we had been driving for hours in the southwest of bosnia without running into anything noteworthy. it was winter, and anything resembling a plant was dead. the rolling hills were a flat brown throughout, and the further into the country we got, the more desolate everything looked. occasionally we would drive by a tiny village or a bombed-out house on the side of the road, clearly a remaining casualty of the genocide committed here 20 years ago. a somber silence would sporadically settle in upon our car as we passed the remnants of past atrocities. even the border patrol was scary and depressing. large men with official military uniforms and big automatic weapons with menacing dogs patrolled the area around our car, and the guards took forever to run our papers, as though they were just waiting us out, convinced we would get nervous and make a run for it. when the man returned with our passports and then searched our car and our backpacks, he finally asked us one final question: “why do you come to bosnia?” as if in disbelief that a couple of americans would ever want to visit this place. i replied with an optimistic “we want to experience your culture and see your beautiful country!” but he only rolled his eyes and shook his head as he waved us by. this random detour from our croatian holiday was suddenly much heavier than the adventure-filled traverse through the balkans i had envisioned. Continue reading “why do you come to bosnia?”
sorry about the lack of posts lately, i’ve been down in the costa rican jungle with no access to internet. i promise to get back on the normal posting schedule next week, but to make up for it this week, i’m sharing my morocco video a little early. if you’ve wondered what it’s like setting foot in this fascinating country, you need look no further than this video here. enjoy…
hey friends, brandon here. i’ve been working on some of my own music lately and i wanted to share a little sketch of something i was recording last week for practice purposes. there are no lyrics yet and there are definitely some mistakes in here, but i wanted to share it with you all. the song is called “my wandering mind” enjoy!
that night martín and i readied our things so we could simply get up and leave the next morning. we had to be on the other side of town by 730am, so we needed to be up early. we also made sure to leave the bars a little earlier to allow time to pack, because you never want to be that guy that wakes everyone up in the middle of the night to stuff his clothing back into his backpack. so we weren’t overly surprised to find that the other 10 beds in our room were completely empty. it was actually a minor relief, not only because i didn’t want to have to tiptoe while packing, but also because in the week that we had been staying in this dorm… martín and i had both agreed that we had some really weird roommates.
to start, there was the strange finnish couple who had not spent a day sober since we got there. every time we saw them there was a handle of vodka or rum very nearby and halfway empty, and they offered to share with anyone who would listen. admirable for sure, but when someone is so drunk they can barely stand, sharing a drink with them isn’t always the most attractive invitation. i rarely saw them leave the hostel, and if they did it was to go buy more booze. they would spend most of their days smoking cigarettes or marijuana on the balcony patio and washing it down with alcohol. they also hung their laundry to dry all over the patio, effectively and unintentionally condemning it for anyone else to use or enjoy. i felt a little schadenfreude when a heavy morning raincloud had breezed by the city and soaked all their laundry that they had forgotten to remove the day prior. these two were a mess, and they disgusted me.
then there was a group of american students from southern california, studying abroad in granada, and taking an extended weekend in barcelona. they meant well, but they were just obnoxious. one larger, jolly fellow with three materialistic, typical california girls who were consumed by fashion and status, and generally didn’t really care about anyone other than themselves. they would come back from the bars extremely late and extremely drunk each night, after everyone else had gone to sleep (or passed out, in the case of the finnish), and they would turn the lights on in the room and loudly talk and laugh and careen around the room like pinballs as they got ready for bed. these types of hostel roommates are the worst, especially if you’re staying in a “quiet hostel,” instead of a “party hostel” (yes, there is a distinction in europe).
then, there were a trio of guys from somewhere east, i couldn’t be
sure. i wanted to like them, as they seemed well-intentioned enough, but two of them simply cost me too much sleep, as they were both heavy snorers and had been positioned on opposing sides of my bed, creating an amplified stereo chorus of suffocation each night i laid my head down to sleep. when traveling, i always pack ear plugs, which normally will drown out 90% of noise. but in certain cases, bigger weapons are needed, which calls for my noise canceling headphones and ipod. these two guys were so loud that i failed to drown them out with my backup plan, and i ended up tossing and turning and trying to choke myself out with my pillow in an attempt to find some semblance of rest. nothing worked, hence i could not be friends with these assholes.
let me clarify: i understand that many people suffer from snoring and sleep apnea. it’s an un-fun and involuntary condition. but if you are a chronic snorer and you are wanting to sleep in a common room with other people, you owe it to your roommates to either seek some kind of treatment (there are mouthguards that limit the noise and make it easier to breathe, as well as sprays that can lubricate your throat and make it easier for air to pass into your windpipe, etc.) or pay a little extra for the private room. it’s just common courtesy.
and then lastly, and probably martín’s and my favorite of the group: el vampiro (the vampire). after martín and i had been in the bon moustache for a few nights, we had gone out to buy some provisions so we could cook ourselves a cheap meal at the hostel. as martin was preparing the rice his special way that he really likes (sticky and slightly overcooked, but with a tasty seasoning), he suddenly looked up at me with a start and exclaimed “OH MAN!”
i looked back at him with concern while i prepared a large salad (which he refused to eat. martín apparently doesn’t eat vegetables. he swore he would begin eating them when he returned home after i issued him a stern lecture on why vegetables are essential to his health), wondering if we had forgotten a key ingredient in his rice dish.
