Friday, May 15, 2015

Costa Rica, A Year Later

About a year ago, I quit the only grown-up job I’d ever held, and went to Costa Rica for 4 weeks. To the surprise of most of the people who’d known me, I wanted to leave Corporate America (as I will forever call it, the loaded term that it is) to somehow help my neighbors--and myself--improve their well-being, their health, and their quality of living. I lacked a lot of necessary experiences and skills to do so, but at 26, it seemed like if I didn’t start then, I never would. So, I started by going to Costa Rica to learn the language that more and more of my neighbors speak. I think that, quite simply, I didn’t want any of the new skill sets I would be learning to categorically exclude anyone. Learning Spanish honestly seemed like the simplest first step. I had no idea, however, that I had picked a country with a public health infrastructure that would continue blow my mind even today, a year later, as I descend deeper and deeper into my understanding of the mess that is the US’s. A country where the average longevity is 79 years, an average that does not systematically exclude vast swaths of the population based on socioeconomic and racial/ethnic origins, like it does in the US. A country that, while the Northern Hemisphere spent the 1940’s melting their entire economies into armies and war, actually dissolved their standing army and invested the money into a universal health care system instead.

I never posted very much about my experience at the time. I was partially existentially overwhelmed, partially trying to stay immersed in Spanish language culture, and I was partially just trying to be quiet and absorb as much as I could. I felt, and continue to feel, so behind on experiences in this new career I am trying to build. But I just found my final journal entry from the trip, and despite its indulgent journal-like ramblings and a few inside references, I feel like sharing it. Call it nostalgia, or a 1-year anniversary commemoration. It just doesn’t seem right that I’ve never honored the Ticos I spent a month with for all that they did for me. Names are changed where personal details are revealed.

NOTE: If you are in any way considering trying to learn Spanish, I cannot recommend this program that I did enough. Flights to San Jose cost about what a flight to California does, and this program is all-inclusive for about $500/week. Show up whenever, leave whenever. They will accommodate you. They even have awesome health-care-vocabulary programs, which I did. They took my French and turned it into completely conversational, Hey-can-you-help-me-with-directions, Let-me-tell-you-a-story, My-journal-entry-is-going-to-vacillate-between-English-and-Spanish Spanish. (Perhaps literally. I think my French is ruined. Oh well.)

I’m everywhere and every-when today. I can’t stay focused on one thought on this bus ride to San Jose. Today was a perfect goodbye to Turrialba. I’m driving past coffee plantations trying not to tear up again. Isa sat next to Carla in Gabby’s office as I collected my bus ticket, ready to head to my casa Tica for the last time, and she said "Va a estar falta". And that was it, they just started falling. I threw my head down and shuffled out, but Gabi of course would not hear of it and called me back in, lloranda and all.

We spent the morning walking all over town, Danny, Rachel, Jesirae, y yo. I bought a perfect aluminum kettle to go with the chorreador my mamaTica Evelyn bought me. I bought Molly's nephew back home a romper cabesa, des frutes norteamericanos, pero todos en españoles (manzana, naranja...). Compré más café de our favorite feria attendant. 

Everyone reminded me to keep practicing my Spanish (...tearing up), and I'm committed to it. Evelyn & little Nicole shared with me their conversation about my leaving, how they would miss how I always showed up with my ¡Hola amigas! Como estan, chicas? And that choked me up some, too. 

No matter how hard it can be to be away from home for so long, I just could never imagine a warmer culture than this one. It was all I could do to live up to it. I will miss walking home through the neighborhood streets, greeting ¡Buenos Dias! y ¡Adios! a cualquier vecino. Learning that, after 4pm, it was time for the day to wind down, so naturally you greeted folks with Goodbye! instead of Hello. Pasando la casa de Carina and holding little Alé or wishing Jes's abueloTico '¡Feliz Cumpleaños!'. Carla and Isa brought energy and joy into every hour in the classroom, and even dry Danny stayed so committed to our improvement.

Ticos are unlike any culture I've seen--it's a machista world where the family is foundation. Where las madres run the unit. Where you don't stray far, and you don't separate from your family. Where feminism might technically exist, but it focuses on such different issues that it is another paradigm entirely. Young Kate & Clara from Austin couldn't believe the volume of kids and families just out and about after dark, when we went for a walk their first night. It's a culture without strangers. It's a machisto culture without fear of men unknown. Attacks exist, to be sure, but closer to home. In the home, even, either outright or in quieter transgressions, including those of omission. Clara, as she told it, confused but happily pregnant at 16, somehow unaware that her new boyfriend and she could have arrived at such a result. "I hope it's a boy" was the simple commentary from mom. Mother of a child with child. Abortions are solely permitted where the mother's life is at stake. 

"Here is the local detox clinic." "It's so small!" "Well, it's just a place to take a drunk person in public until their family can come pick them up." We explained that a social work and safety-net system so deeply reliant on family help wouldn't really work where we were from. Danny shrugged. 

Before departing for our ladies beach weekend, we four Americanas purchased the requisite number of cases of Costa Rican beer. "For you? You ladies? Hm. Women do not purchase beer in Costa Rica. Well. Unless it is for the men, of course". We charmingly assured him that would need not apply in our case.

