Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Staring out the train window experiencing the motionless state of travel: factories exhale cumulous belches, giant turbines collect the wind’s energy, rows of agriculture interrupted by rows of dwellings, interrupted by walls of brick and concrete. “Comes the morning when I can feel, that there’s nothing left to be concealed, movin’ on a scene surreal… sure as I’m breathing, sure as I’m sad, I’ll keep this wisdom in my flesh, I leave here believing more than I had, and there’s a reason I’ll be, a reason I’ll be back… as I walk the hemisphere, I got my wish to up and disappear, I’ve been wounded, I’ve been healed, now for landin’ I’ve been, for landin’ I’ve been cured…” Eddie Vedder’s Into the Wild soundtrack appropriate for the mood as gray, dank clouds greet me, my pack, and my solitude. The parallel lines of the rail carry me into the unknown and unseen, as I live the dream, and dream of home, and dream more of the unknown.
Bedtime: Ahhh, to finally stretch out moments from drifting off into dreamland. A long day of trains, 4 altogether to get from Toulon to Barcelona. A long day unsettled nerves and tired eyes. One of those travel days where you question what the hell it is you’re doing. When I stepped off the train at Passeig de Gràcia and rose from the steamy underground to the crispy drowning city streets I remembered. My initial hesitance with the sobbing sky soon dissipated into enthusiasm as I bounced along in socks and Chacos while hiding under my hood. With my heavy-duty army poncho draped securely over my gear I navigated the busy city streets. That is the unknown and unseen, and now I am tucked away in the middle of it. This noisy hostel reminds me of my travels in New Zealand almost a decade ago. That decade has me in bed while the exuberant accents outside my door prepare to begin their night. It also has me willing to pay a little extra for my own room. I was pleased to find in it a window that opens like a flue to an oversized chimney. No view other than 3 steep walls, but fresh (city) air and the blended smells of nearly a dozen stories of people preparing their cena. And I drift off.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Oct. 26th, 2008:
Sprawled under an aged olive tree, Mediterranean sun bathing me, daisies dancing, feathered ones unrest, light seceding to season’s bequest…
As with every year at this time the time change has me a bit saddened with the earlier end to the day. Motivation, that has been hard to come by so far, to pattern my own day with that of the sun’s. It will happen soon as my dependency thus far has dictated my schedule. Assistance I am truly grateful for, yet ready to hatch from. It, an undefined possibility born from a heightened merging and etched into its present form through quick weathered erosion… From an outside perspective the life of a traveler is a grand vicarious experience. The true perspective of the traveler is often incompletely told, struggles easily painted over with triumphs. Stepping away from securities into a foreign (and foreigner’s) world is an inevitable roller-coaster encounter. One gut wrenching plunge too many is cause to question when it’s time to change rides (and why the hell you ever got on the ride to begin with). As always, hindsight is 20/20, and my mind’s eye sees that greener grass. What is it with that enchanted fence? And what is it with this vague and pensive reflection? Perhaps an encrypted note sent under the guise of aimless rambling from my self-imposed minimum security Bastille. Perhaps just aimless rambling from a questioning and unrested mind.
(pic 1: sharing this American life)
(pic 2: how about installing these at every mall parking lot in the US?)
I’ve got to repeatedly count in my head to be sure I’ve been on this adventure for ten days already. This experience in Toulon has definitely been one immersed in local culture, yet it has lacked the exploration and movement that I am now craving. Tomorrow will be an excursion to Marseille if the plans that are ever in limbo transpire. I’ve got tickets to a professional basketball game in the evening, maybe watching the unveiling of the next Tony Parker. Sunday, with a quick step onto a train, the independent traveling begins to Spain and Portugal. In some ways I feel so unprepared yet I know the reality is I’ve got to just do it. Intrigued to see what couchsurfer.com turns up for possible places to crash and people to meet. Stay tuned…
What comes to mind from the past few days? My olfactory senses currently remind me that I’ve inhaled enough second hand smoke since I’ve been here to last a lifetime. A few attempts to “do as the French do” has furthered my disgust. However, doing as the French do has been wonderful in terms of wine, croissants, crepes and all those other stereotypical French culinary delights (no escargots though, but I did accidentally step on one). The thought of all the pig consumed here (usually in the form of jambon) reminds me of a useful and entertaining universal communication device: onomatopoeia (oink, oink). And have I mentioned yet how insane the driving is here. I love the round-abouts and competent drivers, they’re just a bit eager. The motorcycles and mopeds apparently have special rights of the road that would get you sentenced in the states. I experienced this first-hand on the back of Johan’s scooter yesterday (OMG). White knuckles and pagan Hail Mary’s for 15 minutes as acceleration, braking, swerving, and passing ensued on busy city streets. The kicker is the centerline. Common sense might lead you to believe it’s to separate traffic, ya know, keep them in their own lanes. No, it’s actually a special lane for the two wheelers to fly past everyone else at 70 kilometers an hour with complete trust that the converging traffic won’t make a human croque monsier out of you. We were enroute to fix the before mentioned broken Twingo (Flo’s car). Quite a bonding experience to tag team replacing the clutch cable. Example: Johan, upside down with arm hanging out of car aimlessly pointing, “yellow, yellow” (the yellow handled pliers), with rotating hand “twisty” (screwdriver). Success was managed before dark and the deal was consummated with a few too many biéres. We truly did connect that evening through fragmented sentences and body language on our shared love for nature, travel, and music, philosophy on raising kids, and the plight of our planet and how to live in accordance with it. I may some day take him rafting down the Colorado River and to Burning Man, or it may just be a satisfying night of bar talk.
