i went to new year’s mass

The world is so painfully human, today and everyday.

In Vienna, in Stephansdom with spidering lanes extending all around, rising spirals and imposing walls, a grand organ sounds. Young, old, tired, fresh, swathed in mink and in polyester, breathing incense, sitting, rising, crossing themselves in cold quiet peace.

The man in white talks of Aleppo, of Syria whole, Paris, Brussels, Berlin in soothing tones while cities and people all over the world burn.

Shuffling in unison, everyone follows the known patterns. Sit, stand, kneel, cross, repeat. Pay. Turn and kiss your lover. Turn and shake hands with your neighbor, given them a kind smile. Wish ‘Gott’s bright and dark and historically tinged love upon them in the new year. Take in the sweeping symmetry, the colored glass and excruciating detail of the cathedral completed by human fingers 857 years ago. Let the grand swell of the organ that sings with seemingly a hundred voices fill your chest with hope and joy.

In the back of the hall, a small-statured family of squirming and joyous heads tries to love and revere and quiet their brood all at once. The smallest pink curly one toddles out of her father’s grasp and locks eyes with an elder man. He sits in slicked leather stretching down his curved back. She grins, showing tic tac teeth and reaches for him. He reaches back. Old and new, young and tired, past and future join hands in anonymous love.

The world burns. We are small, but we send smoke and fumes into the ether. Our religions and beliefs are as human as our size, relative to the sun, to the the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. We are small. We writhe in them, look right with suspicion, look left with blind care, spill each others’ blood, jostle one another, step on toes and arms and heads and backs to rise up the stairs to the world’s top floor, overlooking a view so small, so far away from the black and white contrast of life that it is calm. Unmoving. Beautiful. The world burns. Dancers fall in Istanbul, killed by men in Santa hats.

I sit in my quiet, warm shelter, drinking hot tea, eyes glazing over pixelated pictures of pain on my conflict mineralized processor.

Again, somewhere, a little girl and an old man join hands. Their power of warmth sends a glow to all who watch. And we step, her, him, I, you, into the new year.

five heavenly lands – cinque terre, italy

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In denial of the fact that my time as a freewheeling, obligation-less, professional chocolate croissant eater are over, I’ve decided to spend this start of the semester downtime drowning in some unnecessary nostalgia. Chronologically, that means we begin with my first and only solo trip, an encounter with the other-worldly — Cinque Terre on the western coast of the land of pizza, 2 hours south of Milan.

It may have been the most beautiful spot I’ve seen on this earth thus far ~

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I tried to write a full description of this brush with the earth’s wonderment, but like a weekend spent alone, it feels more right with fewer words — here are some moments:

  • A missed flight, a lazy, useless, companionable, comfortable 24 hours spent in bed. A day lost but a day gained.
  • Wandering into tiny ghost-town Manarola on a late November evening (Cinque Terre being a summer destination)
  • An introduction to ‘trofie’ pasta, perfectly ridged and swirled little lumps of dough, built to catch each fleck of pesto they’re covered with. Carbo-loading, if you will.
  • 9 hours of solo hiking, getting settled with the sound of only my own heavy breathing (lots of bread, not a lot of burpees), rounding corners hoping not to see another’s face so I didn’t have to wipe my own dripping one.
  • A game of catch with the setting sun – every time I put my camera away and turned a corner, land and sea and sun conspired to create an ever more beautiful landscape.
  • An awkward run-in with a fellow American hiker, who kept commenting on how big my backpack was (As if I didn’t know).
  • Sitting in my sweat and reveling in natures formidable grandiosity. Feeling unironic in doing so.
  • 20 minutes spent trying to beat the rain forecast that was always far too accurate with its precipitous predictions, until I gave up trying, and it gave up raining.
  • Emerging from the trail looking like a (happy) ghost, grey and damp and quiet.
  • Stripping off a day’s worth of shoes and socks. Dipping toes into the swirling Mediterranean waters, pressing rocks into foot-soles, drinking in the evening air.
  • Celebratory lasagna, celebratory wine, celebratory table for one. The first of a few times I sat down to dinner with myself on the other side of the Atlantic pond, and you know, I was surprised at the pleasantness of the company.