Oh Ticos. Horrendous with directions, because where is the need? "¿Sabe cada tienda en Turrialba, Danny?" "Por supuesto. ¿Como no? [Do you know every single store in Turrialba, Danny? Of course. How could I not?]

And a country so beautiful. Is it a common co-occurrence, a people and a land equally beautiful? When did I ever think I'd miss a nation's flora and fauna so much? (She pined out the window, despite growing motion sickness.) I think the living fences and ephiphytes will stay with me most. Riding two-on-a-bike with Rebecca while trying not to startle the sloths crossing the telephone wires overhead, or drinking our Costa Rican beer in a pool and wondering if the totally bizarre-looking agouti who wandered up next to us was a hallucination, are close seconds.

"Count the species on the tree." "¡Buena suerte!" In the middle of the forest, harnessed to trees in between ziplines, I wanted a flash-bulb / laser technology to county and identify the number of species around us. Even without knowing the answer, it was staggering. Our agradable Mexican guide, as pura vida as the rest, and cheery Morales, self-appointed expert in every English catch phrase uttered by American ziplining tourists over the years. "Whyyyyyy meeeeeeeee" drowned by the roar of the zipline as he sails off into the trees.

And the roads. Winding through thick forests and mountaintop countryside, they were as beautiful as they were terrifying and nausea-inducing. "Is this a stick shift bus??" "Claro que si. Bus en marcha."

I think I could write about EBAIS for my Rush or DePaul applications. From what I learned, the system functions exactly as a national wellness program should. Call it socialism, call it what you want, but to me the interpretation seems simple: how a nation that is deeply invested in the health and well-being of its citizens would design a healthcare system. The local health tech goes door to door, makes sure everyone is current on vaccines, and hands out prophylactic drugs, for free, in the event that a small epidemic is popping up in the next town over. If the family requires it, the tech calls in the nurse, who pays them a visit; and in turn, the doctor will pay house calls as needed. The US thinks that markets will always solve problems on their own, and thus all we need to do is ensure the markets can run smoothly and everything else will be addressed in turn. Because there is a need. Here, the systems were deliberately designed for the express purpose of keeping citizens healthy, laid down by a paternalistic government trying to create a better infrastructure for its children. Does it work because the nation is so small? Because a fundamental national principle isn't the ability to live freely, however you choose? I can't quite figure it out. What does EBAIS do for my desire to administer public health? Well, it's a system with so many points of intersection into a citizen's well-being, so many moments of education, prevention, and health access, that you can't be left with any doubt that every Tico matters here. It's exactly what I want to enable every American family to have and to want to fight for their right to. To be motivated by healthful outcomes, to live in a world where, on an average household income of $22,000, the average citizen will live to be 79.

How can it be over already? How can I be losing my access to everyone who cheerily answers my every ¿Como se dice...? Sometimes it's hard to believe how much I'fve learned. Maybe I can get a Pura Vida shirt at the airport. (Ed: I didn't. Anyone is welcome to purchase me on a future trip to CR.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Berlin, What a winner.

July 19, 2010

Um, so, Germany. Well, Berlin. My first time visiting, and it is like no place I have visited before. And yes, feel free to comment on the irony that despite her 4 previous ventures throughout Europe, this is the first time that "Jessica Reuteler" has visited Deutschland.

But, Berlin: we are all vaguely aware of the bananas-crazy business this city has been through in the past century (our guidebook's history chapter didn't hurt, though), and visiting it now inspires the already-in-withdrawal students within Kate and myself to constantly use this crazy history to explain what we will be seeing during this visit. In a nutshell:

1. East Berlin was governed in a terrifying communist totalitarian state! Perhaps this vibe is still present in law enforcement! Or the laws, perhaps!

2. The city was divided for 44 years! Surely we'll find east-west tension! Turf wars! Geographic pride?

3. The wall physically divided it for 28 of those years! Surely there will be all kinds of remnants of it about! We'll take tasteless tourist photos, hooray!

4. Or even, more somberly, Germany has a super sad history under the insane regime of the Third Reich... For Germans, talking about their own government's role in this will be awkward or at least taboo, for sure.

Guys, it's seriously none of the above. I will attempt to explain, but the bottom line is that Berlin is the chillest (and illest) city on my Eurotour yet (sorry Amsterdam, close second), with an incredibly wise ability to look forward while paying due homage to everything in the past.

So, in order. #1: Laws. Berlin ... does not have them? Anymore? I am Ron Burgundy? (Sorry.)

To illustrate, let's look back to our previously visited nation, Italy. After a week there (and a lifetime in other more... mainstream? typical? cities), we have become accustomed to certain regulations of behavior that aren't exactly present in Berlin. You can't say, drink all over the place in the streets in Italy. Well, you can, but cops (when they are not cat-calling foreigners, TRUE STORY THANKS NAPLES) will get all up on you for it. Probably because you are being all kinds of sloppy, and it's time to rein it in. We arrive in Berlin, however, and attempt to figure out their policy on the ish, as it becomes immediately relevant:

Jessie-Kate boards train from airport: Heyyy people drinking from beer bottles.
Jessie-Kate: Oh, check it. The young people of Berlin are casual rebels, probs left over from their bad-ass Berlin Wall Resistence days.
JK roams the streets on that Friday night: essentially every individual on the sidewalk has a beer bottle.
JK: Friday nights are serious business?