“did you hear the guy next to me last night? HE SCARED THE SHEET OUT OF ME MAN!” martín managed to get the words out amid a confusion of anger, excitement, and laughter. the last guy in our hostel had been a very reclusive dark-skinned guy from paris, france. he wore eccentric clothes and had a very effeminate nature and was extremely thin, to the point of wondering if he was malnourished. probably not the case, as his clothes were clearly not cheap, but every day we would get up and as we were leaving, this guy would come back to the hostel and go straight to bed. when we would return at the end of the day and begin getting ready for sleep, he would just be getting up and getting ready to go out. by the time i had brushed my teeth, he would already be gone. but the previous night, he had stayed in, for some inexplicable reason, and just kept sleeping. we don’t know. he never talked to anyone, wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone, really. very strange.
“it was in the middle of the night, maybe at like 3 am, and this guy, he just screams at the top of his lungs, like ‘AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH’ and i got so scared man. wow, i fell out of my bed!” we started laughing. everything martín said in english was just enhanced by his accent. it made things even funnier, and his delivery was perfect in its casual effortlessness.
“I am scared of heem, man. Como un vampiro…” he trailed off and i started laughing even harder. it was the perfect description. a vampire. for the rest of the week, whenever we would see el vampiro, i would shoot a quick glance over to martín and show him wide, terrified eyes, or i would flash my teeth, as if to suggest an old-fashioned, vampiric neck-bite was coming. it was definitely not my most mature of behaviors, but sometimes when you’re in the middle of the circus you just gotta have fun with the clowns.
needless to say, despite how much we really did like the bon moustache hostel, we were ready to leave our roommates. we awoke the next morning, mounted our packs atop our backs and stepped out into the street, just as a torrential downpour descended upon the city. i’m sure somewhere, karma was laughing at me.
7 hours later we were in madrid. we’d saved a lot of money by taking the bus, but the train would have been about 4 hours quicker. these are the tradeoffs you make when backpacking. we arrived and went straight to the metro to ride the train to the tribunal station, in search of a hostel that martín had found on a useful app that he had been using called “hostelworld.” collecting all the relevant hostels, guesthouses, b&b’s, and campsites within a city or area, the hostelworld app allows you stat-rank all your potential accommodations by price, location, availability, and user rating, and it does so at no additional cost to you, the user. after meeting martín, i used this app to find every single accommodation for the rest of my trip.
this was to be martín’s final stay before returning home to uruguay, so he had selected the highest rated hostel in madrid, a newer place called room007 chueca, located in the chueca and malasaña neighborhoods, which would become my favorite neighborhoods in spain over the next week. i remember thinking the name of the hostel seemed a little cheesy, but the pictures had looked pretty cool so i went along with it. when we arrived however, i changed my mind. this place was great.
room007 chueca is a modern urban hostel with a cool, fashionable design, and a comfortable and clever use of space. the rooms aren’t overly crowded and have a very clean atmosphere that makes it easy to relax. there is also a terrace on top of the hostel with a kitchen, a big tv, large bean bags to sit on, and an outdoor patio that looks out on the city below. within minutes of checking in, martín and i were already in awe of the place. but we were also starving.
we went down to the woman working the front desk, a woman in her early to mid 20s with brown-rooted blonding hair and eyes whose depth seemed to reach for leagues beneath the sea of blue. she had a light dusting of freckles that gave her a girl-next-door look which she had tried to cover up a little with makeup, but thankfully they still shined through. i was spellbound, so martín did the talking.
“excuse me…” he began in english before quickly realizing he wasn’t speaking to me, so he could speak his native tongue much quicker with a spanish girl. they spoke for a few minutes in a speed that i failed to follow along with, and when martín had obtained the information he was after, he turned to me and woke me out of my trance. there is something enchanting about listening to spanish women speak. we americans will often poke fun at the way they pronounce the “s” but the way women and men do it in spain is different. men power through the “s” (as men do tend to do in most things. we muscle our way through things rather than utilize technique), often letting their tongue push up against their teeth and even separating their top teeth from bottom while making the sound, creating a “th” sound. meanwhile women gently play with the “s” on the tip of their tongue and roll it around, never really making contact with the teeth or the roof of their mouth, giving the sound a breathier effortlessness that i found intoxicatingly sexy.
