My lofty quest through Rome

The Angels and Demons Tour was, perhaps, the highlight of my trip to Rome. In fact, if you can, re-read the book before you take the tour. I read the book when it first came out, and re-watched the movie recently to ensure I had brushed up on the plot line. However, after the tour, the differences in the plot between the book and movie are like night and day. Many parts of the book are left out, and the ending is completely changed… forgot about that…

Our tour guide was an alternative fellow, but the kind with whom you could immediately find something in common. He was animated, knowledgeable, and approachable. I mean, his copy of Angels and Demons was dog-eared, and in Chinese, for goodness sakes. I think he knew what he was talking about.

We started out our morning early, but for me, I had a shit night’s sleep. At 6:45am, we headed down to our hotel’s free buffet breakfast included with the room rate. If you can find a deal like that in Rome, I say go for it. Totally worth it to pack you up with nutrients you’ll need for the day. My favorite was the somewhat runny scrambled eggs and hot dog “breakfast sausages.” Note the sarcasm there. I had a double espresso and a couple of glasses of water to jump-start my day. Helpful.

Also, something I’ve learned in Rome – if you’re just going out in the heat to walk around, you might as well not shower before going out. If you want to be a true Italian, use the bidet in your hotel room, or as my mother calls them, take a “whore’s bath.”

I did just that, but figured visiting so many churches today would set my whorish ways right again (but not straight.) We travelled on the metro for the first time on this trip, and the stop for Piazza del Popolo was only 3 stops away. From the Republicca stop, this may seem easy, but not when your train is crowded for the Friday morning commute at 8:30am.

We arrived to a nearly empty Piazza del Popolo, but for those passing through to get to work in the winding streets surrounding the plaza. We noticed immediately the giant Egyption obelisk in the middle of the square, and noticed even more the temporary fencing indicating it, too, like most of the city, is undergoing renovation. The hideous fencing usually includes some kind of advertising – the Michael Kors ad at the Spanish Steps yesterday was enough to turn me off to the steps, unfortunately.

As with many of the piazzas in Rome, the statues were beautiful and the architecture was impressive. Here are some of my better photos there:

Within the Piazza del Popolo, is the first stop in Dan Brown’s book “Angels and Demons” – inside the Santa Maria del Popolo church on the north side of the plaza. Inside are tombs for some of the wealthier families, of which Gian Lorenzo Bernini was commissioned to design the tomb for one such family. Their family crest looks like a pyramid of hills, and helps create the background for the first of the elements used in the “altars of science” – earth.

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There is a great story the tour guides will share with you about the angel in this particular church, and what it’s actually pointing at. Also, in real life, as of today, the tip of the angel’s finger was broken off mid knuckle. Poor angel. It is the old story of Daniel in the lion’s den, and Habakkuk (pronounced ‘habba-cook’) with his picnic basket. There are statues of both within the tomb – have a look:

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Daniel
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I don’t want to ruin the story for you if you decide to do the tour yourself, and I’d hate to be sued by the tour company or guide for infringement on their trade secrets, so I’m leaving that story out. Suffice to say, you learn something new every day, and that was my new thing today.

The demon’s hole in the poem which provides the clues to the altars of science at this particular one was actually the hole in the ground, which leads down to a crypt where the actual bodies are kept. This was the demon’s hole in the tomb:

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The next stop on our journey was to St. Peter’s Square inside Vatican city for the “air” altar of science. Luckily, we made a separate trip the day prior to the tour to see the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums, and had plenty of time to take in the square. The tour left us 10 minutes to get to the square and find the angel there, which would continue pointing us on our lofty quest. If you can, I recommend you head back to the square outside of the tour because we simply didn’t have time to do it justice.

Also, though, Dan Brown did take some liberties here – there are actually 16 of these “angels” in the real square, showing various directions – west, south-west, and south-south-west, for example in just one quadrant of the full circle. There seems to have only been 1 related to wind in the book. I got some good pictures of some of them, but not all. Also, the family crest with the hills is actually present at the top of the square in a few different places where Alexander is mentioned. Turns out the family with the “earth” crypt in Santa Maria del Popolo was also the family that raised the future 7th Pope of the Catholic religion, and Bernini was again commissioned to design the square, therefore the crest was repeated in the square. Another thing I did not know.

Every Wednesday and Sunday the Pope gives a Papal blessing to an audience at the square, and you have to purchase tickets in advance to be able to get a seat, if you are into that kind of thing. The chairs are also set up on off days and roped off, why I cannot tell you. Except that it must take them a long time to set up the chairs, so perhaps they do it days in advance? We didn’t do that on this trip, as it was not a high priority to us. But I would recommend, if you are interested in the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums, to buy your tickets online ahead of time and use “skip the line.” We were inside the museum within 10 minutes, and it’s easy to get confused with all the queues around St. Peter’s Square where you need to go, once you arrive there. The queue for the Sistine Chapel is actually a couple of blocks away, and we didn’t stand still once as we had a 12:30pm appointment/ticket time. We were promptly let in with no delay. However, the “skip the line” tickets for the Colosseum were a bit of a joke. That place is a clusterfuck all the time, and has a line for buying tickets and a line for “skip the line” (which was, in fact, longer than the line to buy the tickets that day.) But I digress…

Back to my task at hand, sharing of the various stops of the Angels and Demons tour. The angel in the book, the “only one” was the Western wind that blows to the east, so the next stop is in the eastern part of Rome. This is also where the history went into a story I’d never heard, that of Saint Teresa of Avila, originally from Spain. She was born in 1515, thus this would be the 500th anniversary of her birth this year. Our guide informed us she actually has an autobiography, and it reads a bit like the 50 Shades of Grey novel, except, you know, by a nun. The story got a bit racy, to explain the work of art at stop 3, Saint Teresa in Ecstacy, in the Santa Maria della Vittoria Church.

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That particular church is a bit nondescript compared to its two church neighbors. The Santa Maria degli Angeli was rebuilt using secondhand bricks by Leonardo da Vinci, and Santa Susanna alle Terme di Diocleziano was based on a much less racy and more saintly saint, Saint Susanna. The outside wouldn’t clue you in to what’s inside. But this was probably my most favorite part of the tour because it was a completely foreign and new story to me.

Bernini was also commissioned to create a work in Santa Maria della Vittoria that portrayed the story of Saint Teresa and her 12-seraphim-angel vision (our tour guide quoted some of her dream/vision, and yes, the author of 50 Shades of Grey might even blush and get hot flashes.) The story was so cutting edge for its time, especially being written by a nun, and the work of art itself so subtly portrays her tale.

You can tell the eyes of Saint Teresa are closed, yet her mouth is parted – you can almost hear the sighs and moans escaping her lips. Her toes are barely curled – and that is all you will get of her story from this piece of art with the 3rd angel on the “fire” altar of science. One could argue the fire comes from Saint Teresa’s loins on this one… but I’ll leave that to you to decide. I didn’t really ask about the connection to fire, and just assumed it was more poetic license Dan Brown took with his story. Let’s just say I know what I’m getting all my gay boy friends for Christmas – this nun’s autobiography, 500th anniversary edition…

Our 4th stop on the tour was an obelisk fountain in the center of Piazza Navona, depicting the four rivers through papal authority had spread (Nile in Africa, Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia, and the Rio de la Plata representing the Americas), again designed by Bernini. Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi was the “water” altar of science in Dan Brown’s story.

