Thursday, October 20, 2011

Signs from the universe

Ever since returning to Chicago I had found it difficult to stay motivated to get things done for myself. I tried to spend time writing my book, the one about my latest trip, but always seemed to make excuses instead. By that point in October - 2 full months after I had returned to the city - I had only written a 1/3 of the rough draft.

Since Paris I had began to think realistically about my next trip; I needed a middle term goal that I could strive towards. The long term goal was to be successful, which I had thought meant finishing my undergrad degree, but seemed to be too far off in the future to be considered likely attainable. And the short term goal to work and write was almost too effortless. I needed something to strive for that was going to take some oomph to obtain but was within reasonable reach; the day before last I had begun to think of a new destination.

After meeting Rafael at that hostel in Paris I had begun to give some serious consideration to traveling to South America. He had given me an open invitation to stay with him in Venezuela and it seemed like it could be a neat place to go; Rio and the big mountain Jesus, the Andes, even fresh coffee beans had always attracted my attention and sparked my interest. If I were to stay with Rafael I would not only have a springboard from which to explore the rest of South America but would also be afforded someone to show me the ropes for the first few days. Yet I thought back to Paris and how so many of my wonderful experiences would never have occurred had I not been able to speak French. Surely visiting South America would be more rewarding of an experience if I learned to speak Spanish beforehand.

Then I thought about the possibility of going to Russia. Ever since I had been a high school senior I had been fascinated with the country. Maybe a trip to Moscow would provide me the same high level of experience as Paris and India had. I could also travel to St. Petersburg and take the Trans-Siberian express across Russia, eventually ending up in Vladivostok. It seemed like a place that had a journey destined to end up there, but I felt as though Russia would be a place that I would want to see in the dead of winter; somehow a snow covered Kremlin seemed the only way to see it. And truth be told I seemed more in love with the idea of thinking about going to Russia rather than actually going to Russia.

Then I thought about Istanbul. When aboard a Mumbai bound train I met Janira and eagerly inquired about her travels. She was from the Bronx, had lived a year in Germany as an au pair, visited Ireland and Paris, fled from Bulgaria, and spent 3 months traveling throughout India. Of all the places she had been and seen it was the curious way in which she spoke of her experience with Istanbul like a lover remembers a summer fling that perked my ears. Janira explained it to be the meeting of East and West, of Asia and Europe; she told it to be the center of the art universe. The seed of Istanbul planted on that train in India had begun to bloom.

The idea to go to Istanbul was only reinforced on my last trip; I spent five days in London and happened to have booked my accommodations in a quite Turkish part of town. I first discovered that the chicken kabob place across from the hostel was a Turkish business (or at least Turkish run). Next it was the cafe kitty corner where I enjoyed a coffee each day. Even the laundromat down the block, grocer across the street, and the flower shoppe next door were all Turkish. And it was on my way out of town that I shared a ride on the tube with my regular (Turkish) server at the cafe - a moment that made me experience a feeling of belonging that a resident of London would.

In fact the more I thought about Istanbul the more it just seemed to make sense. I went to bed with possibly my next destination on my mind, and when I awoke the next morning it had become a resolution: I was going to Istanbul. Armed with my attainable destination, my middle term goal, I headed to work.

As a hardware associate part of my responsibilities include unpacking the shipments we received each week and making sure that the new product made its way to the shelves. Along with the expected hardware inventory we are also responsible for lawn and garden, home fitness, sporting goods, and toys. It was a box of magic 8 balls that would prove to be the difference maker. We had received a box of 4 such psychic devices and held one in particular behind the counter. When I arrived at work that morning the first thing I did was to ask the magic 8 ball kept behind the register about my new plans.

I don't really remember exactly what question I posed to the magic 8 ball that morning. In fact I don't even remember what answer was given to me. The only thing that shines through in my memory, and really the only important thing, was the desire to find out exactly what the magic 8 ball said; it was written in a foreign [to me] language. As it turned out the reason for that particular magic 8 ball to be held behind the counter was that it was a mis-packaged toy; the box containing the 8 ball was written in English, but the little object that floated inside of it was penned in another language. Clearly it was a foreign toy meant for a far off destination, but desperate to find out what answer it gave to my all important question I darted to the computer to find out.

