10 June 2013

always summarize

Well, guys. It's been four months since I've written, and just as you'd suspect, I haven't had time because I've been having too. much. fun.

But also mostly because study abroad blog-writing is just much harder to execute than one would imagine and sometimes I don't feel like writing. But sometimes I do, and today(night) is one of those days.

Let me start off with an INCREDIBLY quick recap of the past four months:

Zurich and Geneva with Loren and family - Italy/Greece trip with Emily, Sam, and Aliza. - Munich drop-in to visit with Steffi - Classes began (mid-April) - Joe elected TCU president from halfway across the world. - Spring Fling in Tübingen with Simone, Aliza, and Kyra. - May is a hazy month of clouds and rain. Studying. - Program trip to Berlin. Rain. - Tübingen. Rain. - Stocherkahnrennen 2013. - Stuttgart Opera: Faust (great effects, challenging subtitles, trippy story) - Allergies. - Cold and rainy. - Floods. - Rain. - Severe allergies. - Sun. - Sam and James visit Tübingen. FUN. - Sunny and hot. - Hot, hot, hot. - Allergies so bad I can't breathe when I walk through the park. Voice nonexistent.- Rainbow. Studying.

As you can see, rain (or just weather in general) is kind of a big theme. After like five months of grey, cold weather I was just expecting some, I don't know, sun. But whatever, my expectations are clearly out of control. I obviously didn't know what to expect when I named this blog. But seriously, the truth is that my time here is winding down, and I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what's going to happen after this. You see, I'm struggling with this really strange tug-of-war-esque emotional composition of being really excited to go back to see my friends and family - and then on the other hand being really sad to leave the friends and family I've developed here. Or getting really stoked about american culture and all night supermarkets and people being open with their emotions and loudness and spontaneity - and then on the other hand I get really nervous about readjustment and reverse culture shock and how I think it's going to be harder to be confronted with things I'm no longer accustomed to from my own culture than it was when I came here. And sometimes I think about how much fun it's going to be going back to Tufts and taking fun classes and going to muscle conditioning and participating in clubs and applying for jobs AND thinking about the future AND having interviews AND working AND graduating AND OH MY GOD WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE!??! ...is kind of how my train of thought chugs along. So it's a little bit stressy. Oh and then there's also the issue of trying to deal with a year of material accumulation and the fact that I don't have a place to live for like three weeks when I get back to Boston in August. But everything will sort itself out, right?

I don't know, I need more time to ponder these things, and I'm going to try to keep this little memory log updated in the coming months, but for the time being, I feel like I just need to share these words I jotted down after being in Italy and Greece, 2-3 months ago, even if they aren't completely finished or thought through or if they were written deliriously. Documentation is important, amiright?

"If there's one thing I learned at Tufts, it is: Always Summarize.

Summarizing 17 days of travel might be a little tricky, but I'm going to do my best by telling you only about the most important things, the things that have the power to give a hotel, a monument, a building, a city true personality and feeling. I'm going to tell you about the people we encountered on our trip- the characters that turned a simple, spring reuni-vacation into a lively, lovely story.

Soon after we'd decided to walk to the hostel from the airport in Naples, we encountered a group of Three Little Italian Boys who followed us down the streets of the slums of Naples (because that's typically what surrounds airports, we'd forgotten) and teased us in various languages until they discovered we spoke English and just kept repeating, "You like fish!" They were the tame version of older Italian boys.

The Russian Receptionist at our hostel in Naples warmly welcomed us upon arrival, exhausted and disheveled as we were. She was patient with us when we couldn't figure out how to unlock the hostel door (by pushing a button) and only looked at us like we were a little insane when we told her that we'd walked to the hostel from the airport because we "wanted to see the city," which was extremely generous of her.

In Naples, we got a tour of a limoncello factory from Limoncello Man. He explained in half English/half Spanish/half Italian (there are three halves because I have a feeling a lot of what he said was just never absorbed) how they combine the skin of the lemon with pure alcohol to make limoncello. After burning our nostrils from smelling the concoction, Limoncello Man gave us free (potent) samples of limoncello creme and limoncello. "Not so fast this time," he said, as we sipped on the second shot.

