Homecoming, December 2014

On the train from Maastricht to Liege--day 42 since my flight from Philadelphia to Seattle--I learned something about the world that I would never forget. With my life in boxes and backpacks, split between my house in Pennsylvania and the straps around my shoulders, I realized that the world could give me a home of wherever I planted my feet. 

Be it naive to believe, but our teachers in class always told us how many people would be so ready to open their homes to us. That the world was ours for the taking. It's a young and bright-eyed thought to think, but I learned that all these outrageous dreams are based in a glimmer of truth. Two months onto the road, I found it in me, the skill the nomadic soul must have to hold on. The ability to remember and to forge on all at once, home both behind us and before us.

Flemish farmlands, lustre green painted against jet streams welcomed me into Bruges when it all fell upon me. Somewhere between reminding myself to replace Merci! with Dankjewel! and trying to find chocolate to satiate an unmanageable hunger, I let go of traveling and I welcomed myself to the idea that "home" was wherever I stood, a skill I would use every day in Europe. I lived in this place, this continent; I couldn't call it a vacation or some grand excursion. From country to country, I learned to call it simply living

 

Europe, however, has been locked away in my leather-bound book, a story those pages will only ever hear. I exhausted every millimeter of glass on every train window, from Prague to Amsterdam to Bavaria. I cried over Prague, over Vienna, over the Atlantic, over the Northern Lights on our first flight to Amsterdam. My hiking boots and the clothes I wore, the bag full of Nutella packs I stole from a Dutch hostel, the 19 cent bread I lived off of, my sub-100 bank account balance, and the people who kept me hostage with their love and hospitality: these things made up my reality.

Among all the silence of cross-continental train rides and the memory of summer fading away, I felt the fulfillment of a step into the unknown. Certainly there were bad days, but the tears always came from the bursts of life that took siege of me, from the good memories, from the winds and the high sun. At 19, I cried tears of wonderment in castles and palaces and in empty horse fields and on bike-rides through the small farmtown that I called home for those three months.

For all that time and amidst all those blissful challenges, the cliche proved true: it was so hard to get lonely. How easy it is to feel loved when you are alone and in the arms of the world.

When I got home, with four months past, the ideas didn't match up. Nineteen years calling one place home and then four months of calling the road my home just didn't coalesce. As I learned to gratify one with the other, it made perfect sense that home would feel disorienting.

Homecoming hurt, with forty-two hours sleepless from Amsterdam to Boston, reverse culture shock and jet-lag casting a fog over the hugs and screams and reunions. A semester of quiet ceded to a rapturous welcome home, an explosion of thought, a dissociation of self. 

But then comes family, the one thing that the road will never have for me, even when I am with those I love: for the road is fast, but love is slow. For slowness becomes our greatest gift when we want to sprint. 

I can't pretend that everything with family seems fresh, new, and exciting; because that just wouldn't be true. But novelty does not always come from seeing something magical for the first time; it too exists in the comfort of love that comes from stillness, quietness, slowness. 

Home has had me lying on floors and feeling like everything's a dream, sleeping on deflated air mattresses and foam pads and carpets. Home has had me sewing all my pants back together, needles pricking my fingertips. I cannot the stop wear from shedding Europe off of my body as I patch the pants that struggled through four months of hikes and excursions without Google Maps.

Home means TV nights, Manhattan Bagel, and cheesesteak grease. Home means all of us squishing on the floor together, ugly Christmas sweaters, Sesame Street and Will Ferrell. Polaroids and presents, film rolls and prayers for snow, and the silence of the blood of home slowly moving through our veins. 

Home has had me standing over cliffs in the pouring rain, dancing at four in the morning, waking up in a bed that feels familiar, and it has had me laughing again. And most important of all, it  has had me remembering what it feels like to let my guard down and not being constantly afraid of missing the last train home. 

