Coping kept coming onto stage, snapping its pallid fingers in her face, trying to get her to snap to. But snapping to was not something she had done in a while. It had been so long, her whole life – when you get down to it – where she had done what she was told. She did high school to get into college. She did those classes to impress faceless, voiceless people on the other end of acceptance, waitlist, defer, or rejection letters. She did college to get a better job. She dug deep to find the internship and sacrificed freedom to make herself better for this faceless, voiceless world.
And now there is space.
Who even are you, without all of this?
Is that even a skill you can channel?
Is it really that simple?
But I doubt it.
I was wrenched this way, then that. I came upon a conclusion while washing my hair, but when I stepped out into the cold, drenched, I was back on the fence, clinging like the talons of an owl. The pros and cons I know like the ugly scar on my knee, and they come around every time I need to be refreshed as to why it would be great, but also a mistake. I only know for sure that I will refuse a desk-and-computer-8-hour-day. I can’t change the world that way, I know this for sure now. Besides, I want dirt under my fingernails, and constructive, meaningful discomfort at every turn.
Someone in Paris told me, “Never stop studying! Don’t enter the real world!”
My heart screamed a few days later, “Get out of the institution! Claim your freedom!”
I ignored it after that for a while, but it curled around my hand and crushed my knuckles and sneered, “Stop ignoring me, you worthlessly faltering, entitled twit.”
Here are some of Alice’s thoughts in the space between the miraculous birth of Christ and the party of the (end of) the year, which resembles the revelry of a Gatsby extravaganza.
Christmas carols are our oral (and singing) history. They tell us of Christ’s birth, the wise men, Herod, all the parts of the puzzle that make up the origin story and the story of my faith. Through them, our history is preserved.
I need to value my physical health more. It’s a blessing, seriously.
Also, I need to reflect more on how unglued I get from the slightest discomfort. I’m not even trying to put myself down; I simply need to reassure myself that I am weak and because of my imperfectness, I, and my body, will fail me. Be okay with that, Alice, it’s life. It’s being human.
Helping with a task like untangling lights and zip tying them to the railing, when done together, takes a fraction of the time and can actually be enjoyable when a warm pair of shoes and a coat are involved. Helping out around this time of year will make the people that always do all the work appreciate you so much.
Just go. Even if you think you’ll be late, the “so what’s the point of going,” feeling is sometimes a lie. Jump when even a small door opens.
I also realize that people are not this black and white. They are not keys on a Steinway or Yamaha. Rather, they are the vastly diverse strings on a glossy wood guitar.
We cling when we are insecure. I remember someone telling me once “when I find something in my house, like a piece of clothing or a toy that I forgot I had in my possession, then I know I have to throw it out or give it away. I wasn’t thinking about it twenty minutes ago or last week – so how could I still need it if I didn’t know I had it?”
This resonates with me. It’s times like these where I feel sobered by the way in which most people in developed and/or westernized countries lead lives consumed by objects, things, junk, whatever it is.
Of course I set aside things that hold sentimental value. That is one part of human nature that is both blatant and natural.
But I never understood why it was attractive in American culture to have a messy basement or attic, buried with “junk.” Why was the style of decorating with undertones of clutter and miscellaneous possessions so pronounced? Does it make the family that chose to decorate that way seem more wealthy because of the amount of things they have? Or more eccentric because they clutter their living spaces?
Mandy, Carrie and I grew up watching Arthur, this 1990s animated show about a family of aardvarks living in a place called El Wood City. I remember one episode where D.W. and Arthur go to visit their grandmother in her big cluttered house. They are super bored until their grandmother takes them to her attic to clean it out. They end up finding a trove of cool things like clothing and accessories from the 1980s and a reel of film that depicts their teachers and parents when they were younger. In the final scene of the episode, one of Arthur’s classmates asks if all grandparents have old, cool things in their attics and basements. Arthur’s grandmother says “Probably more, why don’t you ask them?” This seems to be the didactic message of this episode. While it is charming and not necessarily harmful, it drives home my point even more: American culture advocates for the cluttered, possession-oriented lifestyle and décor.
I am simply wondering why this is. Are any other cultures like this in the world? Are there cultures out there that are the direct opposite?
I have a playlist for anyone who wants good music to listen to, in conclusion of this report.
