Tag Archives: europe

Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home

I have this slight inkling of what you’re going through.

All you want to do is run off the plane–you’ve been cramped in that space for hours (Thank God it was a direct flight)–but you know that the process of returning to your homeland is nothing but “hurry up and wait.”  On the other side of those doors, only a few hundred meters away (heck, this is America, let’s say “yards”) is your home: in the arms of people you love.  Yet, all these damn lines and paperwork prevent you from seeing those faces, despite the obvious proximity after so many months away.  All you can do is try to be patient.  Perhaps pray a few decades with Mary as you watch the passports ahead of you being stamped with an abrupt “thunk” every few seconds.

Oh, that stamp.  Some day you’ll look back on it–“Admitted.  United States Customs. September 30, 2008”–and think about this day.  The waiting in line.  The ability to listen to conversations around you and comprehend the language fully.  One day the sight of that stamp will cause the past months to come flooding back–the smells, the letters, and tears, and the blissful nights with wine.

Next you’re on to the baggage claim.  You hardly even care about it at this point.  Material goods don’t mean as much as the people on the other side of that door…which is now closer, but still blocked by those men in Mylar vests.  Wait…still no bag.  Everyone else is looking over-tired too.

Eventually it makes its way around the baggage carrel (that looks like it might be fun to ride.  Part of you wants to be 5 again so you can and it wouldn’t be weird.)  You mount that oh-so-familiar bag on your back.  Perhaps for the last time for a good while.  Wait in yet another line to had the Mylar men a form that promises you aren’t going to poison the country.

And then comes that corridor.  The doors are at the end.  So are the crowds of people.  Amid which are two faces you cannot–will not–live without.

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Melissa only liked them green

In Belgium there are about 4 different types of garbage cans.  After we had to get rid of our backyard chickens due to the looming bird flu, the house actually had to start using the small green-ish garbage bag for compost materials.  It was always rather gross to be around, and worse to be the one who’s job was to take it our for the week.  Flies usually hung out a lot in that corner of the kitchen.

Drew, dressed in overly-warn thrift store pajama bottoms and hemp flip-flops,  went to throw out the remnants of his toast one morning when he noticed a banana.  It was seemingly unharmed and unguarded, lying on the top of the heap in the green-ish trash bag.  He looked around.  No one else was in the kitchen.  He bent over from the waist and picked up the banana gently with his thumb and index finger, careful not to touch anything else in the bag.  He held it up, inspected it.  Nothing unusual…just a bright yellow banana with a few small brown spots.  He peeled it and took a bite.

“Hun?”  Sara Rae said.  “Did you just eat that banana from the garbage?”
“It was totally fine.  And its got its own natural wrapper!”  He showed her the half-eaten fruit.  “See.  Still good.”

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Poland, place of rest

I’ve been asked to comment on my travels abroad. So here it is. Sorry for the delay Mr. Parkinson.

First of all, why Poland?
Well, my friend Elizabeth had been suggesting I come visit her in Paris for a number of months. But as the year went on time and money began to dwindle and I’d brushed it off. Unfortunately, after sitting around with my parents and a bottle of wine (a bottle? make that 2) sometime back in the spring I started to get the travel bug. Liz said, “pick the place. I’ll meet you there.” Poland: relatively inexpensive, holy, and wouldn’t be mobbed by beach-crazed Americans. Poland it was.

I arrived a few hours late and was met at the airport by my friend Jake, who I’d met a few months earlier in Pennsylvania at the Theology of the Body course. He was a bit confused as to where my luggage was–as was I. Amsterdam, supposedly. My layover there had been interesting, it was the one place in the world where my limited Dutch skillz came in handy. Everything was also in English as well, so really, Dutch continues to be a useless language. Lekker!

I met the travel-weary Elizabeth at the hostel and we spent the evening eating perogies in Old Town Warsaw.

After our visit with the very helpful reference librarian, we took a few moments to show our apreciation.

Day 2 we ventured to the library to attempt to find out where Liz would go to do family research. The reference librarian was VERY helpful, despite the old school computer catalogs and our lack of Polish.

Still not quite sure what this cake actually was...we dedcided coconut and goodness.

The afternoons (this one being no exception) were often spent going to mass and having a cappuccino. Jake drove us to Krakow via Częstochowa–in which lies the Black Madonna and Polish National Shrine. This place is a big deal, but I felt completely stupid as I 1) don’t speak Polish and 2) don’t really know anything about the Black Madonna. But, I was able to stand about 20 feet from her for mass–which I presume has some sort of special graces attached to it.

