19 October 2010
14 April 2010
13 December 2009
When I was living in Australia this time last year, that song had such a different meaning. For some reason, I was able to tolerate those pieces when it is around 90 degrees outside. It is easier to think about this "white christmas" as being far away, distant from anywhere close to you where people are suffering because of the immense cold, while you are able to spend your afternoons at the beach, getting the loveliest of Christmas tans. It is entirely different as well to have a big roast dinner on a 90 degree Christmas day. Hard to stomach, yes, but sometimes you have to plough through. The more common custom is the seafood bar-b-que, which seems more European in nature, although I think it mostly has to do with the abundance of seafood available in Australia. Sydney Fish Market is alive and well a few days before the 25th, and it becomes difficult to find parking. Certainly a tradition I can embrace. The entire winter months in the northern hemisphere are so incredibly conducive to being lazy, that my body aches to flee to the warmth of the southern. It yearns for the sun to warm and bronze my skin, for the days to be hot and the nights to be balmy. For the sea breeze and the late night sunset. The sand and surf, and the surf and turf.
I found this poem today - it has just stuck with me.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
- By A.E. Housman.
27 October 2009
21 September 2009
13 August 2009
Paris is distracting. That was my first impression of La Ville-Lumière. It is not only distracting because of its inherent beauty, warmth and passion but also because of its intense love of, or complete devotion to living. Living is something we are all familiar with, and some are better at it than others. France is famous for several things: food, wine and cheese come to mind first and maybe the beach, mountains and Paris are coming up behind those. Of course there is the ever-lovely Euro-Disney (which operates a dedicated shuttle bus to its door from both airports) but I digress. Lets revisit those first three: food, wine and cheese because they go along with my central thesis here, which is that, the French are devoted to living.
When I talk about living, I don’t mean in the everyday sense so to speak. Living involves a few things that we all have to do. Eat, drink, sleep. These are the essential items to live and the French (apart from sleeping) seem to be quite good at the first two. Of course this could be said about several other countries, cultures and people groups, but I dare you to find a country where eating large amounts of butter, drinking copious amounts of wine, liquor and coffee as well as the almost complete absence of a Starbucks is seen as a national right.
Wine is becoming more and more accepted around the world. Still in America there is some sort of aversion to wine for the normal, fly-over states type of guys. In France, like in Australia and Italy I found, men of any background, income level and mindset drink wine. Its not a big deal, its available everywhere and is generally good. Wine is to France what the Bud Light is to America – everywhere and accessible – un-politicized and a natural drink for all those who care to have one. Its aversion in America isn’t because there is a lack of wine, but because there is a complete mindset centered around it. It feels foreign to so many people that it is seen as being expensive, or at least, un-tasty. I assure you, wine is anything but un-tasty. I don’t know if that mindset will change much in America, apart from the coasts, it is normally seen as only a drink at meals, and I dare say that many people will serve you a beer before a wine anytime. Wine in France (as in Australia and Italy) is a cultural norm. That is plain and simple. To me, I feel that you can attribute wine to my central idea that France has a love of living. Wine doesn’t only make you jolly throughout the day, but also just makes you feel nice. It gives you that mid-day uplift, much like a coffee, and it is there to enhance your meal. I enjoy with great pleasure the ability to have a glass or two with my lunch, even when I’m working as to enhance not only my meal itself but also my day. It loosens up the brain and provides me with the ability to continue throughout the afternoon (I can’t say the same though if the meal includes the aforementioned copious amounts of butter).
