Sonntag, 11. Mai 2014

When in Rome...

My three young female German cousins and I were given the opportunity to see Rome, the eternal city, together for one week in early May. The eldest and I went one day early via a magical form of transport called "Mitfahrgelegenheit", which basically means you ride in a car with a total stranger for many hours and then pay them some money for this pleasure. It is almost always a good experience I have heard and ours was as well. Our driver was an Italian man, Roberto the plant biologist, and the fourth passenger was Santiago, a Mexican chemical engineer studying in Rome.

After 10 hours we arrived in Rome. My cousins had found a sweet little holiday apartment close to the center of the city and about 15 minutes by foot to the Colosseum. No big deal. The first night we trudged through the rain to get some delicious pizza, which was completely worth getting kind of lost in a huge train station full of homeless people and stranded travelers.

Rome was truthfully a complete blur of AWESOMENESS. My eyes were open the whole time and I was told that they got even bigger, which I didn't know was possible. I also felt like my jaw was on the floor the whole time what with being completely awe-struck by everything.

First, I want to say something about Romans. Yes, they are Italians, but they are also Romans. I got the feeling while there that Rome is a place to visit more than a place to live partly because it is so incredibly touristy and also because it is so crazy. The first night we were there sleep did not come easily, which could have been in part to the new bed, but I think it was mostly due to the noise on the street outside. All through the night sirens were blaring and car horns too. Apparently in Rome it is impossible for emergency vehicles to get through the heavy traffic so they don't even try, which means a blaring siren will just stand in one place for up to 5 minutes! Also, it seems that Romans/tourists in Rome get hurt a lot because there is never a time when no sirens are heard. Secondly, the horns. I came to the conclusion that Romans honk all the time for a number of reasons: they are mad at another driver (most common), they are greeting a friend, they saw a pretty woman or man, they are upset or happy about the soccer game results, or they just don't want to be left out,

The Italians I came into contact with were all very warm and friendly. The only bad experience I had was getting my ass grabbed by a creepy old guy, but I didn't let that ruin my opinion of Romans. On our last day I got stuck in the turn-style in the train station and it was a bit scary actually, but about 10 Italians stopped to help me, all putting there own tickets through to try and help. One said, "I think you will stay there forever!" and laughed. Pretty much, if you try and say a few words in Italian then they will try a few in English. It was wonderful.

The Colosseum was insane. Foro Romano was nuts. The Curia (Senate building) was humbling. Vatican city was surreal. The Sistine Chapel was breathtaking. St. Peter's dome made me literally gasp. The Castle of the Angels made me think of what it was like to live in a dungeon. The churches (of which we may have entered 40,000) were some of the oldest and most beautiful structures I have ever seen. I saw art by Rodin, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rafaello, and more who I can't remember. I ate the best pizza, pasta, ice-cream, and drank the best coffee of my life in Rome.

I need to elaborate on the coffee. I am not a coffee drinker. However, the first time I put that warm creamy brown liquid to my lips in Rome I tried to think of all the ways I could never let go of that coffee. It is somehow so smooth that it feels like liquid velvet. With a little sugar on the foam it sweetens the bitterness. The cappuccinos have the right amount of milk and foam. Not only that, it creates this deep feeling of calm and comfort, which I have never, not once, had from coffee anywhere else in the world.

There is so much to be said about Rome. There is not enough space to do it in. I will leave only with this: Rome is a city for dreamers. It is a place to go to expand your mind. The emotion, the grime, the bad public transport, the love, the history, the art, the incredible amount of homeless severely disabled beggars, the food, the wine... these are all things that make up this colorful city, which is both stressful and impossible to hate. I will cherish that adventure for a lifetime to come.

Mittwoch, 2. April 2014

A holiday to dwell on

Two weeks of being with people I love and doing things I want to. That is freedom at its finest.

The brilliant and wonderful woman who gave me life came to visit me in Germany for my long holiday. Before she arrived I was in a state of really needing to get the hell out of Hamburg. It had been 2 straight months since I left the city and I was on the edge. Somehow, without any form of communication to tell me that she had arrived in Frankfurt and caught her train to Hamburg, we found each other. I sat on the platform with a bouquet of fresh tulips from my favorite florist and my head craned to the left trying to see her train. Finally, it arrived and only 30 minutes late!!! Deutsche Bahn is dependably late so I wasn't worried. I happened to stand right near where she was sitting and I saw her beautiful head peak out the window. She waved and smiled and immediately a wave of  joy and longing (Sehnsucht in German, way better word) washed over me with such force that I burst into tears. We hugged and hugged and I wept and we kissed and hugged some more and it was simply perfect. I have never needed someone so much like I needed my mother at that moment.

After 4 wonderful days in Hamburg we trained down to a town near Munich (Schwabhausen) and Würzburg to visit family. We spent nearly one week with them and saw quite a lot of Germany I would say. Mom was in such good spirits even when she was tired and stressed. She ooed and awed at everything and my German aunt even said "I love the excitement of the Americans". Very sweet. We had some quality mother daughter time, which was much needed and we barely got irritated with each other. What bliss. We spent Sunday night in Frankfurt before Mom and I parted on Monday. We explored a very little bit of the city, which I have never seen, but was actually quite nice. The sun was shining on the Main and we were just soaking in our last hours together. Mom was a great sport and an excellent travel companion. At the airport the next day I sent mom on her way to the U.S. and I found my own way to France to visit a dear old friend from Dover-Foxcroft, Maine who is also a teacher in France. The airport parting was miserable and we both cried. I cried a lot after leaving her. Getting lost in the biggest airport I have ever been in was also not pleasant, but eventually I found my gate and could settle into my thoughts and a good book.