“due! come on! i’m starving man!” martín doesn’t ever pronounce the second “d” in “dude,” and i was lost in a reverie of blondie’s “s” pronunciations. i snapped out of it and sheepishly backed away from the desk and out the door as she flashed me a confused smile. rejoining martín on the street, we made a beeline for a place called “el tigre del norte,” or “the tiger of the north.”
if you have friends whom have been to spain before, one of the things they undoubtedly have talked about is tapas. tapas, for the uninitiated, are quite simply, little plates of food. there are myriad variations/preparations/varieties out there which i won’t go into because i honestly don’t know them. i just like to eat them. but they are a perfect way to sample a lot of different things at a restaurant rather than commit to just one plate, which is something that i often have a problem with.
one of the coolest things about tapas in the originating country of spain, is that traditionally served, they are a free accompaniment of your drink order. wine or beer, historically you would receive a plate of food at no extra charge with a variety of different cheeses, breads, cured meats, olives, fried snacks, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, and always delicious. additionally, when at a more traditional tapas bar, patrons are not seated like they would be at a normal restaurant. they are standing up, milling about, socializing and interacting in this most social of environments. it’s always a lively and energetic atmosphere, and one that america routinely fails to replicate when a new “tapas bar” pops up in your neighborhood.
unfortunately the “free” part of tapas has gradually disappeared across most of spain. most places charge separately for the drink and the food now, and if you want a place that will still serve you food for free along with your beverage, you have to search for it (the further into andalusia you get, the easier it is to find these types of places). luckily, our lovely front desk woman had pointed us in the right direction, as el tigre del norte is one such place.
martín and i didn’t exactly know what to expect, but we wanted a cheap tapas place, and if i’m being honest, we didn’t really believe that the food would be free. we had planned to go into el tigre, get a beer, try some tapas, then go find a place to get a real dinner, and then go out and hit the town, find some dive bar with cheap beers and good people watching.
el tigre is a stripped down place with mounted animal heads on the walls and next to no seating. there are large barrels standing on end which you can stand next to and use as a makeshift table to rest your beverage and small plate or napkin of food. we leaned up next to one and signaled for a couple beers. the waiter came around a few minutes later with drinks and asked us if we wanted tapas. we both eagerly said yes, and a few minutes later we were brought plates full of bread, cured meats, and cheese. it was a messy but delicious concoction. martín and i looked at each other, surprised, and then immediately devoured everything on the plate. a few minutes later, the waiter came by again and laughed that we had already eaten everything. “quieres mas?” (want more?) he inquired. martín and i looked at each other again with surprise and looked back at the waiter “si!” he brought us another plate full of food and killed it again within minutes. we hadn’t even finished our beers yet.
the waiter brought us the bill and we were shocked to find out that we had only been charged for 2 beers total. we had obliterated 4 plates of food, and the beers hadn’t even cost 2 euros each. this place must be heaven. we ordered another beer each, mainly out of guilt for consuming so much food and paying so little. but i was full now, and i couldn’t even finish my beer. eventually we left, in search of more adventures in the vibrant madrid nights.
we drifted down into the malasaña neighborhood, taking in the soul of the place. according to locals, the summer had stretched into autumn, and madrid had been extremely warm… until today. The temperature had dropped considerably and the night air was cold, but it was hard not to let the energy of the city get into your bones in a positive way. sporadic, short rains would attack the streets, so our walk was punctuated by short sprints where we would seek shelter until the cloud passed. the rain eventually won, however, and martín and i ducked into an interesting little watering hole where we could get a drink and maybe meet some madrileños.
the place was dimly lit but smartly decorated. this was not a dive bar. the beers were a little expensive but they were at least large. the patrons were decidedly all locals and were of the young professional variety, and everyone in the place seemed to be directly engaged in conversation with someone they had met there purposefully, so martín and i accepted the fact that we were not going to make any new friends here, and engaged in casual conversation amongst ourselves.
after a beer and into the second, martín and i had already laid waste to a couple appetizers and bowls of bar nuts, i had been very curious about martín’s decision to take this trip. it had occurred to me earlier in the night that i had been traveling with him for over a week now, and i didn’t actually know that much about him. sure, we’d had a lot of great times already, and he had become a great friend in such a short time, but i didn’t know anything about him from before our chance meeting on that bus in barcelona. before “the road” had taken over. so i began peppering him with questions about his past, his work, his future, and as always, he responded with a patient enthusiasm, that someone else would be taking an interest in him, but also a shyness that i had come to expect from martín whenever he talked about himself. martín is a very humble person, and i loved that about him. it wasn’t long before the conversation had gotten into a very dark and moving place, when martín had begun to share with me his reasons for traveling.