But no, the beer bottles are never put away, despite the hour or day.

Adorable tour guide, when enthusiastically pressed on the issue: 'Open what? Open container laws? Oh, right. Yeah, we don't have those.'

Sufficiently fascinated ("Yes, but what do you think is the historical
precedent for such a law?"), we beg him to continue. Turns out the city that
for nearly half the 20th century was anal-retentively controlled by 4 bossy nations has decided that it's time to err on the side of chill.

'Be prepared to be offered pot in parks,' tour guide says. 'Oh, if the cops find it on you? I dunno, they'd probably confiscate it, give you a high five, and walk away.'

Prostitution is also legal-ish, and what is the sum total of these laws? What does it lead to in the streets every day? How does it affect the moral fiber (just kidding) of the city? Nothing! Not at all! What I mean is, we did not see public drunkenness, we saw a single cop car maybe twice, and we never found any such thing as a seedy neighborhood--and believe me, we wandered about aimlessly our fair share. It was like some sort of twilight zone.

And in that vein, predictions 2 & 3? East-west pride tiffs? Wall remnants abounding? Also totally false. It didn't take us long to realize that putting those nasty histories in the past was a no-brainer--if an impressively sagacious one.

Wiser visitors than myself already know that nearly every cubic centimeter of both of the walls (me: there were TWO??) were torn down in the days after Gorbachev gave up on the fool's errand that was East Germany. All that was left were a few meters of it here and there in memoriam, and a brick trail was installed elsewhere to remind where it once stood at other locations, though not even everywhere. The German government did its best to re-mend the two halves of the city, which was not that hard when you think about it, as they were ultimately were still filled with German people, most of whom didn't really give a shit about politics and Cold War mumbo jumbo. Granted, 12 years after the wall went up in '61 (East Germany had lost nearly a fifth of its pissed-off population through the portal that was West Berlin, so, hello Wall), efforts were made to reunite families arbitrarily separated by the wall, but all of a sudden it's not surprising to realize how easy it was to reunite the city when what split it up in the first place was an arbitrary georgraphy; people had been separated from their own friends and their ways of life for way too long.

Corn aside, as for the legacy of the monstrosity that was the Third Reich, Naive Prediction #4, judging from the effort put in by the post-Wall capitalist government alone, the order of the day is all about openness, education, and prevention of anything like that happening again. Kate and I only scratched the surface of Hollocaust memorials, they were so numerous (Surprise: I cried the whole time). The home of the government, the Reichstag, had a huge iconic dome installed for symbollic reasons: As legislators work on the ground floor, they can always look up to see hundreds of people circling around this huge spiralled (and free of admission) dome, a supposed reminder of their one and sole purpose of representing all the German people.

Much of the Nazi- and then Soviet-era architecture was torn down, but some of it remains, often juxtaposed (like the Reichstag) with something paying tribute to its ramifications or telling a more complete side of the story (e.g. still remaining is a hilariously communist tile mural commissioned in the 50's, whose message is essentially "Look how good it's going to be guys! ... Just not yet!" But installed under glass on the plaza floor in front of it is an identically sized--huge--beautiful photograph taken during the first deadly riot led by unhappy East German laborers not long after the mural went up.)

Geez, there was even a super cool below-ground memorial installed in the center of a square (below glass you saw empty bookshelves below the ground, descending for 8 meters or so) ... the square where Nazis, students, and even professors purged the local University's libraries of all literary works by Jews, not 4 months after Hitler's appointment as chancellor (not yet Fuhrer) in 1933. Across the square stands the University, Humboldt, I believe, and every goddamn day the students head outside the main gates with dozens of boxes, unfold some tables and sell books, in humble penitence of their forebears' actions, and donate all the proceeds to charity.

Kate and I were shocked by this last detail in particular, and in truth I'm embarassed to be surprised by this policy of openness. Nonetheless, it takes so much wisdom and humilty to operate this way, and it makes visiting Berlin for the history (despite the fact that only 10% of pre-war structures remain) all the more satisfying, meaningful, and inspiring.

We learned all these lessons and more on our first day and just spent the rest of the weekend delightfully taking in the awesome ambiance that is today's Berlin. Never before have locals waltzed up to me without expectation of what a speaker of their language "should" look like, and start speaking, in this case, German at me. Smiling and nodding is pretty fun (and weirdly effective), in addition to the fact that I was all touched and impressed in the first place to be addressed in German. Inevitably they then seal the nail in the WE-ARE-SO-NICE coffin by being like, Oh! English! My mistake, here I'll say the absurdly nice thing I said before in German in English! (e.g. Jessie sheepishly fills her water bottle in a train station bathroom sink--hydration while traveling is a game you never win, you only break even--and German woman ultimately communicates that That water won't taste very good, and here, why don't I take her extra 1.5L water bottle since she's about to leave the country anyway.)