  • Logistics

    Sleep: I stayed in Hostel5terre in Manarola, the fourth city down. Hiked from Manarola through Volastra to Corniglia, on to Vernazza, and ended in Monterrosso (the only active town), catching the evening train back into Turin. Though it wasn’t the most comfortable, it was totally doable to hike with my small pack so as to increase my chances of catching the train.

    Travel: I used loco2.com to plan all my train travel, and *should* have booked each train on arrival at the station, which was well-equipped with really easy-to-use machines, rather than through the site. But que sera sera.

San Joan de Gaztelugatxe

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Say that five times fast, because I sure can’t. Middle school spelling bee champion my butt, I will never be able to spell that without search engine aid, but when I’m telling my Joey Tribbiani-esque pick-up story of hiking along the coast of northern Spain I can say I went *there* and point (but with appropriate smarm).

Some moments from my recent existence:

  • Huevos con foie, also known as the life changing tapa. A measuring cup filled with foie and cheese and mushrooms, topped with a quail egg over easy, served with bread. Melty, gooey, savory: unthinkable animal parts and indescribable flavor.
  • Reanalyzing capitalism in a classroom full of students from around the world, all with personal anecdotes of their country’s system. A Finnish girl raising her hand to say she is paid by her government whilst on her semester abroad. America-centric views told around the world.
  • Falling accidentally asleep atop a grassy knoll in utopian Bilbao under the afternoon sun, because my feet hurt just a tad and I wanted to rest my head for just a bit.
  • A three hour conversation covering most controversial topics perched outside an obnoxiously boho-chic cafe, consuming a sexy spiced carrot cake and a cafe con leche.
  • Playing a game of pool in an actual pool hall.
  • Winning a game of pool in an actual pool hall.
  • There aren’t a lot of days when my needs and wants are under satisfied. It is a new kind of privilege, that which I have never before experienced, or really know what to do with. I fully recognize how unsustainable this way of life is, and how often I use the word “I”.

    So I’ll stop for now, and leave with you some images after the break of San Joan de Gaztelugatxe (and its confusing Euskeran spelling), an old lady contemplating life, and a shoutout to the world for being so darn beautiful.

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    A joyous September 11

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    Oxymoronic? Just plain moronic? Just what exactly are you talking about Shalaka?

    Granted, Sept 11 has always been known as a grave day in my conscious, conscientious memory. I remember where I was, etc etc etc, and I recognize it as the catalyst for a million ripples in the world’s salty pond.

    BUT. In places of the world where America ISN’T the center of attention, (woah wait what? Take deep breaths, stay with me here) – September 11 carries very different, albeit still weighty, meaning. Here in Catalonya, it is the day that commemorates a tragic military loss in 1714 in which the independent Catalonya lost its’ autonomy. September 11 is now known as the National Day of Catalonya, and since about 2010, it has also come to represent an increasingly emphatic demand for independence for the state. The Catalan people and their (very well spoken) president are organizing, speaking, singing, and rallying for an independence that Spain is not even close to accepting. Come September 26, 2015, they will perform a faux referendum vote, and if it passes, they *say* they are going to declare independence. My very well spoken Spanish professor says that absolutely nobody can actually predict what is going to occur.

    Blah blah history geography politics, if any current college students are reading this, you might be zoning out. At first, that’s what I thought as well. It was like Labor Day at home – a day that I’m still kind of unsure what it celebrates, but no school!

    But then we stepped onto the streets of this throbbing, varied city on this important day.

