As I prepared to leave, I took a time to look back. I tried to commit their faces to memory; I wanted to store that moment, that feeling, away forever because my rational side knew that it would be far too long before we would meet again. But I couldn’t shake the feeling as if nothing was changing, as if I were merely going off to dinner, or class, or for coffee, and I’d be back shortly. It must have been my soul’s defense against the horrid feeling of loss that was creeping upon it. I suppose that’s why when I left I was smiling and talking about the weather, and that I tried to downplay the importance of our separation. “You’ll come visit me right? And I’ll visit you of course!” I’d say with a smile, or with a slightly forced chuckle I’d joke that “we’ve already said goodbye once before” in reference to my departure for Europe.
This goodbye was not like before and I couldn’t deal with its reality. Then it hit me all at onc
It was while sitting on the gently vibrating train in the warmth of the Bristol sun when, without warning, the lid to my memories was cast open and I was inundated with the immense amount of memories I’d created in the last five months. I tried to keep my head above the flood and stay my composure, but it was to no avail, for resist as I might, I was quickly overcome and the tears began to flow. I do wish I could have cried in front of Queens Road, for maybe it would have better expressed my sadness in leaving than my feeble mumblings of goodbye. I hope they know how much I care for them. I hope I was able to, in my time in Bristol, adequately impress upon them how much they mean to me. I’ve been supremely moved by their love and kindness, and I believe the friendships we’ve developed are so very wonderful. It’s always a gamble when you say you’ve made lifelong friends, because friends come and go as your life changes, but I feel like I’ve made friends that I’ll know for the rest of my life. If there happen to be some friendships that falter of fade away, then I’ll be grateful to have had them and cherish the good times we had together forever. However, I really would like to do my best to maintain those relationships for the rest of my life.
I cannot say anymore without being redundant, but I’ll say one last time that I’m so thankful to have had them in my life, and leaving them was devastating, but I hope this will not be the last time we meet. I love them very much, and I hope that they know it.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Dearest Family & Friends,
As most of you know me quite well, you know that my thoughts are endless and my feelings run deep. During my time abroad, I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect on a great many things, and I would like to share some of those thoughts with you now. I’d like to think I’ve built up enough rapport with you so that my words hold more meaning than just mindless babble, and I hope that it is worth your time to read my thoughts and feelings. It would mean a great deal to me if you did.
I’ve been particularly astounded by the world’s interest in the American elections. One British news columnist said that the American elections were like “the World Cup of politics” and that the world should take interest because ultimately, the person elected will have a profound impact not only on America, but the rest of the world as well. I’ve been to many different countries, I’ve spoken with strangers about this monumental time in American politics, and I’ve seen the front pages of every foreign newspaper riddled with coverage of this election. The world is taking interest in America, and it seems that, for the first time in a long time, America is taking interest in America. I only want to encourage that trend to continue and say how I feel and what I think. This message will not preach to a democratic agenda nor that of the republicans, I’m not here to try and sway you either left or right. Because we each hold our own opinions, I may offend some of you, though that is not my intent. To me, this message is about the future of America, and doing what is right for her.
We Lucky Few
“So like, voting’s really big in America isn’t it?” asked one of my English housemates this last year. “Because for [the British], we’re able to vote but it doesn’t really mean that much to us. It seems like voting in America is really important; like your vote actually matters.”
We have a privilege in the United States that is not universal; it is the privilege of voting. Voting is a fundamental American right and we are guaranteed this gift when we come of age. The need to vote has been stressed to me by my family, friends, my teachers, and colleagues. This necessity to participate in our system has been set alight within me and now it burns steady and bright. However, many do not share this need to vote and simply do not take the time to participate in our society.
We have seen in recent years that the races for the presidency can be close; so close in fact that extreme measures were taken to insure that America didn’t go too long without leadership. To my generation, I have to stress that in our relatively short lifespan, we have seen monumentally close elections. I believe those events should strengthen our belief in the knowledge that our vote does matter. Perhaps one vote will not be the deciding factor, but even fifty votes can make all the difference. So please, my friends and family, whomever you decide to vote for, please take the time to cast your ballot. Send in for an absentee ballot and then you can take your time to consider everything in the comfort of your home. Or, come Election Day, grab a hot drink and go down to the polling booths. However you decide to do it, please cast your vote in the upcoming election.