now that i had been traveling for an extended period of time, one of the things i had forced myself to learn to do is make friends, no matter how short the shelf life of that friendship would be, i would do it because i had to. i am a social animal, and i need to socialize (even if i paint myself to be a curmudgeonly loner, and i do value my personal time, i still crave social interaction). and now that i had done it enough, i had begun to become a little more selectively specific with who i would make friends with. i’d started to notice patterns or behaviors in others that i recognized in myself. it’s usually in the eyes. they say the eyes are the window to the soul, and this is never more true than in the eyes of a traveler. some travelers are adventurers, they are fearless, they haven’t a worry in the world and their energy shines bright with a twinkle in the eye. while other travelers are merely tourists, and they take everything in with a wide-eyed infancy and a temerity that most seasoned travelers can identify quickly, and either are enthused by it and want to help that person along in the journey by showing them things they may not have the courage to see on their own, or they are annoyed by it, and try to avoid the tourist altogether (in this journey, i have been both the tourist and the seasoned traveler. i’ve also been both the helper and the avoider as well).
the type of traveler that i am drawn to and identify most with, however is the seeker. the soul searcher. the aimless wanderer, seeking to understand greater mysteries about his own existence and the world around him. he (or she) does not seek to place labels nor assign blame, but instead he only asks. to learn more about nature and his fellow man, that another’s story might provide a better understanding of his own, this is the seeker’s engine, and the wondrous destinations of the world are the fuel. and one need not hear a word from the seeker’s mouth to uncover his disguise; they need only look in his eyes. it’s all there. a seeker has seen the world for what it is, bad and good. he has seen how beautiful life is, but he has also experienced pain and loss, and he walks a tightrope delicately somewhere in the middle, the weight of both heavy upon his shoulders. he knows joy and he knows sadness, but he does not know one without the other, for they are both of the same. and his conflict is visible, though barely perceptible, at the eye of the seeker. only another seeker can see it, because the seeker is adept at blending in with the world around him, so he has learned to hide the complexity of his nature, because the world doesn’t like complex. it prefers simple. and so the seeker hides in plain sight. but his search for authenticity is never dormant.
martín was a seeker, and i had known it within minutes of talking to him, but i had never pressed him for detail. and that detail was now being shared with me in a raw, soul-baring way. martín had come from a happy family, loving parents and an older brother who all cared for him. martín had finished school and become an accountant in vibrant montevideo, uruguay. he was tall, handsome, amiable, and people liked being around him. he had a girlfriend he cared deeply for, and everything seemed to be lining up for a perfect life, when the unthinkable happened. martín’s mother was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in both her liver and pancreas. she underwent chemotherapy treatment, but it was too late. within 8 months, the cancer took her life. the family was devastated.
martín had been clearly shaken. his mother had been the glue of the family, and now she was gone, leaving martín to question a lot about his own life and purpose. he didn’t know what or where the answers were, but he wasn’t finding them at home. he had honest conversations with his girlfriend and family, then quit his job and bought a one-way ticket to spain. over the next 4 months he traveled all around europe, from the northern reaches of germany down to the southern beaches of italy, martín wandered aimlessly, but with purpose, unsure if he’d ever be able to explain his journey to anyone and have them truly understand it to its core. but travel, he did, and he was now at the end. his return to uruguay was in 2 days.
i didn’t know how to respond. in the last few weeks, i had met some of the most incredible people and i had heard some of the most moving stories, but this one was the most shocking. i couldn’t possibly place myself in martín’s shoes, so i didn’t try. i just sat there dumbfounded and sad while martín shared his story with me. i listened intently, unconscious of the bar around us. a group of four had moved into the table next to us and they were shouting at the top of their lungs at a level disproportionate to the noise level of the rest of the room, but i didn’t care. it struck me that martín wasn’t sad anymore. he seemed to be at peacewith his journey and with himself.
“so did you find what you were looking for?” i asked him earnestly. “yeah I did man. i think this is what my mom would have wanted me to do.” i didn’t dare ask him about the thing that he had been searching for. i knew better. each seeker’s journey, destination, and discovery is completely different, and there’s no real way to explain it to another person. even if martín tried, i still wouldn’t be able to comprehend it in a way that was as meaningful to him, even if our stories were exactly the same. it’s why the journey was his, and why i had my own.
we left the bar and headed back to the hostel. i was conflicted about everything. i now felt like i really understood martín, but it’s not like we had solved any major mysteries, we hadn’t brought his mother back, and we hadn’t found the key to happiness. and what’s more, i felt stupid for having traveled with martín for such a significant amount of time and only just now learning this very crucial and defining thing about him. i wasn’t sure if it was because i had been too occupied with myself or if the timing for such a conversation had just never lined up. i looked at martín. he seemed to have a peace about him that i wasn’t sure if i’d ever possess. i knew it was a product of his travels and i hoped that it was something i might one day grasp at the end of mine, but i wasn’t confident in that possibility. either way, i was grateful for having been even a speck on the horizon of martín’s story. there were so many questions I wanted to ask him, but i didn’t even know how to put them to words.
