I guess I’m sort of panicking right now. There’s no emergency, at least not in my life, but I have too much energy and not enough structure – panic ensues. So if it’s not an emergency, what is going on?

You could call it an identity crisis, or maybe a crisis of faith–but not the bad kind. No, this is the crisis where you wake up and don’t recognize yourself in the mirror–because you haven’t seen yourself as the person you want to be in a long time. Today’s reflection isn’t who I was yesterday, but that’s a peachy step in the right direction.

This is only a crisis insofar as I wasn’t expecting it, and it’s a lot to get hit with early in the morning–but since I’m here, I’m going to run with it for as long as I can.

So who do I want to be? The majority of that answer I’ll leave up to fate and my impending track record, but what I do know is that I want to read, to write, to learn, to exercise, and to make.

I want to read. It’s been years since I’ve really read a book for leisure. Hell, it’s been a while since I’ve done anything for leisure, so let’s change that and start with reading. Now, since a large part of what I do is “information processing”, I read–but it’s all ops info, logistics, strategy, and buzzwords. Sure, I see pieces of fiction occasionally, but that’s usually neither fun nor intentional. No, I want to read.

Forget Webster’s, here’s my dictionary definition:

reading (verb): making the conscious, dedicated effort to lose yourself and your world in the pages of someone else’s grand reality. It’s the commitment of all your emotional capacities to love, hate and fear, to sympathize, to rage, to despair, and more, and that commitment is made before you even crack the spine on this pocket universe. Reading is exhausting, liberating, and–if done well on the part of all involved–truly haunting.

This is what I want for myself–to be possessed by the knowledge and passions of these undying pocket universes.

I want to write. Sure, I can regurgitate ink well enough to put food on the table, but that’s an emotional net-zero. No, true writing is a beautiful, terrifying form of art powerful enough that the mere passing thought of what I believe it can do to my soul is unspeakable; writing is, ultimately, indescribable in its own medium. But. I want to contribute to my worlds, the reality in which we live and the creative one locked in my head, locked behind a previous inability to put words on the damn page. I want to give more of me than just myself, I want to give my mind.

I want to learn, and I want to exercise. Are these two sides of the same coin: theory, and practice? Or are they one and the same–raging at the unknown until it reveals itself? For me, exercise is about becoming fit by pushing my physical boundaries as far as possible. Why should the same not apply to my mind?

Finally, I want to make, but that is as far as I’ve felt out on the matter. Are there specific, tangible things I want to make? Yes, more than I can count, and there’s the trick. It’s not that I have one small thing trying to claw its way into existence; it’s that I have these flocks of ideas I’ve just been sitting on for years. I want to make, not as a constructive act, but as the destruction of my barriers, of my fears and my meandering laziness. I want to “make” as opposed to “wait.”

———-

What does this mean for “We’ll See”?

I’m not going to make any wide-sweeping promises (again), but you will see activity here and on the other blogs (including a couple special ones) for as long as this streak lasts. I’ll be trying new things, and there will be more of a story to tell. Here’s to hoping that story makes it onto the page.

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My caffeine-love-affair-du-jour, two hours before closing, discounts everything for their version of a happy hour. I didn’t plan ahead, and I found myself in need of breaking down a bill before paying bus fare on my way out the office. These two completely normal events combined into something strange for me, since I try to limit my sweet tooth to chocolate,  in that I just devoured an apple-cinnamon bear claw the size of my face. This is a sizeable measure, in that my forehead alone is considered prime advertising space by the car-wrapping  industry.
So, it is with an escalating sugar high that I introduce you to a topic I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time – failure. I actually have many thoughts on the subject of failure, since I think our society (individually and collectively) is under-equipped to deal with it, but I will space it out over the blog. The specific thing I want to focus on here is what I call “the other ADD” – sure, neither Attention Deficit Disorder nor it’s Hyperactive cousin should be overlooked as serious issues (and, if properly supported, gifts), but I want to talk about another framework. In what I consider to be extensive experience with failure and distraction (and yes, with success, too, but that’s not important), I’ve noticed that people, organizations, and general “things” fail for one of three specific reasons: Aversion, Diversion, or Delusion.
There it is, the other ADD. Yes, this framework focuses on the power of the individual, because that’s where I believe useful discussions of failure reside. If it is not within the power of the individual to succeed, then I don’t call it failure – it’s a stacked playing field, it’s unfair, it’s an impossibility, but it is not failure. This is, ostensibly, one of the finer points of terminology I use to exemplify our inability to handle the idea of failure: if someone “fails” out of school, the first question needs to be “Were they given an equal playing field” not “What did they do wrong”. Failure goes both ways – if the student fails the school, then the school itself has failed to perform. Most things in society, especially education, are not a doctrine – they’re a dialogue. If we as individuals are given the opportunity to take a part in that dialogue, this is where my ADD comes in to play.
Let’s start with “aversion” – what is it? To be “averse” to something, I must really not want to do it, be near it, partake of it, etc. I avoid it, not necessarily out of any sense of reason but typically because I just don’t like it. It may not even be a conscious aversion  – many people with intimidating letters after their name make big money from this fact alone. Many times our aversions aren’t even our own – society tells us to hate something, and for some reason we find that agreeable. Fat-shaming, racism, ageism, and bullying are some of the by-products of this, and the victims are too numerous and depressing to count; but this works no less effectively on the level of the individual than it does in society. How many dreams of your own, or how many of your opportunities, have been missed because the path to success had a few objects of your aversion?
One of the examples I have for this is correspondence – yes, I love the idea of writing and receiving actual, physical letters, but for some reason I can’t stand the idea of going to the post office to mail things, or even making the effort to go to a mailbox. I haven’t been able to figure this out, and I struggle with it weekly as I write. I’ve had addressed envelopes in my bag for three weeks now, and stamps in my desk, and for some reason I do not get around to it. Certainly, this is an unusual focus for aversion, but I think the mechanics and end results might sound familiar to most people. Even once I finally send a batch of letters, I don’t feel some modicum of success – rather, I’m just exasperated at myself for taking so long. In younger children, we see this a lot with chores and homework – actually, in pretty much anyone under the age of 25 this is a distinct possibility, with many college students not wanting to do work or go to class (to the point of failure), and we’ve all heard stories about the college roommate nightmare-beast who never cleaned anything.
In the professional world, it’s a bit trickier: what actually constitute smart management practices may look like aversion, and sometimes playing along with aversion is a smart management practice. There are thousands of different frameworks and terms and diagrams and courses and, well, information junk that deal with motivation practices and policies for employees or customers or volunteers or whatever. Different ones work in different environments, and some are popularly accepted as “true” – but in each instance, they deal with understanding and altering the object of aversion. Whichever candle you light in a person, the end goal is to keep the darkness away.
In the interest of actually getting this blog post out there, albeit weeks late, I’m going to be a tease and save “Diversion” and “Delusion” for another day.

“You, like every human being, are a storyteller by birthright. You are born with an endless supply of personal and universal themes. It is important to open yourself to receive the vast wealth of imagery that lives within you. Build a hearth within you and let it become a circle of protection. In it your heart’s wisdom may ignite and burn. Ask that all who gather at your fire from your own inner skies, lands, and waters come with goodwill to share their truths in its warmth.” – Nancy Mellon, “Storytelling & the Art of Imagination”

Storytelling is one of my dedicated passions–at least for the next three weeks, and then we’ll see. Let me clarify: my job is all about supporting my boss’ incredible ability to tell a story, yes, but my personal life is being governed by an event I’m planning for November 6th, and that’s the stressful side of things.