At first the lettering and accents lead me to believe it was either written in German or Russian. But it wasn't. Nor was it Dutch, Czech, Bulgarian, Croatian, or Swedish.

It was Turkish.

It was a Turkish magic 8 ball.

It was a Turkish magic 8 ball that had been accidentally packaged in an English box, put into another box with 3 other English magic 8 balls, and shipped to a department store in downtown Chicago. Though I'm not sure what the odds of something like that occurring I would imagine it not to be quite common. And for the first time I could clearly understand what the universe wanted for me.

I simply want to travel and write. Oddly, I can't say that I ever felt homesick at the end of my trips; it was always at the beginning for me. Once I jumped into the pool I didn't want to get out. Each time I came home, first after India and most recently after Paris, I was only treading water in the States and working towards being away again. It's like I was a kid bouncing on a trampoline; every time back on the mat I compressed my legs not to settle there but get the jump to be back in the air. I don't know if I am to move to Istanbul but I know where my next destination is.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The ant and the grasshopper

 It was the warm months, and in a luscious valley filled with trees and life lived an ant and a grasshopper. The sun shone brightly upon the valley and warmed the days as the residents bustled about; some toiled away while others played; the ant worked hard; the grasshopper dallied.

To read the rest of this story please follow this link:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The concise Paris.

I took 953 pictures
I took 55 videos
I filled a 60 page journal with sketches and words
I authored 14 blog posts
I wrote countless pages in my notebook

All these things were created about Paris. But it is perhaps the list I begun about it in my pocket journal that most succinctly explains what the city is like.

I got the idea for the list my first day in Paris after stopping at a downtown brasserie to have a drink. When I looked at the board of prices I was shocked to see a glass of Bordeaux was actually cheaper than a half pint of Stella. It got me to thinking about things that Paris offers that make it truly Paris.

So here it is. The list of tag lines that, at least from my experiences, best describe Paris.

Paris: Where the wine is cheaper than the beer
Paris: Where they speak better French than you do
Paris: Where street signs on the corner tell how to find a toilet or museum, but not the name of the street
Paris: Where you can't find the Eiffel Tower simply by looking for it above other buildings
Paris: Where there are times of congestion but never a rush hour
Paris: Where directions are subjective
Paris: Where everyone smokes yet no one seems to sell cigarettes
Paris: Where you should always carry a corkscrew
Paris: Where opera makes sense
Paris: Where stereotypes can come true
Paris: Where beauty is everywhere
Paris: Where getting lost isn't necessarily a bad thing
Paris: Where the mundane is extraordinary
Paris: Where you might start speaking English with an accent
Paris: Where you need a map
Paris: Where seemingly every store sells wine but not a wine opener
Paris: Where a diet of bread and cheese is fantastic
Paris: Where there's always beautiful women on the metro, streets, patios...
Paris: Where people that look like foreigners to Paris speak perfect French
Paris: Where taking the metro doesn't cut walking out of the commute but rather shifts it underground
Paris: Where everyone takes pictures
Paris: Where the sky is simply more beautiful
Paris: Where croissants taste better
Paris: Where bums ask for change using espresso cups
Paris: Where aged roads can make you regret walking in flip flops
Paris: Where a Euro can buy 5 Eiffel Towers on every corner
Paris: Where small dogs are really popular
Paris: Where wedding pictures can - and do - happen everywhere
Paris: Where they drink two buck Chuck but call it Cote du Rhone
Paris: Where the name eau de toilet seems to refer to the streets
Paris: Where you'll take multiple pictures of the of the same things because they're that awesome
Paris: Where you can drink whiskey or espresso at a tattoo parlor
Paris: Where it always comes in handy to have a bottle of wine on you
Paris: Where homeless people might feed you before asking for something from you
Paris: Where gimmick restaurants that feature rude waiters also exist; they're called restaurants
Paris: Where you'll fall in love with a city