Day 3 was spent milling around the Old Town of Krakow. Eating the usual picnic lunch (large pretzel looking things, cheese, fruit), shopping and mass. On this particular day I made friends with the cute security guard at the Cathedral, who snuck me into the sanctuary for free to pray before mass. It is a good thing he didn’t ask for my number because my grandma made it very clear I was not to fall in love with a Polish boy and get married. Whew. Close call.

Day 5. Sunday. Papal Tour.
Jake had told us to catch a train to Wadowice, birth place of Karol Wojtyla, and on the route back we’d also be able to stop at the convent of St. Faustina. So Liz and I ventured to the train station about 40 minutes before the scheduled departure (the train station was across the street). Despite our best efforts at Polish and pointing at the printed email from Jake, the ticket ladies kept telling us to go “Hall” “down there” “left!” After about 5 tries to buy tickets we were eventually brought to a tiny office where we bought official PAPAL TRAIN tickets. And once on the platform this disneyworld ride pulled up:

more to come..

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Vodka anyone?

As it turns out, I’m leaving the country in a week. I didn’t really realize it until…yesterday?

I’m going to Poland for 7 days. The trip looks like this so far:
Meet Liz in Warsaw. After a few days go to Krakow. Fly back to Warsaw. Fly home.

Thats it. Those are my plans.
I haven’t been thinking about anything specific until this morning when I realized that I should probably consider transferring money to the correct account, gathering my passport, sending out hostel & flight details to family, learning Polish, and…everything else. Now I remember why I’d put off thinking about it for so long.

+John Paul the Great, pray for us!

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Here’s to you

I knew he was coming. I’d never actually met him. Dan had told me he’d show up at my door while Dan was in Spain for the weekend. Sure enough, in the middle of the week Dave (LargeDave, actually. We call him this because he is quite tall) knocks on the giant doors to the huis on Justus Lipsuisstraat–only a few steps from the Ring Road. Actually, it was Stephanie who answered the door. She was visiting me–a few days away from Madrid had landed her in Belgium. Their meeting was unexpected because 1) LargeDave was just kind of showing up at an unmarked door half-way around the world and 2) LargeDave and Stephanie had actually taken a class together while at U of I some years back. And here they were, meeting only sort of by chance in a little Belgian town.

Dan and Dave were roommates back in Illinois, Dan had planned to share his space again for a few days while Dave was visiting. But as it turns out the room was too small (Dave is quite tall) and so he ended up spending most of the time in my room and sleeping on the couch in the basement. We became quite good friends.

Back at U of I Dave would come to my parties and I would randomly see him at coffee shops and weddings–wondering why we both felt so displaced yet spoke as if not a moment (or a mile) had passed.

Last summer we both lived in the same apartment complex. Funny how we never ran into each other there but randomly found ourselves face to face over caffeinated beverages even after I’d moved away.

A few weeks ago LargeDave moved to New York. It just so happens that he moved to 500 Riverside Drive–my exact old address–way up there on the Upper West Side, only a block or two from Columbia. And it makes me so happy to know that our paths have crossed again, even though we’re miles apart.

Cheers, friend.

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Food for Less, Twice the Experience

I have discovered a new grocery store, thanks to my friend Tracy.  Although Caputo’s is a good 20 minutes away, it is so worth the drive.  Today I bought 1 1/5 weeks worth of produce for $20.  It was nearly as satisfying as those Aldi trips we used to make in Belgium.  But the store is more than just the produce.  Walking in is like a mix between the crazy grocery store I frequented in Manhattan and any of the grocery stores of Europe.

No one is speaking English.  Even the music is unrecognizable to my ears.  There are fresh breads–some so fresh they they steam the bakery cases.  Half of the products have labels in another language and I have to make an educated guess from the picture as to what is contained inside.  The aisles are narrow and the people move too quickly for their own good.  They have Prince Cookies, Nutella, milk in a box, pasta in shapes I’ve never seen, sugar waffles, maria cookies, and strange British teas that make no sense to me.

I love it.  And in some weird way, I feel at home.

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The Trapeze Swinger

This song–the words you so sweetly sang to me each night–got me through a lot.  Admittedly I was miserable and I knew it.  But there was something about lying there on that foam matress,  curtains tightly closed, curled up in my white duvet, earbuds streaming a constant reminder that somewhere people loved me dearly.  They might be on the other side of the world, but this song kept my confidence they would “please, remember me, happily.”

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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