Or, once we got over the shock of Beer Everywhere as a way of life, JK buys 2 bottles from a vendor, and is too shy to ask him to open them. No worries, though, friends, any one of the dozen people they'll pass on the next block--with smiles on faces and beers in hand--will open them gladly!

We noted with delight that after our week in Italy, Customer Service was back in our lives (sorry Italy, the tough love will do you good), and even our AMAZING hostel (Wombat's, thanks Amulya!) was unimpressed with how unfailingly helpful they were. Just completely blank stares of confusion at my asking if various amenities were available:

Jessie: Can you recommend where to buy a toothbrush? I'm a Responsible Adult and left my entire bag of toiletries in a train station bathroom in Venice and have been brushing my teeth with my finger for 3 days now. (Okay, I didn't say that second part because that def would have warrented a blank--at best--stare.)
Attendant: You mean these toothbrushes you can obviously have right now?

Jessie: Listen, Italy was a million degrees, and my clothes are already approaching lethal toxicity, any laundromat tips? (For those loyal readers, observe how Jessie has learned not to rely on Google Translator and webpages from 1998 to glean such information this time around)
Attendant: I mean, why wouldn't you use the ones we obviously provide for you.

Jessie: NO WAY, this is amazing. But oh no! Check-out is at 10am tomorrow, and I'll need to do my laundry after that! What now??
Attendant: Why would you need to be checked in to take advantage of all of our services, what sort of inhumane hovels have you been staying at [if only you knew, sir], and would you care for a coupon for 85% with our in-house Swedish masseur?

Okay not that last part, but the point is: Go to Berlin. Kate, lover of American cities and self-declared bitter enemy of learning foreign languages, is already scheming how to carve out a legitimate existence in Berlin and how to do so asap.

Amulya went straight from Rome to Prague, so we're headed over to meet her there, now. She claims so far that "Prague is surreal," and our correspondence the past couple of days has resembled a bizarre City-off ("Berlin is BLOWING OUR MINDS"), so we're stoked that things are only going to look up from here. As long as it doesn't get hot again.


Friday, July 9, 2010

It was a DAY

July 8, 2010

Today was one of THOSE days. To be perfectly fair, I hadn't had one yet this trip, and I was probably overdue. You know the kind of day that I'm talking about. You are, say, in a foreign country whose language you can barely fake, and everything and everyone is conspiring to make you as miserable as possible. Of course the foreign country bit isn't necessary; it can happen anywhere really: work, on a day of errands, or any given day high school, as I recall.

All it takes is a series of three to five crappy occurences in a row, and then, you're DOOMED. Maybe it's your mindset, maybe it's fate deliberately screwing you over, but after that initial slew of mishaps you're destined for a day of woe of all shapes and sizes: pushing the pull door, repeatedly purchasing the wrong kind of ticket, tripping on every cobblestone (ha, i.e. Nathan + Europe), and so on. Now, in all actuality, my DAY probably started yesterday around 6:30pm, and I'm totally going to go with that because it puts me right at the 24 hour finish line, and I am super okay with that.

What's really rough about THOSE days are probably two things. One, it will inevitably be preceded by the Best Day Ever. The sun is shining, locals are bending over backwards to be friendly, food tastes a little sweeter, and, in the words of that wise owl from Bambi, you're walking on air. Such makes the sudden commencement of said DAY all the more jolting and rude. The second thing that makes these days so rough--and as I'm barely, knock on wood, emerging from my DAY, this is hard to admit--is your quiet ever-awareness that everything is actually fine. The sun is indeed shining, you just can't be bothered to notice; you pass hundreds of cheery kind folk, whom you secretly dismiss for mocking your plight; and at one point you're even blessed with an act of kindness--but only such that you feel entitled to it anyway, after what you've been through, goddammit, and so its value is discounted.

So, my day. Well, my day before. Yesterday I awoke in Rome feeling GREAT. My hostel was supernice, met lots of friendly folk, and hung out all the previous night swapping stories and watching the semi final (Holland, the little country that could) in our swank common room with superfancy flat screen TV. I was in a lovely twin bed with two superfriendly roommates, an adorable window shining just the right amount of sun in in the morning. The Nepalese dudes running the hostel were supercute and hooked us up with some hella cheap (3€) Katmandu-style food for dinner. So I am awoken a few minutes earlier than anticipated, still ready for my super day I had planned, to a pounding on the door. "Police," Nepalese dude says, "Must show dog-oo-menz." His English is not supergreat. "Odd," me and my Norwegian friends say. But we comply with the grumpy Italian cops, show our passports, I shower, get the vibe that all is well and head out for my super day; And it really was! Super, that is.
1640 1645 1657 1660 1661 1665 1666 1670

I went to the old town of Ostia Antica, by the mouth of the Tiber along the Mediterranean Sea. This town was THE port town of Rome, from roughly 400BC through 400AD. The town was then abandonned for a hipper town to the north with its newly dug canals, and by 1500, the coastline and the river had moved so much, the long-abandonned port town was once and for all rendered moot and forgotten about. Leaving us with, today, the most bad-ass, well-preserved set of ruins I've ever even heard of. 32 hectacres of houses, temples, govermental buildings, and even mosaics and scores of statues in decent shape. It was one of those experiences such that I'm walking around shrieking Look at this! This is so COOL... Oh wow, no THIS is the coolest... No, oh MAN jk it's totally this... Etc, etc. I will demonstrate, via a very small sample of the obscene amount of pictures I took that morning.

bakery! from close up!

statues still intact!
awesome mosaic!

a pathway to somewhere! a dude's house!