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We had just long enough here to hear the story, and the Piazza is full of art, music, and life. At one point, Emperor Nero had it commissioned to be a circus. There were beautiful cafés down winding cobblestone streets here, with typical Roman windowfronts and bougainvillea on window ledges. This is the quaint Rome we all know and love. We had a break and a drink at a local café, and I loved the wall of star jasmine flowers and vines for the façade.

After our break, we walked to Castel Sant’Angelo, right on the Tiber river, and where the series of events in the story comes to a thrilling crescendo. The Castel is beautiful, with angels on either side of the bridge, leading up to the entrance. The angels depict the stations of the cross, and what happened to Jesus during the crucifixion.

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This was also the mausoleum for one of the most loved emperors of Rome, Hadrian. I didn’t know the in depth history of the emperors of Rome, so again, I found learning something new and factually historical to be quite interesting. It was demolished by barbarians and pillaged by the Vatican for marble, and over a thousand years later, it was added upon with the Castel built up from the top of the original tomb for Hadrian.

I liked this part of the tour, because at the top, one could see a beautiful panoramic view of the city, everything. When you look towards the Vatican City, you can even see Il Passetto di Borgo, which links the castle to Vatican city. In my photo below, it’s literally the street to the right of the picture along the Vatican wall. This is not an underground or secret passage – this is an above ground corridor that serves as an escape route for the Pope in the event of an emergency. That bit of my conspiracy theory fascination was put out a little, to learn it was not like the catacombs in Paris, a series of underground passageways held in dark secret. But, it’s still interesting anyway.

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This was the last stop on our tour, and a great place to end, with the view of the entire city. Again, I don’t want to spoil the story, so you will need to take the tour yourself to tie it all together with the story.

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We wandered back to the side streets near Piazza Navona afterwards to a café and had a great 10€ meal of the perhaps the tastiest bruschetta I’ve ever had in my life, with the freshest tomatoes ever, and a simple margarita pizza with chunks of real buffalo mozzarella. We took the bus back to our hotel, being adventurers and unwilling to spring for a taxi.

A funny thing happened on the bus back, though, something that has never happened to me before today. The bus got very crowded, and was moving slowly in traffic. I’ve been on crowded public transportation before, but never before have I almost fainted. Yes folks, I couldn’t breathe, and was stretching my face close to the window as I could get. Luckily, a local Indian girl who spoke English must have seen the sweat rolling down, the whiteness in my face and my labored breathing. She let me have her seat, as my right arm went completely numb. I probably freaked out my friend, who was standing just next to me, poor thing. I’m alright now. I wasn’t hot or anything, but the sweat was a reaction to the lack of oxygen, I think. I don’t think it’s sunstroke, as I got better after sitting, and even getting off the bus entirely. But that has left me quite drained since, and I probably won’t be doing too much in the way of activities tonight. So yes, you don’t have to be old, fragile, or a smoker to nearly faint on a bus. It was only 25°C/77°F, so it wasn’t even the peak of what it would be in the summer.

I’m now going to engage in some reverse corgi sploots (translation: resting on my back) and deep, but not heavy, breathing. I have great memories of the sights today to which I might otherwise have not attached any importance. I have some great photos of the ancient works of art this city holds. Over and out…

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When in Rome

Dear Roma,

First of all, I love your tomatoes. Secondly, I love your pizza. And pasta. You are everything that I am not. You hold close to your heart your heritage, your history, who you are. You just don’t give a shit. As much as I try not to give a shit, I always end up surprising myself by giving some shit. It’s been a running joke between my friend and me that the motto here should be, “If I fits, I sits.” Alternatively, it could be, “Honey badger just don’t give a shit.”

We have seen cars and motorcycles and Vespas park anywhere and everywhere there is space. One of them was parked diagonally with one wheel on the curb. There aren’t even lane lines most of the time. The streets can be narrow, and if your 1-person roller-skate of a “smart” car can fit down that side street, then by all means, have at it. You know what, why don’t you just park it perpendicular to the curb in a row of motorcycles? And paint it camouflage. You can play a rousing game of “Dude, where’s my car?!” Brilliant.

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People smoke everywhere, but not with the fervor of Paris – in line, at the bus stop, anywhere. They take photos when they aren’t allowed. So far, we’ve been banned from taking photos inside the Sistine Chapel, and for a monument near the Spanish Steps. We did it on the sly, and we took the pictures anyway. My defense? Everyone else was doing it… And, when in Rome…

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Rome is different from London, which is different from Paris, which are all different from San Francisco. London is practical, but not always pretty. Paris is pretty, but not always practical. Italy is disorganized and doesn’t give a fuck, but still manages to be refined and classy, yet smoky and “rustic”. San Francisco is practical, beautiful, innovative, and doesn’t give a fuck. In fact, if you took every homeless person in San Francisco, and turned them into a monument 500 years old or older, you could have mini-suburbs representing most of Europe.

I will not lie; the food in Italy has been amazing. I think we all already knew that. Without knowing it, I have been on my own personal mission to find the best spaghetti carbonara while here. Surprisingly, the pizza has been riding the sidecar to the pasta, which I did not expect.

I’m proud to say getting better at the insane amounts of walking and stairs required in Europe. Paris had stairs everywhere – the metro, hiking up Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, should you choose to avoid the fee for the lift to the top. London had them every second everywhere. Rome only seems to have them only at monuments (but we have yet to use the metro line, on the buses so far here.) In fact, I don’t feel guilty ordering carbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because I’m guaranteed to walk them off and sweat away the calories in my adventures.

So far, we’ve seen the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and other beautiful things that we didn’t even know we were looking at and what it meant. It’s easy to be overwhelmed here; I will say that. I’m not one for audio tours or tour guides buzzing in my ear. I prefer to take things in at my own pace, avoiding pile-ups and foot traffic where 50 people are paused on item 4 and blocking the view for passersby.

Today, I booked what sounds like a cheesy tour but in fact could be one of my most genius ideas ever: the Angels and Demons Tour, based on the novel/film by Dan Brown. It hits all the places Robert Langdon does in the story, including Piazza Navona and Castel St. Angelo, and includes clues and information about the Illuminati along the way. Besides our Cooking with Nonna class Saturday night, I’m most excited about this tour.

I love conspiracy theories. I am a descendant of the Master Masons, and have belonged to a Masonic organization myself. I don’t necessarily see the Illuminati as the bad guy. I’m merely hungry for more information.

I will say this: I love being immersed in Italy. It’s not quite what I imagined it would be. For example, Paris had great attractions, which had no religious affiliation. However, in Rome, it’s moderately difficult to find a tourist attraction, besides the Colosseum, which does not have a religious affiliation. It’s even harder to find non-religious souvenirs for your friends and family.

I also find that moreso than Paris, Rome is a city for lovers. The restaurants cater well for romance for couples. I think I would find it incredibly lonely, being here by myself. I’m lucky to be travelling with a good friend, and we chuckle when some Italian asks if he’s my husband because we’re both gay. We get by. I have had minor pangs of loneliness for not being here with a romantic partner, as I know I’d enjoy the quality time we could spend together here.