as we neared the hostel, a sudden truth struck me that brought a clarity to my confliction. martín was not a collection of the tragedies he had endured any more than i might be a collection of the joys i may have experienced. we are not the things that happen to us. but we do find small definition in the way we react to the events of our lives. much the way a beautiful sculpture is not formed with a single blow from the hammer, the artist carefully guides the stone from one shapeless mass to a beautiful masterpiece. one strike at a time, the hammer to the chisel, the chisel to the stone, we are formed. martín wasn’t a man who had lost his mother, he was a man who was living a full, magnificent life, a life which happened to have a tragedy along the way. but that tragedy had only been one small part of the greater impact of a mother whom had guided him to a beautiful existence for more than 2 decades of his life before her own journey had come to an end, leaving him to continue on his own. and this is how her memory lives on. as not one strike in the sculpture of martín, but many.
and so the seeker seeks on, thankful for the gift of time he had.
this week’s track comes from a brand new collaboration out of chicago, called “monakr.” the song “diamond” was written after founding member saam lost his uncle to cancer, and it is now the lead single for the project. i found this song to be particularly appropriate to today’s story, and i hope you enjoy…
and for those following along on spotify…
hey folks, on wednesday i’ll be posting about my adventures in the lovely country of spain, but in a few weeks i’ll be writing about my time in morocco. i was digging through all my footage the other day and slapped together this little teaser…
editor’s note: hey all, miq here. just a heads up: in keeping with my announcement last week that i would be spotlighting more music each week outside of my regularly scheduled wednesday-story-days, i’ve recruited friend and fellow audiophile eric visser to be a regular contributor. we here in denver affectionately refer to him as “viss,” and he brings a really cool perspective to our little community of philistines. viss is a great concert buddy if you need one (probably the most active show-goer i know, often popping into a couple per week in the summers), and will bring a slightly more modern flavor to the fold than my decidedly americana-folky leanings. he’ll be making appearances here a few times a month, so get ready to have an even better soundtrack to your life. i love this playlist that he’s drummed for us and i think you will too…
I have been into all types of music since as long as I can remember and have always loved sharing my fovorites with anyone who would listen. When Miq asked me to do something productive with my life and start contributing to this blog I jumped at the opportunity. What I didn’t think about was how I was going to present each song and make it relevant to the masses who would be reading this. It didn’t take me long to realize that I shouldn’t try to get too deep and should just get to why I love music.
Music is my favorite art form because Continue reading Music Monday: Songs to listen to while looking for dutch oven recipes
i’m sitting here in the london airport, 4 hours early for my connecting flight to new york, coming from scotland this morning. my trip as it stands in this segment, is effectively done. i am leaving the continent that i began this soul search on, where i began to learn so much about myself, and the way the real world actually is when it’s not being experienced from behind a desk and a salary. i’m leaving, and i’m not entirely sure why, or if i’ve even accomplished anything at all. i know that i achieved the simple, surface level goals that i had set for myself before i set out. ultimately meaningless goals like time (i wanted to make it 2 months of wandering before coming back – i assumed i wouldn’t even make it that long. when all is said and done, i’ll have been just a week shy of 5 months) abroad and an idea that i could land somewhere without a plan and survive, these things seemed like big challenges to conquer at the time, but now in retrospect they seem so… sophomoric. and this is only because they stand in the shadow of the greater, looming challenge of “what next?”
i’ve been self-indulgently telling my own story for 5 months now, basically when i first set foot on this path, initially not knowing exactly why i wanted to tell my own story for any reason other than self-documentation. so that i could have a time capsule that i could look back to someday later in my life and remember this one incredible, beautiful, outrageous, dangerous, chaotic, colorful thing that i did with my life that prevented it from being a total waste. so that i could see and know exactly the lessons i learned and grew from and not forget them. the writing gave me purpose, and it became the only stable thing in my life. while everything about my life was scrambled into a mess of vagabonding and wandering, itinerary-less adventuring and an existence devoid of accountability and responsibility, i formed a routine with the writing, giving myself deadlines and outlining topics and ideas and coining my own terms and saving them for later use in future posts. i generated motivation by telling myself that “my readers need something new,” and that if i didn’t get something out there regularly, people would stop reading. the obvious irony here is that i didn’t have any readers, other than my mom (hi mom. thanks for reading). i wanted to feel like what i was doing was important, even if it wasn’t really helping anybody other than myself, so i constructed an imaginary world around my travels and worked as hard as i could to play into the fantasy. things that brought me down or discouraged me, i ignored. i remember eagerly checking my site statistics to see how many hits i had gotten on my first few posts, and being disappointed at how minuscule the traffic i was getting. so i stopped checking (now my traffic has grown to a modest 1,000 hits per month, and i’ve done nothing to advertise or monetize it other than just post weekly updates on my personal facebook wall. thanks to you all for sharing the posts with your facebook friends. it really is flattering and greatly appreciated. please keep doing it!). i only focused on things i could actually do something about, which was traveling and writing. so i traveled more and i wrote more. i got criticized by “friends” on my own facebook and nstagram posts, so i removed those people from my contacts and my life, trying to prevent their negativity from poisoning my desire to create. the writing became the gasoline in the engine, and i did almost anything i could to protect that.
and explore, i did. while the blog content is about 2 months slower than reality, if you follow my instagram handle, (wePhilistines) you’ve seen what i’ve been doing.