Lightning Bolt by Jake Bugg – for anyone wanting a joyful song to strut or sing along to
Stay Gold by First Aid Kit – for encouragement or a drive into a sunset
Canyon by Joseph – this song is just good
Blood & Tears by Joseph – this song depicts a healthy relationship, and I like it a lot
Digital Witness by St. Vincent – my friend Sarah showed me this one, and if you are down for a whimsical musical experience, this song is pretty weird, and I like it
Kings & Queens by Urban Cone – this is a good one for New Years Eve, whether you are throwing a party or need a good tune for the drive through the city at night, all to celebrate life with a joyful clatter
After the commercial break, I will go into weather and traffic.
I grew up watching the 1990s version of Miracle on 34th Street. It was one of those Christmas films that was not animated or stop –motion, and it had a deeper sense of Santa Clause as a person instead of just a character that says “Ho Ho Ho,” in a deep, jolly voice. When Kris Kringle is sitting in his chair meeting all the children that come to see him, there is one little girl that is placed on his knee who is deaf. Here is the clip:
I think this may have been my earliest memory of sign language. I remember another part of this film where it is revealed that Santa knows several other languages like Russian and Swahili; but the awareness of ASL was awakened in me at this very moment.
Jump to high school, my senior year. I was still seventeen when the school year began, and I walked into my math class on that first day. I despised (and still do, to this day) math, and I always shed my more happy and outgoing self when I had math class, and kept my head down and just did the work without stopping to look around. I noticed that there were three teachers in the classroom – a head teacher, a teacher’s aid, and a third one who didn’t seem to hold any particular position in the classroom. Odd, I thought. I sat near the front, and our first task for the class was to introduce each other to everyone else. I got paired with a boy who sat beside me, and we both wrote down things we liked and did for fun outside of school. We were asked to stand in front of the smart board and tell the class about the other person.
It was only then that I noticed that the third woman, who was standing between us and the TA, was an ASL interpreter. The teacher aid talked funny, when she did decide to use her voice. She had dark skin and thick glasses, I recall. The only signs I remember the interpreter using in this memory was the sign for boxing, because I had several student athletes as classmates. I also remember the open palms of the interpreter, her hands moving like a dance in the space in front of her.
Freshman year of college and I was in a big residence hall with all girls. One girl who lived below me thought it was astounding that I was taking Latin at Mary Washington to fulfill my language requirement. “That must be so hard!” she said. I asked her what she was taking, and she told me about this community college right down the road from us that offered sign language. I was intrigued. She told me the credits would transfer back into UMW if you chose to take ASL as your foreign language. I asked her how her class would do tests or quizzes, and she explained. I put that thought of sign language into my back pocket, and never really forgot about it.
This past summer, I began to look at all my classes that were left in order for me to finish my two degrees and graduate. I began making plans, and I found that I could finally act on this interest and take a sign language class. My schedule allowed me to have one “fun” class during this fall semester, and I signed up.
Funny thing was, this class wasn’t just fun for me. It became serious. I soaked in every sign we were taught, and I intently and religiously did my homework in order to nail down a new plank for the bridge I have begun to build. My biggest desire in this regard is to cross over and connect the world of hearing, the one I have always known, with the deaf one.
I have found myself looking up movies and TV shows that have signing in them, or wanting to find deaf communities that would help me learn and grow into this language through everyday practice. The major need I have right now, though, is someone who can answer questions. Questions, specifically, about interpreting. This is my new charge and path that has been placed under my feet.
I have never had a clear job position and/or title that I’d label my “dream job,” and it always felt like everyone around me had one in mind, or one that they always knew they’d want to pursue. It is only divine intervention that now, when I have uncovered something I really want to do, it happens to be when my college experience is coming to a close. I have been telling shocked friends and relatives about my apparently out-of-the-blue newfound interest, and how inconvenient it has been to “just now” find what I want to do. And yet, after some time of evaluation and reflection on this past semester and looking ahead, I have come to a new conclusion: College is about preparing for the future, and finding a passion and hopefully, for the lucky ones, a potential job they will bask in and love.
Sure, I wish I had made this discovery sooner, and been able to begin preparing for the rest of my life (at least my potentially professional life), but that is not how life works – at least that is what I have experienced. Of course people would love to have met their husband or wife sooner so that they would have that clear path and security about whom they will be spending the rest of their lives with. But not everyone is lucky enough to find his or her soul mate at a “convenient” time. I am one of these. There is no such thing as a convenient time – I know for experience.