Cheese is a different story all together. People from around the world are completely and utterly devoted to cheese from (normally…) their home country. Don’t even think of asking someone from Wisconsin about cheese from France, its not really done. The French understanding of cheese can be attributed to, well, wine and a large array of other things such as a complete understand that things that smell or are runny are also called cheese and are delicious. The two most known types of French cheese are Brie and Camembert. They are available in most towns around the country, and I assure you that there for every brand of American cheese that is available in your local IGA, there is an equal amount of Brie and Camembert available in a French grocery. Its wonderful and it complements the idea that in order to live well, a variety of different tastes and a variety of different consistencies is necessary. Cheese in France is…I caution to use the world religion. Maybe a better word is a national right –a right to good cheese and the right for it to be available everywhere. Americans, we put cheese on anything and everything. But I dare you to find a cheese in your house right now that is a creamy and as wonderful as a Brie, or as pungent and perfect as a Camembert. Maybe you have these in your fridge…and to that I say great! If not, you should at your earliest convenience go to your local store and find one or the other. If they don’t have it, ask someone. If you ask enough, maybe they will soon carry some. If you live close enough to a Trader Joes or a Whole Foods, well, your cheese choices have greatly improved. Try a good chevre (or goats cheese) or maybe a really delightful mobay.
Food is the final component and well, apart from wine and cheese the understanding of food can bet summed up in the world enjoyment. Enjoying food is not the same as eating or the same as just ingesting things at random because you think your hungry. To be truly hungry and then to have a meal that you will remember for days, that is enjoyment. Enjoyment of food also includes not rushing through a meal – not eating in your car but actually sitting down at a table. This is of course not always that practical, even in France. But still, the understanding that having a lunch that not only tastes good but makes you feel good can really do something to your day. It makes life nice and enjoyable. For example, when I was in Paris we went to a little local brassiere for a late lunch after the mid day rush. After viewing the menu (which by the way is hardly ever written on a piece of paper they hand out to you but more likely on a wall or on a chalk board) I decided on the poulet grille (or grilled chicken). I don’t know why, but for some reason since it came with mased potatoes and a salad sounded nice. I can see you picturing what a grilled chicken would look like, as did I. But much to my amazement and utter happiness, when the said chicken came out, it was in fact a ¼ of an entire chicken, roasted, braised with carrots, peas and a simple butter sauce on top. This in fact was poulet grille, but in a way that you wouldn’t expect ever in a normal American restaurant. I devoured it and washed it down with a simple vin blanc. Perfection was achieved for me that afternoon when I promptly afterwards ordered a café and our leisurely lunch continued well into the warm afternoon. True, that day it made me feel sleepy, but honestly, nothing more relaxing was achieved that day or the next. Simply eating was the most astounding activity of the day. I realize now that I am oversimplifying the French, and that I am not really being very realistic, but to be sure, if you go to France you will undoubtedly see people at lunch, at dinner taking their time, having wine and a coffee afterwards and completely enjoying not only the activity of eating but also the activity of living – for living is not only an activity that we participate in, but also an activity that we can improve upon, simply by enjoying the simple act of taking in our daily sustenance.
Of course I can’t leave out of the equation of distraction the ubiquitous French women. Surly there is few as lovely as they. Their understanding of living is unparallel and their ability to hold your attention with a mere gaze in your general direction is deadly. Women there (again I am generalizing) are able to somehow project a complete aura of style and power with the simplest clothes. I realized walking down the streets in Paris that people (not only women) take an interest in the way they look. They might not be dressed in the latest fashions, or, have a lot of money, to be sure it is a varied society, but people there took notice of their appearance when they walk out their door. It is a wonderful sensation to observe and to experience in that, it is nice to be around people that care.
I am completely encapsulated with the women. They are able to emanate the French passion, culture and love through a single breath – by simply ordering a coffee or smoking a cigarette with so much attitude, sexuality and suggestiveness that I am unable to continue on with my normal, everyday thought process. I am overwhelmed with vice and conviction and it is one of the most amazing, and yet, overpowering physical and emotional feelings that I have experienced. Needless to say, I was greatly affected by several women, and will continue to be for what seems like my complete existence.
Simply put, to visit Paris – to visit France is to understand that you will initiate a series of events that will, with luck, change the way in which you live your life. You will begin to understand the art of living and the art of eating and enjoying. It is called the city of lights for a simple reason and that is because it is blinding in its brilliance. It entices, and pounces on your ability to understand yourself as where you came from, and forces you to look at yourself in a new light, so to speak, where undoubtedly you will be overcome with vice, conviction and a complete emotional exasperation of complete and pure living.