I often stroll past newsstands during my wanderings through Europe, and I’m always struck by a large smile. It is due partly to the fact that I love to see that the world is interested in our future; newspapers are in constant coverage of our political goings-on. It feels like the world cares about America and it gives me hope that we can rekindle our foreign relationships and rebuild our once good name. But that smile also comes from the diverse coverage given to the elections and the candidates.
The media for the candidates will range for praise to condemnation, the good and the bad of each contender. Many papers will show Hillary all smiles after her win in Nevada, or her tears in that fateful coffee shop. Other papers will show the aged John McCain with Starbucks in hand, his face wrinkled by a jolly smile. Some will show Rudy Giuliani, but I have to say those are few and far between. However, it seems that the foreign media grants young senator Obama the most coverage; singing his praises, speaking of the possibilities he may have for our country, but also his shortcomings and pitfalls. Whoever they’re focused on, it makes me happy to know that we have such a wide range of potential candidates with such a broad range of abilities and skills. What this says to me is that we’ve fallen on hard times, but our diverse population has responded to crisis by offering up a variety of its best potentials. This diversity and passion amongst the contenders has created a fierce competition which will ultimately produce the president most fit for the oval office and for our country.
I had an interesting experience in one of my philosophy courses. My professor asked me to explain the “American Dream”. I stood up in front of the class and I told them about how anything was possible in the United States; that a man could bring himself from poverty to prosperity by sheer determination and hard work; That there is no dream which is unattainable, be that running the country or having a simple life and raising a family; And most importantly, that one man can make a difference, be that for better or for worse.
We have but to look into our past to see how one man can make a difference; it’s apparent with our Presidents’ triumphs and failures. However, the Presidential position does not have to be an isolated position for its barer, rather, I believe it can be a working relationship with the nation. It’s a fact that the president is put on a pedestal, raised into the global spotlight, but he should never feel alone, for the foundation on which he stands is made from the support of the American people. When that support is waning, he feels his pedestal teetering, but when that support is strong, we give him the strength and confidence to lead.
As of late, our government seems inept when dealing with the dilemmas of our age; it seems stagnant, unable to find solutions, disconnected from the American people, as well as the rest of the world. This has created disinterest amongst our citizens and we’ve seen a shrinking away of citizens from politics. There are feelings of insignificance and hopelessness that hang over our heads. Yet, something seems to be growing just beneath the surface and it is aching to emerge. That something is hope; hope for something different, hope for something better. In the sixties “there was a vague and spreading desire for national renewal”[i], but now our country seems to be screaming for it; the people want out of the muddy hole that’s been dug and back onto a solid path. Some seem reluctant to hop on the hope wagon, doubting the strength of the term. They say that while it sounds good, hoping for something better will not make it happen. I believe that hope is about as powerful as anything.
It is with hope that we dream for a better future, it is with hope that we allow ourselves to trust our fellow man, it is with hope that we believe in a higher power, it is hope that fuels our desire to change and keeps us going through the hardest of times. I’m filled with hope for the future of our nation, especially if we can all come together and get behind this inspirational man from Illinois. I’ve said that one man can make a difference, and with the support of the country, I believe Barack Obama can start to lead us back onto a better path.
The Up and Comer from Illinois
Barack Obama has filled me with passions that I have not felt in ages and he is inspiring not only America, but the world as well. There are many good candidates on both sides of the spectrum, but Obama is the one that prods the fire inside me and helps it grow brighter. He renews in me firstly, my pride in the country. I’ve always been proud of where I’m from though in recent years, I’ve had to hang my head at some of our countries decisions. However, with such great potential leadership vying for the presidency, I can once more hold my head up high; certainly not because of our recent past, but because of the possibility for betterment in America’s future. We may not be at our best right now, but there is always the possibility for improvement in the future. That is what I have to be proud about; our country wants to improve itself. It’s just a matter of finding the right man for the job. Obama recognizes this desire for change and embraces it whole heartedly.