We’re off for another fun filled day at the hands of Dan Brown and our tour guide… until next time, dear reader… and don’t give a shit, like Italy.

Les catacombs: Empire of the Dead

I cannot remove the eeriness of the catacombs 20 meters beneath the streets of Paris from my mind. My pictures are haunting, but do not do them justice. I did some background reading on what I saw yesterday, and didn’t realize there are remains of somewhere between 6 and 7 million people down there.

I descended the 130 stairs down into the 14°C/57°F darkness, not sure what I was in store for. I had no idea what the catacombs would be like. I had previously rewatched Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, so perhaps I expected full skeletons left unmoved in seated positions next to a dark river winding through a cavernous hall. Or perhaps, with a twist of Goonies, like the skeleton of Chester Copperpot near a fountain where people none the wiser had thrown pennies in exchange for wishes granted.

One of the quotes on my Quotes page reads, “There are 1,198,500,000 people alive now in China. To get a feel for what that means, simply take yourself – in all your singularity, importance, complexity, and love – and multiply by 1,198,500,000. See? Nothing to it.”

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I think of each one of those 6-7 million people and what life must have been like for them. I think of the sadness, the hopelessness, and maybe some moments of happiness they had, too.

As it turns out, the removal of rock from beneath Paris happened in order to build Notre Dame cathedral, and the Louvre, among other structures. This left open holes underground in the quarry where rock had been extracted. In the 18th century, this empty quarry was converted to an ossuary, thus the birth of the catacombs. Remains of many were moved down there for health reasons.

The public is only allowed access to a very limited portion of the maze of narrow passages; a good 80-90% is not open to the public. Those who venture the catacombs illegally at night in the prohibited areas risk stiff penalties if caught, but it leaves much to my imagination of that 80-90% they don’t want the public to see.

Included in what I did see were beautiful carvings of miniature versions of cities. Some had carved intricate ports that look like the stuff of a Barbie playhouse in rough limestone. When I post the photos to my Flickr site, you can take a look at a few of them. I’ve uploaded a handful that should suffice for now.

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Many of the signs in the catacombs contain the date April 1786. That is when a mass movement of remains were brought down from the Cemetary of the Innocents (cimetière des Innocents) graveyard to the ossuary. 

Close your eyes. Can you imagine a procession of black cloth-covered wagons from the cemetery to the ossuary that didn’t stop for two years as all the remains from that cemetery were moved? What it would be like to be a teenager, in the prime of your life, employed moving dead bodies?

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When was the last time you heard of anyone’s remains in a cemetery being moved? When we bury our loved ones now, we assume blindly that will be their final resting place… what if that is not the case for you if you chose to be buried? Some of quotes in French underground were macabre at best, but I remember one of them loosely translated came to something like what you are bearing witness to now may be the same fate someone in the future will bear witness to for you. That got to me. On a very deep level.

There are famous, talented people; there are nameless, penniless gypsies. They were rich; they were poor. They were remembered individually; they were easily forgotten. Then, they were moved to a mass grave. If some humans come thousands of years after us, and happen upon this site long after the current human race has been wiped out, they may postulate a mass genocide occurred there. 6-7 million bodies. Good grief.

The walls have been vandalized, and some skulls are obviously missing. Who would steal someone’s bones as a memento of a trip to Paris? 

Loose bones abound, and no grave is marked. These people were killed in battle, died of disease, plague, famine, wars, and also include remains from hospitals and morgues.

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Now, millions of tourists flock to this attraction every year, and pass under the sign at the ossuary entry, with the inscription, “Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort” (“Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”.)

It reminds me of that saying:

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Ah, ah, ah – en Français

My friend and I arrived in Paris via the Eurorail on Thursday, May 21, as apparently did all the rest of London. There was a queue longer than the longest airport security line I’ve ever been in at LAX. Looks like many others had the same idea to get away for a long weekend. It turned out to be Pentecost, which when I looked up on Wikipedia, can best be summarized as the birthday of the church. That means many Europeans with any religious affiliation were out en masse in Paris during our time here. Thanks tourists… now move, you’re in my way.

We managed to shuffle through customs in a somewhat orderly fashion, when departing London, and managed not to embarrass ourselves too badly on the ride here. Thanks to the little kid who watched Cars without headphones at full volume on his iPad in front of us, the pregnant woman doing pliés in the aisle to alleviate her swollen feet, and to my partner in crime for letting rip a lip-rippling Homer Simpson burp into the annoying people in front of us.

Upon arriving in Paris on the Eurorail, we purchased a pack of 10 metro tickets to last throughout our time traipsing through the city for only 14,1€, and were on our way to our Airbnb near République station in the heart of central Paris. The underground metro had its moments of urine and feces olfactory sensations that were highly unwanted and unpleasant, but for the most part, I quite liked the underground metro. It’s efficient, easy to navigate, and the best part: unlike London’s tube, it has air flow and a breeze! On top of that, every once in a while, a guy with an accordion will jump on and play songs while singing along, then ask for change when he is done. It creates quite an atmosphere for aspiring musicians, and tourists alike. One can tell right away – there is culture everywhere here.

We had to wait a while to meet our host from Airbnb for the keys, but don’t worry, we found a café right away and ordered what else? A bottle of champagne. We proceeded to have the worst conversation of any French person’s life with the cook who was working in the kitchen near our table at the back. That’s right – they put us riff raff in the back. But we didn’t mind. We had champagne, and each other, to thoroughly amuse ourselves.

Once we finished the champagne, we made our way up to our host’s flat. We scored a 1 bedroom, 1 bath with a sleeper sofa and full kitchen with washing machine and dishwasher for only 52€ per night. Sweet deal.

We wasted no time in passing out early that night, and by we, I mean my friend. He may have had a little too much champagne on the train and in the café, and proceeded to fall asleep on me in the middle of watching a show on his laptop.

Our first full day in Paris was a big one – we decided to hike up Montmartre to Sacré-Cœur, and take in the views of the city. We went around the back as well, and had a peep at the gardens in back. We meandered through the cobblestone streets to Place de Tertre, where the starving artists draw and paint patrons on the sidewalk, or sell art they’ve created already. I decided to have a portrait drawn of myself as a gift for my mother, but the artist in no way captured my essence. Whatever, my mother will still add it to her shrine, I’m sure.

We moved along at a great pace using the metro (while most tourists suffered the taxis and buses) and arrived at the Arc de Triomphe. The queue was too long to go up to the top, and I easily satisfied myself with street view pictures, and those from beneath it. We strolled down the Champs-Élysées, taking in the shops and brand names, wondering who in the hell would really buy a car from a showroom in this part of town. We stumbled upon a cart selling baguettes and decided that was a fantastic idea to chomp on after a long day so far, then meandered to the south bank of the Seine, still soaking in the city. Along the Seine, there are many great places to have a sit-down and a cheeky glass of something bubbly while people-watching. In no time, we had given ourselves a double case of the giggles after drinking and judging people (“great shoes, great hair, bad sweatpants” or “tiny dog, stupid pants, what the fuck makeup?”)

That’s when it finally sunk in that this was a great city, and just the place where our kind of people would have fun. And by our kind of people, I mean those who drink wine and judge people. Plus, everywhere you looked was something beautiful to see – a French flag here, a beautiful person there, a clean blue green river there, and so on.