Enio the Surgeon was a fun character that we met in our hostel in Naples and then ran into again in Pompei. He was a relatively little guy but carried the most enormous backpack known to Deuter. While we frantically weighed the pros and cons of taking the metro vs. walking to the train station (we almost broke out a google spreadsheet to work out the details), Enio offered his words of wisdom: "You guys need to chill. out." Indeed, we did.

The most memorable character in Sorrento was, hands down, Meloncello Man (similar to Limoncello Man, but still his own, unique person). Meloncello Man introduced us to meloncello, which we were overwhelmingly delighted about. He happily handed out free taste tests and told us about when he lived in Boston for a short while. We had so much in common.

Maiori, although smaller, had many more memorable characters than Sorrento. The first we encountered was Fuck-uh You-uh, You Didn't Pay-uh Man, who was just a completely sane old man who was doing his civic duty on the bus by controlling whether or not the tourists validated their tickets. It's comforting to know that at least someone out there is doling out consequences for free-riding in Italy.

After we arrived in Maiori, we met El Dorado Guy, who worked at a bar/restaurant/café/convenience store/bakery/gelato shop called El Dorado, which was right next to the bus stop in Maiori. When we asked him for help finding our B&B, he called the owner Antonio, to pick us up. We saw El Dorado Guy many many times in Maiori, mostly because we passed El Dorado on the way to a different gelato shop, and he was always standing outside. Charming little guy with hair gelled like a shark fin.

Antonio picked us up at the bar/restaurant/café/convenience store/bakery/gelato shop and walked us through a maze of stairs, up the mountain, to our room with a terrace overlooking the sea. We loved Antonio mostly because his B&B made our stay in Maiori magical, with breakfast every morning served on handmade dishes, out on the terrace, under the sunlight. He was also witty. When Sam asked if the mass of land we could see way out in the ocean was Sicily, Antonio just laughed and replied, "Can you see Los Angeles from New York?" Guess not. (It was actually a different part of the Amalfi Coast, Salerno.) Antonio also did our laundry, which was incredibly nice except that it never dried, which actually probably was, in Emily's words, "a disaster", and made the rest of the trip way more gross and musty-smelling than it had to be.

Oh and Tiger the Cat mussnt be forgotten. He was a friendly probably-not-stray cat we met at the B&B. (Most of the cats we encountered in Italy were stray.) We liked to pet Tiger and talk about how we prefer dogs.

Between Maiori and Rome, we stopped back in Naples for a night. In Naples, two places stood out in particular (explanations to follow): Pizza Place and Cocaine Place. There are lots of delicious pizza places in Naples, which is unfortunate because I can't name this one specifically. Anyhow, we went there twice, and they sparked up conversation the second time and offered limoncello after our meal. God, I love Italian hospitality. Or should I say, hospITALitY?
Naples Cocaine Place was this bar we ventured into our last night in Naples. It was filled with the young, the old, and the middle-aged and felt like a library in the cozy setting of a bear's den. Also people were just straight up doing cocaine at a table in the basement, as if it was as casual as playing Uno on their grandmother's kitchen table. So we left.

The next day Sam left us, and we immediately began to recognize The Power of Man. By this, I mean the power that Sam has that neither Aliza nor Emily nor I possess. When Sam was with us, we were four college students, just roaming around. As soon as Sam left, we were three caged animals, objects, play toys on a train to Rome. Without any of us really realizing it, Sam was kind of our protector up until that  point. Simply his presence prevented us from being harassed. On the train to Rome, however, we were prey. Sitting in the wagon of the train, a man behind Aliza and Emily kept staring at me. And I don't mean just glancing every once in a while. I mean staring and not blinking. I mean shifting in his seat when I tried to shrug out of sight. I mean adjusting his position when Aliza and Emily tried to use their heads to block the crack in the seat. I mean that after we moved to a different car, he got out of the train, stood outside of the window adjacent from us, and stared until the train whipped us out of sight. And after that, the Italian teenage boys came over to harass us. And it was all just for fun and games, just to make us feel uncomfortable, because no matter what we did, we weren't going to get them to stop. And the other Italian women in the train weren't going to get them to stop, either.