Not only is he a champion for change and hope, but Barack Obama had given a new generation a reason to believe in our country again. Sadly, politics does not rate highly on our generation’s list of top interests. Obama has, in the younger generation, in my generation, reinvigorated that desire to participate in our country. He has reissued the famous Kennedy call to serve the country and support her in her time of need. His messages of hope, change, hard work, and giving back to our Nation are working; the youth of the nation are standing up proudly to participate side by side with their seniors to make the world a better place.
I’ll continue to keep up with the elections over here through the foreign media, I’ll continue to thoroughly consider the candidates and their issues, but right now my allegiance has been given to Mr. Obama because of his dreams for the future, his charisma, and his ability to get a nation to come together with a dream of change. We no doubt have more rough times ahead of us, but I would much rather be led down that road by a lead with a smile, energy, and determination, than any other way.
[i] Goodwin, Richard. “Remembering America” 1988.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
So much has happened since my last post on The Wander. Last you heard, I had just been scuba diving in the Mediterranean. While I’m still on the Mediterranean, I’m a bit further east. If you took and chance and guessed that I was in Roma, you wouldn’t be off by much, for I was just there. However, I’m actually in that beautiful sinking city of Venezia, that is Venice to the rest of the world. How did I get here? What happened to the days in between!? Have patience my friend and in due time the tale will unfold. I suppose I should begin where I last closed the book for no one likes to spoil the story by skipping past the middle…
Leaving Saint Raphael was a sad day. It felt as if I were being wrenched away against my will, silently weeping all the way to Roma. Saint Raphael was a place I’ll never forget, a place my heart feels akin to, a place my soul is able to rest. In that place I was able to have adventure and fun, while feeling safe and warm. I was able to keep up on world events via newspaper or internet, while at the same time being completely ignorant to the rest of the world. Saint Raphael gave me many new dreams that I can add to my life’s to do list. If I had the money, I would make Saint Raphael one of my homes away from home. That and England. While we’re at it, Australia.
Later in the day, after our scuba diving adventure, I was completely exhausted. Crylle, the nice French guy we met on the dive, told me while we were motoring home that I would begin to feel some curious sensations. First, he said, you’ll start to feel happy but not energized. Your happiness will build and build until you’re almost serene, but it will be a very methodic sort of happy, a very calm happy, for at the same time you’re going to be utterly spent. He was absolutely right. Kate and I went back to our favourite coffee shop, Magaya, and just sat to try and recover. I was beaming with joy but at the same time, I felt no desire to move. It wasn’t until a shower, some journaling, and lots of rest, that I finally felt energized enough to walk around again. That’s when we went to the outdoor market.
I guess I shouldn’t call it a market per say, it was more of a walkway with stands along it. It was nice because that walkway lined the harbor. So as we strolled along looking at the handmade goods of southern France, we could admire the boats in the background. That’s where Kate dropped loads on some wood bowls and I dropped 8 euro on a herb grinder thing. I’m not sure what it is, but it was the cheapest thing that he had and it’s made from olive wood which is absolutely gorgeous wood. I wanted something and it was handmade, so I jumped on it. I’m quite happy with it.
We leisurely strolled back to our hotel that night and pretty much passed out. The next day was even more leisurely than the last. Our travel plans were a bit weird which made for a sort of weird but relaxing day. We were catching a night train to Roma, and our train didn’t leave Saint Raphael until six in the evening. So during that day, we just walked around for a long time, sat in a coffee shop, admired a church, wrote postcards to friends and mailed them off, and we even had time to lay on the sand beach and soak up the sun. Around six, we packed up our things and got on a train bound for Nice, which is where we were catching our night train to Roma.