The second full day, Saturday the 23rd, we started out by heading to the square at République to grab breakfast. We saw the monument where the candlelight vigils were held for the reporter at Charlie Hebdo, which had been defaced everywhere with “Je suis Charlie” and such. We weren’t expecting that when we got to the square, but it was quite moving to see. I remember when that shooting happened – it wasn’t long after the siege in a Sydney Lindt with a similar enemy (see my post about the Sydney siege **here**.)

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Next up, we went to the Bastille, which I was surprised to see was only a solitary monument/obelisk with a golden angel statue up top. But I guess that is all that is left from the storming of the Bastille… Probably should have paid more attention in World History class in my school days…

From the Bastile monument, we walked to Notre Dame cathedral. There were beautiful homes and neighborhoods to be seen; quaint little streets with old architecture taking one back centuries. We opted to pass on going to the top of Notre Dame, and instead just walked through the main church area on the ground floor. That was still breathtaking; don’t get me wrong. I was completely taken with the stained glass, the high ceilings, and the dark, gothic columns.

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I recently rewatched the Hunchback of Notre Dame and even spotted the gargoyles which inspired the characters in the Disney interpretation of the story. I had to keep myself from yelling, “Sanctuary!” at the top of my lungs when entering – after all, it is a church, and still holds mass for those with spirituality and religion. I paid 2€ and lit a candle as well, as it appears that is what one does there.

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After already seeing so much that Saturday, we managed to finally go to the Eiffel Tower by midday. We’d sort of been building up since our arrival, and I didn’t want to go see it the first day. As I’d never seen it before, I wanted the first time I saw it up close and personal to be special. I wanted to look up its skirt to see if it was a boy or a girl, and really enjoy the tower for all its beauty. I did not want to be rushed or take it for granted. Dark skinned Senegalese men were everywhere, hawking faking statues and selfie sticks for the tourists. After about an hour of wandering around, the clouds broke and some blue sky poked out, leaving us with some fantastic photo opportunities.

It warmed up quickly, and if you’ve ever travelled with me, you know when I get hot, I get cranky. We left after we had had enough of the assault on our senses there, to head back for a rest in our apartment. However, that didn’t last long, as we soon decided to buy a bottle of champagne and have a mini picnic in the gardens across from the Eiffel Tower with the fountains that are usually in all the great postcard pictures.

We planted ourselves as drunks on steps and people watched until the sun went down, waiting for the Eiffel Tower to light up at night. We watched some Parisians running a scam called “Find the Ball” under 3 cups which they shuffled quickly. We watched long enough to see who in the crowd was in on it, and who the mark was they were trying to get to throw in cash. The same 7 people circled around when he set up and took down the scam, and we even saw a mother with her baby and a stroller in on it. It takes all kinds, I suppose…

We watched lovers and families, friends, and large groups. We saw teenagers skateboarding precariously close to the ground, and generally pretty fast, down the slight decline heading toward the Tower. Finally, the lights on the Tower came on and I got a few good snaps.

Next, we moved to the Blanche metro stop where the Moulin Rouge is situated. I had to also stop myself from breaking into song in front of it. We passed up on going inside. By this point in time, we have crowned ourselves the king and queen of doing things on the cheap here. There’s no reason to waste money when we create our own entertainment anywhere we go. So, a few pictures, and we headed home to sleep it off, once more.

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It is now Sunday. We had hoped to visit Versailles today, but with it being Pentecost, all tickets were sold out. Good thing we checked online before heading an hour out of town to go find out for ourselves in person. So instead, we opted to go deep into the city, underground, to the catacombs. I had read, not too long ago, about people going through the catacombs illegally, as there is a whole network of tunnels under the city much like the New York subway stations no one knows about. There is a whole underground world down there.

Unfortunately, we waited nearly 3 hours to get into the catacombs, despite arriving when they should have opened. There was a line around the block. However, it ended up being very worth the wait. I was struck by the sheer volume of organized rows of bones down there – femurs and skulls, and other barely discernable parts. So many people are laid to rest underground there. It was eerie yet peaceful, cool, and contemplative. Some of the best pictures I’ve taken in this city was down there today. I don’t even think I’ll need to edit or modify them.

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Paris has also been a grand adventure in learning to use my DSLR camera. I invested in a nice Canon Rebel T5 and whole accoutrement of accessories/lenses/tripods, and such. I didn’t really photograph anything in London, but I have been loving my camera and what I’ve been able to do with it here. I’m still very much a novice, but I don’t think I’ve taken a bad picture yet. There were some frustrating moments in the catacombs where the photo simply would take due to lack of light or inability to focus. So I’ll definitely have some more learning to do to capture what I want. I’ll soon be uploading albums to a new Flickr site I’ve set up, see the Photography section of my blog site for the link.

If you haven’t been to Paris, I highly recommend it. The French are not rude or arrogant at all; in fact all have been quite nice. I never learned French in school, but they appreciate that I try. I say bonjour and bonsoir, monsieur and mademoiselle and madam, and they usually know enough English to put together what I’m asking for. They are polite, contrary to popular belief.

The feel of the city, that je ne sais quoi, it’s simply happiness-inducing. I had no expectations; I was not disappointed. I am only disappointed I don’t have more time here to do Versailles.

We will likely stroll along the Canal St. Martin this evening, and spend a good portion of tomorrow in the Louvre. After my art history course on the Renaissance in college, I know I could easily spend a week at the Louvre and still not see it all. I don’t just want to see the Mona Lisa. There are so many amazing pieces here, not to mention the Louvre pyramid itself.

So there, dear reader, is Paris in a nutshell for me. Or should I say, in a baguette for me?

Playing tourist in the UK

So, dear reader, last you heard from me, my wallet was stolen while in the English countryside, and I was up the proverbial river Medway without a wallet paddle. Read about it in this post here.

Don’t worry; I didn’t let that get me down. I’ve had a very busy 5 days since then. On Friday, 15 May, I met my gracious host’s good friends and former coworkers, who also happen to be Australian like him. They were good fun – we went to dinner for Mexican in Soho, London’s ever-present gayborhood, and then to karaoke in the “Ice Room.” We ended up after-partying at a trashy bar called Strawberry Moons (we giggled like 8 year olds at “moons” every chance we got. Don’t worry.)

Then Saturday, we played tourist a bit around London. We went for breakfast but missed breakfast time due to the slowest bus driver ever. We then walked and wandered to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen was not in residence that day (she’d already whisked herself away to Windsor Castle for a long weekend.) We kept walking through Green Park and St. James Park, to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Since my host was still moderately hungover after greasy food and a long walk, we stayed in that night and watched movies and TV shows to rest our little tootsies.

Sunday, we decided to expose ourselves to some culture via one of London’s many free museums. We chose the Natural History Museum at my request, since I’d never been. It was a great choice for this rock nerd – the mineral collection and The Vault of meteorites and precious gems and metals did not disappoint. The most beautiful specimens of opals, my favorite, were from Australia, of course. A beautiful white opal mined at Coober Pedy, SA and a black opal from Bundinbarrina, NSW were eclipsed by the bright blue opal in jasper from the Barcoo River in Queensland. The gargoyles on the outside of the building are not to be missed, as the exquisite architecture is second to none in such an old city. Next, another friend of mine met up with us after I picked up a couple rocks from the shop for my own collection, and we three walked through Hyde Park to a place near and dear to my heart, Kensington Palace.