A gorgeous Eilean Donan Castle overlooks the intersection of 3 different lochs (Scottish lakes). Dating back to the 13th century, the castle has been severely damaged or destroyed 3 times before being fully restored to its present glory in 1932. Harsh weather prevented me from going inside, but it's easy to sneak around the grounds and snap a photo or two 😉 New blog post going up today @ www.wePhilistines.com about the end of my great journey. Or is it the beginning?
i’ve been wandering. truly. just enjoying the peace of mind of having no ultimate destination and no definite purpose or itinerary. a friend i made on this journey asked me a few weeks ago “so what are you going to do once you’re done? you’ve had like 5 months to think about it.” to which i replied, “i’ve had 5 months to not think about it.”
and now, here i sit. in an airport waiting to return home, writing a very tarantino-esque-out-of-order ending to a story that i hope hasn’t ended. i still have over 2 months and 10 countries more to cover on this blog (so don’t worry, i still have lots of stories to share), but i am now stuck in a weird, parallel purgatory where i’m retelling the past, looking blankly into the future, and standing paralyzed in the present. one foot forward and one foot back, i don’t know where I’m supposed to be at the moment, or where i’m going, and i know i can’t live in the past. i’m not sure exactly how i’ve changed, other than the obvious things like having a beard longer than it’s ever been and a newfound ability to sleep anywhere. but somehow i know that i’ve changed.
i’m not the same. in ways i can’t clearly define yet, i have noticed that i don’t talk to people the same way anymore. i don’t look at the world with the same cynicism i used to (i’m still cynical, just a less negatively dismissive version of it). i’m more curious about the world. i don’t endeavor to prove something to it like i used to, and now i’m more content to just be in it. i don’t have an intention to impress people any longer, a desire to control others’ opinions or regard of me by showing them how interesting or accomplished or knowledgeable i am, and instead i am now confident to just sit back and take things as they come, (relatively) free from worry about being viewed as attractive or talented or desirable.
and therein lies the crux of my fears. in the midst of the metamorphosis, amidst all these positive things i’ve begun to learn and develop in, i am now stepping onto a plane to take me back to everything i left behind, everything i ran away from. some people are happy when they return from a long journey, happy to see the people they’ve missed, happy to eat the food they’re used to, happy to sleep in their own beds, and happy to return to the life they put on pause when they stepped away. i can’t say that i’m exactly “happy” to return to the life i left behind. to be sure, i’m looking forward to seeing all my friends and family whom i’ve missed dearly, and i’m looking forward to sleeping in my bed, and i’m REALLY looking forward to having some new york pepperoni pizza when i step off that plane for a short visit to the city (sorry, but nobody makes it as good as new york. and it’s not even close), but i’m scared of falling back into the rhythm of complacency and materialism and safety that had taken control of my life. i’m scared of falling into the same bad habits that got me into that rut, i’m scared of living an unremarkable and risk-free monotonous life, and i’m okay with admitting to myself that i don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when i get back.
but i do have ideas and hopes. they are longer term ideas and shorter term solutions, with a few world-weary wisdoms to keep me at least semi-confident that i can survive just about anything that life can throw at me now. much of that involves creating. creating music and creating videos and getting better at photography and writing. always writing, never stopping. i refuse to ever allow my creative muscles atrophy again the way i did before i took this trip. so don’t worry friends, the story lines continue, though the timeliness may be off. i will continue writing and capturing, creating and sharing, and i will keep you informed of all of it. i’ll be back home in denver next week, if you’d like to get a coffee or go snowboarding or just walk around the park and hang out, just reach out. I know the key to preserving these new perspectives i’ve gained is to remain open, waiting for the world to extend itself, and for me to respond in kind.
i’ll pick up the story next week where we left off in austria, headed for breathtaking switzerland, where i met some people with amazing life stories, and even found myself guiding a little expedition of other tourists into the wilderness surrounding the matterhorn. i think you’ll enjoy it. i also promised another playlist to you guys which i did not post last weekend because i was wandering the scottish highlands and did not have a reliable wifi signal. so i will post that this weekend with a brief write-up of the songs. i think you’ll enjoy it as well.