I wrapped up this portion of the journey with a fresh mozzarella sandwich from the
friendliest of gents, and headed over to the beach! People-watching Italians at the beach is
pretty much the most awesome thing ever. I quickly got over being the palest person on
the beach (by a longshot, I'm sure you're shocked), and gleefully applied my sunscreen
alongside my neighbor applying tanning oil. (Note for posterity: at this point, it was, of
course, too late. My sunburns for the day emerged on my upper back/shoulders, having
earned them, despite my initial morning sunscreen coat, while touring the ruins. They
were in the shape of my bathing suit strap, shirt strap, and yes, my backpack strap. Lovely.)

I navigate my way back to Rome like a pro, and march on up to my hostel, very ready for a
shower. Upon arriving, I can't help but notice among the buzzers at our shared front door,
that ours is not to be found. Upon further scrutiny, oh there it is, covered by a piece of
paper and tape.


8 more scans results in me finding the name hand written upon a new buzzer, in a similar
paper and tape fashion. Whew. Head up to the second floor, to find the door padlocked shut
with a notice taped across the double doors. Yours truly discerns the following from the
Italian: blahblahblah POLIZA blahblahblah.


I will note here for the purposes of the story that all of my earthy possessions have been left
in my room this morning. Most importantly, I held the key to the locker that contained, you
know, my PASSPORT. I am on a single track mindset, thinking only of the passport at this
point. Then, Nepalese guy (I should, out of respect, start numbering them because there are
at least 7 and I do not know a single one of their names) shouts down from the third floor.
Oh right. They have more rooms up there. He sits me down with two other confused looking
youths, and we sit silently for a while, as if in a holding pen. We are waiting for Nepalese
dude #6, who speaks English much better. It was at this point, that my realization of doom
started to set it, not triggered by the unsettling series of events beginning to unfold, but by
theangry, confused youth #2 to my right, who begins to bitch like the racist and entitled
individual he probably is about the whole situation to innocent, confused youth #3 beside
him. He attempts to engage me in the conversation, and I make it clear to all I care about is
my passport. I am prepared to speak of nothing else.

At this point, I'll speed up the rate of story-telling, because no one really needs to hear the
play by play of my woes. Nepalese dude # 6 arrives, we break into the locked quarters below.
Room: cleared out. Locker: empty. CUE TEARS. Jessie is a 22 year old college graduate and
still cries, guys. This will be an ongoing theme in the narrative.

Super sweet Nepalese guy #4, English not his strong point, freaks out and says, "No cry, I
take you there, everything ok," on loop as we journey the 6 blocks to our new mysterious

Passport, backpack, and all save my towel are present. Sigh. It is immediately clear this
basement of a room will not live up to the previous in quality. I become incredibly sad and
frustrated that there are no longer computers (but how am I going to BLOG AND PUT UP
PICTURES WAAHHHH) and more tears come out. Brazilian kids take pity on me, we go watch
the second semifinal. They pretend to be Spanish and piss off German fans all around us.
Pretty delightful.

We return at 2am and crawl into our quarters. They have somehow managed to fit 6 sets of
bunk beds into a tiny room. These bunk beds are most likely assembled with metal
toothpicks. They sway when you breathe. I am, surprise, on top. We wait turns for the
single user bathroom (completely appropriate for 16 people, when you count the second
bedroom), and I launch myself into my bunk. It is sopping wet. It smells of sanitizer, but this
does not comfort me. After six to eight awakening distractions in the night (personal fave,
bunkmate starts snoring, can hear through my ear plugs, neighbor gets up and starts shaking
him, and thus me, violently until he stops). At 7 am I awake to wait 45 minutes to pee, wear
the crankiest face I have. Return to bed, and grumpily greet the day at noon. Things are not
on a good track.

I say, fuck this day, and create two and only two objectives for the whole thing. A) Find
somewhere, anywhere, an internet cafe in Rome, in order to B) find a laundromat, because
after nearly 4 weeks backpacking in the summer heat, my clothes are rank. The day goes
something like this:

Nepalese guy #4: Go Here for internet, There for laundry.

Here: "I am a tabacconist."

There: "You can have some Indian food instead. Would you like that?"

Web enabled, but pricey smart phones's web browser: "Go to Barberini for internet!"

Metro turnstile: "I refuse your ticket."

Metro man: "No no it wasn't good FOR 24 hours, it was good UNTIL 24 hours. You must be
so embarrassed."

Address in Barberini: "I am a bank. Your webpage was from 1998, BE GONE YOU FOOL."