The highlight from today was not the shopping excursion to a disorganized version of WalMart (I was humored to see beautiful jewelry and gold necklaces in the same aisle as baby diapers… wait maybe there is a method…) where security escorted me to a private pat-down when my stride repeatedly set off their detector. There were no baguettes hidden in my pants, just a magnetic tag from my previously purchased vest that I was unaware was even there, let alone that I was supposed to cut it out. Merci for not arresting me.
The highlight of the day was giving a presentation on America to a number of students from an immigrant education program. As in the des Ètats Unis immigration (legal and illegal) is a big social issue (here from North Africa). Giggling teenage girls reminded me of many of my own past students and the intrigue of the young ones absorbed in pictures from my laptop was delightful. They were very humored by my attempts to speak French and so proud to say correct phrases in English. The young adults and oldest students referred to my Obama button and sticker with enthusiasm. I ended up gifting one of the particularly passionate with my “DJ’s for Obama” button. He was obviously aware of the global ramifications of our election (as so many are) and was psyched with the offering. I’ve got some remorse with the parting as it is really cool to be a DJ in this region filled with clubs and discothèques. That clout is gone but I feel as I have done good for the American image in at least one dilapidated neighborhood in Southern France. Hopefully they pass it on.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
According to the sign, which was kindly duplicated in English, the Notre Dame de Pepiole is probably Europe’s oldest known chapel. The monastic construction dates back to the 5th century and the most modern sections were added in the 12th century. The medieval stone and mortar construction of the buildings and the groves of olive trees make it a most quaint retreat. I spent most of this day lounging in the sun and napping as Florence ran errands. In the evening I celebrated my 33rd birthday by doing 33 sun-salutations before Flo whisked me off to a party in my honor. A dozen of her closest people were gathered to sing joyeux anniversaire (happy birthday) and celebrate with a meal of Raclette (ham, potatoes, and cheese specially melted on special cheese melting machines). The elevated view from the house of the bay, boats (including military carriers), and city lights was brilliant. I also met Flo’s other sister Natalie who spoke great English and entertained me with conversation for part of the night. I was truly touched by the efforts Flo put into making the occasion happen and the willingness of people to gather for a stranger’s birthday. Another year younger celebrated in a memorable fashion. And my 33rd a significant one. The age of the Christ as I was told numerous times...
Perspective: It is a most humbling feeling to drop into a foreign land with no ability to comprehend or communicate. There is a mysterious loneliness that goes with hours of listening to others jabber, laugh, and banter without much clue as to what is being said. Sitting with another person in awkward silence because neither knows how or what to say. Walking the streets and debating how to acquire necessities brings out insecurities not felt since adolescence. These feelings, and I’m far from traveling independently. Of course, there is a whole other level of communication that is challenging with the barriers of language that exist with my English-speaking guide. There are moments where complete independence is the desire despite the insecurities. That’s my reality though, this adventure that I’ve taken on. Travel is a multi-dimensional experience; time reveals circumstances and an inevitable examination of self, perspectives change. Here I AM, Here I go…
Oct 16th – 19th:
A long scamper to the Metro, a changeover amidst crowds of commuters, and my guide’s underestimation led to a missed train to Toulon. More lessons learned and more of the reality of travel; hurry up and wait. Three trains and four hours later I was on my first Eurail venture. In Toulon we were picked up by Florence’s younger sister Alicia and her husband Patrick. Apero (appetizers) of peanuts, shredded carrots with olive oil and fresh-squeezed orange juice, and some funky liquor preluded a satisfying dinner. A late night ensued in a beyond exhausted state of hyper-awareness. Amma, a…, was in town at the tail end of a three day… At the entrance drummers, didgeridoo, and a pure Mediterranean tribal vibe captivated me. Inside a rockin’ kirtan ensued for hours as Amma individually blessed long rows of anticipatory followers. Upon receiving my personal prayer and stadium sized experience I was blessed with the greatest gift of all, twelve hours of motionless sleep.