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    I saw kids running around with Catalan flags strung across their backs;
    Heard an orchestra swell to a crescendo in support on the Calle Meridiana so crowded with bodies and babies and strollers that it was impossible to pass through;
    Watched the event organizer stride back and forth across the stage calling to the crowd that gathered;
    craned my neck to try and see the press table as they frantically relayed the unfolding history back to their outlet;
    And witnessed the crowd thrusting flags and banners into the air in a resounding roar, seemingly at random, chanting “In-Inda-Indapendencia”.

    And it felt important. The day and the spirit and the joy felt momentous.

    The Catalan people may not have a lot of political backing to their proposal. Catalonya is a money-producing state for economically depressed Spain. Spain holds veto power in the European Union, virtually blocking any potential attempt to enter as an independent country. There are other cultural groups who want to separate that Spain does NOT want to encourage, including Basque terrorists. (All information I have gathered from speaking to different people/reading some basic news/learning from my Spanish prof. – not by any means a certainty)

    But standing on the streets, watching the Catalonian castells (human towers) rise 5 stories high, clapping to the joyful music, it feels like their heart might overpower. And there’s a little girl running down the street from the cafe in which I sit, in bright Catalan red and yellow, to (maybe) prove it.

    Barça – a preview

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    This is a sitting city.

    This is a chatting city; a sipping and a nibbling sort of city.

    Here, you find the corner shop and the coffee shop and you never order your drink plastic-ly “para llevar” because if you do you are a tourist and an inconvenience and in a western rush (guilty). Instead, you sit, and you chat, and you sip, and you nibble.

    You use porcelain cups and steel forks, the clink of conversation mingling into the weekday midnight. You stroll, never stalk. You lazily hang out the windowsill, you have a siesta and fiesta when you just so feel like it. You dance in the street with your children on a summer evening, surrounded by pre-teens; you wear Neymar like its your “apellido” given at birth.

    You celebrate the little and the big, you chant in-inde-independéncia but in a sing-song sort of way while you have a plaza-party on a Saturday.

    Yes, its a painted picture; a fair facade of my two weeks exposure, so I promise, revisions are forthcoming.

    P.S. – These pictures were all taken around 6 p.m. within a 3 minute walk from my current flat, in Vila De Gracia in Barcelona

    P.P.S. – Is this my diary or my 5th grade pen pal? YOU GUYS ARE BOTH – Thank you so much to those of you reading this, and especially those of you that tell me (even white-lying) that you enjoy reading this. Its an inspiration and a motivation and all the -ation things! Party hat emojis for you all! Be back soon with more detailish things.

    a slumber party in Krabi, Thailand

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    I mean, I guess we asked for it, booking a hostel by the name of ‘Slumber Party 2’ in Thai beach town, Krabi, but our experience was tourist with a capital t. Or T, I should say.

    After being the only one of our little cohort on the late flight, I kept my friends waiting for a good couple of hours before finally landing to a small group (im)patiently waiting. This group *happened* to include one of my *favorite* people in the *world* (does that statement become more relevant and useful after actually having seen more bits of the world?) – an old friend from ye old high school days, a long long two years ago. But as a twenty-teen, two years feels like a lot and we did it justice, being all soccer mom-y and saying things like “ohmygosh so tell me, how’s your dear mother?” Just kidding. But the reunion felt oh so sweet and odd, being in Thailand and all.

    We piled into a taxi and told him, trying not to giggle, that we were staying at Slumber Party at the Beach Hostel, 2. (because apparently Krabi needs more than one of these). Our arrival felt like a homecoming and by that I mean I got some distinctly frathouse vibes, taking my mind back to sweet memories (dreaded flashbacks – tomato, tomahto) of dear old USC fraternity row. We were, like, totally checked in, like, super quickly and settled into our cubbyholes apprehensively.

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    The next day, we took the recommended island hopping tour, description being: (this is verbatim) Lunch! 4 Islands! Snorkeling! Cliff Jumping! FREE BEER! and thought to assume the local attitude, local being bum tourists that had set out to find themselves in southeast Asia and realized they needed an income so now worked at a hostel.