I have no idea if what I want to happen will work out, and I need to find peace in that up-in-the-air space. I need to be okay with not having anything carved in stone, while also having the clarity and sense to take opportunities when doors are opened for me.
Tomorrow, Carrie and I will be driving home for a month of Christmas, New Years and birthday celebrations. I am excited to have leisure time to think about, pray and continue discovering where I want to go, as well as where I am called to be.
Have you ever heard of the legend of 1,000 paper cranes?
Carrie has always splashed the world with color – it is no wonder she is so inspired by studying art and its rich history. Last week Carrie presented her project on origami (Japanese paper folding) and how it affects architecture, and I took some photos of her display. I thought I’d share our personal backstory, and honor Carrie’s diligence in her study of art.
Carrie and I first read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes when we were in fourth or fifth grade at Rivendell, our Kindergarten-through-eighth-grade private school. I recall the beginning of the story relating to me a lot; the Japanese twelve-year-old girl loved to run and had a great life in Hiroshima. I remember Sadako collapsing while running, and the rest of the story blurred away into obscure, forgotten memory. I think this was the first book that really rattled me as a reader and student because the narrative did not end happily. Of course that kind of exposure is perfectly healthy for any student when they come of a good and appropriate age. And we read a lot of emotionally difficult books during our time at Rivendell – I want to collect all of them and give them to any kids I have someday.
The legend of the cranes says that if one person made one thousand of them, they would be granted a wish. Carrie took this story from our childhood, and used it to demonstrate how the cranes, and origami in general, relate to architecture today. We learned how to fold the vibrant squares of paper and morph it into a modest, stout little bird. All our classmates were taught, and tons of these flying creatures began to appear everywhere around the school. Desks, lockers, windowsills and bookshelves.
I remember making one. It was puny. And a solid, ugly lime green color. And then I remember all the other attempts involving ripped paper and bitten cuticles. I have lost the ability to fold two-dimensional paper and creating a three-dimensional winged animal – but Carrie always remembered. She even left a crane for the cashier at Cookout last weekend when we needed late night fast food. Carrie put in a lot of time and effort into this art project, constantly folding and pulling the paper this way and that while we watched movies or studied in the library tree houses. I think she did a great job, and I am proud of the beauty she has released into the world. She has paid homage to a Japanese legend, our childhood, and her love of art.
I felt compelled to write about my life when this past Friday the restaurant I serve at got slammed with customers and I walked home limping in the aftermath of countless Pepsi refills and ragging down red sauce and spaghetti-crusted tabletops.
This semester has been a ride, and I have uncovered a few things that I wanted to make clear, in writing, so that I won’t loose them in the dark crannies of my brain.
I was having a conversation with my roommate and friend Sarah a few weeks ago, and this is the metaphor we came up with:
The job I am currently working will cease to exist next semester because the restaurant is changing hands. I feel like this change reflects the changes that will come not only next semester, but within the next year.
Things will change and the world will keep spinning no matter what I do or don’t do. Nothing and nobody will wait for me, even though I love the idea and feeling of walking alone, looking up and seeing someone waiting and watching for me.
I always stress about not having enough time. I always wish I had more time to research and plan my future, even though it feels silly of me to try and “research” my approaching life. To me, researching my future is like trying to connect lines between faint stars; I know the stars are there and that I want to create those networks that will make the picture of the sky legible and less daunting, and yet it seems counterintuitive and without reality.
I do know this: Just because my college experience will come to close in May of 2017 does not mean that I wont stop learning. I want to learn skills that are not just found in a lecture hall, I want to find something that I can use to interact with other people, or that will open up the real world even more for me. An example I have already found is my new found love of ASL (American Sign Language). A little deaf girl came into my work a month or so ago, and I knew right away by the way she used her voice to get a hearing person’s attention, and the way she signed C-O-K-E to me when I asked her what she wanted to drink. I signed O-K back to her, filled her glass, and when I placed it in front of her, I knelt down beside her and asked her what her name was. I had never felt more useful and happy than I did in that moment. Her hearing family stared at me in amazement, and I even heard her teenaged brother whisper “She knows sign!” It is this kind of real-world usage of academic skills that I want to do every day of my life after graduation – I just need to find my place in world. Make no mistake, though – I don’t want to stay in a comfortable niche in one edge of the universe (though I’d love to do that, it being the easiest form of living), I want to go everywhere and serve without a set limit.