Now, for those of you who don’t know me except through this blog, I shall now reveal to you something, which has not been in any of my other blog posts: my name. I was named for Princess Diana and since she inhabited Apartment 8 at Kensington Palace from the day she married Charles in 1981 to the day she died in 1997, it meant a lot to me to finally visit the famed location. So there you go; now you know. Nice to meet you. I’m Diana.

We three proceeded to meander through Notting Hill up to Paddington, where we parted ways and headed home. It was a great weekend to play tourist, and I even caught a bit of London’s weird when a gaggle of roller bladers with loud, thumping music stopped traffic with their antics, San Francisco weird style.

Monday, I had pre-booked a fantastic day through Evan Evans Tours – highly recommend if you’re interested in seeing Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge in one day. It saves the rental car, and admission for each location is included in your price of the tour. I had originally booked the tour just to see Stonehenge; that was the pièce de résistance for me.

If I’m being completely honest, Windsor Castle fucking pissed me off. Some people ooh and ahh at the opulence; it disgusted me. 36 million pounds to restore the castle after the fire in 1992? That was 36 million pounds better spent on the people of the UK, if you ask me. I’ve been staying with my friend in Oval, London, which is near Brixton. Let me tell you, that neighborhood could use just 1 million of those 36 million pounds to improve the quality of life for so many people.

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Walking through the castle, with all the seats covered in fine satins with brocade and paisley stitching, only to be roped off for no weary travelers such as myself to rest upon, disappointed me. What’s the point of refurbishing/replacing that random chair if no one can sit in it? This castle was gorgeous to look at, but completely impractical. Even when I looked in the stone collections at the Natural History Museum, the most beautiful specimen of diamond was not display. Rather, there was a note in the case where it should have been that the Koh-i-Noor diamond was currently in the scepter held by Queen Elizabeth II in her coronation. No one can look at it or marvel at its beauty there! Complete waste, if you ask me, and complete overkill.

The most beautiful part of the castle to me was the very old floorboards, still in beautiful condition, with inlays and intricacies that I don’t think many notice because there is so much else to look at. The crown molding, the carved ceilings, the design of even the walls, were breathtaking. But still, overkill, and money better spent elsewhere.

It was rainy the morning I walked through Windsor Castle, and after gawking in shock and disgust at the State Rooms, I ventured to St. George’s Chapel.

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The opulence overwhelmed me there, as well. What struck me most was the tomb where her majesty’s parents are buried have marble statues of them side by side, as if sleeping. At their feet, carved in the same gorgeous marble, were a lion and a unicorn, almost guarding their souls while they eternally sleep. The imagery was beautiful, and the thought was nice. The stained glass above left me speechless, as it must have been so old (the parts not damaged in the fire, that is.)

We departed Windsor Castle while the Queen was still in residence (this is demonstrated by the flag waved above the Round Tower), and made the long haul out to Bath next. We visited the actual Roman baths from thousands of years ago, fueled by underground hot springs. On the way, we passed free range pig farms, horses and cows grazing, and sheered sheep looking quite chilly on the green hillsides. For a California girl used to golden brown landscapes amidst arguably the worst drought in history, the greenery was also too much. So much water! So much green!

The honey colored stone on every building in Bath was consistently beautiful; as the rock used to build Bath came from one quarry. It’s a quiet town, with one of eight British river Avons, and winding streets with crescent homes I can just imagine Jane Austen discovering for herself when she lived there.

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I quickly worked my way through the Roman Bath museum without the audio tour, and snapped selfies and photos at the bath itself. The water is green, rich with minerals, not blue and clear, like many may come to expect. There are statues guarding the perimeter of the open roof, including the likes of Caesar and Claudius (pictured here):

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I took a one-pence coin from my dwindling stash of borrowed cash in my pocket (the final remnants of the wallet fiasco mentioned earlier) and threw it into the west pool along with countless others and made a wish. Normally, I don’t think you should share your wish, but I want to share my wish with you. I wished to know my gift, my purpose in this world. As I enter a new chapter in my life after living abroad, I wished to know what it is I’m meant to do next. I want and need to figure it out.

At the end of the museum tour, you can actually taste the water from the underground hot springs which fuel the baths, in its cleaned and filtered form. It is saturated with what must be iron, leaving a metallic aftertaste in your mouth. The water is, of course, warm, not cool and refreshing. I hoped it would bring me good health. At the ripe age of 33, I’m not getting any younger.

I briefly wandered the streets of Bath, but wasn’t interested in purchasing souvenirs. Instead, I entertained myself by plopping on an unused outdoor ale house bench and people-watched for the remainder of my free time before the coach whisked us away to our next destination. I watched those who must live there angrily navigate the hoards of tourists. They were easy to spot – they had quite an alternative look, almost like they were trying too hard to stand out. This was in stark contrast to those tourists trying too hard to fit in. While patisseries galore were recommended to me, I wasn’t hungry. I much preferred to freely breathe the air, which was considerably cleaner than the London pollution in which I’ve been so immersed.

Time passed quickly, and soon, we were off to the highlight of the tour for me, Stonehenge Stone Circle. There are many theories and hypotheses about what Stonehenge is – an archaic calendar/alarm clock/sundial, a burial ground, a meeting place for sacred worship…

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To me, it was a spiritual place where a rock nerd could appreciate people who came thousands of years before and dedicated and sacrificed their lives to build and maintain this majestic world heritage site moving bluestone hundreds of miles to this gorgeous place. To me, it truly was a wonder of the modern world, and the ancient world alike. I knew my dad would have loved to see Stonehenge. I nearly cried on the bus ride back, overwhelmed with missing him and wishing he’d seen it with me. It was also colder than a witch’s tit with piercing winds despite patchy sunshine through the high cumulus clouds. I couldn’t bear the cold without a windbreaker for long, but I got the gist. I snapped selfies and photographs, and looking at those photos now, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen myself so happy.

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While so many have come before me and have seen what I have seen on this trip to London, I feel like I’m seeing them my way and I have my own feelings that each attraction inspired. Some I glazed over with mild disinterest, while others I needed so much more time to soak in the energy. I’ve had many new experiences on this second trip to London, in just about every way I could have. This second trip was nothing like my first trip, but for the beauty of the city and the kindness and good company of friends here.

Today, I am helping a friend move the last of her things to her new accommodation finally found after lots of trial and error. Tomorrow I will pack for the next legs of my trip, and depart via Eurorail for Paris midday on Thursday. My partner-in-crime and I plan to bring nibbles and champagne for a mini-spread on the train, to keep ourselves entertained for the two-hour ride. Have pity on those around us as we eat and sip with pinkies in air, and impersonate accents badly while laughing and snorting and possibly accidentally burping in between.

I expect nothing of Paris, and I hope it too expects nothing of me. To many, Paris is meant to be romantic. I too had one day hoped I’d visit it with my partner. That will not be the case, this time. Life is too short to hold out on something just because you have to do it alone.

It’s also important to me to note that the day we depart for Paris, I will be moving down to 1/4 of my original 100mg dosage of Zoloft as I continue to responsibly come off of my anti-depressants. I’m under doctor supervision, and I’m doing it safely and in increments, and I feel amazing that so far it’s been amazingly easy to do.