10 August 2009
Europe. Is it not the epitome of all great vacation and travel destinations? Europe, I suppose, is not America light, its not on steroids and doesn’t have an identity crisis like Australia. As I’ve learned from several trips through various places you can’t group it all together as one Europe because each location, each place is completely unique. It would be like grouping Texas with Minnesota; it just wouldn’t work. They might be on the same continent, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any more similar than Florida and South Dakota. On this odyssey, I was enthralled by Trieste Italy; confused by Budapest and wooed to tears by Paris.
From Tuesday the 21 July to Sunday the 26th, I was in the old port city of Trieste, Italy. Historically, it was controlled by the Austrians, and various other groups (Among them, Americans and New Zealanders after the war). It is a strategic piece of land only a few minutes from Slovenia and Croatia. Rocco says it isn’t a very typical Italian city, and Matt and I found it to be 99% free of crowds of tourists (much to our delight and to their dismay). The city has about 75,000 inhabitants, built next to the sea and hills and boasts the Illy Coffee Factory as one of its major employers. A much overlooked Italian city and completely off the trail of pesky Asian tourists, I fell in love with its unassuming people, streets, food and especially the girls.
The elegant and pristine main square is the focal point of the town, it even it isn’t very busy. The largest square in Europe built on the sea, which is just across the road. My first taste of the Aperol Spritz and coffee. I find the shopping, the way you can walk from bar to bar in the evening having your apertives and then on to dinner. One of the nicest, most civilized ways to spend your time in the evening. Floating from place to place, drinking, eating, laughing and cavorting with the local lovelies, the young and old, we spent countless hours and nights completely beside ourselves trying not to overindulge in the gratuitous amount of liquor and food we were consuming only to be woke up at noon the next day, ready to start all over again. When people in Trieste refer to the “beach” it is actually just concrete areas with steps down into the beautiful sea – Annie says they prefer the concrete to the sand, and after an afternoon there, I looked completely past it into the warm Adriatic and let me mind slip away into the late afternoon sun.
Along with having small bars with coffee and liquor all along the waterfront, topless women abound along with all the typical men’s euro style bathers. No surprise really, but to some, this is a definite and unavoidable difference from America. Here’s to Italy!! No matter what day of the week, the seaside was always crowded. The summer is a time to rest, take a break and a lot of students were back in town.
The most amazing and rewarding part of Trieste was the empty streets, easy-going attitude and honestly, genuinely lovely people. Everyone seemed to be enjoying their day, life in general, the sun and just have a bit of a relax. None of the stress you would tend to associate with Italy in the summer was found. So the time we spent there seemed to me, so slow, as it was happening, and all of a sudden it was over. And after a nice lunch of local anchovies, oysters, and risotto, we got a lift to Ljubljana Slovenia to catch the night train to Budapest.
Slovenia is a country of contradictions. If Disney built a small European town by a river, it would look like Ljubljana. Lovely, and from what I can tell, terribly boring. The most exciting thing going on seemed to be the amazing amount of cheap kebabs you could get within a 5 minute walk of the train station. We waited for several hours at the station – bathrooms closed at 10PM, and our train left at 2am. Train stations late at night tend to encourage certain types of activity, and invite certain types of people into them, but we were left unbothered, and apart from large groups of English backpackers and a few local people, were pretty much alone on the cold platform. The only time on the trip I remember being actually cold, with pants and a jacket on. We apparently were higher up in elevation that we realized.
The EuroNight train came from Venice and on the way to Budapest, we stopped, amoung other places, Zagreb Croatia. Four border crossings later at 11.30 AM we rolled into Budapest, no worse for wear, but completely exhausted and to be frank, a bit gross feeling. We felt bad for the English chap in the compartment near ours who, at the Croatian border got taken off the train for not having a passport, and not having the right documentation to get to Budapest to get a new one. Oh well, 3 more trains for him – at least he has a story.
We were in Budapest from 27 July to the 30th. What to expect from a recent communist country in the east? How about Burger King and lots of them! No idea why. No clue at all. From Trieste to Budapest one would assume that they would be quite opposite of each other. Budapest was on the verge of a Louis Vuitton take over, but was still quite nice. Good things had moved into the country, but the whole place felt, well, just like a place, not really a destination. You knew things were happening, but it was hard to see where, why and for what reasons.