Our train left Nice at about half Ten, so by the time we boarded, Kate and I were pretty knackered and ready to sleep. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sleep on the train and I envisioned myself plugged into some outlet near the train bar writing in this very journal or corresponding to friends. The reality was, I pretty much passed out once my head hit the pillow. It was warm, and the bed was no better or worse than the bunks on which I had slept while serving on the Adventuress. The warmth was inundating and, coupled with the gentle rocking and vibration of the train, my will to remain awake was utterly destroyed.
Before I knew it, we were in Roma.
There isn’t much to say about Roma, for I’ve already said it all. We did everything again, well… almost everything. When we got off the train in Termini station, I took us straight to Village Camping Roma, where we deposited our things, showered, and then left shortly after. We got into Rome at about two and went straight into the Vatican. This I cannot stress enough. We went unhindered, directly into the Vatican. When I was there with Grace we were in a line that wrapped halfway around the city-within-a-city’s wall! Not this time.
I saw much of the same in the Vatican, but it’s impossible not to see something new every time you go because of the sheer vastness of the structure and the volume of artifacts it contains. I saw some new exhibits, and some old. We took lots of pictures. There was one thing strikingly different from when I’d gone just after Christmas; there were almost no people. When I went into the Sistine Chapel the first time, there was an amorphous blob of people packed onto the fairly limited floor space. There were Italian men with piercing scowls constantly berating people for speaking too loudly or taking pictures. Imagine in the thickest Italian accent a man saying in his more condescending tone, “Silencio! Silence! No photo!” at least once every five minutes. I dare say that was more upsetting than the murmuring ooh’s and awes resonating within the vaulted chamber. But this time, this time was so very different.
We went in and there was but one Italian man with the distinctive Vatican badge on. He didn’t even look at us as we entered; he was lost in his own thoughts. Lucky for me, I was able to fully lose myself in this chapel this time. I could, for the first time, truly appreciate its mastery. I also chanced to seat myself next to an English guide who was pointing out many little details about the wonder of the work. That was fun. I pulled out my rosary, as is habitual for me to do now in every church I visit, and sat down to send off a prayer. I’m not terribly religious but there is something in vocalizing your hopes that makes them, at least for me, more powerful. Though I rarely take a kneel for such a thing, but as Casanova says in The Story of My Life, When addressing our wishes we should do so with “Con le ginocchia della mente inchine.” That is, with the knees of the mind bent. So I sit and take a bit of time to humble myself while praying for family, friends, and a safe journey.
After the Vatican it was actually getting dark. So we went to Piazza San Pietro to see that famous square where the Pope makes his Sunday sermons and addresses to the world. We also went in the Bassilica San Pietro, which I’d actually not seen last time due to an immense line. However, this time there was again no line. The inside was immense and very cool, though I was disappointed that once of the church staff wouldn’t let me sit on the benches in front of the main alter to say my prayer. That frustrated me a bit. However, there were many cool things to see, like the iron statue of Peter who’s feet at been worn off by the outstanding amount of pilgrims who had visited him and touched his holy feet.
After visiting Peter, his church, and his square, we left back for Camping. Despite visiting only one place, we were dog tired. We took the night to relax, have some dinner, journal, post letters, do laundry, and unwind. The next day was a bit more fruitful.
We started by booking out train journey out of Termini station to Venice for January 31st. Then we sped to the Colosseo. That was amazing again, and this time Kate and I separated so we could have our own time to wander and ponder. It was nice. After that, we moseyed around the Foro Romano, where I relaxed in the sun while Kate went exploring. I’d seen it before, and I just wanted to people watch for a while. Plus, I had such good memories of that place with Grace, I honestly didn’t want to muddle that with another visit with Katie, I wanted it to remain undisturbed.
The plan was to end up at this nice restaurant that Grace and I had been to around dinner time. But it was fairly close to the Colosseo while the rest of the sights we intended to see were quite far. So I devised a plan. We would take the metro up to the Piazza de Spagna, and work our way down past Trevi Fountain, past the Pantheon, to this little eatery. My plan worked beautifully, though it got us there well before the normal Italian dinner time of half seven. I knew there was a little square nearby with some shopping, so we strolled the streets and looked in shops. That’s when I found a tiny jewel that I had not noticed before.