    I’m being really sassy, and to be honest, everyone we met at Slumber Party was welcoming and the hostel was well-run. I think it was the vibe in Krabi as a whole that rubbed us the wrong way – westerners and western-targeted restaurants as far as the eye could see and the feet could walk. All the food and fares were moderately more expensive than all previous destinations, and the people frequenting them? None of them Thai.

    But the beaches? Were. Beautiful. Never before have I had the opportunity to jump into the open ocean, climb a rope ladder up a rock, fail to actually climb onto the rock and belly flop accidentally back into the ocean.

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    The water was a deep dark blue and the sunset was a sublime yellow/gold/orange with gray silhouettes of butts, we watched its slow descent perched at the tip of our privately chartered boat, the soft breeze moving our salty hair and drying our skin.

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    Despite the tourism and the prices and the slumber partying, the beauty is as yet untouched, and I hope to goodness that is how it stays.

    touism guilt – first impressions of Hanoi, Vietnam

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    Coming to you with a knockoff North Face pack at my feet, wearing athletic sandals and harem pants, from a hostel computer in Hanoi, Vietnam – I’ve chosen to go backpacker chic and half hate myself/half am so excited to pretend to be this person.

    Leaving Taipei felt surreal; even as we landed in Vietnam’s capital city, I felt like we would soon return from one of our hare-brained weekend adventures, raring to eat some beef noodle soup at the place behind our laundromat that serves food til 3 am.

    Our first day in Hanoi, we spent walking around in a post-Taiwan haze: comparing all the food prices, the kindness of the people, the commotion of the streets, the amount of foreigners. It made us all a bit down, I have to admit.

    Vietnam (and Hanoi especially) made me think immediately of urban India – stray dogs, the smell of exhaust, food sellers hawking wares in singsong tones, buildings bearing the brunt of monsoon rains with rusted steel, horns used as a form of communication, playing Frogger in order to cross the street. The big difference however, is that this is a tourist town, and almost a tourist nation. We’re here during the high season, and walking down the street, we see almost as many Caucasians in expensive gear as we do locals in rubber sandals (and more than we’ve seen in over 2 months in Taiwan).

    The Vietnamese speak far more English than the Taiwanese and most restaurants advertise “Pizza” or “wifi” clearly targeted to the foreign demographic. Over 40% of the Vietnamese economy has become service-oriented, serving the millions of tourists that come to experience the beaches/heat/food/embrace their own backpacker chic.
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    I sit here in my privilege and this kind of tourism makes me uncomfortable. I feel at some points that I have no real right to be here – walking around with the ‘I’m rich’ badge of my camera hanging around my neck, and turning my face from the beggars who could make a life with all the shit I’m carrying on my person.

    But there is also the other side of it all – that visiting, booking their tours, taking their taxis, eating at their restaurants, and staying at their hostels is a respectful way of sharing wealth – for services provided.

    But I can’t shake the weirdness of it all, that no locals seem to frequent a majority of the restaurants, that I hear more English than I’ve heard in two months on the streets, that I can pay in US dollars if I don’t carry enough of the incredibly inflated Dong (1 USD = 21,000 dong). The fact that I, as a US citizen, am welcomed into the country where some of my compatriots are proud of their imperial involvement (and killing) only 40 years prior – that feels weird.

    We all want to see the world and experience “exotic” culture but then we want to go back to our clean hostels, our clean planes, and our clean lives in clean, developed countries. I wonder about the true motivation and pleasure that we are all deriving from this, and it is a question I’m really unsure of how to answer as of yet. I guess the conclusion I came to is to be a conscious tourist – to try not to haggle down the sub-minimum wage priced wares that I buy, to treat all with a smile and a sincere thanks, to try and learn about the true background of these varied, mostly kind and pretty people. I can tell its going to continue to be weird, but here’s to me reporting back soon with some good feels, good vibes, and good pho~