for today’s musical magic i have a song i’ve been saving for… well basically since the trip started. i don’t know what it is specifically, but this song by australian duo “luluc” gives me a peace that i can’t quite describe, and given the subject matter of today’s post, it’s a peace that is desperately needed. the title “winter is passing” has a special significance for me, considering the season of life i am in at the moment, so i find it very a-propos. the entire album, “passerby” is fantastic, and full of subdued delicate beauty that you can leave on for hours on repeat without getting tired. i suggest a spin or two. enjoy…
hello friends, i apologize for not having a suitable story out to you yesterday. i am currently roaming the irish countryside and have not had a wifi connection for awhile. in fact, my current signal is very weak and i can’t upload any photos, so instead of a story today, i will leave you with another new song i recorded just before i left on my journey. again, it is modest, without any professional equipment, just a microphone and some instruments in my bedroom. all instruments performed by me, and the song is an original as well. i wrote this for someone i cared deeply for, but i never got a chance to share it with them. so instead, i share it with you. i hope you enjoy it, feel free to share it with others if you so choose. i’ll get you a story online as soon as i can manage it!
i arrived in bremen, germany at 5:30am with a start. i hadn’t been able to sleep for most of the overnight trip on the bus, so i elected to furiously write as much as I could throughout the night. but eventually exhaustion caught up with me and i was able to collect a couple hours of slumber during the back end of the ride. when i exited the bus, the streets were empty, and the only inhabitants were small, roaming groups of drunk teenagers stumbling their way back to the train stations after their debaucherous night at the clubs. i quickly located the train station, or “hauptbanhof,” and boarded a train.
as my connection pulled into oldenburg, i began searching for the mcdonald’s I was supposed to be meeting my friend daniela at (sarcasm aside, meeting at mcdonald’s is actually pretty practical. you can always find that golden arch when you need to). in my sleep-deprived morning blindness, I somehow walked right by the mcdonald’s and out onto the street. daniela’s directions had been perfect up until now regarding the bus and the train connections, so after walking around for 10 minutes before figuring out that it was indeed my error, i was now worried that daniela had gotten tired of waiting for me and returned home. the obnoxiously drunk students wandering aimlessly around the station weren’t helping my growing anxiety either. eventually however, daniela turned up and found me. she’d had a late night with her friends as well (it apparently was a holiday in Germany that granted most people a free friday), so she was a little late. i didn’t care at all, i was just happy to see her.
daniela and i went to school together at john brown university for our undergraduate degrees long ago, and she was always a joy to spend time with. daniela was an international scholarship student from panama who had earned a generous scholarship and decided to study in arkansas, of all places. her english hadn’t been great when she arrived in the US, so not only was she faced with the adversity of studying abroad, she also had to learn the language while she learned the subject matter. nevertheless, daniela’s magnetic personality wouldn’t let that get the best of her, as she had no problem making friends at a modest place like jbu. daniela stands a commanding 5’2” (at most) and is an infectious ball of comical energy. she has dark features and deep brown eyes that many a helpless man have gotten lost in, and when she speaks she has that intoxicating latin american rhythm to her speech that just draws you in and reminds you how fun life can be. when she finished school in the US, she returned home to panama for a couple years and then took an opportunity to go work and study further in the northern german town of oldenburg. She’s been there for the last 3 years.
daniela had graciously allowed me to set up camp in her guest bedroom. she lives in a modest 4 bedroom house with 2 other roommates, 1 of whom i got to meet whose name is nikky.
having both been up late all night, daniela and i agreed it would be best to catch up on a little sleep before we headed to a friend’s birthday party that she had invited me to. i retreated to my guest bedroom and disappeared from consciousness for a few hours. when I awoke we made way to the party on bicycle.
after getting briefly lost on barely lit streets, we eventually found the place, and the party was lively. There was about 30 people in attendance and a mountain of german beer to consume, along with 2 tables loaded potluck-style with german food. wasting no time, i grabbed one of everything so i could sample all these new flavors. i also swiped a beer and sat down somewhat nervously, aware that i was sticking out a little bit and no one knew me.
as daniela made her rounds and exchanged pleasantries with her colleagues and friends, a guy named jan eventually rescued me from my exhile. he introduced himself and we quickly got to talking about all the usual subjects that come up with travelers, your differences in this, similarities in that, etc. jan was a funny guy, i really enjoyed talking with him, and apparently other people did too, because it was only a matter of time until half of the party had gathered around, some participating in conversation, but mostly just listening and laughing at the ridiculousness of the comical back-and-forth between jan and i. I’m sure the beck’s beers we were eliminating probably added to care-free manner with which we were exchanging stories, so thanks to germany’s finest for that.