Last summer, I spent a week in Hiroshima, visiting one of my role models and third-grade teacher, JoAnn. She and her husband were serving the end of their two-year term as the head of the World Friendship Center, a small but impressive organization that championed the rights and cause of the “hibakusha” – survivors of the atomic bomb. I can (and will) write much more about the history of the hibakusha and my experience with them during my visit, but for now suffice to say that all of this culminated in agreeing to help plan a keynote address on the Willamette campus come September. That planning process turned out to be a very enlightening journey in itself, one that was plagued by my absolute inexperience with event planning on this scale and in the Willamette community, but which benefited greatly from the sheer level of interest that people had in the stories of the hibakusha. The World Friendship Center organized a trip like this every three years, but to different locations around the world, so we were incredibly lucky to have this opportunity.

Building on that success, we’re putting together another speaking event at the start of next month that focuses on the stories of those who were involved with the Minidoka Relocation Center, of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. We have an interned speaking, as well as the son of Reverend Emery Andrews (the name should be familiar to anyone who took a WA state history class), and the current head of interpretation and education at the Minidoka Historical Site. It’s going to be fantastic, and it’s going to be timely: there have been an increasing number of performances of topical plays such as Gordon Hirabayashi’s “Hold These Truths” in the Pacific Northwest; there is the upcoming release of the movie adaptation of Laura Hillebrand’s riveting biopic “Unbroken”; and just in Salem the Halle Ford Museum is bringing in an exhibit about the artist’s life in interment camps and how it affects his identity even today. Willamette University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is focusing on the internment as part of their theme for the entire year. George Takei, who was in two separate internment camps as a young child, is speaking on campus on November 11th. There is widespread interest amongst people in the area.

My challenge is to put those “people in the area” in a specific area at a specific time – Willamette’s Hudson Hall at 7pm on Thursday the 6th. Unlike last year’s event, which was generously funded in advance of my involvement, I’m tasked with raising a certain amount of funds and selling tickets is one of my limited number of options for the timeline and organizational structure with which we’re working; the other is getting sponsorship. I have experience with neither, and this is a great example of why I termed my blog “We’ll See Where This Takes Me” – the answer is always some sort of an adventure.

What’s the next step after the Minidoka event? That’s where I see the most relevance in the above quote. I have been thinking on and off about taking these two successful events – this one will be successful, I have no doubt – and starting an event-planning nonprofit. Everyone is a storyteller by birthright, and I think that there will never be a shortage of experiences to share – especially those which can educate our communities and their leaders. In fact, I’ve almost finished the first draft of the business plan for such an organization, but I’m going to have to bench it until the right opportunity arises. I know it will, but I need to get my own life in order first.

———-

[I actually had an introduction to this post, but it didn’t fit well with the rest of the text, so here it is (anachronistically) for your viewing pleasure:]

I just chugged a hefty cup of coffee, so now is as good a time as any to start writing.

 

As one of the many facets of my job, I’ve been laying the foundation of the next book my boss is set on writing. This mostly consists of researching a specific type of quote–no, I won’t divulge any more details about products currently in development–and during my slog through the sound bites I started picking out quotes that don’t necessarily qualify in his framework but seem to inspire mine. Being a philosophy major (and you’re welcome to roll your eyes in exasperation every time I say that) and specifically interested in language and the mind, many quotes, declarations, one-liners, and especially manifestos tend to strike me as either energetic fluff or distillation of once-important concepts that have been reduced past the point of coherence. At least, they did, until I started working for a motivational speaker – his job is to infuse meaning into words and experience, so I imagine that him hiring me is akin to a structural engineer hiring a demolitions crew to help run things.

 

In all of this, though, I’ve decided that these quotes I’ve been pulling out will serve as intermittent inspiration for my writing. Let’s give it a try…

Set the stage: It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting in an uncomfortable twist at the back of a commuter train that is just one of the five legs of my commute to downtown Portland. The commute is for my job, and the uncomfortable twist is so I can try to type these observations on a stable surface as I am having them. As the Goeyverts String Trio‘s “Simeron” crescendos loudly in my ear, everything changes – in anticipation for the next two minutes of the ride, I straighten up and face forward, temporarily forgetting about my writing attempt. In response, the warehouses and asphalt of northern Salem melt away from the sides of the tracks and are replaced with the dappled greenery of the marsh. My ears can only hear the violins dancing with the singers, and all I can see is grass, trees, and lilypods crushed under the gentle weight of perpetually localized fog. This is my world, transported, for a glorious two minutes.

And then I’m back, as the train resigns itself to delivering it’s groggy cargo to the Tigard Transit Center and not kidnapping us for some grand tour of the Pacific Northwest.

This is only one section of my commute, but it makes the entire thing worth it. Two weeks ago, in order to add another day to my office time, I found a way to hop cities without having to rely so much on Amtrak; I have nothing against them, only against spending that much money on a regular trip. For those of you that might be interested in this, it’s simple: take the 1X bus from the Salem transit center to the Wilsonville TC, get on the WES train (where I am at the moment) to the Beaverton TC, and MAX your way downtown. Reverse the process for a return trip; I’ll put together a joint timetable [here tonight].

Greetings from the MAX Red Line, to the tune of “Stabat Mater” – the only other song on this album. Each song is around 24 minutes, and I have designated them as the best thing to listen to when I want to wake up peacefully, which is most days. Once I get to the office I’ll play something energizing, and on the 1X I usually listen to the sound of my head smacking against the window as I drift in and out of consciousness; but for now, I’m at peace.

This is ultimately why I chose to start writing again. I have been given what I consider to be an opportunity in all this: two hours to just sit, every Wednesday morning and Thursday evening, and twice on Mondays. I enjoy reading, but I need to make space first; I enjoy technology, too much, but the reception on the ride is spotty. There is a blog of mine that has been effectively defunct, and I feel a twinge of guilt whenever I visit another author’s site. Am I cheating on my partner? Reading around behind their back, neglecting them for years, because I assume they’re not going anywhere? I want to make amends.

Similarly, I’m trying to get more in the habit of correspondence – as in actual letters. I have an entire separate ranted about modern communication that feeds into that, but all I’ll say at the moment is that snail mail is the perfect pace for me to keep in touch with my friends who are all around the world. Who doesn’t love receiving letters? Yes, this is a shameless plug to be pen pals, message me if you’re interested.

We’ll conclude with one more greeting, this time at base camp – the office where I work. 50 Cent and Yo Gotti are telling me to not worry ’bout it, so I’m not going to. The highlight here is always my favorite coffee shop – Lotus & Bean, in the same block as my office and between the MAX and the front door.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m picky with my cafés, teahouses, and bistros – but since I invest significant time and money in them, I reserve that right. Lotus & Bean has everything I look for in a coffee shop (technically, espresso bar) – good house drip; nonfat milk options; an impressively diverse assortment of couches, tables, counters and outdoor seating; delicious pastries as well as substantial food; good music; great location – but most importantly, character. With a good initial investment and some research, you can make a functional and even fashionable caffeine depot, and I think most of us have been to what feels like a pre-fab reservoir; but no amount of money can create a sincerely welcoming atmosphere. I’ve tried a few other places in Portland, being a fan of shopping around, but I’ve found that the majority of those places are characterized by an elitist vibe – yes, thank you for making my coffee, but I’m not going to kiss your ring. Lotus & Bean is really more of a community space that just happens to sell coffee and brighten my day.