In the throws of finals and packing up to go home, I feel strangely content. I know what I believe in, and I trust who holds my foggy yet bright future. Peace is essential to mental healthiness, and I encourage you, reader (whoever you are, or if you are out there at all), to embrace peace and joy, and hold on tight because there is always a good reason for it.
I’ll be writing again soon, once school has quit for the semester.
I thought I’d do a series of short posts outlining some of the best and most funny memories I had in some of the places I got to explore while abroad. Of course I had to start with my home base, Edinburgh.
Misadventures and midnight scares in Old Town, Edinburgh
On one of the final nights before my departure from Scotland back to America, my friend Katherine and I went on a walk at night. It was a weeknight, around midnight. We walked by some of our favorite places in the old part of the city together, the chilly wind whipping the backs of our necks. We came upon Edinburgh Castle, and snaked around the corner of a street called The Mound, which curves beside and away from the famed castle. We paused on the shadowy street. We had heard a sudden, loud rustling just beside us in a particularly dark corner. Ironically, I had been joking with Katherine only moments before about the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots rising from the dead to murder us right there on the damp alleyway bricks. The rustling became shrill, like a scream from beyond the grave. I took off running down The Mound, laughing and screaming at the same time. Katherine tried to leave me in the dust, reminding me of this phrase: I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!
We made it down to the better-lit city street without any encounters with a long-since-dead Scottish Queen. Katherine and I laughed and laughed as we caught our breath and continued our walk through our beloved adoptive city. We passed by Greyfriars Kirkyard linking arms. I jokingly leaned towards the (surprisingly) open gate, intending to walk through the graveyard famed for its hauntings of curious and foolish mortals. Walking through a graveyard or the Meadows at night was one of the few pointed and precise pieces of advice Edinburgh students gave me when I first arrived in Scotland. Katherine laughed and steered us away from the black mouth of the graveyard, heading towards the bright lights of Edinburgh campus.
A Dance With A Kilt
You know those nights or events where you hit the softness of your pillow and you are so happy you went along or bothered to show up at all? This night was one of those. I think this specific feeling come with basking in your youthfulness. Maybe you had a good conversation, or met someone you were really glad you made a connection with. Maybe you just walked away feeling charged up, ready to take on the world the next morning, when the sun came up. That feeling, in particular, is rare for me, being a nearly diagnosed introvert.
I was invited by Katherine, one chilly night in early March, to a Ceilidh (pronounced “Kay-Lee”) which in Scottish Gallic means “a gathering,” which came, with time, to mean a gathering of dancers. Traditional folk music was also added to the mixture, to form what is known today as a Ceilidh. Along with pub quizzes, this was an event people had told me to attend and participate in while I was studying in Scotland, not only for its cultural value, but also its fun value. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited to go and experience.
For each dance, the band (who were all Edinburgh students, one of which I had met before that night) would explain the steps of the dance, giving us a general outline and having the group practice once or twice before doing it for real. I had grown up in private school, where we’d have an annual swing dance, so I felt pretty comfortable with the style of dancing I was about to learn. However, I hadn’t danced since New Years Eve, and I had forgotten how much I loved it.
I think I had made a mistake in wearing jeans. I rolled them up halfway through the night, and was thankful I had worn a sports bra under my shirt. I noticed four tall, beautiful men walk into the small room we were having our dance in on campus. They caught my attention because they were decked out like proper Scottish lads. Their kilts were bright and crisp, like they had been professionally pressed the day before. They wore stockings, button-downs and those fancy leather pouches with fur linings around their waists. You really have to see a man in a kilt to understand the gob-smacked wonder I felt when I saw men no older than I was in these intriguing, funny articles of clothing.
For the final dance to close out the night, one of the four men, the one with the red kilt and strawberry blonde locks, made a funny face at me, pulled me to him, and we commenced a fast-paced waltz. The music filled the hot air in the small room and he spun me this way and that, gripping my back and hand tightly. This dance, and that night, by far, made this whole study abroad experience for me. Knowing that I can say I danced at a Ceilidh in Scotland, and with a Scotsman, make those the best bragging rights I currently possess.