I’m enjoying my adventures – I invite you to enjoy mine too, as you are busy enjoying your own. I am also happy to report all replacement ATM and credit cards have arrived in time to make me right as rain before the next leg of the journey. Fingers and toes crossed it doesn’t happen again. Knock on wood. Touch wood. Do whatever to the wood so it doesn’t fucking happen again.

Until next time, dear reader.

A stolen wallet abroad, bank customer service reps, and good friends

Yesterday, I was invited to go with a friend to scope out a place to live outside London, in a small township called Maidstone (just south of Rochester and along the river Medway). I paid £24.40 for a return ticket from St. Pancras International train terminal and was off.

I met my friend on the platform in Strood, where I had to switch trains. We arrived in Maidstone and wandered along the downtown shopping area, and had lovely apple-infused tea concoctions at a Pret a Manger, an organic coffeehouse, which I insisted on paying for. When we finished, I got up and threw my bag over my shoulder, checking my belongings to be on our way to the flat for my friend.

As I rummaged through my bag looking for my wallet and couldn’t feel the smooth black leather anywhere, a sinking feeling grew deep in my stomach… I proceeded to rummage more vigorously and eventually empty my bag, only to find that, indeed, my wallet was gone.

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Luckily, I wasn’t born yesterday (maybe the day before yesterday, though) and I was prepared for this very scenario. We hope for the best but prepare for the worst, right? I had read somewhere years ago to keep a list of all credit cards that I carry in my wallet, along with their customer service phone numbers, and in this instance, the phone number to call when outside the U.S. for this very situation. I had the credit card numbers as well as the CVC codes on the back of the cards in the signature box all saved in my phone, which they luckily didn’t take.

Turns out that is a handy thing to have. You can move on from the initial shit feeling of being violated and lost faith in humanity to damage control mode immediately. I proceeded to call all numbers for the cards I brought with me to report the cards stolen, check for any fraudulent charges, and request new cards be overnighted or 2-3 day express posted to the address of the friend I’m staying with in London. The patience of my friend while I did this did not go unnoticed.

I have to say, I only had 4 cards in my wallet which someone could have used to purchase anything – 2 ATM cards and 2 credit cards. My call to Chase for a credit card took approximately 5 minutes, and I only had to repeat myself a couple of times on the London address of my friend, probably due only to the operator’s lack of familiarity with the formatting of foreign mailing addresses. My call to Bank of America took nearly 30 minutes for 2 of the cards – and was peppered with too many, “Just a moment”s and “Bear with, please”s. I had to repeat myself multiple times. My call to e*Trade was not an international collect call like the others so I was charged full roaming rates, and the idiot on the other end of the line proceeded to ask me EVERY security question even when I answered the first 3 or 4 correctly. I finally had to cut him off and say, “Cesar, it’s me, I promise, and I’m paying full roaming rates for this call because E*Trade did not list a customer service number on the back of the card for situations like this where travelers need assistance from outside the country. Please move along and cancel the goddamn card now.”

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Beyond a lost faith in humanity and dealing with emotionless customer service reps, I also had that great feeling of it being my own goddamn fault. Plus, I’m one of those people who naturally offers to pay or shouts a first round of drinks. I usually have no problem throwing down a card with my friends, especially since I often make more than them, so it makes sense that I should offer in certain instances. My insistence on paying for our snacks caused me to remove my wallet from my bag in the first place, so it was a contributor to having it taken yesterday.

So, fellow travelers, the lesson of yesterday’s dick-move is to keep that list of cards either in an app on your phone, in an excel file you email to yourself before your trip (which I did), or have otherwise printed with your other travel documents that you leave in your hotel room, so that the mischief can be managed in a timely manner and with minimal collateral damage. I highly recommend noting the CVC codes, which I was asked for in one of the calls I made, in addition to the card #.

Also, register your oyster card balances so the balance can be transferred to a new card – I had a £10 balance on my oyster card that I should be able to transfer to my new oyster card. My California driver’s license is a lost cause, however, but luckily I’m not planning on driving at any point in my trip. I had offered to help my friend move by getting a zipcar, once we found her a good place to live, but that’s out of the cards now, unfortunately. Small price to pay for what could have been a massive blow to my travels. My passport was safely at home and no other items of mine were taken from bag besides the wallet, so I still luckily had my cell phone to help me handle this.

Another lesson learned from this: I also highly recommend having amazing friends. Luckily, this could not have happened at a better time in my trip. I’m still in London for one more week, and I’m staying with a my flatmate from Sydney who has an address to which my new cards can be sent. He also withdrew money from the ATM from his account to help me out, and give me pocket money until my new cards arrived. My other friend, who was with me when it happened, paid for a new ticket back to London (I lost the return ticket I’d purchased in the wallet as well) and gave me a bit of money for the city too.

Last night, one friend in Sydney – no joke – offered to wire me $2,000 to my gracious Sydney flatmate host’s bank account so he could give me that to spend for the rest of my trip. I was flabbergasted that a friend would even offer that insane amount of money. I politely declined, knowing as soon as I had the replacement cards for access, I had plenty of money in the accounts.

But hot damn – I have managed to surround myself with GOOD PEOPLE. It almost makes up for those turds who walked off with my wallet. They’d obviously see the California ID and see I was in a foreign country. But their own self-serving needs came above realizing the problems this would cause for someone abroad. Luckily, I only had £5 in cash in the wallet – I was planning to go to the ATM before our coffee break, but decided instead to go after. Good thing, too.

In the end, I’m wiser for it, and relatively unscathed from my brush with thievery. I have good people in my life who help me when I’m down, and that’s more than a girl could ask for. I have enough patience to deal with 2 of 3 customer service reps at banking institutions. That’s enough for me. And learn from our recorded conversation, Cesar at e*Trade. You need it.

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Travel smart, and carry good friends, dear reader. Don’t leave home without them. You’ll thank yourself for both, trust me.

As I walk along, I wonder

I went on a walk in a non-touristy section of London today, no headphones in, just to see what I see, hear what I hear, and smell what I smell. Like any big city, people rushed by, in a hurry to wherever they were going, talking with friends, getting lunch, whatever.

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On my walk, I passed a dead rat, belly up on the ground. I won’t go into the details of the corpse of the rat, but don’t worry, I observed much in my glance that lasted only a fraction of a second. I saw new bright green buds on hedges and plants I walked past. I contemplated those two sides of the same coin – death and growth. This old city has seen a lot of both, I’m sure.

I’ve been having very vivid, quite horrid dreams here. I’m a real asshole in them, and my logic in my dreams does not equate to the same decisions I would make in my waking life. It’s like I don’t know who I am in dreams anymore. I feel pretty disconnected from whoever that me is in my subconscious.

I spent last night in my college town, driving around in my old white Toyota 4-speed pickup truck with people I don’t know looking for where I parked my truck. It took me a moment when I awoke in a heavy daze to figure out the flaw in that logic. How could I be looking for a truck I was already in? And not realize in my dream the error of my ways? I used to let my dreams guide many of my choices in my waking life. After the last three days, I don’t think it’s safe to do that for awhile.