First off, I must apologize for ceasing to exist. It’s a hobby of mine. Over the past few semesters, I’ve found myself so inundated by not just school and work, but unfathomable anxiety with which I’m just beginning to come to terms; but I would rather show you than tell you, so here follows an excerpt from a letter I recently sent to a few of my friends:

“So, I’m halfway through my junior year at Willamette. Yay! No, really, save for the last semester-and-a-half, it’s been mostly enjoyable. The two biggest changes for me are that I changed my major from physics to comparative literature, and that I joined the fraternity Phi Delta Theta. I’m going to let those sink in for a moment, since in all honesty they are probably more of a surprise than anything else I’ve written. In terms of my major, I found that my class in Quantum Physics was very educating (sometimes even in terms of physics!) and I’m applying what I learned to create a nice, large escape velocity. Since I’ve taken a good amount of courses in the sciences, I’m concentrating on modern scientific understanding in society and government, and comp. lit will allow me to finally take some more humanities courses to round out my education. As for the fraternity, they’ve been very respectful of my position on Greek life for two years (‘hahahaNO’), and after they supported me through a lot of last semester, I decided that joining the friends I had made independently was absolutely worth it.

But what would life be without a little irony? Comparative literature was the example major I used when I was explaining to the Dean ‘which crazy majors should be cut’; and within Phi Delt, I’m serving as the recruitment chair after having rejected colleges during the decision process based on their Greek system. Now that I’ve decided to take Chinese, I’m in charge of a program where studying Japanese again would have been a much better choice socially and even professionally. Sometimes, I like to think that I hold the esteemed position of ‘karma’s chew toy.'”

I feel that this paints a fairly clear picture of where I am right now, and yes, there are some juicy parts missing from that excerpt – but I can’t just give away all the good stuff! One of my New Year’s resolutions was to write daily, maybe not on the blog, but daily nonetheless; so expect a better showing, albeit much shorter than my previous posting habit.

LONDON: DAY ZERO

Yes, London. At least, that’s where I am for now; in four days I’ll be in Paris – and yesterday I was not, as one might expect, in Seattle, but instead visiting family in Minneapolis. Thus begins my next adventure – an international melange of destinations that, when accompanied by the plane trips on either end, will end with me having circumnavigated the world.

To explain: Originally, there were to be two separate three-week trips – one to Europe, and one to India. The Europe trip was, until the end of 2009, a sort of floating exploration of the thing us Americans call “Euroland” or “the land of skinny jeans” – no specific destination was set, just a discussion about how I might be able to meet up in France with my friend –

Steven. Let me introduce Steven: many years ago, when I was still institutionalized in the school system at a small private school by the name of “Seattle Country Day School”, I met Steven. I don’t remember what our first class together was, nor what our first conversation was about – but what struck me first was that this boy was brilliant. At the time, that manifested itself as a predilection towards solving challenging math problems before they were halfway out of your mouth; but even now I stand firmly by that assessment as I have seen his talent spread towards writing, history, and (my personal favorite) board games. Now, I’m not talking about Monopoly, or Life, or Sorry!; I’m talking about board games not that you simply play, but that you seriously dedicated a few hours and a lot of pulled hair towards. They’re fun – but they’re hard.

The board games served as strong application of social glue; whereas during the course of my high school experience I fell out of touch with the majority of my SCDS friends, after the first invitation to play a game at his house (it was “Pandemic” – still one of my favorites) we started trying to make “game night” a little more regular. We even tried to expand it, once, but being the week before finals we had a small turnout (Alex, who, incidentally, got himself a copy of “Pandemic” afterwards); you would think that college students wouldn’t agree to any distractions before studying (in fact plenty of them rescheduled) so it’s worth mentioning that Alex’s last final was actually that day – and I should tell you now (or two paragraph ago) that Steven, much like myself, is taking a gap year.

Yes, in fact that does directly translate into “travel buddy.”

So as I’m getting ready to leave for, I believe, Frankfurt when we got on the topic of my travels, and the proposal to “plan something in Europe for a bit” was made. Time went by, and as I toured Frankfurt-Salzburg-Vienna-Prague (FSVP) (entries will be completed upon my return), Steven put together the “three-week budget dream trip itinerary” – and I cannot begin to thank him enough for doing all that work (not just the itinerary, but all the train and hotel bookings as well). How it shapes up is:

London: January 26th – 30th;; Paris: January 30th – February 5th;; Venice: February 5th – February 8th;; Florence: February 8th – February 11th;; Rome: February 11th – February 18th

It sounds amazing, and looks even better on paper – we have so many fun things planned, and I have my camera to capture every second. However, I have an eensy-weensy logistical error that could pose an issue, which has been the consternation of my mother and myself, as well as the reason behind those above-mentioned dates being a week earlier than originally planned:

India. My fourth and supposedly final trip this year is to India, with my mother, and I was planning on leaving for that trip somewhere around March 1st, and returning towards the end of March, or even April. We had those tentative dates at least set aside, but while I was on my FSVP trip my mother did some more research into my benefits, and we got a little concerned. Expect a side entry on how my benefits work, but the short explanation is that my benefits have two expiration dates – my 19th birthday (March 15th, 2010), if I’m enrolled full-time in college, or my 23rd birthday (March 15th, do the math), no matter what. We knew about this potential snag years ago, but we were hoping that with a physical letter of enrollment from my school, I would be permitted to continue using the benefits.

Well, 1) we don’t yet have our hands on a letter of enrollment from Willamette, 2) even if we did, processing could take a long while, 3) my benefits may be denied anyway until I actually physically begin attending classes in the fall, and 4) I’m not going to have any money left to travel with by the time India is over anyway. Since Steven’s schedule had been finalized, and I really liked it, we decided to move it up one week, and tack the India trip onto the end. Now, I’m beginning on a six-week London-Paris-Venice-Florence-Amsterdam-India-Nepal trip.

Please note, Amsterdam is a 22-hour layover where I simply meet up with my mother before heading on to Mumbai. Sorry to disappoint, but there will be no crazy Amsterdam stories – at least not of the variety that I’m guessing 90% of you readers are hoping for. But yes, India and Nepal have been added to my itinerary. I’ll go more into detail as those trips near, but in the meantime I have plenty more current events to discuss. The point is, I am coming home, and “staying home for a bit” (prepare to disregard that last statement when I figure out how to put myself on the next plane out of SeaTac) after my benefits expire on March 15th.

——————-

If there’s one thing I like to do on a regular basis, it’s make people think. Well, not “make” – maybe, “encourage”? It’s a little hard to describe, what word or phrase would you recommend I use?

