Category Archives: travel

Transatlanticism, pt. I.

What’s been going on this weekend: It’s incredibly hot. I got a fan! I died my hair (which isn’t nearly as spectacular as it sounds because it doesn’t mean “Hey, I have blue hair now!”, but more something like “Hey, I just died my hair!” – “Really?” – “Yeah, it’s darker now, what do you think?” – “Really?”) and I also just started writing different parts of a longer story I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Okay, this is a weird preface, but here comes the story!

***

Transatlanticism

TGK_Conference_2010_logo

After seven hours on two different planes the city welcomed me with a six hour time difference, the funny smell of a bunch of people who’d been in the same clothes for too long and five different but equally long lines at customs.

I spent about an hour watching the same “welcome-to-America” commercial on a large screen above the official’s booth over and over until it was finally my turn. I was half-expecting him to quiz me on it – he surely could have; I would have aced it, hands down.

Instead, the guy simply looked at my German passport, took my German finger prints and told me that he’d been to Oktoberfest about 11 years ago. He loved the German beer. Of course, everyone does – or so I’ve been told. He was still daydreaming about it whenever he had a Miller lite, quite understandably. I smiled politely which, apparently, was good enough for him; then I left him to his beer-filled memories. There’s nothing better than having your entire cultural heritage reduced to one single stereotype. You travel a lot lighter.

When I stepped outside it was already dark. The fireworks would probably start any minute now and I doubted that I would be able to see anything at all standing just outside of Logan. I quickly got into a cab and gladly paid the heavily overpriced fare when it stopped in front of the hostel just 20 minutes later. I wouldn’t have been surprised to be stuck in traffic or just stuck in front of a barrier for a lot longer this late on a day like this, but even the roads were free on the 4th of July. Go figure.

I quickly got my key and dragged my luggage up to the third floor to be able to at least catch a glimpse of the fireworks above the city. I took some blurry pictures for my mom and enjoyed the warm evening breeze. There’s something about having the ocean right at your fingertips; at the tip of your toes. I took a deep breath because that’s what people always do in books and movies when they want to hold on to that one moment; really live (whatever that means). I’m not sure why, but it does help. Maybe it’s because of all the oxygen that’s suddenly pumped through your system – a sudden and brief high of O2; O2 and fumes.

For quite a while after the fireworks I was so tired I couldn’t sleep. I watched a couple of innings of a Red Sox game rerun in the community room and would have killed for a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, I didn’t know who in the hostel I would have needed to threaten in particular so I decided that the next morning wasn’t too many hours away and that I might as well wait and be civil about it.

I texted Michael to let him know that I’d made it safe and sound. That summer, I fell for this city and for him. Sometimes I wonder whether two summers later the same city was what made it all fall apart. And then I think it probably wasn’t the city. I’m not exactly sure what made me fall for him, but I’m sure he’s loved me for all the wrong reasons; he’s been in love with someone that wasn’t really me and, which may have been worse, never wanted to be.

When he finally did see me (behind all the things he’s imagined me to be), he was so full of disappointment, that there was no room for anything else anymore; let alone something like love. This city, really, never had anything to do with it. It was just the one thing that remained; a road sign that remained and kept me aware of everything that didn’t.

It’s easy to get worked up about love, even if you’re not sure that that’s what it is; it’s easy to get worked up about something you’ve lost, even if you’ve never really had it.

***

Soundtrack:

 

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Things ahead and in between.

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Can you see what’s ahead?

I spent most of March traveling and although I’ve been back for a while, I haven’t entirely unpacked yet. Because I hate unpacking.

It’s the least romantic part about traveling to me: dirty laundry, (hopefully still intact) souvenirs, used boarding passes/train tickets, crumpled receipts, postcards you meant to send but forgot about; it’s like taking down Christmas decorations after the holidays – it always feels too soon.

I think of emptying a suitcase as surgery: delicate; you have to remove piece after piece carefully and in the right pace or it’ll be a bloody mess.

I love to keep some sand in my shoes, and some change if the currency is foreign. I usually find little notes, candy wrappers and flyers advertising concerts, museums, movies and all sorts of food between the pages of my journal after I’m already home for weeks.