1. we took instax polaroids
grain green and highlights hidden
in-between smiling incisors
that covered our grim
our shadows blue
our silhouettes silent and then

our handheld glories
would sing in their fadeable infinities
from the corner of my wallet pressed against
the darkness of my pocket to the darkness
of your lonely
to the darkness of our made-up everythings
that we shared 
among waffle cupcakes and cheap wine

blue ridge mountains to appalachia
to the wind tunnels
of new england
we scratch and rub
away the crystals of memory
collecting picture pixels in our pockets
coastlines stained with liquor

all we wanted 
was just one more look

 through what we carry is what we love
we make fade away when the grains have all but become
dust and scratches 
the instant of the instances
will be swept and collected
trampled on by dogs or hectic
lost hands looking for
direction
some piled in trash compactors
left to be broken down by chemicals
for memory’s lost traction

they will tell us that we will forget 
those days but
when, from this picture we carry,
the neurons synapses of our memories
have broken connection 
to our distant voices

i will remember when we were 
 young,
that my body never forgets the day 
that your laughter made home 
 in my ribs
that i can never let you out 
 of my lungs

2014

Looking Back at 2014

Boston, Massachusetts, January 2014

Boston, Massachusetts, January 2014

Boston, Massachusetts, January 2014

Boston, Massachusetts, January 2014

Boston, Massachusetts, February 2014

Boston, Massachusetts, February 2014

San Diego, California, March 2014

San Diego, California, March 2014

San Diego, California, March 2014

Boston, Massachusetts, April 2014

The Boston Marathon, Boston, Massachusetts, April 2014

The Boston Marathon, Boston, Massachusetts, April 2014

The Boston Marathon, Boston, Massachusetts, April 2014

Home, May 2014

Bridgewater, New Jersey, May 2014

Great Falls, Virginia, June 2014

Ralph Stover State Park, PA, June 2014

Home, August 2014

Central Jersey, July 2014

Home, July 2014

Home, August 2014

Saying Goodbye to Philadelphia, August 2014

Cousins, August 2014

Saying Goodbye to  Philadelphia, August 2014

Home, August 2014

Vance Creek Bridge, Shelton, Olympia, WA, August 2014

Vance Creek Bridge, Shelton, Olympia, WA, August 2014

NewCastle Island, Vancouver, BC, August 2014

NewCastle Island, Vancouver, BC, August 2014

NewCastle Island, Vancouver, BC, August 2014

Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, August 2014

NewCastle Island, Vancouver, BC August 2014

Abbotsford, BC, Canada, August 2014

 Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, August 2014

Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, August 2014

Alouette Lake, BC, Canada, August 2014

Antelope State Park, Utah, August 2014

Antelope State Park, Utah, August 2014

Antelope State Park, Utah, August 2014

Amsterdam, The Netherlands, September 2014

Bruges, Belgium, September 2014

Arc du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, Belgium, September 2014

Wiesn, Oktoberfest, Munich, Bavaria, Germany, October 2014

Wiesn, Oktoberfest, Munich, Bavaria, Germany, October 2014

Munich, Bavaria, Germany, October 2014

Berlin, Germany, October 2014

Jewish History Museum, Berlin, Germany, October 2014

Berlin, Germany, October 2014

Stralsund, Germany, October 2014

Königgstuhl, Jasmund National Park, Rügen Island, Germany, October 2014

Prora, Rügen Island, Germany, October 2014

Bratislava, Slovakia, October 2014

Devín Castle, Bratislava, Slovakia, October 2014

Vienna, Austria, October 2014

Linz, Austria, October 2014

Prague, Czech Republic, October 2014

Prague, Czech Republic, October 2014

  Prague, Czech Republic, October 2014

Prague, Czech Republic, October 2014

Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic, October 2014

Stuttgart, Germany, November 2014

Stuttgart, Germany, November 2014

London, England, United Kingdom, November 2014

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom, November 2014

Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom, November 2014

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom, November 2014

Well, Limburg, The Netherlands, December 2014

Well, Limburg, The Netherlands, December 2014

Boston, Massachusetts, December 2014

Saying goodbye to the Netherlands, December 9, 2014

Four months ago, I got on the plane to Vancouver, and left behind a distinct chapter of my life. I said goodbye to living with my parents and being with my friends back at home. There was a certain idea in the back of my mind driving me, the realization that life doesn't just suddenly start, no one pushes you, or tells you when you start to try to be who you want to be. We grow--but we have to uproot ourselves first. The only way to start living the life you need to live is to start trying. 

This thought resounds in my mind as I part ways with another period of my life today. December 9, 2010 marks the last of my 3 months in the Netherlands, and the end of this chapter. Though spontaneous trips across Germany, Austria, Belgium and Scotland dotted these 90 days, the last three weeks I've stayed within my new home, letting this chapter blend into the next, letting these stories meld and sink into one another.