Man on street: "Go back to Termini."

Metro turnstile: "Did you really not see this coming? DENY."

Metro man #2: "No no it's only good for an hour for every type of transport except the one
you wanted to take. Jesus."

Termini: YOU CAN HAVE INTERWEBS. *cue heavenly chorus*

I decide at this point that the only way to fix my mood is to see Toy Story 3 in English. Don't
you dare judge me. I look up laundromat in Italian, find one by the movie theater that is
indeed showing it in English, and make my way. Maybe things are looking up. Just to be safe,
I will continue to wear my sunglasses indoor and scowl constantly.

I walk the streets of Rome and an inner dialogue begins, something like this:

Little Angel on shoulder: "You're in Rome, Jessie, all is well! Don't you want to walk around
and enjoy sites?"

Me: "NO"

Angel: "Do you want to stop and eat some delicious Roman food? Surely you admit that will
make you feel better."

Me: "NO"

Angel: "... Do you want to skulk around the streets and hope your brooding face will simply make you fit in, even if only superficially so?"

Me: "... Yes."

I arrive at the Laundromat. It is instantly clear that this is some sort of tailor/dry cleaning shop. Thanks, Google Translator. I attempt to gather my wits, and explain what I am looking for to the nice lady.

Nice lady, English not really happening: " No no we wash!" Takes my bag.

Me: "GREAT! ... How much?" Note: I have 6 shirts, 10 undergarments, 3 bottoms, and a dress.

Lady: "4 euros per item."


Lady: "omigodomigod."


Cue boss, extensive convo in Italian.

Them: "20 Euros, whole lot, you come back tomorrow, please leave."

I do so gladly.

At this point I have 2 hours to kill before Toy Story 3, and I plop down at an admittedly
lovely landmark by the cinema, the Piazza del Popolo. Trying to sagacious and level headed,
I sit absentmindedly until I calm down. Just when I do, enter this little boy WHO WAS

There, there, little buddy. We totally feel you. I indeed creepily snapped the picture, and
headed to a quiet corner to write this post in the back of my book. Which, for the record, I
later lost. I am rewriting this from memory, but you know what? It was probably the little
boy, plus the sheer joy that was Toy Story 3, and maybe it was indeed the whole 24 hours
thing, but I walked out of the theater feeling pretty great. I'm now ready to actually enjoy
Rome. All's well that ends well, indeed.

Lots of love.

Friday, July 2, 2010


So today was a day that probably shouldn't have happened. As Nate put it, we witnessed fair, adorable Holland "slay the beast" in the quarterfinal match against Brazil. We started the day out with the perfect touristy/yet local/awesomely summery trifecta activity: we rented bikes and scooted all around. If you are not aware, in Amsterdam, bikes are EVERYWHERE. Other cities, inspired by their success, have tried to push biking onto their locals for years, with free bike share programs and the like. My guidebook estimated there to be at least 600,000 bikes in the city, and boy can you see them everywhere--hoards of them hooked onto everything stationary, hoards of them casually pedalling down the road, hoards of them zigzagging across every sidewalk and intersection. In Amsterdam, bikes are the kings of the road.

So we headed to the closest rental place, got our double locks, and pedaled out to Vondelpark, supposedly Amsterdam's answer to Central Park. We saw lots of tanning action, were dutifully informed that "We don't ride bikes 3 people across... not even in Holland"(whoops, sorry local!), and, KDries, this is for you: joined a mega-sized jenga game, just chillin' on a busy square in the middle of the park.

Not losing track of time, we made our way over to Rembrandtplein, supposedly a pretty hip square, by 2:30. Bright orange abounded already, on shirts, hats, and all kinds of streamer concoctions. It felt like an eerie
European version of U of I, actually. Found a restaurant fully geared up for the game, tried out the various remaining seats for optimal viewage (Bridget is the legit football fan of the bunch) and we ... waited. For the 4:00pm start time. By then, the place was S.R.O., so our prudence was rewarded. You all know how the game went down, but being surrounded by earnest orange and increasingly intoxicated Amsterdammers was just beyond delightful. They are really into the clap clap clapclapclap clapclapclapclap LETS GO cheer, only, of course, it´s HOL LAND. Upon the clock´s running out, the square went NUTS. Cops smirking on horseback, mooning, and roaring motorcycles contributed to a pretty awesome first day in Amsterdam.

Out of time! Pictures to come!


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Things I Forgot, Part II


As we speed away from from Paris to Brussels on a shiny train, it seems appropriate to wrap up my 2 Parisian weeks with another installment celebrating the odd, impressive and freaking cute things I'd forgotten I'd be seeing upon my return to La Paree.

1. Smokers, partout.

Not unlike maker-outers, this is one thing I didn't forget in essence, but in frequency. It's a part of the culture. It wouldn't be Paris without endless brooding faces dangling clopes from their lips, after all. And to be fair, in these past 2 warm and sticky weeks I spent in Paris, I doubt I saw quite as many cigarettes as I did in the late fall months of 2008, when "being in Paris" and "it being flipping cold" created the Smoker's Perfect Storm. My favorite move back then was the young, anxious (and presumably low-budget) metro-smoker, anticipating his stop, would whip out his rolling paper, toss in a tuft of loose tabacco and have a perfect tiny cig ready to go in seconds, before stuffing it behind his ear and jiggling his leg til the time finally came to zip out the car's double doors.