My visit to France was embodied by this incredible thrill that my friend Molly and I, both young women from central Maine, had managed to make it to where we are today. When Stevie, Molly's friend from high school came to visit us in Dax that weekend, it was an overwhelming magnificent trio of central Mainers in France. We all took different paths to get there, but we were there and we basked in the glory of our rurality (new word: coined it!) and tenacity. We visited the Atlantic ocean from the other side in a town called Biarritz, which was truly magnificent. We ate delicious home-cooked meals, drank French wine, ate French cheese, and of course a baguette or 20. We rode bicycles through the night to dance in a club in which Molly and I were the only dancers. We covered ourselves in colorful feathers and joined a Carnival parade (1 week late mind you). We went bowling and picnicked by a pond in the sun.

This week of sunshine and time with an old dear friend really rescued me from the potential despair I could have sunk into after having parted with my mom. This was a holiday to remember and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to experience other European cultures to such an extent. Next stop: ROME in MAY!!!!

Samstag, 11. Januar 2014

Sounds of war and screams of joy

When I was a little girl I used to make my parents and sister wake up at the crack of dawn to open presents on Christmas day. As I grew up, Christmas day started later and later. Eventually, presents became less important and rather the traditions that we had and the people we celebrated with became the core of the holiday. This year I was in Germany for Christmas. My first Christmas not at home in Maine. To be honest, it was completely normal. I got to experience a traditional German Christmas with all the glory of a foreigner. I realize that Christmas is no longer this concrete holiday that we celebrate the same way every year, but rather a fluid and changing part of my cultural world. You no longer have to be Christian to celebrate the holiday and where you do it also doesn't matter. How you celebrate it is completely subjective. I have some Jewish friends who celebrate by going to the movies or ordering Chinese take-out. I think the holiday will continue to develop and I will celebrate a little differently every year. Now that I have the customs of a German Christmas under my belt I will share them with my family and friends and spread those traditions to those I love. That is how Cultural Anthropology works my friends!

Oh shit! Guess what? It is a new year!!!! I know. I almost forgot ;-). But seriously, I am so glad that it is finally 2014. As I think most people would agree, the new year is like a new page, a new leaf, a new start. It is completely cliche and cheesy, but it is true and I think it helps people to feel like that have power again and hope again. Of course most New Year's Resolutions fail miserably, but some do succeed and I think that any chance people take to better themselves is worthy of hefty celebration. I was in Hamburg with some tremendous young intelligent women for New Year's Eve and Day. We celebrated to the max and did not leave a thing out. For dinner we cooked an insanely elaborate Mexican meal with yummy spicy beans, guacamole, SALSA from the USA since you can't procure such luxury items here in DE, and many other yummy sides. I tried to make margaritas with vodka. Oops. I know. They were actually alright, but not the real thing. After dinner we chatted, ate homemade chocolate mousse, and painted our faces with war paint for the big celebration. Somehow we made it to the Alster, which is like a giant pond in the middle of the city where lots of rich people live. We posted ourselves on a bridge with two bottles of Prosecco and plastic cups and sparklers. It was absolutely surreal. Hundreds of people crowded the bridge. Drunk screams of joy and excitement mingled in the air with cracks, fizzles, pops, and bangs from firecrackers. The street was left mostly clear for the larger fireworks. Since most people were probably either pleasantly buzzed or completely plastered, all sense of safety and sensibility went out the window. People were setting professional grade fireworks off in the midst of this huge crowd. The air was full of sulfur and smoke and ash. It was like a war zone, or at least how I can imagine one. Not only was this completely wild, but cars were still driving across the bridge through this complete and utter chaos. They swerved between exploding fireworks. It was wild. I even saw an entire box of fireworks catch on fire.
Midnight drew nearer. We opened a bottle and distributed the fizzy drink. We lit sparklers, screamed, laughed, hugged strangers, and checked our clocks diligently. Apparently Germans don't count down the last 10 seconds like Americans, so of course, we Americans had to countdown. It was thrilling. I felt like a hot-air balloon that could float away with happiness. At midnight people tried their best to explode the city with celebration. All inhibition was gone and it was just pure humanity. That night will live on in the book of New Year's Eves that are hard to beat.

Now it is a new year. The gyms are more full than normal with people trying to fulfill New Year's resolutions, somehow we feel like this is a new chance to start over. I believe it. I will always be a complete romantic about New Year's. I think people need the chance to turn over a new page. We need the hope that it is possible to start again with a somewhat clean slate. Of course, we carry all of ourselves from past years forever, but a new year is a chance to say "hey, this year, things will be different". I want to keep that hope alive. Thinking of all the things that have made me who I am and trying to see beauty more in everyday life. Happy New Year everyone. I hope it's a good one.