I've spent so much time in isolated silence these past 3 months, fumbling with broken German to form connections with strangers, relying on maps to get me around, and never hearing my own language. Three months of traveling on trains in silence, only listening to the voice in my head. Among silence, I found so much growth, and found so much of myself that I never saw inside of me. There was the quiet soul suppressed beneath the loud laugh and the heavy smile, there were the eyes that darted across landscapes, the young man who found piece of himself that was still searching for something. The person inside of me was  eager to tap into the lifeblood of Europe, of the land, of the farms, of the rivers, or of the earth.

However, these past three weeks staying in the Netherlands have shown me so much about how we make new homes for ourselves. This not-so-foreign-anymore country had me singing in a pub, watching my teacher sing American 70s hits. It had me drinking too much wine, riding against the cold wind on my bike with my friend on the back screaming "I feel so alive!" between slurred screams, only to fall in a puddle moments later. It had me sitting out my window, watching the ripples in the moat vibrating like constant drumbeats across the water. As my time ran out, suddenly it had me feeling like I belonged here, in a place I don't even speak the language. It had me feeling comfortable here, for the first time, only to leave the feeling as soon as it came. 

As the sun faded earlier today, I rode my bike under the typical gray Netherlands sky, a subtle yellow pervading the clouds between the green fields and the barren trees. Camera around my neck and stroopwafel hanging off my wrist, I breathed the smell of the fields in for the last time as I pedaled along. When I got here, I could barely hop onto my bike, but today I rode right through the street, left hand steering, right hand pointing my camera to capture my last glances.

These pictures are my goodbye. In the midst of the sadness, there is the looming thought of all the hugs I have to give. I have a family at home waiting and a life to chase. I have a new chapter to begin, with a Christmas at home, and boxes waiting to be packed until I move to Boston for all of 2015.

Goodbye, Netherlands, it's time you loosen your grip on me.  

 

 

Sounds of Scotland

“This is the Scotland you’ve always dreamed of.” Louise pulls the handle, allowing the polyphony of woodwind and strings to drift across the quiet street.

A crowd of twenty folk musicians consumes me, Glasgow’s tradition beckoning me forward.

−−−−−−

In Edinburgh, we summit Arthur’s seat and bask in the winds of Scotland, which violently throws frigid gales at me as it desired. In Glasgow, we stroll about the Kelvingrove, with haggis. After five days, from Edinburgh’s Old Town to Glasgow’s West End, with all the pubs and on all of the hills, I am still bracing myself; Scotland surprises me on every turn. As my sixth day in Scotland winds down, I go to meet a mutual friend. Megan, a friend from Vancouver, had urged me to spend time with her friend Louise in Glasgow, warning me that Louise had become her favorite Scot of all.

Later, Louise shoves me into the orchestra at Ben Nevis, the spirit of the Highlands resounding into my ears. Ben Nevis, named after the eponymous Scottish mountain, opened in 1884, its ovular mahogany and teal-trimmed exterior thinly tucked under an apartment complex stretches around the corner of Argyle Street and Carunna Street in Glasgow. Originally a small, local pub, a group of folk musicians moved into the flat upstairs and began to frequent the bar. After they brought the party downstairs, Ben Nevis soon began its long-standing custom of live folk.

A Sunday night tradition, a cellist, a bassist, three guitarists, a drummer, at least seven fiddlers, three bagpipers, four flautists, and two clarinetists all gracefully interweave from one Scottish folk song to the next. As I listen to the historical harmony, the tempo takes a rapid change of pace, the whole crew sliding into a different song effortlessly. “Wey signal each other at the end of each song,” Louise explains. “They can switch from one tune to the next in an instant—they’ll play for an hour straight without stopping.”

The inside of Ben Nevis, despite its renovations, echoes its origins. Split into halves around the bar, the left for music and the right for conversation, faded mahogany pervades the room. The bar top, with two columns extending from the ceiling down to two tree trunks on either side, is flanked by fiddlers and glasses of mead. Hundreds of display bottles of whisky line the floor to the ceiling behind the bar on zigzagging slanted wooden slabs in a gradient of gold and glass. And at the end of the bar, Highland and Midland rocks three times the size of my head seemingly dangle from the walls overtop the musicians’ booth, looking like they will fall and break some bagpipes at any moment. Almost every patron in the bar either wears a “YES” pin on their collar or instead, exudes the essence of independence. In an aura of folk, mead, and family, I see how this moment vividly illustrates why Scots would view themselves as something completely separate from the English.