And that is not okay. It is 100% not okay that we were treated like that, that three intelligent, capable women were in such a vulnerable predicament just because they were women. Really disgraceful and disgusting and disheartening and really just not okay.

And we really didn't feel super okay, then, arriving in Rome. We were all skeptical and nervous and still feeling vulnerable, which made the trek to Battistini at the end of the MA quite frightening. We searched the neighborhood in the dusky late evening for about 30 minutes for the hostel. It was incredibly uncomfortable and scary. Eventually we asked Old Man on the Street for help. He couldn't read the address or speak English, but he whisked us away to find someone who could. Old Man on the Street wasn't going to let us go without being of some kind of assistance. This lightened our spirits and revived some of our faith in Italian men, and eventually led us to find our hostel....or housetel.

I call it a housetel because it was actually Martina, Maurizio, Mattheo, and Zoro's apartment, which was hilarious. I mean, it could have ended up not being hilarious, but the housetel was super clean and seemed legitimate (besides the fact that it was someone's apartment) and the people were superb. We even played Monopoly together one night - the EuroZone edition! Zoro is a dog, by the way, which was also a big plus.

One rainy night in Rome after Aliza had already departed, Emily and I ate dinner at a quaint little neighborhood restaurant near our housetel. Everyone knew each other and the food was spectacular. Luigi, one of the waiters, looked like he was wearing the same uniform he'd gotten 30 years ago when he started the job. With "Luigi" embroidered across the breast pocket on his green polo - which was tightly tucked into his jeans so that a little roll of Luigi-tummy poked out all around - he moseyed around the restaurant, snatching dirty dishes from under people's noses before any of the other workers had a chance to steal his pie job and force him to do something so labor-intensive as squeezing caramel over a dessert. Luigi was all-around just too adorable."

And that's where my notes stop. Sometime after that we also stood for three hours outside of the Vatican in rain and hail and eventually saw the pope give mass. I never even made it to the Greece part of the trip, but in summary I'll just say that Greece has the best food I've ever had in my entire life; you should go to Mykonos on off-season, rent a Vespa, and drive around the island; and Athens is pretty, but also not very entertaining, and if you forget your Student ID, it really isn't worth it to pay to see the Acropolis.

That's all for now, folks. Until next time. Xx

To see photos of the Italy/Greece trip, click here!

27 February 2013

non merci

non merci.

This is the first french phrase I learned when visiting Simone in Paris. It appears to be useful when warding off the creeps in the street that are trying to steal your bag or paint your picture or do something else in which you're not particularly interested in partaking.

Non merci. I would rather not have you tie my fingers together, but thank you for the offer, anyway.

Whatever. Paris was incredible. I was completely, 100%, in love with the city within the first three hours of arrival, which was totally unexpected. Honestly, I had formed my expectations of the city based on reports of dirty streets and unfriendly people (neither of which accusations I found in reality to be overwhelmingly accurate). So, I guess the question is, why would I waste my time going to Paris, when I expected the city to be completely miserable? ARE YOU INSANE? Helloooo, (1) it's cultural capital, and a must-see when you're only living a 3.5 hour train ride away, and (2), more importantly, one of my best friends in the world is Parisian (at least for the semester), and we desperately needed to spend some quality time together after 9 months apart. And don't let my tone fool you. This is way more dramatic than I can express.

I hastily booked my train ticket to Paris during exam period, when a special offer from TGV (the French railway) fell upon me from heaven (actually, Ute sent it to me, but same thing..). With my brain struggling to switch between remembering where the dashes and dots belonged on all of the Arabic names I had to memorize for my Middle East exam and the graphical and numerical explanation of the effect of Greece returning to the Drachma for my European Economic Integration exam, I was having a rough time trudging through the endless grey skies of Tübingen and desperately needed to take some time out on the bench with Simone. As fate would have it, we unknowingly planned for my visit to take place on Valentine's Day weekend. How romantic.

At approximately 16:35 on February 14, 2013, what the television and store fronts tell us is the most romantic day of the year, in Paris, the city that the travel books tell us is the most romantic on earth (I'm actually just making that up for dramatic effect. You might want to double-check me on that one.), I stumbled out of the TGV Express onto platform 9 of Paris Est, where Simone scooped me up in her arms and we shared a long, teary-eyed hug of reunification. Just like in the movies.