This time, there was also a note from a friend I visited for a few days of my trip.

She moved to Houston last year and I hadn’t seen her new apartment yet. I only knew her old apartment in Austin.

In the end, the new one reminded me a lot of the one she’d had before – her bedroom looked almost the same, to me it did anyways: postcards and pictures on the wall (quotes in English and Arabic), books (in English and Arabic).

One evening, we sat on the floor, having an indoor-picnic-dinner (because, even though we were in Texas and it was March, it was still too cold to picnic outside).

We decorated slices of apple with dabs of peanut butter and the soft carpet with crumbs of bread (there’s a reason why people usually picnic outside). I tried to pick up a few crumbs with the tip of my index finger, tracing back the way our dinner had gone, a path back and forth between our plates, like a bridge; I tore it down (sometimes, that’s what you have to do).

We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year so we talked about things that had happened: life and everything in between.

We talked about how one of her friends was almost pulled into a car by a couple of strangers on her way home while they studied together in Egypt and how this is not a big deal there because it happens all the time and no one ever says a thing (until it happens to them, but it doesn’t, right? it’s always someone else); we talked about how one of my friends was kidnapped a couple of years ago because her family was too wealthy and the rest of her country too poor and how this is not a big deal there because it happens all the time and no one ever says a thing (until it happens to them, but it doesn’t, right? it’s always someone else).

Sometimes I’m sure there’ll be a loud creak any second and the world will just fall over, unhinged, because there must be an imbalance between good and evil in the world; sometimes I’m sure the only reason it doesn’t happen is because you’re in a relatively stable position while you’re knee-deep in the shit.

Other times I get up to my favorite song on the radio and it’s enough to make me think it’s maybe not that bad. Not because I think my favorite song is going to level out everything that’s going wrong in the world – but if we’re going down, I feel a lot better knowing that at least the soundtrack is good.

We also talked about our favorite songs, a movie I’d recommended to her a while ago (Harold and Maude), and boys love, its complications, its many layers and whatever it is that girls people talk about when they talk about love.

We talked about the future – job possibilities, what our friends had done with their lives (and impressed us with it, or the opposite), what our parents wanted us to do with our lives (and how we didn’t really want the same, of course); things we wanted to do, ideally; things we could imagine settling for.

There’s so much life ahead of us, she burst out all of a sudden. The only answer I could think of: What are we going to do with it? So we tried to come up with a plan; it ended up being a list of things – written as a note, the twist: we wrote it to the other (because advice to others is often easier).

My note said: * Keep writing * Keep learning/teaching * Keep breathing * Keep doing yoga * Keep taking pictures * Keep watching inspiring movies/reading inspiring books * Specific items to do: play guitar, research teaching assistantships in America, find and visit the German-speaking part of Romania (yes, it exists! no, it’s not where the vampires are … or is it?) * Always remember: it’s worth it to fall in love.

I put the note into my journal; I re-read it many times since she first wrote it. I’ve been trying to keep it in mind – while I’m waiting for the loud creak and the sinking feeling you get when you’re going up/down too fast for your stomach to keep up because the world’s falling over after all; while I’m hoping it doesn’t.

Because there’s so much life ahead (and a lot in between).

That’s new.

Okay. I know it, you know it – we ALL know it: I haven’t been a good blogger lately. Actually, I haven’t been a blogger at all, and I am sorry. Of course, I didn’t mean to. As always. Blah.

I didn’t really have time to write (at least, not in the way I want to have time when I sit down to share a story or an idea). Yet, this doesn’t mean I didn’t have time to think; think about stories or ideas I’d like to share. That being said: Enter new form of expression (that is, new to this blogger) – photography!

It’s not entirely new terrain but I haven’t really taken anything beyond snapshots in quite a while. Not having as much time to write, though, I’ve come to appreciate its quality to capture a moment on the go (which is handy while you’re on the go yourself) while still holding a certain poetic beauty (if you know what you’re doing).

So without further ado, here are a couple of moments I couldn’t put into writing but I want to share nonetheless.

Protest and Planes.