Through the percussion of the fifty pair of feet bouncing against the wooden pub floor, Louise pulls me towards a cheery, red-faced man, his eyes lit up and a beer in each hand.

“And this is my Glasgow-Uncle, Stef.” Louise embraces a white-haired man in his late 40s. “Hey, happy birthday to ya!”

“Thanks, Louise, y’er too sweet. And ’ello lads, welcome to the best fuckin’ place in all o’ Glasgow!” I hide my awe at the intense thickness of his accent. “Ye’ know, Louise is the best damn performer in this whole place! She’s going to be somebody someday—ye’r lucky that ye know ‘er.”

As Louise—bubbly and clearly, popular—traipses around the room hugging everybody instead of playing her fiddle, Stef begins naming all the people she embraces over the folk orchestra. “And that’s Joe, he fiddled for the Brave soundtrack!” Louise bounces across the crowd to a stoic fiddler, whose white smile contrasts her all black outfit. “That’s Libby McGugan, she’s a science-fiction writer, wrote this great one called The Eidolon or some shit, you just gotta look ‘er up!” Then, Louise approaches a young teen with bright red hair, swaying to his bagpipes. “That’s Allee! He’s from Orkney—the Island where Louise’s from—he’s only 16 that lad, but no one really pays attention to that here. We care more about his bagpipes than the drinking age, ya’know?”

At Midnight, Ben Nevis closes, and per tradition, the whole crew leaves for Bloc on Bath Street. We pile into Louise’s car, her on the right-side driver’s seat with me on her left, and Stef in the back of the car. Jeff Buckley comes on from Louise’s playlist, and Stef’s bass hums a sonorous tune:

Well maybe I’m just too young 
To keep good love from going wrong
Oh... lover, you should've come over 
'Cause it's not too late 

 

“Oh Jeffy, lad, what happened to ya?” Stef mourns between choruses. I raise my eyebrow at Louise in curiosity—Stef’s voice has a twinge of familiarity, he talks about him like a friend.

“Back in the day, Stef and Jeff used to be real good mates, used to sing and chill and stuff in New York City when they were young.”

“The night I met Jeff, I had the best shag of my life!” Through the rear-view, between his laughter I notice a bittersweet glint in Stef’s eyes, cheery from amusement yet nostalgic from some distant memory. “Man, he used to give me the best luck whene’er I was round ‘im, that first night we met that lassie locked me down! I couldn’t e’en move, lads! That girl could do something down there like no oth’r! That was Jeff’s luck awrite!"

Louise blindly waves her hand to the back of the car in protest. “Stef, just because it’s your damn birthday and because ye knew Jeff doesn’t mean ya get to tell this story for the hundredth time again! I’m sick of you and ye’r ‘American shag,’ we get it awrite ya old man, ye used to have charm!”

Outside Bloc, the familiar sound of music wafts through the doors as we enter. Low-lit by indigo with sleek wooden booths and high-rise tables spread around the room, Bloc appears more like a regular bar. What sets Bloc apart is that, every Monday morning, the crew puts down their fiddles and pipes for karaoke, singing modern tunes from midnight until three in the morning.

It is just passing 2:50AM and I’m realizing the Scotland I wanted was with the musicians.

Stef steps up for the final act, his birthday nocturne with Joe and Allee at his side on guitar and flute.

Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies
And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow

And I'm trying to—uh, ah shit, fuck

La la la la da da da da   damnit  jesus Christ fuck Allee! what are the damn words!?

 

“Aw, fuck you guys, I’m a total wanker,” mutters Stef, shame and shock on his face. “I never do this, but I forgot the damn words…it’s my birthday, ye’ know. I’m pretty plastered, huh?”

All of Bloc erupts in laughter and immediately begins to roar a sympathetic Happy Birthday.

Through the shaking bellows of song, my eyes fixate on Louise and Stef, the spirit of Scotland so lucid within them. At three o’clock on a Monday morning, we coalesce with the blue haze of Bloc and the cradle of the chorus, letting the voices of Glasgow resonate in our ears.