eventually the beer ran out and the clock ran late, causing the party to dwindle. we returned home. the next morning daniela and i changed our plans to travel to hamburg, and elected for a quiet day in, allowing me to catch up on some photo-editing and laundry. that afternoon I met daniela’s roommate, nikky. nikky towers over people at around 6’4” (at 5’9” all i can do is guess how tall mountains are) and wears thicker glasses that give him a very intelligent look, and this look is deserved, as nikky is definitely very intelligent. he studied linguistics for his undergraduate degree and is now in a postgraduate program and working as a professor at the university in oldenburg. nikky has a very meticulous nature about him, and he commits himself completely to whatever it is that he is learning or doing, relentless in his task until he achieves a perfect result (something I’ve begun to notice about the germans in general. They don’t half-ass anything. it’s pretty inspiring, actually).
i found nikky to be profoundly interesting. very well educated and well informed, i could tell that he didn’t arrive at opinions without thoroughly researching things to make sure he had all the facts, ensuring that he could make balanced, logical decisions. we talked for hours before eventually we discovered a mutual love for music. but not just in listening. also in creating.
nikky had previously been the guitarist in a band, and he enthusiastically shared some of the tracks that they had recorded. the audio quality was outstanding and the songwriting clever, i really enjoyed it. it was only a matter of time before i was sharing some of my old recordings, and before long we had grabbed a couple of his guitars and turned the living room in to a practice studio. we played for a couple hours, figuring out how to play a couple old weezer tunes and some coldplay throwbacks and then performed them for daniela when she wandered downstairs to hear where the noise was coming from. even threw a little tom petty in the mix before improvising and making up a couple of our own blues jams. It was so fun, and nicky was a surgeon on his guitar. any time i gave him the nod to take a turn at improvisation his fingers would fly into an incendiary flurry of musical activity. fitting with his personality, he was almost perfect, never missing a note and always knowing just how long to go before throwing it back over to me. I was playing a 12-string guitar of nikky’s that hadn’t been getting much use lately, so needless to say my lead improv attempts were somewhat limited by the burden of having twice as many strings to manage, so I typically focused on rhythm and vocals. it didn’t sound particularly amazing, but it was a blast.
eventually we got hungry and started preparing our feast for the evening. we bought steaks, vegetables, bread (always bread with germans. Never take their bread, lest they start a revolution) and wine. nikky handled the steaks, electing to slow cook them over the stove, while daniela and i handled the chopping and cutting of the vegetables and salad and bread. When the food was ready, we ate like royalty.
at the end of the evening we retired well-fed and well entertained by a quiet day in oldenburg, germany.
the next day was a quick one, daniela and i boarded an afternoon train bound for hamburg. during the train ride we caught up on life, what we’d both been doing the last 8 years since we’d last seen each other, we talked about the future, what she plans to do long term, if she’d be staying in Germany, etc. she tried to teach me some german, which I hilariously could not get a grip on for the life of me. it’s not an easy language.
eventually we got to hamburg, but it was already getting dark and it was a sunday night, so there wasn’t really much going on. one problem i had realized with our friendship is that we both like to sleep in, so all 3 days i had spent with daniela had gotten extremely late starts because neither of us was in a rush to get up at any point. and if someone lets me sleep… I’ll sleep. and sleep. and sleep.
anyway, we wandered the streets, searching for the neighborhood where the beatles cut their teeth before they changed the world with their well-honed signature sound. we poked our heads into a couple bars but were disappointed to find them basically empty. nevertheless, it was a fun city to walk around in, and one that is also well known for having rather loose laws as it relates to vices. we walked by the sex shops and strip clubs, snickering at the creepy old men who would linger by the front doors, then glance around furtively to make sure no one familiar was watching, and then dart inside, in search of something unholy and carnal. eventually we found an old pub with a female bartender and a security guy who were laughing loudly, careless that there was absolutely no one in their bar. we decided to be keep them some company.
after a couple rounds, the bartender sent a couple more drinks our way, courtesy of the bar. people started to filter in and then a local acoustic act set up shop in the corner and began playing music for the small crowd that had gathered. It was decent music, but the volume was way too loud, so eventually we left. it had gotten late, and i was headed to berlin the next morning. time to go.
i thanked daniela for the hospitality and the fun, it had been a truly enjoyable weekend, and she had helped set the foundation for what would prove to be a very fun time in germany
this episode’s music selection is a little different. i had mentioned in the beginning of this blog that i would be getting back in touch with my creative side, and i didn’t just mean writing prose. before i left on this journey, i had a sudden surge of inspiration and started writing some music again for the first time in 5 years. i then did my best to record as much as i could before i left for iceland. the following is a rough recording i put together using my own instruments and cheap recording equipment at home over the course of about a week. it is far from professional, but very personal, so i want to share it with anyone whom is following me on this journey these past few months. feel free to offer feedback if you choose or pass along to others if you enjoy it or think someone else might enjoy the message. or if they just like a good song with harmonica in it…