I should quickly note that La Republique, however, is doing its fair share to cut down on this habit that Americans, at least, have been slowly banning and restricting for years. Completely forbidden inside all public buildings (and even, to many Parisians' horror, bars), smoking is acknowledged to be dangerous to the health in France, though I suspect they could give a shit about the whole "discourtesous to others" piece. (I doubt the 15-feet-away-from-doors law we have in Chicago is happening anytime soon.) My fave is definitely the surgeon general-style warnings on cigarette packs that the French have also adopted, maybe because they seem so much more INTENSE than ours, but probably only because it cracks me up to read them in french. Stuff like pregnancy warnings, "SMOKING KILLS," and, my personal favorite, "SMOKING LEADS TO A LONG AND SADDENING DEATH." Perhaps the moralists are making steady progress, but I'm not so sure.

What's more impressive, though, and ultimately the point I'm trying to make, is not the quantity of cigarettes you see around you but just how efficient the smokers are at gettin it done. In a phrase, Parisian smokers are incredible multi-taskers. Two case studies:

1) Kate Schnak and I were in a bar during a slow happy hour, gazing off at the display of televisions set to some sort of VH1/MTV/live concerts stations, and particularly on band, lead by grungy chick with neon pink hair. While she's giving it all she's got, she's accompanied by her aloof (typical!) french male bandmates--a camera pans the bass, guitar, keyboard--all just swaying nonchalantly, as if the notes coming out of their intstruments were merely an afterthought to their initial goal of sending out the most mellow groove vibe possible. All this alone cracked me up, until, cue the drummer, we see this dude flailing his sticks around without abandon. He was adorable, giving everything he had, and then I noticed he totally, somehow, had a cigarette dangling from his mouth! Now I'm no smoking expert, but I find this sort of thing incredibly impressive. How do you thrash you head with your arms otherwise engaged AND manage a few puffs all at the same time!?

2) I was walking down St. Michel one busy afternoon (picture the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame) when a delivery truck appears as if from nowhere on the cobblestone sidewalk, presumably trying to turn onto what I thought was a pedestrian-only busy street of restaurants and shops. I'm in no particular rush myself, and notice that all the factors are present for total entertainment: confused tourists, angry locals, and the sheer physical impossibility of this truck fitting between the two Don't Drive Between These 3 foot cement poles coming up from the sidewalk. Dudeface immediately realizes the difficuly of the situation, and everyone's fuming, unable to get around him. He then executes the fastest series of forward/reverse steering wheel artistry I've ever seen, whipping it around to--somehow--make that truck fit into a space most physicists would have otherwise deemed impossible. And, of course, did you guess it, he had a cigarette not in his mouth but his RIGHT HAND the entire time.

Clearly the french wouldn't be impressed by this sort of thing, because I began to see whole cigarette as afterthought thing everywhere. Classy (and slim, bien sur) middle aged women waltz down the boulevard in their shiny pumps, chatting up a friend and holding a tiny dog with a cig bouncing loosely between their lips. The aloof and greasy man, strolling along reading a newspaper, leaving puffs of smoke behind him. I even noticed cigarettes in the mouths of women portayed in Monet paintings, as if to say, "Jessie, give up. This is just how we roll."

2. Metro Musicians

With this observation, I simply want to pay tribute to an adorable phenomenon I have not seen in any other city transit system. Sure, in Paris you'll come across all kinds of musicians: accoridianists will jump in your metro car, wandering troubadours will serenade you as you make you transfer, and even awesome ethnic instruments I've never seen before make frequent appearances. But what I had TOTALLY forgotten about was when you come across the street musician motherload, in the depths of the metro: 4, 6, sometimes even 10 musicians, playing and singing some ethnically particular tribute to the motherland, where ever that is with utter and complete gusto. Kate S. And I caught 6 (was it 8?) presumably Russian men EACH with his OWN accordion, belting their brains out in wicked harmony, and we practically fell to our knees. You could hear the sound while you were on the train, approaching the station, wondering what full and bizarre orchestra could possibly lay ahead of you. I've also seen bad ass pipe flute varietites, maybe with some guitars to lay down rhythms, along with wicked drum and vocal combos of all sorts. CDs are often for sale nearby. If I haven't made myself completely clear by now, allow me to rectify that: these groups are ADORABLE and incredibly awesome and impressive. In Chicago, at least, the paint can drummers ain't got nothin on these.

And last but not least:


I don't know if we have any Madaleine books fans out there, but this one is for you. For some reason, upon leaving Paris in '08, I at some point forgot about one of the cutest sights to see: the frequent and orderly transportation of young children across town. This is presumably done for field trips, chapparones shepherding groups of ankle biters (upwards of 40), and they always seem to a) trek them along busy streets we'd never dream feasible in the states and b) cram them, even when they're tiny!, onto public transportation as if this were a perfectly reasonable way to transport children.