Weekly Writing Challenge: (Changes) In An Instagram

 

changes ahead?

 

It was 2011 – the year of the Arab spring. Not a day passed without more news of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. A friend of mine was about to board a plane to Egypt. She was going to spend a year in the middle of all the chaos studying Arabic and trying to stay alive. Unlike people born, raised and suppressed in the Middle East, she had the luxury of choosing whether or not to face the turmoil. She was aware of this and it’s probably why she didn’t back out in the end. This isn’t about politics, though. Not about injustice. It’s simply about someone’s life changing.

 

*

 

 

We were standing in the kitchen, snacking on left-overs, a bag of chips and a small container of peanut butter with chocolate chips that we’d just bought at Whole Foods. College dinner.

“Do you think they’ll let you go?” I asked her.

We were both on spring break and I was visiting her for a couple of days.

“There’s so much going on right now.”

She shrugged. “I keep checking the news – so far, I don’t know. I really wanna go, though. It seems to be the place I should be right now…”

I reached for a chip and we were quiet for a while.

 

*

 

I was about to board a plane, too. I wasn’t headed for a conflict area (unless that’s a term you’d apply to the European Union; I guess, some people would). After studying abroad for a year, I was going home – whatever that means. I wasn’t sure then, I’m not sure now. I stood at the check-in, hoping several things: that I still had enough money in my account to pay for my extra suitcase, that my entire luggage wasn’t overweight (obesity is a serious problem among luggage of all sorts, people should be much more aware of it), and that they wouldn’t have me check in my guitar so it wouldn’t get smashed by potentially overweight suitcases somewhere along the way. Thankfully, all this hoping kept me too busy to fully realize that I was just handing over my life (that I’d managed to stuff into two large bags and a bag pack, god knows how) to the well-dressed lady behind the desk in front of me. So I stood there, smiling blankly, watching my life disappear behind her. I might have seen one of my friends cry from the corner of my eye but I successfully ignored it, even as I went to say my good-byes.

 

*

 

“Do you think you’ll come back?” she asked into the silence. We had quietly moved over to the sofa in the living room.

It was my turn to shrug. “I would really like to…I don’t know, either. Let’s hope so.”

People always talk of hope when there’s nothing else to hold on to. It’s usually about the time they rediscover belief and prayer.

She looked at me: “You should try.”

I looked at my hands: “We should try.”

And we sort of hoped together.

 

*

 

I was probably the only person on the plane that wasn’t relieved when we landed. I didn’t applaud the pilot. I usually don’t because it really makes me feel silly. That day I didn’t because it really made me feel all sorts of things. As I waited in line to have my passport checked I simply started crying. Someone asked me whether I was playing the Cello, pointing to the guitar on my back, entirely ignoring the fact I stood there sobbing as if someone had just abducted my child or my puppy or even worse: both, and that I was just two breaths per second short of hyperventilating. People never cease to amaze me, and not always in a good way. “It’s a guitar” I mumbled while cleaning my glasses and double-checking whether I could see things in full color to make sure I hadn’t just landed in the middle of a Marx Brothers movie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t. I stood, in fact, in the middle of plain, old reality: close to broke and about to move back in with my parents, at least for a while. A seven-hour flight can certainly change things.

 

*

 

My friend had to spend the summer waiting for news. News of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. News of the program that sponsored her studies.

Eventually, she e-mailed me “I’m going to Egypt in fall!”

I e-mailed her back: “Come visit then – I’m half-way home for you!”

Although I still felt uncomfortable with the term home.

I spent my summer waiting, too. Waiting to feel  —  real.

I subscribed to the New York Times newsletter to stay updated with the situation in the Middle East. To make sure my friend was studying Arabic and staying alive at the same time. And because I was looking for something — real.

I also got a side job: to occupy me until classes would start, and even more important, to earn some money. So I worked. I bought a ukulele. My grandmother passed away. I wrote a couple of songs. I went to my grandmother’s funeral and squeezed my mother’s elbow. I moved into a small apartment. Fall came and I still found myself cleaning my glasses from time to time, double-checking whether I could see things in full color. Just to make sure I wasn’t part of a movie. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Only sometimes, it still felt like it. And I wondered what could possibly change that.

