Wednesday, May 31, 2006
My room is empty. Really empty. As in it has an echo empty. I haven't seen it that way since I first moved into it as a kid, when I outgrew the small room my brother and I shared. It's kind of sad. And it's the one thing that keeps reminding me that this move is different from the others.
I've become used to packing up and leaving. I've also become used to moving back home. So when I think about pulling away from my house tomorrow and driving to Long Island, I don't feel much. But I keep walking into my room as a matter of habit, wanting to plop on my bed, to watch the ceiling fan swirl until I fall asleep, to hear the cuckoo clocks ticking in the hallway. Except my room is in a U-haul in the driveway.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Doesn't it seem like everyone is getting married in the next six months? It sure does to me. I went to the first wedding in the pack on Saturday and there are quite a few left before the year's end. Tara's wedding was held around Lowell, where she grew up, and was probably much different from the rest I'll be going to. With plastic place settings, crazy groomsmen chugging wine from the bottles and a mounted deer head adorned with a bridal veil, the celebration had a definite laid-back feeling. It was nice to not worry about being prim and proper for a change. And despite a couple aggravations (a no-show best man and a dress malfunction) Tara looked so happy. What kind of a wedding would it be without imperfections, anyway?
I got to see Tara and Sammy's adorable baby, Adriyanna, and hang out with State News friends. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were out in full force and I'm now itching my first bites of the summer.
Friday, May 26, 2006
I've been pretty busy, but let me give you a quick update of the last week. My mom, my aunt and I drove to Orlando on Sunday (from Tampa, not Detroit) to see my "baby" brother. He moved there last summer to start motorcycle school and is doing really well despite the somewhat shady neighborhood he lives in. I last saw him at Christmastime, when my family and I helped move him into his new apartment. The studio is now completely Jessefied, if you will, crammed with speakers, guitars, packages of hot fries and ramen noodles and ash trays. We spent the day shopping (actually for Jesse for a change) and walking around Old Town, a touristy area with stores and carnival rides. I hope to see Jess again soon, maybe for his 21st birthday if I can get a cheap flight.
On Monday my aunt and I spent the day with my mom at the store after taking a quick morning walk on the beach. We flew home that night to a considerably colder Detroit.
Since then I've tried to balance getting everything ready for my move with visiting friends and family. Arranging for electric, gas, cable and internet in the new apartment is making me feel grown-up and worried about all the new bills I've got coming.
Friday, May 19, 2006
I'm in Florida visiting with my mom. We're spending most of the days I'm here at her store because she has to work, which is a little boring, but fine with me. I'm just glad to see her again. There's something about your mom. Some connection you miss when you're separated. Maybe it's that whole womb thing...
It's really hard to believe that a week ago I was still in Geneva. It kind of feels like a dream because everything at home seems exactly the same as I left it. Just a couple degrees warmer. I've really enjoyed catching up with relatives and friends so far, including my 8-month-old cousin Jakob who looks just like the Gerber baby on the food jars. I brought a package of cheese fondue home with me and made it for dinner for my dad and grandma on Tuesday night. Besides the chocolate, that's the one Swiss food I'll miss. My dad was an instant fan.
I unpacked all my bags on Tuesday only to repack again for my trip to Florida. The weather is beautiful here: sunny and warm with a small breeze. My Aunt Arlene and I flew in yesterday morning, my Aunt Sherry picked us up at the airport and we immediately drove to my mom's store. I brought a huge pile of chocolate and other treats from Europe with me, which we've all been enjoying. And this morning my mom and I met with a guy about starting a Web site for her jewelry. I really think it's a great idea for her business, especially since she still has a lot of loyal customers back in Michigan. I'll post the Web address when it's all finished.
I'm going to Orlando on Sunday to see my brother and then it's back to Michigan on Monday night. I'll try to bring a bit of the sun with me. They need it there.
Friday, May 12, 2006
This is it. I fly home on Monday morning. I've been to nine cities, traveling 2147 miles in three months. I've sent more than 30 postcards and bought way too much chocolate. And I don't even want to know how much it will cost to develop all the photos I took. Here are some that didn't get posted the first time around during my whirlwind tour of Europe.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Once I’m home, I only have three weeks to prepare for my move to NY, but here’s a list of the fun things I’m looking forward to squeezing in during that time:
Playing basketball in the driveway with my dad, at least a game of HORSE and around the world. Eating Taco Bell. Visiting my grandma, my aunts and the rest of the Michigan family. Going to a grocery store after 7 p.m., finding it still open and marveling at the ridiculously low prices. Flying to Florida to visit my mom and brother, who I haven’t seen since Christmas. Renting a bunch of movies from Mammoth to catch up on the blockbusters I’ve missed. Sleeping in late in my own bed. Passing out the many souvenirs that I’m pretty sure won’t all fit in my suitcase.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Unfortunately, I can’t share any photos of Venice with you. This is because I didn’t make it there this weekend like I had planned. Tickets in hand, hotel reservation made, I took the bus downtown prepared to spend the night on the train and wake up in Italy. But because of some sort of rail strike, according to one of the ticket counter cashiers, my train and all other trains to Italy were cancelled. I’m still being charged for my hotel room because I didn’t give them three day’s notice that I was canceling. And even more upsetting, Venice is one of the cities I REALLY wanted to see and now my time here has run out. I’ll just have to make sure I visit again. My mom and I talked about planning a family trip to Italy for my parent’s 35th anniversary, which is only a little more than three years away. I know they would love that country, too, especially my mom, who’s half Italian, and my brother, who wishes he were half Italian.