Yes, that was a cheap shot. Sorry. However, where this comes into play is that I have procured a set of mind-bending “Killer Sudokus,” a Sudoku variation that I recommend to people at every opportunity – you can check them out online. Another cheap shot – not so sorry this time. The point is that the man sitting on my right (we’ll call him Mr. 19C – can you guess where I was sitting?) began doing an evil Sudoku the moment he sat down. Naturally I invoked the above-mentioned rule of “Don’t Shut Up About Killer Sudokus”, which then spiraled off into a discussion about Sudoku (didn’t see that coming), plane travel, complex systems analysis, enzyme reproduction, technology, and business models. All before take-off. Better than the man sitting on my left – who we’ll call Comatose Carl. You can guess who was the pinata at our fiesta.

Actually, I joined the Legion of the Seriously Unconscious as Sergeant Pass-Out-on-Takeoff, a rank I proudly held until landing… in Minneapolis. Yes, Minneapolis, MN is a typical layover for trips to Europe, since it is a relatively major international hub – but I didn’t just have any layover, I had The Layover: Family Edition. Being located in the area where the rest of my Dad’s family lives, this special edition comes packed with genuinely fun extras like getting picked up at the airport by your aunt, visiting your grandmother, doing your grandmother’s exercises (my legs feel ten times stronger), and then getting the best gourmet pizza in recent memory at a place called “Black Sheep” – meatball, feta, and garlic, with an extra helping of incredibly delicious. And then, with two leftover pieces in hand, you get dropped back off at the airport for your flight later that evening.

Long story made semi-short, I got on my flight with no worries, and proceeded to fly to London. Upon my arrival, I grabbed my bag and decided to take the Tube to the hotel, the Royal Lancaster @ the “Lancaster Gate” station on the Central Line; I navigated this route with bravery and precision, arriving only a solid two hours after Steven and I agreed to meet (my plane was, in fact, delayed taking off) at the hotel.

The reunion having eventually been made, we promptly rested our weary feet in our wonderfully comfortable beds – I managed to completely pass out, while Steven rested for a bit and looked through guide book. By the time I woke up an hour later, he had some good suggestions for how we could spend the rest of our afternoon. The first idea, that we had discussed earlier, was to explore Hyde Park, a moderately-sized (relative to the rest of the parks of London) park across the street from the hotel; following this we would traipse to the Docklands, a new, vibrant social and business center by the Thames/ Tower Bridge.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well here’s how that actually happened: It’s just past dark (at five o’clock) when Steven and I cross the road and wander over to the giant map of the park. While perusing said map, I happened to mention how it looks like a beautiful park and I would like to walk around the lake (Serpentine, it’s called) – however, this is apparently the exact cue for some hitherto unknown source to send forth a car-mounted loudspeaker announcing that “the park is now closing” and to “leave immediately through the nearest gate.”

Next time, I’m going to say how much I hate the park, and maybe then it will stay open all night. Or we’ll just be accidentally locked in. Maybe I just won’t say anything, to be safe. So with Hyde Park having taken a good 99% less time than we were expecting, we headed to the Docklands, through a variety of subway stops to come out on Bank Street. For those that know London, you appreciate that, in fact, the Bank Street subway stop is nowhere near the Docklands. Map in hand, we weaved our way to the waterfront, in the dark, armed with cameras and giant flashing signs that say “tourists” – and, apparently, signs that said, “cars hit here,” London traffic being London traffic. As it was, we wound our down a back alley, up the same back alley, and across Tower Bridge. (good views!); hung a left at some crazy office building (it was either a tribute to, or in defiance of, Euclidean geometry; or both) and headed down the “Queen’s Walk.”

Keep in mind, the planning that was involved in this route was, “Hey, this looks good. Up here. Oh, how about there? Oops. Lets turn here. Oh hey, what’s this waterfront thing? The Queen’s Walk? Cool. Let’s do that.” We never did make it to the Docklands; but that doesn’t matter, because we found good food.

Remember, folks, I am a stomach on legs. The place was “Cote Brasserie”; the crime was a delicious mussel dish followed by a equally delicious set of salmon cakes. The mussels themselves came in a delicious red sauce, which was completely misleading since I can guarantee that it was more white wine than anything; but they were incredible. All fifteen of them. The salmon cakes were, as I mentioned before, also delicious; as expected, they were half potato (after all, they were huge), but extraordinarily flavorful, on a bed of heavily sauteed spinach, turning the whole thing into a sort of salad (except tastier). The piece de resistance, though, was the chocolate pot. When Steven ordered it, I think we were both expecting it to be, well, particularly larger than a ping pong ball. We were wrong; and initial disappointment was replaced by nothing other than relief when we had each tried our first bite, and realized that if it was any larger we would both be experiencing diabetic comas. Let me make sure you understand just how rich this little pot of joy was: two teenage boys, splitting it 50-50, could just barely finish it. I think the table partly buckled when the waiter set it down.

After that, however, and probably because of that, coupled with jet lag, we decided to head back; and now as Steven gets ready for bed I sit here detailing London Day Zero. Let the adventure begin.

Vienna – the Fifth

Things you don’t hear every morning: “Good luck at the graveyard!”

While some mornings, much like yesterday, I feel as though indeed there is nothing but a metaphorical graveyard waiting for me if I leave the tender embrace of my covers, this morning there is an actual, real graveyard that I’m heading to today (as a visitor). I’m going to save the long story for a rainy day (today it’s just snowing), but I should tell you that my genealogy is well established on my father’s side of the family, and for my mother’s dad – but on my mother’s mother’s side it gets murky, and my goal today is to achieve one more step towards clarification; namely, locating my great-grandparents’ graves.

Here is what I know: My great-grandfather’s name was George Felix Bume, changed from Baum for obvious reasons during the holocaust and WWI; he passed in 1936. His first wife’s name was Grete Katarina Bume; his second wife was also Grete Bume, and she passed in either 1963 or 64. A little confusing with the two Grete Bumes, but otherwise fairly straightforward.

Here’s the only clue I have to finding their graves: “Both of your grandparents are buried somewhere in Vienna.”

Let me make something clear: Vienna, as a city, is gigantic. 1.7 million in the city, with 2.3 million in the overall metropolitan area, which makes it the tenth largest city in the EU. Seattle, by comparison, has a little over 600,000 in the city, with, yes, 3.3 million in the metro area (go us, being 15th largest in the U.S. based on population). In terms of land area though, the city of Seattle is 83.87 square miles; Vienna, 152.7. In that space there are not one, not two, but twelve different and well-spaced cemeteries on the map have; in reality there are fifty distinct cemeteries in Vienna.

And I’m looking for two graves. Maybe. If, in the course of your studies, you are required to define or give an example of “a fool’s errand”, please, feel free to cite this one.

Where to begin? Zentralfriedhof, or “Central Cemetery”, located absolutely nowhere near the center of anything. Here’s how you reach it: Take the orange (U4) line to the very last station (Simmering); get off, climb up the stairs, and walk for two kilometers through the city.

For those of you that haven’t already brought up the Wikipedia article on “Zentralfriedhof”, let me give you the juicy parts:

-the cemetery spans over 2.4 square kilometers, with over 3.3 million interred here. That makes it the second largest cemetery in Europe, and more creepily, it holds the entire population of the Seattle metro area dead and buried.

-the musician Wolfgang Ambros wrote a song called “Long Live the Zentralfriedhof”… Just think about that for a moment.