That night, we decided we had to do something special, so after a wee bit of sightseeing and a delightful little french dinner together, we did what any respectable pair of twenty-year-somethings would do on Valentine's Night in Paris, and shared a bottle of champagne on various benches around the city. A little known thing about Paris, my friends, is that it is a spectacular city for bench-sitting. I must recommend that if you do choose to visit the city, you park yourself on a bench, or you bench yourself in a park, and just sit and enjoy the beauty and the life around you. Make up stories about the world. Make up the world with your stories. Let yourself be there, see the perfection and the imperfection, feel the love and the hurt, and cherish the smallest details that you might have been the only one to have seen.

Note: while bench-sitting, you will also likely notice absurd fur coats, painful choices for walking shoes, and that every American that passes by seems to be the loudest and most obnoxious person in a one-kilometer radius. It is not an illusion. We, Americans, really are loud and obnoxious, at least relative to the subdued presence of Europeans. Yes, it's embarrassing, and yes, you might have the urge to speak in a British accent every time you're feeling the shame of being American, but the truth is we can't escape it. Whether we like it or not, we will, at some point, be the shame of a fellow American watching us from afar, and I think that's something we'll just have to learn to accept and embrace. So, we like to play. Is that so bad?

That night, presumably on the move from one bench to another, a french man with an armful of roses approached us, insistently shoving a small rose wrapped in plastic toward me. "Non merci, non merci," I repeated, happy to have another opportunity to practice my French. But the man insisted that it was a gift, so I eventually ceased practice on my catchphrase and accepted the dinky rose. Later, as I was waiting for Simone outside of the bathroom in a bar, a french woman approached me and said something which did not contain the words: non merci, s'il vous plaît, bonjour, or au revoir. I understood nothing. Feeling helpless and confused, my mind refused to tell her that I couldn't speak French...in English (see American Shame section above). "Ich spreche kein Französisch," I told the woman. I was relieved to find out that she also spoke a bit of German. She proceeded to tell me that my rose was ugly, to which I laughed and replied, "Yes, it really is, isn't it? But a rose is a rose." I gifted the rose to our kind and friendly bartender, Sebastian, shortly afterward, who, even in it's damaged and and hideous state, accepted it with love and gratitude.

The weather in Paris was spectacular that weekend. It was 10 degrees and sunny as can be. This sudden change in Europe's attitude actually had a dramatic influence on our activities. For example, instead of going inside the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and all of the other art that isn't given nearly as much credit, we sunbathed out in the courtyard. We saw the touristy things like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and all of the other things I can't remember the names of, but one of the things I found most striking and would like to share is La Defénse, or what Simone and I like to refer to as The City of the Future. Here, one can find the modern version of the Arc de Triomphe and many futuristic buildings. What I find particularly interesting about the City of the Future, is that it, in no way, looks like it belongs in Europe. The difference between Paris and La Defénse is so striking, that one's arrival in La Defénse can be sort of surreal. Apparently, this is where many of the people in Paris go to work. I think it's incredibly impressive how successfully they have been able to keep the cities separate and individual, preserving the history and beauty of Paris and cultivating the growth and modern development of La Defénse all at once. While they are two polar opposites, they are still one in the same. Definitely a must-see, if only for the shock factor.

As you can probably imagine, leaving Paris was definitely a bummer for both Simone and me. We both have bright months ahead of us, an endless path of discoveries and adventures to look forward to. I wasn't sad that I was coming back to Tübingen. And I really also wasn't sad that I was leaving Paris. So at first, I didn't understand why I was so bummed out, because honestly I'm quite accustomed to goodbyes and see-you-laters and au revoirs. It's usually no big deal for me. But it was the same feeling I had when I said goodbye to my friends at Tufts last May, and that's the feeling of vulnerability, of having your whiskers cut and walking around in circles, if you know what I mean. So, dear friends, I want you to know that I consider you the crème de la crème of whiskers. Thank you for always being there to lead me in the right direction. It was an incredible weekend, and I couldn't have been more happy to have experienced all of the delights of Paris with Simone.

Important lessons: (1) don't pass up a rose, even though it might turn out to be ugly or thorny, and (2) hold onto your whiskers.