On the streets, they seriously walk in long lines of two pairs. While they lack nuns leading the way or matching dresses and hats (the wide brimmed kind with the long ribbon, right?), they are indeed in those painfully cute pairs HOLDING HANDS. French passersby and drivers are totally accustomed to this, and are content enough to stop at the intersection to let the scores of whippersnappers cross an incredibly busy throughfair. Like ducks cross. UGHH it is so cute and I am always torn between OMG MUST DOCUMENT AND BROADCAST CUTENESS ON THE INTERWEBS and Holy cow don't be a huge creeper, Jessie. Nathan and Bridget have gotten impressively accustomed to me behaving in the former, creeping all up ons the children. While I never successfully creeped a street crossing picture, below is an example of me being crippled by all this cuteness. If you can blame me, you, sir, are made of stone.

Buhhhh they were playing a game of epically cute proportions where they ran back and forth squealing. It was crippling.

Anyway, I did remember this phenomenon from before. The whole public tranportation piece, however, that was new. Returing home from my delightful daytrip to Auvers Sur Oise, I squeeze into the crowded city bus (but fair enough for a 6pm bus whose precedent came an hour ago), and it takes me exactly 15 seconds to realize what's going on: 5 seconds to notice that anything is off at all, 5 to confusedly scan the normal looking enough crowd and another 5 to realize and confirm that the bus is indeed entirely filled with CHILDREN. (Author's note: if you have been getting throwbacks to TGS when I say that, this is why we are friends.) I was instantly delighted to discover--this was my first time--that the Frenchs' bold ambition of herding massive amounts of children in public places that would be unheard of in America actually extends to public buses--the one Parisian transportation frontier I had until this trip ben too terrified to cross into. Stunned, I try to count them--groups of three seated in seats for two, some standing, clutching what rails they can reach, others slumped against the wall on a vacant piece of floor ready to accomodate their need to nap. Forty-two. I counted 42, and for a brief moment of horror searched for who could possibly even be their chaperones. There were probably 6 in all, as sunburnt and cheery as the 5-8 year olds. I've barely taken in the spectacle when said chaperones began calling to children neighboring the slumbering ones. Levez Antoine, levez Sophie, and before I knew it, they reached their stop and poured out, like a school of fish. Older ones holding the youngers' hands, grimy fists clutching backpacks, the bewildered passengers left behind passing forward hats and swim towels left behind. I move to sit by the window, and you cannot imagine how quickly I scrounged for my camera--looking at them clustered in the cobbled alley, they'd become at least 60--some must have been hiding under the seats. I am deeply sorry to report that the bus driver (go figure) made haste to get out of there, and so my words will have to describe what was perhaps too ADORABLE and bizarre for words. So though I have yet to see nuns at the fore of such groups, clearly whoever wrote the Madaleine books knew what was up.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not Quite Tech Savvy

I'll spare you the details (or at least those I even understand), but my most recent post posted BEHIND the one before it. Scroll down for Apartment Life.

Also, pictures are slowly going up on facebook! The public link is here, or if we are friends (sorry mom and dad), you can obs just hit up my profile.

You can type in to get there.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Technical Difficulties


I write to APOLOGIZE for my lack of putting anything on this website. It turns out that "blogging on the go" is a lot harder when you lack a computer and/or consistent access to wi-fi, both of which have been the case for me.

I marched down to the UChicago Center in Paris today, my former digs when I studied abroad, ready to type up all my exciting blog posts I've hand-written, and upload my many snazzy pictures. Upon arriving I realized that I forgot a) my notebook containing all my blog posts, and b) my camera uploading cord. Guys, I swear I'm responsible enough to be trekking across Europe for 7 weeks.

Anywho, the plan is to return tomorrow (I need to say hey to Sylvie anyway!), and proceed then. Until then, I realized I never posted my full trajectory on here, and now might be as good a time as any to get that done. To be fair, this itinerary wasn't really finalized until today, anyway, and Italy is still a work-in-progress.

And so:

Paris (with Kate Schnak, then solo, then with Nathan and his high school friend, Bridget)
June 16 - 30

Brussels and Bruges (with Nathan and Bridget)
June 30 - July 1

Amsterdam (with Nathan and Bridget)
July 1 - 6

Rome (solo, then with Kate Dries and Amulya)
July 9 - 12

Florence/Firenze (Kate + Amulya)
July 12-13

Venice (Kate + Amulya)
July 13-14

Naples/Pompeii (Kate + Amulya)
July 15-16

Berlin (with Kate)
July 16-19

Prague (Kate + Amulya)
July 19-23

Budapest (Kate + Amulya)
July 23-27

Istanbul (Kate + Amulya)
July 27 - August 2

aaaand because it wouldn't be Jessie if I didn't make at least one hilariously heinous error, BACK to...

Budapest. To fly home on August 3. Presumably after this trip, I will never confuse Budapest, Hungary or Istanbul, Turkey ever again. To my dear 8th grade geography teacher, Mrs. Fisher: I am so sorry.