I like to think I’ll keep growing as a person all my life. If you’re not growing, you’re as good as dead. You’re stagnant, stale, spoiled, stuck in the past. The world is moving and growing, and if you’re not with it, you’re against it.

I took time off to expand, to open my mind and my schedule and my heart, to grow. It’s spring, and if I water myself, and find the right place, I should be able to grow. I can’t feel myself growing, though. When you watch a plant day after day, you don’t actually see it growing, but you realize after a few days or a week or a month, that there are new leaves, new buds, longer stems.

I wonder how long it will take before I begin to see measurable progress and growth in myself, though I don’t know what I’m looking for. I don’t have visible buds or leaves I can see sprouting anywhere. I’ve not read any books while I’ve been here, and fewer articles than I normally read. I have yet to try out my new DSLR camera on this trip – that’s a new branch just waiting to sprout out the side. But that one’s not growing yet.

Parts of me are dying too. Sometimes, that’s ok. I’ve had the funeral for some feelings, and am struggling to keep them at bay.

When I was younger, I taught myself to ride my bicycle with no hands. It started with getting a strong leg rhythm to pump the wheels ever-forward, regardless of the steering. I started leaning back, and not putting my weight on my hands or the handlebars so much, then I went so far as to begin pulling one hand off the handlebars, and holding it just a centimeter or so away from the bike. It was always quick, because the bike would tilt, and I would overcorrect to ensure I didn’t fall. Eventually, I got to a point where I could sit all the way back on the seat, and hardly touch the handlebars, with both hands. I began envisioning taking my hands off and keeping them at my side, and alternated riding one-handed, too. Finally, I began saying over and over, in my head, “I am the road. I am the bike.” I took both hands off, about 6 inches above the handlebars. I was doing it! Finally! I could ride with no hands!

My mental image of being the bike was important – I imagined being that place where the bike wheels intersected the asphalt. I wasn’t the wheels, and I wasn’t that particular bit of gravel and tar. It was bigger than that.

The recipe for riding a bike with no hands, besides lots of practice, is a certain sort of fearlessness, determination, and of course, you already have to be in motion. Not accelerating, not decelerating, but at a fairly constant speed. You must already be moving. It’s damn near impossible to start a bike from a stopped position with no hands. It’s even more impossible to stop a bike that’s moving with no hands – especially since most bikes have handlebar brakes these days. You could stop the bike with an object, but that’s what most people call an accident, and usually involves some injuries.

I’m in motion, I’m trying to be fearless, and I’m determined to grow. I am the life I’m living, and I am the dreams I have. Parts of me are like the rat, and parts of me are like the green buds.

Maybe these dreams of mine are new buds of a person I could be – but I don’t think I like that person. Time to nip that person in the bud, methinks.

London again

I’ve invested a lot of time and money into my travels, but there are few locations I’ve visited more than once. Usually, the purpose for such repetitive travels is visiting family who live there. I’ve only actually purchased a vacation to the same location twice in one instance – my current trip, which kicks off with my second time in London.

I last visited London in September 2009, staying with a childhood best friend who was living with my coworker and her husband on a secondment in the London office of our firm. They had a wonderful 2 bedroom flat near Belsize Park in the northern part of London.

We saw many of the tourist attractions that time around – St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Exchange, Elephant & Castle, the Tower Bridge, Tate Modern museum, the crown jewels of Henry VIII, beefeaters, the Ann Boelyn memorial site, and cute little restaurants and pubs in the heart of London.

This time around in London, I’m not set on being a tourist at all. London in my 20’s vs. London in my 30’s is a very different place. This visit is about something other than experiencing the city’s attractions. There are different attractions now. There’s even different weather now. To quote one of my favorite old songs, “nothing falls like London rain,” especially in May vs. no rain really in September last time I visited.

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I’m enjoying seeing friends who are here more than any architecture or tourist site. I’m immersing myself in the daily grind of the tube and of the double-decker red buses that make you feel like you’re on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It’s enough to make you hug the ground when you disembark at your stop.

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After living in Australia, with it being so similar to the UK, I have a different appreciation of this city. I’ve now experienced public transport in many more large cities like New York City, Barcelona, Sydney, Amsterdam, and of course my native San Francisco.

It’s funny, I look back at the pictures I took of London in my first go-round, and I saw with very different eyes, and looked at very different things back then. 6 years ago, my state of mind, my heart, and my dreams were very different. My friends were different. This time, I’ve not taken any pictures of London. This time, it’s not about capturing moments because I’ve come back once now, so I assume I’ll be back again. It’s odd, not feeling the need to photograph anything here.

Much like repatriating back to the U.S. after living abroad, I did not expect the city to be the same because I wasn’t the same. I think that’s a pretty basic and rational expectation to have. In a way, London has grown in unexpected ways, just as I have.

The last time I was here, I referred to London as “10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound sack,” after which my friend corrected me on the use of the metric system across the pond, “10 kilos of shit in a 2-kilo sack.” It’s not so much like that anymore.

The brick buildings adorned with crisp white windows and trim preside over beautiful parks. Row houses comparable to the terrace homes in Sydney provide quaint mini-communities within the many boroughs. The age of the city shows, but its wrinkles and cracked façades are beautiful in their own right. You can feel the history. There are more prams on buses than 20-somethings with earbuds blasting music too loudly. Everything comes in smaller sizes, unlike the huge/bulk American sizes of toiletries, foodstuffs, portions, and the like. Londoners are bringing back the matching tracksuits with a vengeance, stimulating a sudden urge to dress like Sue Sylvester for Halloween.

I was also spoiled last time, since my wonderful hosts lived two small blocks from a tube stop, which made getting around super easy. This time around, the tube stop is about a 15-20 minute walk away. You’re sweaty by the time you get to the tube, then, the lack of air conditioning and sheer volume of people on it make for a very uncomfortable ride. I’ve done more walking in the last 4 days than I have in the last 4 months.

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I’m very lucky to live in the location I do in San Francisco because everything I need (gym, grocery store, Mexican food stop, pharmacy, etc.) is all within a 5-minute walk with no need for public transport.

I’m also taking a bit of time to visit the British countryside, outside of London, this time. Yesterday, I went with a friend to view a room on a houseboat she’s thinking of letting, and I ended up walking by a cemetery with very old gravestones, and a field of yellow dandelions. The wind blew in my face; the sun shone in a bright blue sky. We walked across a bridge with a view of a cathedral and a castle. It’s quite wonderful being away from hustle and bustle of the city which doesn’t care if it runs into you while passing on the street, or bumps into you as you make your way from one platform to another on the tube.

This time around, the local lingo is actually quite easy to make fun of. The next time I hear someone say, “innit” after anything, they may get this from me:

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This is my first time revisiting a destination, as I usually like to try new locations and explore places for the first time on my travels. It is an odd yet welcome opportunity to come back and experience the same places a different way, as a different person. Try it sometime and see how you like it.

Grief

I read somewhere recently that grief is the price one pays for love.

In a college Dying, Death and the Afterlife course, we read C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, and this quote stuck out when I think of my experiences thus far with grief:

“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it? How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time.”

It’s true, I wake up every day having to relive the grief I’ve lived. Re-feel the loss of my father, re-feel the rejection of love I try to give. I’ve known my share of grief, though it is a recent pain I’m still learning to navigate with any kind of grace. This love shit should come with training wheels, a helmet, and heart pads for when someone takes it out and throws it on the floor, and stomps on it.