Morgan (another friend that joined us at the dance) discussed Ceilidh-ing later, as we walked back to our flats in the dark. She brought up a really good point about the fact that these men were really talented at Ceilidh dancing: “They grew up learning the classic dances,” Morgan told me as we skipped happily down Chambers Street, towards Southbridge. “In school, all the kids have to learn the dances starting in the first grade, that is why those guys especially are so good and comfortable with them.”
This realization brought me back to the awkwardness of having to learn to square dance at Rivendell, my private school. I thought the awkwardness and tension when dancing in America was due to the lack or practice and exposure to dance at a young age, unlike the way in which they do things in Scotland.
Morgan and I parted ways and I walked down the rest of the street alone, a spring in the center of both heels. I passed under the pale street lamps, their light beating down on my sticky skin and tattered shoes.
I had two full days left in Scotland after I dropped Carrie off on that dark, early morning. I spent a good bit of it with my friend Katherine, who would be in Edinburgh for a few days after my date of departure. Katherine was a great friend to have in the city because she knew it like the back of her hand. She had invested a lot more time in getting to know every corner and cranny of Edinburgh than I had, so she directed our walks with the ease of a local, and we talked about everything all day long, walking through every inch of the space.
We got dinner together and spent the evenings at the park in the Meadows, where I had taken Carrie. I noticed when we went to certain parts of the city, the memories Carrie and I had made were attached to the places. Memories of Cat, Hannah, Morgan and I were also there. Each place or point of interest was tagged with a feeling, and usually a person. That is when I knew this city had become mine, and that I’d always know my way around, and remember it forever. If I am ever to return to Edinburgh, I will walk the streets with confidence, like a woman who has lived in this city.
The flight from Edinburgh to London (Heathrow) was very early in the morning. That was one part of my travel home that was pretty depressing for me: I was not able to say goodbye to my city during the day. However, the sun had been on its way up because of the northerness of Scotland. Despite the early start, I watched the sun show its head as I waited in the tiny Edinburgh airport, knowing I’d not return, possibly for many years.
It was a quick flight to London. I noticed a lot of young, professionally dressed people sitting around me in the flight. I wondered what it would be like to have to take an airplane commute to a conference, meeting or to work every day. That makes my two minute commute to work at home seem like an absolute blessing now that I think about it.
Heathrow was not all that confusing for me. I had to take a train or two to get to my terminal, but I had some time to spare before boarding my second flight. I sat in front of the countless huge screens with all the listed cities planes were taking other people to. Watching flights depart made me really sad; I can’t help but feel like I am completely insignificant when so many people are circulating around me, going away to so many beautiful, astounding places in the world. I had my carry on propped in between my knees, and I nodded off a few times while I waited for my terminal number to pan across the screen. My brain hurt and my heart was violently on the move behind my ribcage.
The flight home was effortless. I got a window seat, and I sat beside a really sweet African American woman who told me, “Honey, if there is anything you need, you let me know!” I finally watched the newest Star Wars film, and my mom had recommended Brooklyn, which I fell in love with. I drank a lot of tea and felt like it would make me feel better if I drank the red wine they offered me with my lunch. It came in a little bottle, along with the freeze-dried and densely packaged food. I wanted to feel full, so I ate it all without thinking too much about it.
The pilot told us we were passing over New York, and I looked down on the land that I had resided on all my life, up until about five months ago. I strangely felt detached, like I didn’t belong there. But where did I belong? I came to the conclusion after a lot of thought and writing about it, that maybe it was okay that I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I had left pieces, big and small, of my heart everywhere. In every country, or with every person I had grown to love while on walkabout. Maybe it is okay to want to exist without being tied down to a particular nationality, language, or homeland. For now, I don’t want to be just one thing; stereotyped by where I happened to be born or what language I was raised to speak.