So with no cruises down the Grand Canal or visits to St. Mark’s Square, how did I fill my weekend? Not with very much, especially since it rained almost nonstop. I did, however, do some serious shopping for Swiss souvenirs. My stockpile of chocolate to pass out to friends and family back home is now officially ridiculously huge. (See photo). I’m just not sure how I’m going to pack it all.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
I’m ready to go home. I don’t like to say it much because it sounds like I’m ungrateful for the time I’ve spent here. But it’s true. Living in a foreign country is a lot different than just vacationing. You get a real taste of the culture and the people because you do your best to blend in. It’s exciting, but it can also be exhausting and lonely. I know in a couple weeks, probably even days after I return, I’ll be able to look back at the last three months and really appreciate everything that I’ve seen and done. It’s unfortunate that it takes hindsight for this realization to kick in. And I still have a great trip to Venice planned for this weekend. But c’est la vie. When I walk back to my apartment after work I see planes taking off from the airport in the distance and I think about how many days I have until I’m on one of them, flying away. Eleven.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
This weekend was the ideal time to make a trip to Amsterdam. My visit fell on Queen’s Day, which is more like Queen’s weekend. It’s a huge national celebration to honor, who else, but the Dutch queen. The best way I can describe the atmosphere is like St. Patrick’s Day, except on a much larger scope and everyone wears orange instead of green. Orange hats, T-shirts, feather boas, shoes one-piece jumpers with orange tails, you get the idea. Another aspect of the celebration are the street vendors, and lots of them. Basically everyone reserves a spot on the sidewalk and drags out all of their junk (or treasure, depending on how you look at it) to sell. It looks like one never-ending garage sale lining the canals, mixed in with sidewalk performers and carnival games like cookie-eating contests. Add to that lots of beer (mostly local brews like Heineken and Amstel), music, and thousands of happy people and you get Queen’s Day.
I flew into the city after work on Friday. I stayed with my friend Mieke, who I met while at Fermilab. Her apartment is in a beautiful old building with a great view of one of the many canals. To reach it you have to climb one of the skinniest spiral staircases I’ve ever seen. Mieke says it’s actually one of the larger ones. The cost of Amsterdam houses used to be based on the space it took up on the canal-front. The result is a bunch of tall and skinny buildings. The skinniest house in Amsterdam is just one-meter wide, about the width of its door. It still stands, although it’s been expanded into the surrounding buildings. Enough history for now.
I was so grateful to have Meike for a host and city guide. We walked around the crowded city Friday night and were interviewed by a local TV station. Although I think they interviewed me just to humor Mieke after she continually yelled, “Talk to her, she’s from America!” On Saturday, we hit the streets with matching orange straw hats. Amsterdam itself is really beautiful. It’s built on a series of interconnecting canals and bridges, and the houses all have these great tops on them. Bikes are everywhere and bikers ride in a special section of the road that’s pretty dangerous for a pedestrian to cross. Like most European cities I’ve explored, mass transportation is really efficient and owning individual cars is really discouraged. In general, Holland seems to be really conscious of the environment. The beer we bought came in little plastic cups that had to be returned to a special can for recycling.
It’s also a very shocking city. I knew what to expect beforehand, but it’s still not the same as seeing it firsthand. Weed isn’t legal there, but it’s accepted in small amounts by the police. Not 30 seconds off the train into the city, I got a big whiff of it. It’s sold in coffeehouses and I witnessed a couple people lighting up and dealing on the city’s bridges and alleys. It scared me for a second. Being from the Detroit area, I’m under the impression that drug dealing happens in bad neighborhoods. My first instinct was to turn the other way. But this was wide open, surrounded by hundreds of people. Somehow, it was safe.
I had the same initial fear in the city’s Red Light District, where women stand behind storefront windows wearing lingerie or bathing suits. When a guy enters the building, the woman closes the window curtain and opens it again once they are finished. I found it kind of disturbing and sad, but once again, it’s accepted. Families walked down the street, not noticing the girls at all. In a way, I agree with the way things are done there. By allowing some of these activities that are normally illegal, but happen anyway, police have a certain amount of control. Prostitutes pay taxes and undergo regular checkups. You shut down some of the horrible things that happen in other cities despite it being illegal. It was still really shocking and uncomfortable at times, but I’m glad I got to see it.
On Sunday, we took the bus to Marken, a fishing village that caters to tourists with lots of souvenir shops selling wooden shoes. I considered buying a pair for my dad, who loved visiting Holland, Michigan, when I was young, where they also sell the uncomfortable things. However, the massive shoes would probably take up a big chunk of my suitcase space, which I’m afraid will already be dangerously full. I’ll just have to find him a cool souvenir somewhere else. From Marken, we took a boat to Voldendam, another fishing town. We ate some French fries for lunch, which the Dutch slather with mayonnaise or this peanut sauce that tastes like peanut butter. The weather was beautiful, so we sat on the patio of a restaurant for a while and then headed back to the city. Then we took a boat tour of the canals and for dinner we ate at an Indonesian restaurant, one of the specialty foods of Holland since the country once controlled Indonesia. We ordered a smorgasbord of food that came in all these cute little bowls with lots of coconut sauces. Very good.