-there are two Jewish sections in the cemetery (which is where I’m searching, in case you couldn’t guess by the “Baum”), one of which was mostly destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht.

Right now my plan consists of going to the cemetery, and running around the Jewish sections until my hands freeze. Never, ever, put me in charge of search and rescue unless you don’t want to get found.

—————–

Sitting at breakfast, doing my eating thing. I’m sitting at a table with three other lovely ladies; two of them are talking to each other, and the third is just sitting quietly on the other side of the table with her breakfast. I don’t know any of them, nor am I planning on striking up a conversation – instead, during the lunchroom game this morning, I asked myself how I wanted to start the day, and decided I would rather at least be sitting at a table with people than at a table by myself. And these ladies look friendly enough. Let’s eat.

During the course of my breakfast (which was almost identical to yesterday’s, save for two kiwis), Andrew and Rachel showed up. I hadn’t factored them into my lunchroom game before because it was already 8:30 when I got there (breakfast ends at 9 o’clock sharp) and I thought I had missed them; needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when they showed up.

——————

Honestly, it’s probably the coldest I’ve ever experienced, which might make me sound like a wuss, but I fully welcome you to bask in the glorious bone-shattering chill. I’m wearing my heavy pants, a sweater over my shirt, and my heavier jacket, and I am quite cold – and I’m less bundled than most of the natives we’re seeing.

Andrew, Rachel and I are trekking to Media Markt (no “e”). Andrew and I are on a mission: He needs to buy a new cord for his netbook (it short-circuited courtesy of Venetian floods) and I need a new flash drive (I already have 4-gig and 16-gig sticks, but I have maxed them out with all my music, pictures and videos). What I really need is a 1.5 terabyte drive – of my 14 gigs of pictures and recordings, I took 12 gigs of that since December 17th (that converts to just under 6 gigs a week) and I am picky about deleting (of the pictures I take each week, I’ll delete maybe 5%, not counting the pictures that I put in multiple albums). Granted, at that rate it would take me a while to fill up a terabyte and a half, but that doesn’t include my music collection, my videos, or my design work. So Santa, I’m getting a head start on my list this year.

Anyway, we’re in Media Markt, which is a risky proposition for me – I tend to be an impulsive shopper. Fortunately, I have two tricks at my disposal as I peruse the 32-gig flash drives or the even more awesome 32-gig Extreme (TM) San Disk camera cards (did I mention it sounds amazing?): one, I multiply every price by 1.5, which is only a little higher than the current exchange rate (ouch) and two, I’m only carrying roughly 25 Euro on me.

Fifteen minutes later, now, and we’re just leaving – me with an 8-gig drive and some more batteries (they keep on freezing), and Andrew with the knowledge that he could technically run the computer with cord, without the battery, since the cord is actually not broken (he tested it).

Now to test a hypothesis: I have no more cash on me. There is ATM outside the Media Markt. I am going to Prague tomorrow (surprise!) so I don’t need that much more to survive – let’s say 50 Euro for whatever may happen. Remember the “Theory of Moody ATMs” posited in my previous entry? Yeah, it’s been proven. One bill, a 50, ejected from the slot. Oh well.

———————-

Rachel, Andrew, and I parted ways at Karlsplatz, where they left to go to a cafe and find the opera house; I continued on the U3 line to the transfer point to the U4 at Landestrasse, went to Simmering, and took the aforementioned trek down to my current location, the Zentralfriedhof.

It’s big.

From my location in the corner (my point of entry, closest to the Jewish area) I am staring down fairly wide roads, and am unable to see the far walls – its just a forest of tombstones and other instances of funereal remembrance. More than creepy it is elegant; the quiet I am now enfolded in is not that of death, per se, but of regality; I am a visitor at millions of palaces, each with their lone regent beneath the frozen ground.

A moment of silence for those who have passed.

Now it’s time to begin the search. I am purposely not looking at a map yet so not to get discouraged (yet). I’m doing a loop around the outside of the first group of tombstones I see – ten squares of tombstones, laid twenty by twenty. Round, around, then in and out, across and back – always stepping right behind the head of the tombstones in the previous row so as to carefully and respectfully avoid trespassing on someone’s throne. Back, forth, up down, back forth, across, again.

Two thousand tombstones later, I am starting to get discouraged, and more than that I am beginning to chill. My messenger bag is frozen, as is my map and my enthusiasm for this task. I still manage to push on, muttering something to myself about how this is family, and how I shouldn’t give up; a thousand tombstones ago it wasn’t a mutter, but a fresh reprimand for even thinking about stopping – but most things are dead in a cemetery, and my resolve was quickly joining their ranks.

Finally, I look at the map of the Jewish section – in terms of my foolish enthusiasm, this is the death blow. Those ten squares comprised roughly one-fifth of “Area 6.” There are, according to the map, twelve areas remaining, some larger than this. By rough approximation, I have one-hundred-and-eighteen thousand tombstones left. In this cemetery

No.

—————-

I was absolutely freezing while my resolve lay on its death bed; a such, we held the funeral in the heated church at the front entrance to the entire Zentralfriedhof. The body was carried down the long road for twenty minutes, from the side wall to the main entrance; laid to rest in the main church; and then buried in my memory. I was the only one in attendance.

—————-

Best idea ever? Catching the tram back to the Simmering subway station rather than walking another two and a half kilometers. next best idea? Food. Broke that 50 like a glass bowling ball, and received two excellent melts from one of the bakeries inside the station. Caught the subway back to Landestrasse; then on to Hutteldorf. Got a bottle of water on the way back to the hostel.

Now I’m packing for my inadvertent foray to Prague. I had initially taken over all my allotted space (I do that well) so getting all of my animals back in their respective cages is a difficult task. I’ve already pulled out the singular outfit that I’m wearing tonight and tomorrow, and have set aside my shower gear and other toiletries; the rest of my mess is being systematically removed from my bed, the platform at the head of my bed, the platform at the foot of my bed, the bed underneath mine, the floor, the communal table, two of the communal chairs, and my closet. I came, I saw, I conquered, and now I’m retreating, making a clean international getaway.

———————

To put the rest of my day in the style of one of my favorite alternative periodicals: nothing really happened today, except that Andrew and I grabbed various packages of tortellinis and dumplings from the nearby Spar for dinner, used a microwave (for what purpose, I’m not sure), and settled down with Rachel in the lounge to eat our cold dinner and discuss the details of the next leg of our now-aligned journeys: Prague.

Vienna – the Fourth

Today was just simply great. It was simple; it was great. I’ve been trying to find some way of adjudicating my day using big words and long-winded sentences, but really, that defeats the entire purpose.

This morning started off with a bang. And a crash, a few scrapes, and one or two “thuds.” One of my roommates is not exactly quiet when it comes to rifling through his stuff at seven in the morning, and by “rifling” I mean “throwing his backpack against the floor, table, walls, window, and most likely the ceiling”. Needless to say, I was solidly awake by the time he finished, and ready to greet the brand new day with a smile on my face!

If you know me, you know exactly what kind of animal dropped that last steaming pile of words.