We touched down in Dulles, and I got through security without any issue. The man at the desk who checked my passport asked me how my time away was. I didn’t know it then, but this was the first of many times in the coming weeks, months, and perhaps years that people throughout my life would ask me this. The difficult part about this question is this: How do you begin to describe and tell someone about this awesome experience, in two or three sentences? Describe the last few months in two or three minutes, without sounding like a run-of-the-mill, self-absorbed study-abroad student. You don’t want to dominate the conversation, but people also don’t seem to care or pay attention past a certain point in the narrative. I cannot successfully sum up five months in three minutes, much less if I want to fully describe the golden-tipped spires of Praha, the beauty of the view of Bilbao from a mountaintop, or the staggering tortoise of the Grecian oceans.
I found my red and black checked bag without too much difficulty, pulling it from the moving belt without knocking anyone else’s over. My last moments alone were experienced with the utmost clarity: I walked heavily down the gray hallway, feeling the weight of the time away from home crashing in on my lungs, my eyes dropping from being up all night. I knew those were the last moments of my time being abroad, these were the final seconds before I wouldn’t be on walkabout any longer – and then I saw a yellow sign with my name on it, and there my mom and dad were, waiting in the line with other strangers, waiting for me to come through the doorway.
The last month being home has been almost literally a whirlwind. Carrie and I jumped right back into our serving jobs at the local café down the street from our house. I have seen and revisited the friends and friendships I had to sort of put on hold while I was away. I started driving again, on the “right” side of the road, and a new but also familiar schedule and routine has made itself present in my life. That is honestly the hardest part, though. I think Paulo Coelho said it well (and better than I could, at present):
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.”
Of course I like predictability and stability as much as any other human. And I think it is definitely healthy to have a daily or weekly routine that helps keep the person productive in their work and drive. This is my dilemma: I just came back from this amazing experience that only I can really understand, because I am the one that it happened to. I am forever changed because of what I dared to do. Sure, I can share as much of the details as I can, and maybe that is enough for some. But I find myself resisting going back to the old routine, the old way that I used to get things done, because I have experienced more, and have been changed to a great extent. I am not the same person I was before, even if I appear to be. That is what confuses people, too, when I describe myself as a changed person. I don’t look much different to them – I may be paler from the lack of vitamin D in Scotland, I may wear the same clothes and speak the same language and work the same job. It is inside that is changed, and that is not so easily “seen” or explained.
Carrie has been my rock. She and I have been processing a lot of the post-experience experience together. So many details, moments and memories come back to both of us at random times, many of which I haven’t put down in this blog. Carrie and I can ease right into talking about travel seamlessly, which I love. Though we had vastly different experiences and went to different places in the world, we have an understanding that is rare and genuine. We are both sad and happy to be home, excited about what lies ahead while also constantly reminiscing about what remains in the past. Many walks-and-talks and wine nights on our porch swing have eased some of the heartbreak we have been feeling over being away from our adoptive cities and friends we had to leave behind in Europe.
My reflection is this: just like the way in which I possess a deep and passionate faith, I have experienced a small piece of the world, which is inside of me. I appear normal and ordinary on the outside, but I am not what I seem on the inside. Neither is anyone who has traveled, or honestly just experienced life in any simple form. Pain changes people, loss or joy or love changes the way in which people think and live their lives. These things come to everyone, too. You don’t have to travel to be changed, but I will not walk away from this experience and say that I was not changed by it. I was, and it has been so good.
I was so excited that Carrie had to opportunity to come to Edinburgh and stay with me in my adoptive city for several days. I still feel guilty that I couldn’t make it down to Siena and see the beautiful place Carrie could call her stomping grounds; however, that simply means that she and I made a vow to return one summer, sometime soon, in order to witness the Palio!
Carrie arrived in Scotland the same day I came back from Sweden. I found her sprawled on my tiny bed, her shoes and coat still on. She woke with a start, and we headed out of my hot little room and into the cold air of the Edinburgh streets. I took her to Nandos, a chain chicken joint a block from my flat. There, we sat for hours telling each other everything we needed catching up on. I told her about the beauty of Sweden, and how sad I was to leave it. I told her about the week in Ireland, and everything in between. She told me about how emotionally difficult it was for her to leave her host family in Italy, and how the official countdown was on for us with regard to returning to America. This conversation would continue for the next several days, each detail and memory coming back to us slowly, as I showed Carrie my Scottish city. We processed our travels together, holding each other accountable for all that we had experienced and the changes, big and small, that were happening inside of us.