 

*

PS: Soundtrack.

Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea.

gravestone in a small Irish cemetery

Prologue: Home is the Sailor.

I’ve just spent a week in Ireland and I’ve been meaning to write/blog about my adventures on the green island since I got back. Yet, I’ve been busy with work and somehow, my mind’s also been occupied with other things and stories that want out. Today, I finally have some time (or rather: I’m simply taking some time) to write and maybe, I can find a way to get it all out – I’ll try to let all the stories out at once and hopefully, they will get along with one another and peacefully play together without kicking, screaming, pinching and without me sending them into a far corner of my mind to take a time-out or call in a writer-story conference.

Oh, the places you’ll go.

I’ve always suffered from a chronic disease: cabin fever. The prospect of traveling – anywhere, really – has always had a soothing effect on my usually uneasy self. I love plane rides, train rides, even bus rides and bike rides. Next to ocean shores and mountains, bus and train stations and also airports are probably among my favorite places in the world (at least whenever I get to go somewhere or meet someone – seeing someone off is probably one of my least favorite things in the world, but that’s a different story). When I checked in my – apparently impressively small – bag, I felt as calm as I hadn’t felt in a quite a while. Especially knowing that this feeling would probably last the entire week – because what’s there to see in Ireland? Exactly. Ocean shores and mountains. And sheep. Many, many sheep (Bah bah baaah – that’s “I love Ireland” in Sheep; yes, I’m fluent).

view from the top of the mountain we hiked up

Habits.

Like most people, I have many habits. I need my coffee in the morning, I buy more books than I could ever read and I prefer to fall asleep to music rather than plain, dark silence. None of these are too bad (in my opinion). Another habit of mine, though: I smoke. I’m not a chain-smoker, at least, but still. I’m a stress-smoker. And I have been smoking way too much in my opinion, all through August and September, because I was stressed. Which is not an excuse. I’d like to kick the habit. I’ve heard it’s easier to kick any habit when you change your general routine. I didn’t touch even one cigarette while being in Ireland nor did I feel like it – it seems almost blaspheme to inhale cigarette smoke while being surrounded by sea air all the time. That being said, I’m back home now and general routine’s been rearing its ugly head since I got off the plane – and my only solution so far has been to blow cigarette smoke right into its face. Is it my unrest or really just a bad habit I can’t get rid off? Or is it the same in the end?

Mountain Tops.

Few things feel better than standing on top of a mountain that you’ve just hiked up. Especially with the soft, leprechaun-green Irish grass beneath and the dark blue of the Atlantic ocean below your feet. Also, few things feel more awe-inspiring. One moment of negligent curiosity and you’re sleeping with the fish – or you find yourself inside one, meeting Pinocchio or Jonah, potentially. There are some rocks – the Skelligs – an hour-long boat ride from the Irish coast, we wanted to but in the end couldn’t climb up. Weather conditions made it too dangerous and thus impossible (let alone our personal condition after the boat ride – the sea was a bit rough that day; go figure the consequences). They are mostly famous because around 600, Christian monks built their monastery on top of the rocks. In fact, they built them from the rocks. I still cannot imagine how they managed to do that. How they defied nature like that. And how they defied it and yet somehow still respected it, worked with it really (instead of marching in and just destroying everything, like it seems to be in fashion these days – sorry the tiny environmentalist in me sometimes takes over, but it’s a funny and cute creature, I’m sure you’d like it. Kind of like the Lorax, just maybe not that fuzzy).

Lifeguards – in case a sailor is lost in the sea?

Epilogue: Home from the Sea.

I would have liked to stay longer (as always), but I’m back. And (as always), I feel more restless coming home than I do while traveling. Maybe I was a sailor in a former life (although then, I probably wouldn’t have become that seasick during the boat ride?). Home is the sailor, home from the sea – I found this quote on a gravestone in a small cemetery on a hill right next to the ocean. I really liked it and I took it home with me (okay, this is a metaphor but I also, literally, took a picture of it). Another option: maybe we’re all sailors and my chronic disease isn’t just chronic but also contagious and already wide-spread.

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