Let’s try this again:

It’s 6:10 and my watch is going off; oh joy. I had some trouble sleeping last night (does laying in bed wide awake for three hour sound fun?) so with the 6:10 alarm I’ve gotten exactly four hours and fifty minutes of sleep. My rule in these situations is that [(if hours unconscious < 6) then (the world = not worth it right now)]. This applies to the fact that I was planning on exercising this morning, which is the exact reason why I was in bed at ten o'clock – so I could up at 6:10, work out, and have my day.

Well that's not happening folks, sorry.

It's 7:00 and the civil war between my roommate, Jason, and his luggage has begun; from the sounds of it, both sides are taking heavy losses. My other roommate, Taylor, is gone, probably to forage some food from whatever the breakfast situation is downstairs. I roll over to try and block out the sound of battle, but my precious sleep has already been claimed as a casualty of war.

It's now 7:20 and the war has just been won by Jason; to celebrate, he threw a parade, out the door, with his laptop and a new outfit claimed from the enemy. I'm celebrating by turning on the little lamp over my bed to try and motivate myself into waking up. Baby steps, people.

It's 7:35 and I am crawling out of bed; after changing clothes and drinking some precious water, I continue working until Taylor comes back from the hunt and announces that breakfast consists of “yogurt, bread, jam, and some other stuff but no ham and no cheese.”

———————–

An interlude: In the short time I've been over here, I've had some sort of bread (be it a roll, croissant, or some other lump of baked dough) with cheese (generally swiss) and sliced meat (generally ham) **every** single morning, and I'm really starting to like that habit. It's tasty, generally cheap, and has carbs, dairy and protein.

———————-

With the idea of food having been established in my mind, I head downstairs to find that there is a smörgåsbord of urprisingly decent food considering this is a cheap hostel – to begin with I see that there are both plates and bowls, which means that there are at least two types of food. Further down the line I see gigantic punch bowls (for lack of a better descriptor) full of yogurt, strawberry jam, packets of butter, packets of liver spread (some people are into that), curds, and finally, orange slices; around the corner on the tables facing me are coffee, tea, and hot chocolate jugs, and across the gap are baskets and baskets of bread. As an added bonus, behind the bread table are containers of cornflakes and milk.

Let's do this. I begin by stocking up with every tool they have to offer – tray, plate, bowl, knife, spoon – and begin with the yogurt. I love yogurt. One of my favorite tv characters loves yogurt (Michael Westin from Burn Notice). Everybody should love yogurt. ANYWAY, this being some weird-looking yogurt that I have never tried before, naturally I filled up the entire bowl. Now, I should quickly describe these bowls – when I say “bowl” you're probably thinkin something along the lines of “something mostly round that-” but let me stop you right there. Height-wise, the rim of the bowl is maybe an inch and a half above the bottom; seriously, this piece of glass is only a bowl by nature of the fact that it would mke an even worse plate. So when I say that I filled up my bowl with yogurt, I mean I took maybe a spoonful and a half. Moving on from there, in anticipation of the bread to come I grabbed a few packets of butter, with an experimental liver spread packet just for kicks, got a mug with hot water and a mint teabag, and metaphorically dove into the bread baskets. One basket was full of white bread, while the ther one had pumpkin, multi-grain, and basic brown bread; there was a tray of some sort of weird pastry thing; and again, natrally I took one.

And this is when I was hit with the lunchroom dilemma. You know that little game that you play when you walk into a cafeteria and you try and decide where to sit, who to sit by, who looks friendly, who looks like they're going to eat you, etc etc etc? Well that game gets even more interesting when have the hostelling equivalent of the UN to choose from, in a strange country with strange people; not knowing who spoke what language, or who used what customs, I divebombed the last empty table and began to eat my yogurt.

Now I'm sitting here eating this yogurt (which is excellent, by the way) and watching the comings and goings of the arbitrary UN Council on Cafeteria Dynamics, when I see this American couple that I sort-of maybe had half a conversation with.

———-

Definition: “Sort-of maybe half a conversation”
A period of time where dialogue exists between two parties, but nothing important gets said. Generally takes place before introductions are made.

e.g., I'm standing at the check-in counter yesterday, waiting for the luggage room key, when Mr. American (a moderately tall, black-haired bespectacled boy probably about the same age as myself) approached the counter to check in and also asked if they could break a fifty-euro bill. The clerk said, “No, sorry, I don't have any change” which is a whole lot nicer than “Well I did have enough, but that jerk standing next to you waiting for the luggage room key payed with a hundred-euro bill and cleaned me out.” For the record, you can tell when an ATM is on it's period because it only spits out the largest bills it can find – you would think it would be consistant, but so far I have gotten my money out in only tens, only twentys, and a few mixtures of things, but this last one just spit out a solid hundred-Euro note. This wouldn't be so bad if I was buying something pricey, but I'm on a student budget – my biggest expense besides lodging is the 5 Euro that I'll spend on my next meal, and who wouldn't feel like a jerk in that situation?

Anyway, so he obviously needed some change so I enacted the half-dialogue:

“Hey, you need change?” Restatement of the obvious in a feeble attempt to break the ice.
“…Yeah” Recognition that indeed, you did just state the obvious; but wait, who the heck are you anyway and why do you want to know?
“I can do that actually; it's sort of my fault since I'm the guy that just took all her change.”
Insert feeble smile from the clerk.
“Oh great, thanks!”
Insert me smiling awkwardly at Ms. American standing behind me.

Yup. That was exciting.

—————————-

So I see this couple getting their food, and as they finish up I sort of half-wave (I don't think we need to define what that means) to try and get tehir attention. You know, nothing major, since I don't want to seem to desperate; but I'm not always so great at subtlty, and for some reason they didn't what really turned out to just be me looking like I was partially epileptic.

I love body language. Time to break out the bg guns – eye contact. So now in the midst of the UN Council of Food Consumption theres this American boy with his eyes locked on this couple and his eyebrows doing what can only be described as the funky chicken dance. Don't pretend you've never done that either. Eventually they saw that my table had lots of empty seats with one of them filled by someone who wouldn't eat them (see above note on the lunchroom game) and one simultaneous “Wouldyouliketositcanwejoinyouhere?” later, they sat down to eat.

At this point it would be typical to do introductions, but me being me I had to get cornflakes. Seriously. So I ran to go get another “bowl” and on my to get some milk I notice that in the refrigerated shelf where they're advertising soda and orange juice, they also had plates of salami and cheese for sale; not only was that exactly wht I was looking for, but 1,40 for six pieces of salami and five pieces of cheese isn't bad at all. So I dropped off my mound of corn flakes, ran upstairs to get a 2-Euro piece, ran back, bought the plate, and settled down to properly meet my compatriots.

Of course I was a little nervous about this – not because I don't feel comfortable meeting new people, I truly love it – but because they could turn out to be “my group” for the duration of my stay here, and hence my sanity is invested in this.

However, sometimes the ice breaks itself in these situations; for example, there's nothing quite like coming back to the table and hearing “I swear, Harry Potter **was** in our room last night” to really just set your mind at ease.

I'm going to enjoy these people's company, even if only for breakfast.

So there I am, standing with a quizzical look on my face, when Mr. American turns to me and just says, “Well he was!”

To which, of course, the only proper reply is, “Well it sounds like magic was happening.”

Yes, the delegates from America are just that awesome.