That next morning, after a night of tossing and turning, I took my sister to Arthur’s Seat for the hike up the extinct volcano. She was curious about the origins of the name, and I told her the folklore, from the dragon to Camelot. We came down from the mountain and had Oink for lunch. As we walked about the city, Carrie kept telling me that everything looked like “fairyland.” I got such a kick of joy out of that. I loved seeing Carrie’s perspective of Edinburgh, through her fresh pair of eyes.
I took her through Greyfriars Kirkyard, filling her in on the Harry Potter history that sweeps the graves, and the school that lies beyond the metal gate parallel to the graveyard. I showed her the university campus, and we walked through the Meadows. I also took her to Lovecrumbs, the coffee/tea/cake shop I had frequented throughout the semester. I had first heard about it when Darling Magazine did a blog post about Edinburgh as a city. They had written down all the best places to stay, eat, and shop. It is now Carrie’s favorite place in Edinburgh. We drank a lot of Violet pedal tea and ate a lot of rose-frosted coffee cake. It was a divine afternoon.
I was really happy that Carrie got to meet my friends while she was visiting. Later that first day, I took her to dinner at the dining hall in the apartment complex called Pollock Halls. Hannah and Cat lived there, and an all-you-can-eat meal for a non-resident is only £6. I had eaten with Cat and Hannah a lot at the dining hall throughout the semester, and I was happy to bring Carrie with me to meet them. The walk from my flat to Pollock is also a beautiful walk – it runs through a residential part of the city that is quiet at dusk, with Holyrood Park and the Crags nearby.
I took Carrie to a pub quiz after dinner. She had been to one when she and Mandy had gone to Oslo together. We got a pint and sat in a dark corner of the pub right down the road from my flat. We failed miserably because we know next to nothing about Marvel comics or movies, which happened to be the theme of the quiz. We had a lot of fun failing it together, anyways.
The next morning we hopped on a red Lothian bus that carried us to Portobello beach. We walked beside the beach on the promenade, watching the beach goers. It was chilly, and I was surprised to see young Scottish children running about in their neon swimsuits as if it was perfect beach weather. I had been in conversation a few weeks before with a tour guide that lead tours for international students at the university, and we had been discussing this exact subject. He told me that yes, the water never really warms up, and that no, the Scottish people don’t really care either way. Weeks later, when I was back in the U.S., I was introduced to a few friends of a friend, and one of them told me he went to school at Saint Andrew’s. He said the same thing: students at Saint Andrew’s swim in the ocean despite it being more or less unbearably cold.
Later that day, after exploring a bookshop or two, I took Carrie to Dean Village, a little ways beyond New Town. We walked across the bridge over the water and admired the beautiful neighborhoods and houses. We got Mexican food in honor of Cinco de Mayo (despite it being the 6th of May!) and finished the chilly night off with some jumbo chocolate chip cookies from Lidl. And the next morning, we rolled out of bed to catch our flight to Crete.
I returned from Athens a few days before Carrie did because I had two finals to complete. The plan was that Carrie would fly back to Edinburgh for a night and a day before flying to Pisa, where in turn she’d fly back to Washington. I studied hard the night before my exam, and completed it early on that Monday morning. I walked out of the test still feeling stressed, and practically limped back to my flat. Strangely, I wasn’t even happy my test was complete. I still felt jittery, but also so tired that all I wanted to do was lay down. I bought cookies and bread and a Diet Coke and went back to my room, curled on my bed for a little while, realizing that I only had days left in the city and continent I loved, as if this love had occurred slowly, then all at once. It seemed to have dropped out of the sky and knocked me on the head, rendering me unconscious.
I stumbled through studying for my last exam. It was for my Bible in Literature class, and I had a hard time caring about the books and themes we had studied throughout the semester. All that seemed to matter was the days and hours remaining before I had to jump back on a plane and go back to this foreign, undefined place I used to think about so longingly – this place that I could hardly remember, but I could recall a random street name on command.
Carrie came back to Scotland for one full day, and that made me feel better. She got it. The growing cold and sickening feeling was in her too. We walked all over the city, saying goodbye and enjoying each other. We spent a good chunk of the day in Lovecrumbs again, and I took her to Morningside, a wealthy, beautiful neighborhood in Edinburgh just beyond the Meadows. I told Carrie about Muriel Spark, a Scottish author we had studied in my Fiction class who had grown up in Morningside in the 1920s.