I feel that the biggest difference in Budapest compared with the rest of the places we visited was that we didn’t know any locals. We rented a small flat for the nights we were there and that could have been our downfall because if we were in a hostel, then we might have met some other travelers. Dan joined us in Hungary and we sourced a few things to do around town such as visiting the oldest coffee house (1898) and the public baths in town were fantastic and possibly the highlight of Budapest. Eleven different pools, indoor and outdoor with varying temperatures, all with a large amount of minerals and other earth goodies in them. We felt completely relieved of stress, soreness and travel fatigue.
Again, like in Slovenia, kebabs were nearly on every corner, next to all the Burger Kings. Falafel became my go to food there, and unfortunately on this trip there was no goulash to be had. The architecture is really astounding –Parliament house, castles, a citadel and lovely bridges over the Danube River. The fast moving, muddy artery divides Buda from Pest and gives the city a sort of focal point and connection. Easily, we could have taken a boat to Vienna or Bratislava and enjoyed the Austrian/Slovakian mountains – a mere 5 hours away.
At the end of the week we took a quick Easyjet flight to Paris. Oh, Paris. That is a story for another time.
07 August 2009
"All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy." -Scott Alexander
Easy is the word of the day. Everything we have in this world has been made for our convenience. For gods sake, it is too easy sometimes, and for this easiness we give up our freedom, we give up our ability to chose for ourselves and act as a person who has choices. We give up our ability to be creative engineers of life who are excited by living, who are engaged with the world in a way that isn't just a glossy surface, following the newest diet craze, looking at celebrities in magazines to understand that they are actually people as well, but to engage the world, our lives, in a way that motivates us to change, to serve ourselves, to be happy and healthy individuals.
Too many times I have been met with people who are angry that they never have time to travel, they never have the money to travel, they can't leave this or that. There are certain life choices that we each make, and when you make those decisions that will effect your near and distant future there are consequences that come along with that. Fair enough, you have a house, a car, a job, 2 weeks of vacation that you plan to spend at your parents house, or, doing landscaping to your house; these are not bad things. These do not make you a bad person, or, normal. They just make you who you are. You have responsibilities and commitments and that is your chosen path. That is right for you that is not necessarily right for everyone, and most of all it is not right for me.
This is my chance to ask you to realize that I live a difference existence. I have made my choices and these are right for me. I have put my priorities in line and with that comes certain consequences for me. I don't own a house, and I don't plan to own one for awhile. I don't have a car and I don't need one. I plan my life around places where I don't need one. I don't have a steady job, unless you consider traveling and being a student. These are valid things to be doing. I am not married and I have no plan to be in the near future. All of these things give me one thing that the traditional route in life doesn't -- freedom and the ability to chose for myself where I want to be. I am not tied down financially, or emotionally. I have no need for a car, for a mortgage or a dog. I am quite happy with my roundabout way of living, with my ability to change my location in life on a whim. This does not make me a looser. This does not make me a slacker, or a bum or a misfit. This makes me, me. This makes me who I am. I am doing the things that I want to do. Seeing the places I want to see. Taking a broad view to life, checking out various places in the world and making a decision to be on the road, out and about or just gone.
I don't expect you all to understand. I don't want pity and I'm tired of hearing "how do you do it", "how can you afford to travel so much". I think I've explained that. I have no permenant commitments to one location or one person. I have no car and no insurance. These are things I am ok with. I live without them just fine, and without spending all that money on those things, I'm able to satisfy my need to travel--my need to study and explore and learn. I am not judging you for your decisions. I am merely making a statement to say that this is my path, this is my route in life and it is right for me. I know it is, otherwise, I would be doing something else.
Hopefully, your path is right for you. Hopefully, we can each find out what we are meant to be, where we are meant to go and what we are meant to be doing. Whatever path you are on, make sure it is the one you want. Course correction is enevitable, but honestly, I feel so strongly that that is what directly factors into all of those mid-life crisis issues, male and female. Live now! There will never be a better time to break away from the status quo, to end mediocrity in your life and to become who you want, go where you want and do what you want.