Three hours of daylight were just enough to get my first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. A walk on la playa and dinner with Florence’s friend Beatrice and her 30 and 13 year-old sons Johan and Allan filled the day. I was encouraged by Johan’s interest in speaking English and what I knew about his dream of going to Burning Man. The next day another late start and leisurely afternoon of yoga and snacking regenerated the batteries enough for an evening out. A feast of crepes (upon my request) with Florence’s sister Cecilia and her crew (boyfriend, son, daughter) was a delight. After over an hour of speaking to each other in French they attempted to communicate with me in their best English. It was the best exchange I’d experienced up to this point as they really seemed to grasp who I was and what I explained about my travels. “I am not traveling to discover who I am, I am living who I am…” That night at one of their favorite clubs the tallest and most awkwardly dressed figure was one of the first on the dance floor getting his groove on unlike any other.
The next day’s highlight was a true French experience. After a drive to the coast near Hyeres to meet Beatrice, Johan, and Allan we snacked on ousien, which they had harvested from the sea. The round and spikey crustaceans were cracked open like large walnuts to expose their orange sack-like genitalia, which was scooped up with a spoon or baguette, mmmm. Really, it was better than it sounds, just a waste of a poor little ocean creature. I also enjoyed trying to communicate with Allan (13 year-old). The students study English here so he and I managed to slowly find common ground. I did my best to explain the tradition of Thanksgiving and the ensuing history of the Native American’s demise and my own feelings of connection their culture, tradition, and Earth-centered spirituality. On our drive home I was navigating the tiny winding roads, multiple round-abouts, and insane driving habits of the locals when a loud snap killed the power to Florence’s Twingo (the tiny and abundant economy car of the region). A snapped clutch cable set us back a few hours in our plan to relocate to the guest cottage of the Notre Dame de Pepiole.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Oct 15th, 2008:
How exhausting travel is. After my first day I landed back on my own bed having spent a 5 hours fiasco at Grand Junction’s Walker non-international Airfield. Amazing the impact a low tire can make on dozen and dozens of travelers and their ticket agents. For me a $450 lesson on booking a multi-flight trip on separate airlines through on-line air-savers. A 5am start the next day resulted in a 19-hour trans-Atlantic excursion to the City of Lights. Waiting there to rescue me was my guide and heroine, the greatest local savior since the divinely guided sword swinging 17-year-old Jeanne d’Arc. Florence d’France, with baggage tote and Metro tickets, swept me safely off under the gray and moist skies of Paris.
My first impression of Paris- graffiti and small cars. The mopeds gangs were highlighted by a slightly round businessman sporting tie and pink helmet zipping off on electric power. The automobile-ego of America lost on these streets. I, continually amazed by the masses of motorcycles parked or patrolling, hovering at lights anticipating acceleration. And pedestrians right of ways don’t apply for any longer than it takes to swerve around them. Large city buses and power-encouraged bicyclists, a most inauspicious duo, share the same slim lane and fight equally to funnel through narrowing intersections. I wouldn’t dare compete on one of the magnetically protected rent-a-bikes that sit in available rows about every third block. On the streets of Paris, be wary or be flat. Stick to the sticky and follow the letters, numbers, and colors of the Metro.
The first tourist-significant stop for this green shoe was the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris. The immediate grandeur and age of the structure was awe-ing. In the states there’s really no historically significant perspective to prepare for such a sight. The bricks patched together in the ceiling were there before Columbus was born. The stained-glass mosaics span higher than the steeples of our largest churches and the cobblestone floors tell grander stories than the imaginative Victor Hugo. It was easy to feel how the eerie, dank, and strangely peaceful environment has inspired connection to greater forces for so many decades.
My own inspiration flowed stronger at the Bosilique Du Sacre Coeur where we walked in midway on a mass. It could have been the inebriating affects of the five-pitch climb up the steps of Montmartre Hill following the first long day of foot stomping, the 30th hour of awakening (not counting the two and a half hours of crumbly sleep on the airplane), and the French gibberish that had been bouncing around my brain all day, but when Florence smudged my forehead with the local holy water my 3rd eye began buzzing. I sat to take in the sensations and sounds: my own vibrations, the choir of nuns channeling angels, the figure of a golden aura Jesus high and mightily above looking me directly in the eyes. Only the small throngs of oblivious tourists being scolded by a cock-eyed Indian church worker reminded me of where I was. It took the grounding affect of the night air, lighted Paris landscape, long stroll down, and my second Nutella-filled crepe of the day to bring me back to the hard earth of the Paris streets.
The relief of finally finding my pillow was obscured by my inexplicable inability to fall asleep. I realized it was two in the afternoon back home but I was convinced I could psychologically outsmart jetlag and had been working on it since before I left. I had fallen asleep on the bus, the metro (twice), and in the pews of both churches. The park bench feel of the soft sheets and mattress finally subsided around a day and a half of open eyes and sleep led to a zombified revival the next morning. Oh ya, I was in Paris!