My friend Katherine had shown me around the neighborhood a few days before, so I took Carrie to the same places. We went by an old street that was fashioned like a street from the Old Wild West America. We sat in the park for a while, discussing the world and life. After a greasy dinner of fish and chips, we bought a bottle of red wine and sat in the meadows near the playground.
I vacantly watched a group of five or six young men messing with a big metal tube near where we sat in the grass under a tree. I only slowly began to notice what they were up to. They were all wearing black and red, and they had shoved a bunch of cardboard and an old plastic mattress into this rusted metal tube, and proceeded to light it on fire. The flames consumed the materials, and the youths ran off in a panic as the flames began to eat away at the bushes beside the tube. They reached as far as the dangling branch of the tree overhanging the place of the fire. Carrie and I were on our feet at this point, grabbing our bags and wine and getting out of the way of the flames. This was by far the most bizarre experience I have ever had while living in Edinburgh.
A fire truck came a few moments later, and we told them what had happened, just in case they had to make a report of some kind. They put the fire out, and Carrie and I decided to play on some of the playground equipment. It was about dusk, and I was growing cold in my thin clothes. We went down slides and rode the carousel, laughing as we rode on the zip line, the melting sun dispersing into the horizon.
At 4:15AM, I dropped Carrie off at the Airlink bus station so she could catch her flight to Pisa. The sun was on its way back up into the sky, since Scotland is so far up north, sunrise was set to begin at about 4:45 in the morning. I walked home in the darkness, avoiding the homeless people who were standing idly about on the street corners, yelling and spitting at the wind and each other. For some reason, something that gave me both despair and hope in that moment of lonely was this: Nothing here, or anywhere, will survive. Rest on that, think about it, because that it what keeps me fighting for people, and for connection. Faith is what will last.
“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” –Beryl Markham
In my previous post, I altogether forgot to write about one of the most interesting experiences I had while in Crete; so this post will focus on a little piece of rock that mom, Carrie and I visited, right off the coast of Plaka. That little rock is called Spinolonga. Here is the name of the island in Greek: Σπιναλόγκα.
“Spinalonga. She played with the word, rolling it around her tongue like an olive stone. The island lay directly ahead and as the boat approached the great Venetian fortification which fronted the sea […]. This, she speculated, might be a place where history was still warm, not stone cold, where the inhabitants were really not mythical”~Victoria Hislop
We explored an island, situated in Crete, that still has structures and formations of what once was a leper colony. Salt had been harvested on the island, but what it is most famous for is the leper colony that had resided on it until the 1950s. I felt familiar with the condition of leprosy from three sources: the Bible, the 1973 movie Papillon, and the 1959 film Ben-Hur. Many know the story of Jesus healing people with leprosy, and if one has seen either of the films, leprosy makes a memorable appearance in both stories. Carrie and I discussed how the colony had been living on the island not that long ago; my mother told us she knew for sure that there was no chance we could catch leprosy if we explored the island. When we looked out at the island from our hotel, we could feel the isolation the island created for its inhabitants, despite being less than a mile from the mainland. And once we were standing on it, we felt a sense of detachment from the rest of Crete.
Plaka had boats that would take groups of people out every hour or so. It was on this day that I burned my skin particularly badly. I think it was a mix of no sunscreen and exposure to the sun coming off of the clear, deep blue water.
Like the Acropolis, because of my student card, I was able to enter the island for free, which I was ecstatic about. It is a historical site, and any student in Europe, with a proper card, is able to enter with no charge.
It was a hot day, and our shadows cast themselves in front of us on the dusty footpaths that snaked around the stones and various spots where the buildings used to be. On the further side of the island, there were a lot of well-preserved ruins from the leper colony. There were houses and community buildings; the part that most fascinated me was the game boards that the lepers had carved out of stone. Those indicated to me the humanity of these people, despite them being severely sick. Even the lepers, despite being quarantined on a giant rock in the middle of the sea, got bored and needed some entertainment to pass the time.
It was hot, and the scorched land was dusty and cactus-infested. I sweat through my cheap cotton dress and my skin turned pink, slowly. I imagined myself stranded on this rock, looking at the picturesque scenery all around me, still feeling alone and unwanted. If I had been a leper on this island, I would look on this bright side: I had the best view on the entire earth.