——–

Over the course of breakfast, I learned that the Americans have names (Andrew and Rachel) and that they, too, are on a gap year – but unlike me they are using this year to study Spanish at a university in Granada. More specifically, Andrew is on a complete gap year, and has been already accepted and confirmed at Tufts; and Rachel is going to use the credit from her studies to transfer in as a Sophomore at the always popular TBD University (I was considering going there for most of my junior year). Both are originally from Chicago; both love music. Ironic because the last time I was in Chicago was for an orchestra competition, but it's always great to meet other musicians. Andrew plays the piano (pretty well, from what I gather) and Rachel sings (although she has tried her hand at various instruments, including the bassoon). This whole conversation came up from the question, “What are your plans for the day?” to which they responded, “We were going to see the Mozart House and then the Music Museum. What are yours?” to which I in turn responded to with a quizzical look (I'm good at that) and a “Oh, you must like music” (I'm also excellent at stating the obvious as well, in case that was not already…..obvious……damn it).

My plans for the day, as they stand now, are to see Schonbrunn Palace, a supposedly very beautiful sight that is the top of the tourist to-do list in Vienna. I invited them to come with me, but you know how musicians can be. Anyway, we discussed our individual plans for the rest of the week (and just so my mother knows, I have planned out what I am doing each day, when I am leaving, the subway route, my walking path, and the operating hours and admission at each venue I plan on visiting); but it turns out that these two are heading to Prague on Wednesday and now I am very tempted to scrap the aforementioned plan that took most of last night….more on that later.

I did discuss my plans for the reat of the week anyway though, and when gesturing wildly in the air (the always-handy and questionably-effecvtive 'air map') failed we went upstairs to find a real map twenty minutes, lots of storytelling, some planning, and a few pieces of Mozartkugeln later (you can't visit the Mozart House until you have Mozartkugeln), we parted ways – Andrew & Rachel to the Mozart House and myself to my room to gather my things, and then on to Scloss Schonbrunn.

—————–

Now I'm walking through the park trying to find the palace. “What park?” I hear you asking; and I can assure you that I'm asking myself the exact same question. Guess who left their map in their room; come on, one guess. Is it the guy who meticulously planned out each little detail of his day trips? Hm? Yep. He forgot to grab the map on the way out. Now I'm walking through a large, somewhat barren park – Schloss Schonbrunn is, according to the map, over one kilometer in ech direction and has a large park, and so logically I headed for the first large park I saw at the “Schonbrunn” subway stop. Something that large should be hard to miss; and yet, this is not the correct park. Go me.

It looks like there is a large somewhat ornate building up around the corner, maybe that's it.

Nope, that says…Technical Museum? Okay, where the heck am I now?? Wait I remember that the Technial Museum was a bit above the palace….so if I turn around and head south I should see it eventually. Let's try that.

Or I could just actually turn around, since the palace is now staring at me from across the river. I'm not usually this bad with orientation, I swear.

————

I'm just inside the palace now. I walked through a rather large courtyard, into a little side door, and was greeted by a massive line for tickets extending from the ticket booths at one end of the room all the way to the ticketing kiosks at the other. Yeah. So I bought my ticket, walked around the gigantic queue, and entered the museum no problem – and then got my audio guide and proceeded to waltz up the stairs, literally (because in Vienna, waltzes are the background music for everything).

But speaking of stairs, these were cool. Aptly named the “blue stairs” they were adorned with a royal blue carpet running down the middle of the marble steps that turned up to the second floor, Above us were tall windows with ornate framework (only one was restored to it's original gold covering) and above that there stretched a beautifully painted ceiling of some obscure reference to Austria's power (seriously, it was not described). The audio guide did say, however, that the palace was originally a hunting lodge that was later converted to a live-in palace; but even as a palace it was much less ornate until Maria Theresa and Queen Elizabeth of Austria (called Sissi) had it redecorated and maintained in a rococo style.

I'm not going to write a history paper here, so don't hold your breath, but I am going to go into detail so if you want to skip to the next part, scroll down until you see the dashes.

We worked our way through the Guard room, where four mannequins were on display in various military garb – this was the room where the guards protected the emperor's chambers, and it was where anyone who wanted an audience with the the emperor (Franz Joseph I) had to pass through. Next was the reception room, where, as named, people waited for the emperor; it had a rather large pool table to entertain the guards. attached to this, but closed save but for viewing, was the aides-de-camp room, where the emperor's aides would wait to help the emperor for whatever he might need; and then there was the emperor's study itself, a beautiful room made of what must have been chestnut, with bookshelves, a simple yet regal desk, and a series of beautiful gold candlesticks “scattered” about. Apparently Franz Joseph I gave audience to over 100 people almost every single morning, and had an excellent enough memory to not forget any details. I was impressed.

The next three rooms were unfortunately under constructions, with the walls covered and the furniture removed; apparently they were the bedchamber of Franz Joseph (where he died), his latrine, and one other thing that I'm not too sure about. Past that were a series of three rooms that belonged to Sissi, the emperor's cousin and wife, beginning with a “closet” (that's what they call smaller rooms in the palace, but the rooms themselves are still rather large) that had a door to a deck on the right, and a doorway to the “Staircase Room” on the left (going forward was not an option since this served as a corner of the palace). The Staircase Room was Sissi's study, but named for the large spiral staircase that went through the floor into the empress's private bedchamber – however, this staircase was removed after the deposition of the last emperor. An interesting fact that we learned at this point in the tour was that Sissi was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Europe at this time – and took great pains to keep it that way. She would pursue physical activites that kept her in shape (which was a little unusual at the time), she would more often than not completely skip dinner with her family so that she wouldn't eat, and she spent hours each day maintaining her ankle-length hair; and in the next room, her makeup room, I saw some impressive combs to match that statement. Past there was the family dining room, a beautiful white room with a large central table, fully set as if for an impending meal using the silver pieces from the silver museum collection.

After that, we saw so many rooms that the order now escapes me; but they were all beautiful, especially the ones built with Chinese art (there were two beautiful blue and white Chinese rooms, and one room with black lacquer panels with Chinese art on them). There was also one room in the palace dedicated as the “Napolean Room” where he stayed during his two occupations – but more than Napolean, his son Flancy was the subject of that room. There was a large portrait of him in the garden, and a bust of him on his deathbed at the age of 21 (taken by lung disease) – but what I've never seen in a museum before is that they stuffed and mounted his pet bird on a desk in the center. It was interesting, but unusual.

Overall, the art in Schonbrunn palace was fantastic, with many gigantic paintings renowned for their detail and accuracy, mostly depicting large ceremonies (i.e. weddings) in its history. Additionally there was quite a lot of history attached to each room (as opposed to the palace as a whole); for example, the Napolean room; the recital hall, where the six-year-old Mozart performed for what I beliee was the first time, then ran over to the queen, jumped on her lap, threw his arms around her and kissed her on the cheek. One of the China rooms that I mentioned earlier was used as a secret meeting room for the queen and some of subordinates for certain political matters. There was simply a lot of character throughout the palace, and I would recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

——————-

Now I'm out front the palace again, and I need to figure out how to get to the back; there are supposed to be some impressive grounds, although the maze & labyrinth are both closed (that's what they call it, but I'm not quite sure of the difference between the two).