I experienced my first bout of grief in high school, when my lab partner Scott was killed in a car accident just before his 16th birthday. He was a guy that guys wanted to be like, and that girls swooned over. He just copied my papers in chemistry, since I had taken the advanced placement exam, and he was doing his best to learn and get by. I didn’t have a crush on him or anything, but it was a person within my closed circle of friends and he was the first to meet this fate that all of us one day will.

The most substantial grief I’ve met has been through the death of my father. A friend of mine recently (as in within the last two days) lost her mother to cancer, after a quick yet futile attempt at chemotherapy. When it hits stage 4, and it’s aggressively spreading, there’s unfortunately not much to be done.

The loss of my father occurred around the same time I went through two other substantial encounters with grief – going through a break up with a girlfriend I was still in love with, and a career grief that has since been mitigated. I was passed over for promotion despite being, in my opinion, demonstrating skills at that level for some time.

I am currently suffering another grief, one I have not mentioned to many. It weighs on me and I feel I can’t keep it in any longer. Writing helps you work through feelings and thoughts and for too long, this grief has been the elephant in the room.

Like an idiot, I fell in love in the past year. I do not know when it struck me, only that it remains despite my brain trying to tell my heart to get over it, repeatedly. It is an unrequited love. I offered more than friendship – the very best of my being, of what I have to offer, of doing anything just to make her smile.

This is the second time now when I’ve been in love, and been hurt for it. Both times, they told me in not so uncertain terms that the spark wasn’t there. I never thought of my love as having sparks. I know it comes heavy, like an 18-wheeler truck, and barrels through everything.

Grieving is said to happen in stages, including anger, depression, bargaining, and others. I find often I go to the bargaining stage and get stuck in it. I overanalyze what I could have done differently and if that would have changed the outcome. I would give anything to have it back. I get depressed at the futility of it all – how we only have so much time on this earth, and how the odds are against us from the start. But for my heart, that will make the win that much sweeter – when we are the underdogs and the odds are never in our favor, that’s when a true love will squash anything and everything.

I think of my most recent love often, and wonder if she’s happy. I wish above all that I could be part of what makes her happy. However, that is not to be.

It is this grief I need to come to terms with, and sooner rather than later would be most desirable. Part of my trip will be coming to terms with the second major love of my life and losing it. Some people say it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. I disagree. Both scenarios suck.

It’s better to have love, and have both participants understand what it is to them. Love is a tricky thing and can take many shapes and forms.

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I took a sabbatical from work to contemplate many things, including what I’m meant to be doing with my life, what I should do, and how I want the narrative of my life to change. I write the book. If I truly write the book, I would have a love that actually loved me back. Who didn’t expect love to be something that it isn’t.

I haven’t had the best examples of love in my parents. They’re good people, with their own individual flaws, and they made the best of things. I wonder if it was truly love they shared, though.

I haven’t had many people love me either, not in the romantic sense of the word, anyway. It makes one wonder if they are lovable, when all they encounter is rejection. I like to think I’m a good package. Still, I have some flaws, but in the end, I’m a good person, and deserving of love.

I know there is nothing I can do to get anyone to fall in love with me, or make people love me. Sometimes I wish I could. I’ve spent so much of my life unfulfilled, because no one has loved me, and may never will, as much as my parents loved me.

That brings both mommy and daddy issues into the arena. I see how my dad loved. Well, sort of. OK, not really. He was a gruff man, but he provided, he did things around the house my mother could not, and I see he showed what love he was capable of in certain ways. My mother was the over-doting, extra-protective parent who really thought I could do no wrong, and who still has ridiculous shrines to her only daughter all around her house in the form of framed pictures of me, old dolls that look like me, and a gusto with which she worries about me. Now, those symptoms are not wholly consistent with how my love has debuted itself, but the way the person is reacting to my love is like how I react to my mother’s love. Thanks, but no thanks.

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I find I see attributes of my mother’s love in the most recent unrequited love and the role I’m playing. Not that I have shrines, but with my love, despite seeing person’s flaws, I look past them and still would do anything for her. They’re not flaws to me. They’re part of what make her beautiful and unique. To my detriment, perhaps. That’s scary, because the last thing I want to be is like my mother (in that regard.) I know how I saw her love, and how I treated her. It’s no wonder I’m unhappy. I’ve had horrible role models in love, and I’m doing my best to overcome that.

I’d like to think when I’m working on the next chapters of my life, that I could maybe find a love that loved me back. That’s pretty important to me.

However, I also have to come to terms with an idea that perhaps my destiny is to be single, and I should stop trying altogether. I want to give up, because I’m sick of being disappointed. Maybe I’m just not meant to have that in this lifetime. Maybe this is the kick in the pants I needed to realize that I should stop wasting my time with such frivolous things as the affections of another. For someone who has so much love to give, this is an incredibly bitter pill to swallow.

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So on this trip this summer, I shall be coming to terms with grief as the price for the immense amount of love in all it’s shades of red and blue and explosions of purple that I have. Love is a horrible thing, I don’t recommend it. On the other side of that coin, love is a wonderful thing, and I can’t wait to be in it with someone that actually is in it with me.

Song for someone

All the furniture is covered in sheets to combat 2 months of undeterred burial by dust. I sit at the airport hours before my flight, mostly because I didn’t want to be in my apartment anymore. There’s nothing there for me right now. I have nowhere else to be, except the airport, to ensure I make my flight. If I’d waited any longer to catch a taxi, I would have hit traffic. So I guess I’ll be here at the airport, then. As good as any place, I reckon.

This Mexican restaurant in the international terminal on Cinco de Mayo is hardly welcoming or comforting. And I’ve just seen on the real-time seat map some idiot United rep has seated two people in my row next to me, when those two seats were empty before I left for the airport. Brilliant. Fuckface.

I have no desire to sit next to anyone. To be honest, I wouldn’t wish myself on anyone right now for company, either.

I feel more alone in this world than I did on the flight from Sydney to San Francisco I made when I first learned of my father’s heart failure 2 years ago.

I write now not to clear my head, or really for myself at all. I am not happy right now, as many may think I should be.

This is the letter to the traveller who tries taking a similar path, who comes after me. This is a signature in a guest book, a Facebook check-in, obligatory and by no means enjoyed. This won’t be an easy trip for me. I don’t know what’s going to happen or how the narrative of my life will change yet. If this will be but an insignificant blip going out into space, unanswered, just floating around out there.

I am not in a head space, but in a heart space. I feel everything and yet nothing. I occupy a space, and soon I will be gone. You won’t even know I was here, unless I say I was. 

So to the someone who comes after me, someone else stood here, looking at what’s ahead with analytic eyes. But I’m putting one foot in front of the other, though my heart seems to be throwing a temper tantrum at having to leave, rivaled only by the stuff of willful 2 year olds. I figure at some point, my heart will cry itself to sleep. 

In a way, I don’t know that I’m ready yet for whatever may come in the next two months. There’s no better way to find out than to show up, though.   

So I’m here. Here I go. Catch ya on the flip side. Maybe keep a light on for me, though, in case I need to find my way in the darkness.