There was a bookstore called something along the lines of Libreria Fahrenheit 451. It was very quaint, hip, and pretty much everything I want a bookstore to be. Wood shelves filled with books new and old, classics and the modern, side by side with stylish pieces of art and photographs. I loved it. That’s where I found a jewel within a jewel. I saw this painting on some cloth. It was red and orange, and it was just some designs, not really any sort of picture. Needless to say, I was drawn to it. So I bought it and I’m excited to hang it on my wall when I return home.
Not long after, we went for food. It was happy hour so they had this little buffet for people who bought a drink. So Kate and I bought a drink. The waitress was so nice and she recommended some really splendid drinks. Mine was called like Kikki Uva or something like that. It was delicious. She even told me how to make it!! She said it was a pretty normal Italian drink, so I was sold on it. I felt a little buzz but nothing really substantial at all, and when we made the long trek home, it sobered me right up.
We had to leave Roma pretty early the next day, so we had some dinner, packed up, and went to bed. Well, Katie went to bed at a reasonable hour. I was up on the internet trying to sort out my application to the Adventuress until about one in the morning. Despite my minimal sleep, the next day didn’t really require a maximum level of performance, as we spent most of the daylight on a train to Venezia.
We had liked Camping Roma so much, that we decided to book our stay in Camping Jolly; their Venice branch. Upon our arrival to this camping place, we were sorely disappointed. The place, unlike Roma, was a dump, though the receptionist from Germany was cute and very helpful. She has probably been the best part of the experience. Other than that, the first night we froze because the power went out. The second day we were there the power were constantly on and off, but luckily it was on by the time we went to sleep so no worries. The internet is broken so I haven’t been able to post or keep up with correspondence. I have to pay for the internet when it is working unlike Camping Roma, and at an unforgivably high price. And they don’t even have some pool tables to help us unwind at the end of the day. Basically, the best aspects of Camping Roma are nowhere to be found here. Though again, there is the German receptionist.
Venice has been a maelstrom. Kate and I left the first day and set out for the city not knowing what was in store for us. As it turns out, the three full days we’d be spending in Venice were smack in the middle of Carnivale, the party week before Mardi Gras. I have to say that Carnivale in Venice has been very cool but very heavy for me. I wasn’t expecting this volume of people, I wasn’t expecting a crazy party, I’m under dressed and I’ve restricted my funding so I really don’t have the money to spend on festivities. I’d like to come back with a sweet mask, I nice cloak, and a proper tri cone hat. The hats here are like 20 euro, a cheap clock is 60, a nice cloak is 120, and a mask is around 20 for a cheap one, upwards of 200 for the best of the best. I want to make my own though. Anyway, this place is expensive as it is, in spite of Carnivale. I want to come back, I do, but I want to come prepared and with a bigger group. That would be a lot more fun for me.
I’m also a little hesitant partying with my cousin for numerous reasons. One, when we get there, do we dance together? Isn’t that weird? If there were any potential women to meet, wouldn’t they be put off the moment they saw me dancing with another woman? They wouldn’t know we’re related. But say I did meet someone and wanted to go have a drink with her. What do I do? I couldn’t very well leave Katie along at some bar. The whole reason her parents supported her coming with me was because I’m the travel partner, I’m someone they trust, I'm a bit of safety. I don't mean to demean Kate at all, she's a grown up and capable of taking care of herself. But being along, especially if you’re a woman in a foreign country and you don’t speak the language, isn't a great situation. Many of those questions and concerns can be flipped around too, Katie could meet someone and go off with them; though, I would feel much better if it were that way because I’m ok being by myself, even though I know it’s not the ideal situation.
Well, no matter, we’ve seen quite a few things but I’m ready to get out of Venice. I’m really excited for Berlin as we’ve found some cheap accommodation and hopefully there will be less craziness. I can’t wait to get back to Bristol to see my friends and party with them there for a day. Anyway, I’m paying for internet time and it’s expensive. Miss you all! Love,