——————-

Impressive, despite being a reltively strong word in the English language, is not half as descriptive as necessary to define the grounds of Schloss Schonbrunn. There is a cafe called Gloriette; on the map it is in the middle of the grounds, but in reality it is fifteen minute walk from the palace, and then up a six-story hill, overlooking the entire city, and every single step of the way is a beautiful aspect of landscape and architecture. Seriously, look at the hundreds of pictures I took when I post them. Just the lighting was a sort of religious experience, solely illuminating the palace when I reached Gloriette. I could go on and on, there are seriously not the right words to describe this event.

And on that glorious note, a happy ending to my day, I traipsed back over to the subway station, back to the Hutteldorf station, grabbed my token Durum for lunch (more on that later) and got to the hostel to shower and relax.

———-

A note about the showers at the hostel – you press the knob and have ten seconds of water. For a five minute shower, this translates to pressing the knob 30 times, at least; or at least that's what they want you to do. My way is a little nicer – take two shower curtain clips, link them together, snap one around the pipe that connects the front lateral pipe to the joint, and snap the other one around the handle, and take a nice 25 minute shower.

———–

Post shower, which is the point I'm at now, is going well – I'm chilling in the lounge off the lobby of the hostel, a raher funky room with orange and red cushioned chairs, well-designed lamps, and a rather cheery paint job – and I've been working, and will continue working until much later tonight.

Hope you enjoyed this entry, I know I did. There will be more, both about my time spent in Frankfurt, and the rest of my travels throughout the year. I promise you this, as well as lots of pictures.

Happy New Years!s

The woman sitting next to me is a lovely, talkative lady by the name of Ms. Wiegand. I’m not exactly sure how to spell that (I’ll know when she adds me on Facebook) but until I’m 32 I’m not allowed to call her by her first name.

Let’s backtrack a bit. In fact, let’s go back an entire year and a half.

It’s two weeks before the end of our junior year in high school, and I’m saying a surprisingly emotional farewell to a good friend of mine I met approximately 37 weeks ago. In our short time together, he worked a lot with mystudent club, became a major contributor to the tech crew at Garfield, and even made an appearance or two on stage; and he worked his way into absolutely everybody’s hearts (some a particular bit more than others – you know who you are, ladies). He first experienced the joys of darkroom photography at Garfield; he became known for his graphic design work, doing posters and branding for multiple clubs and activities; and he had a unique sense of style that got him known as one of the best-dressed people on campus; he was a friendly, caring, outgoing person whose personality should have been writ as a model for the younger generation; and he had one of those laughs, the kind that you don’t forget easily, the one thing that would echo in my ears when I was reminded of him – he always laughed.

His name was Philipp Burckhardt, and we were losing him to Germany.

Now fast-forward a year and half: his exchange program took him back home from his year abroad; our mutual friends and I progressed another year, making th majority of us seniors and focused on our own escape; the club that he, I, and my friend Carol had worked so hard on had disbanded. He lived his life and we lived ours, with an occasional phone call or e-mail bridging that gap.

And then I began making my plans to travel for my year off, and the possibility of me visiting Phil became more and more solid. Eventually, we set a day (December 11th) and tentative plans (travelling around Switzerland and Austria) – and after changing the date three times, I left for the airport at 4:15 the morning of December 16th.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I just got to the gate, and found a crowd of people apprehensively waiting around the counter. I think that this flight has a lot of stand-by passengers, which isn’t unusual, Seattle to JFK is a popular flight; I’m not worried about getting on, though, because I’m at the top of the stand-by list – and as it goes, if there are any empty seats on the flight, I would be the first to board. This is unless there are what’s called “weight and balance” issues – where the aircraft is over the allowable weight. This might happen if there is particularly stormy weather, or if the plane’s commercial cargo (yes, private airliners sell cargo space to companies for shipping purposes) means that some passengers can’t be allowed on. If you’ve ever had the gate agent annuce that you have a completely full flight, but when you take off there are a few empty seats, thats because they’re carrying particularly large commercial cargo.

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I was wrong; these people aren’t stand-bys. They’re volunteers, one of the banes of stand-by everywhere – there is now a next-to-zero chance of me getting on this flight. “Volunteers” are the people who, when the flight gets oversold, offer to give up their seat; technically most flights get oversold, so I’m sure you’ll run into this at some point. This isn’t a glitch in the system – the airlines want to cram as many people onboard as possible, so they calculate the percentage of people not likely to actually show up and they’re mostly right when they do that, but, as is the case with averages, sometimes the numbers change and suddenly they have more paying passengers than seats. Because the passengers are all paying, they can’t be kicked off; at this point the airline starts to offer deals for people to stay behind – and usually they’re good deals (average $400 credit per seat on the airline in addition to being put on the next flight, with a nice hotel coupon or two thrown in). If you have this opportunity, definitely take it if you don’t absolutely have to be at your destination at the allotted time – but wait first, as sometmes they sweeten the deal the longer they have the problem.

And speaking of problems, remember when I said that this only happens when they have more paying passengers than they have seats? And when I said I only get on empty seats? This is why volunteers are not good for me. At this point the only thing I can do is (wait and) hope that they take too many volunteers – maybe a 10% chance of that happening, not even.

The only chance I have now is to take a later flight to New York – this flight is supposed to land at 2:15, and my flight to Frankfurt leaves approximately five hours later; if I could get on any flight to New York landing before 6:30 I could still make it to my connection.

This really doesn’t bode well…shoot. I hope they have another flight leaving soon.

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Well, I’m on the flight.

Yeah, the one I was waiting for before; no, I’m not sure exactly what happened. I know the gate agent made a mistake; he told the volunteers (five of them) that he didn’t need them, and then proceeded to give them all first-class upgrades for just offering their seat. This created a really interesting scene: one of the volunteers, a larger black woman, got so excited that she started telling the gate agent that she wanted to kiss him; and after he gave in to her demands, to the cheers of the gatehouse audience, she gayly pranced aboard the aircraft behind the rest of the volunteers.

I, however, stayed behind, with the company a few more stand-bys to, y’know, party at the gate. After a few tense minutes, the agent called my name, and that of one other standby and said, “You two come with me” – words from above – and we traipsed down the jetway.

And now I’m on the plane, looking at seat 4B. A nice aisle seat, next to Ms. Wiegand. Oh, come on, you know who Ms. Wiegand is. Don’t pretend you don’t know. What’s that? You mean you didn’t guess that she was the friendly black woman?

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We just landed and I’m absolutley starving. Food first, talk second.


Hi Everyone!

So as you’ve noticed, there have been no updates about Ghana since day six. I’m sorry to say that those entries (of which there are still nine and a half to write) will be written at a later date. Don’t worry, I took copious, er, bullet points about the rest of my time there so hopefully much detail won’t be lost.

In the interim between trips, I enjoyed working for YouthCare, a youth homeless shelter; hanging with friends; and preparing for an early Christmas-cum-grandfather’s-90th-birthday. A lot of fun was had by all.

Now, however, I’m in Frankfurt with a school friend of mine, and despite my best efforts to post everyday I’ve quite honestly been having way too much fun 🙂

To remedy this, I’m going to post Frankfurt Day Zero: Teaser which covers my adventure up to the point when I touched down in New York.

Enjoy, and more is definitely on the way! Happy Holidays too.

Sincerely, Matthew