Before Night Falls

As much time has passed since I left Europe, I’m still feeling restless. And if it seems as if this apartment project has consumed me, that’s because it has. What’s the normal sequence of events in choosing a place to live? What are the criteria? And once one has made that decision, how does one (getting formal here) not feel constantly overwhelmed by the awareness of how many other places there are in the world?

I spent the last year having an incredible, albeit tumultuous, journey and afterward could have continued anywhere – found a job teaching in Spain, au pair-ing in Italy, or farming in France. But somehow I wound up back in the States – and living 20 minutes from my parents.

While living in China I couldn’t wait to get out – I wanted the West. I wanted good food (by my definition). I wanted pumpkin spice and regular toilets and people who could understand me when I spoke. I said I would never in a million years stay. I would never miss it! But recently I have felt a longing to go back. Not only that, but I’m Facebook friends with everyone whose couch I surfed and seeing their updates – “Off to Paris! Still living in Shanghai!” – makes me wince. Over a month with mom and dad! That’s my status.

I don’t regret coming home – everything happens for a purpose, right? And I know my parents appreciated it, even if by now that’s become obscured by tension over my life skills – the question being whether or not I have the right ones to take care of myself, ostensibly for the first time, in the “real world.” It keeps hitting me that when people take jobs it means working, every day, to make a living. No traveling, except on holidays, and we’re trapped in the States so where is there to go anyway? (I know there are places to go, I’ve never even been to Seattle! Chicago! But…London v. Seattle…Paris v. Chicago…who wins?)

I’m eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to do what I did, and I wasn’t feeling this way a few months ago. Yet now I can’t help wanting more! So let’s make a list of positives of staying in Charlottesville, Virginia:

1) Because of my apartment location, I don’t need a car. Which is good, because I don’t have one – and never want one. Diatribe for another day.
2) The cost of living is solid.
3) It’s not too crowded (cough, DC, cough)
4) It’s really very pretty.
5) It’s mostly undiscovered to me, as I mentioned in a previous post. I’ve never really lived in the city and I’m sure it’ll be more different than I can imagine.

Sure, the nightlife is nonexistent student-oriented and I think it’s a fairly popular place to retire, but Tina Fey was here and that’s gotta count for something, right? I’m not going to make a list of negatives because no.

Le sigh…towards the end of my time in Europe I was excited to come back to the States and ready to find creative fulfillment in a way I only could on my home turf. Now…now I wonder if I made the right choice! I discussed these feelings with another 20-something friend of mine and we concluded that what I need is twofold: focus and perspective. How I get those things will require a third element be thrown into the cauldron, and I don’t think it’s newt’s eye. Thanks, dear reader, for listening to my rambles, and to reward you and remind myself of one of the many experiences I have to be thankful for, below are never-before-seen (!!!) pictures from Rotterdam.

I stayed in Rotterdam for three days and four nights (something like that) and because it was winter and I woke up late every day, I barely got out into the city before nightfall. It was so cold! Got dark so fast! But I stayed with another wonderful Couchsurfing host and was treated to a unique and uniquely Dutch experience of the city. If I haven’t made it clear yet, I’ll make it clear again: Europe + Couchsurfing = Bananas. In the Rachel Zoe way, i.e. SO GOOD. Do it. If you have questions about any of the locations seen below, ask away in the comments section!

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Houses in a Row, Amsterdam

As I told you in a previous post, my purpose in going to Amsterdam was hash and hookers to meet up with my friend Annie. Doing so was severely delayed by Spanish air traffic controllers striking (on her end) and shite weather (on my end). Fun! We were supposed to be reunited Saturday afternoon, but didn’t see each other until a full day later. Barf.

Amsterdam is apparently a busy place on the weekends, and more so on this weekend, because it was St. Nick’s Day (sort of like Christmas, but bigger in the Netherlands). Incidentally, we couldn’t find a couch to surf and stayed in a hostel (last picture above). Those aren’t our bottles, fyi. It wasn’t the end of the world, but…it could have been better.

While waiting for Annie in the train station I was passed by two girls in blackface dressed as jesters. WTF?! was my initial reaction. No one else seemed to take note of their outfits/racist-ass-ness. They passed a black man and giggled (at him). What? What was this? I thought the Netherlands were progressive, not retrogressive x10,000. Turns out, as we were told by a movie theatre manager later that night, St. Nick, according to folklore, has twelve black “slaves” (no uncertain term, that). So people like to dress up as them to celebrate (you can find the history of the holiday here, with a decided lack of slave-mentioning). Another girl we asked later told us that the slaves aren’t black because of their ethnicity, rather it is soot from the fireplaces they go down that gives them their color. Huh. Either way, the second group of people I saw dressed up as jesters had painted themselves green – maybe there is such a thing as “PC” in the Netherlands, after all.

Below you’ll find pictures from my first trip to Amsterdam – taken ten years ago with my dad! It was surreal to pass by our hotel as I was going into the train station and realize I’d stayed there ten years before. And the last picture – that’s me with the Dalai Lama in Madame Tussaud’s. Oh, the joys of being thirteen…

Walking Around the Jardin des Tuileries

The Jardin des Tuileries is most famous in my mind for being the location where Tommy Ton (and many others, for that matter) shoots every Paris fashion week. For that it was rather “must-see” if you will, despite the cold cold weather. I didn’t see anyone famous or particularly well dressed even, but it was pretty. French gardens, as opposed to Chinese gardens or English gardens, are very obviously focused on symmetry – this is nothing new to anyone who has some awareness of world gardens, but that person is not I, so I thought I’d share my observation. This was apparent especially in the Luxembourg gardens, where they’d trimmed the trees to look like box hedges on stilts.

As I write this I’m sitting in a very romantic and typically Parisian spot, McDonald’s, waiting for my train. I have a Eurail pass, but no one at Eurail told me that I’d need to buy a supplementary “booking reservation” for all high-speed trains, so when I arrived at the station this morning there was an episode of sorts. It went something like this:

I went to board second class. “No, you need to get a seat reservation,” said the train man, “you have to go to the front of the train and get it from the ticket manager.” So I imagined I would walk up to some benevolent train-figure and he would say “Ah! A Eurail pass! I know you paid hundreds of dollars for that and there were no stipulations of this nature mentioned on the site, so here is a seat reservation just for you without complication.” But instead I asked the wrong man first, then turned back around and found the right man and told him I needed a seat reservation. He said, “No, you have to buy a full-price ticket.” I said “No, this is a Eurail pass I already bought my ticket I don’t need another one you’re wrong,” and he said “No,” and I said “Yes,” but with gusto, so he said “Be quiet right now or I will call the police!” (And tell them what, I want to board your train? “With gusto,” keep in mind, does not mean I was yelling – or even swearing! I think this is a French thing. If I’d been in China this would have gone a lot differently.) So I shot him a look that said “You are an angry little dwarf man,” and went to the ticket counter where indeed, I was right, I did not have to buy a full price ticket, but I was wrong, there was a booking reservation and it did cost me money. I got really lucky then, apparently, on the train coming into Paris – not only did I not pay for a supplement for the high-speed train, but no one even bothered to check my pass! Very lucky, indeed.

It’s snowing rather hard and France is not a country that’s particularly well prepared for snow, so I hope that my train isn’t canceled in the end. I will be…frustrated.

I rather need to be in Amsterdam tonight, as I’m supposed to meet a friend there that I haven’t seen in over a year…but she’s having delays too! Europe. Quel horreur!