Sunday, June 28, 2009

Paris II

It’s 10:30pm, and I’m in Parc Du Champ De Mars, waiting for the Eiffel Tower light show to start. It’s the last day of classes for the students here in Paris, and they’re all lounging in the park drinking wine and smoking cigarettes (and perhaps drinking and smoking some other things as well).  The park is crowded with people.  I originally thought that maybe they were all tourists, but after walking through the park and listening for English, I only found one couple—who happened to be from the Midwest—who were here to see the light show. In about thirty minutes now, the already lit-up tower will mimic thousands of people sitting on every inch of the tower taking pictures with flash.  I saw it last night and it is a wonderful (though brief—ten minutes) event. 

I think I’ll take this time, while I’m finally relaxing and breathing the summer night’s air, to tell you a bit about my experience in Paris so far.

As you already know, this has been quite challenging for me. With a body that works against me everywhere I turn, it is very difficult to keep strong. But I’m doing it, and Paris is a wonderful place.

One of the first things I wanted to go to in Paris was the Louvre. (Laurent got frustrated with me for pronouncing it “loov” because, he says, “the r and the e are there for a reason!” So, “LouvRE.”) Of course I wanted to see the Mona Lisa and the other Da Vincis.  And I wanted to see the statue of the woman with no arms (I still can’t remember its name), and the Michelangelo works…

(I had to just get up and move somewhere different because some guy near me just started playing a drum, which made everyone gather around and start dancing…And here’s little old Brian sitting cross-legged on the ground with his laptop in the middle of them all. I’m in a clearer place now. If they don’t think I’m American, they must think I’m a nerdy French student.)

…Well, I went to the Louvre (actually, the line wasn’t that long for those who didn’t pay in advance, like me) and got my map.  Now, have you know that I set aside two days to visit the Louvre. I was so excited.  I started walking around, lingering at paintings, but every time I did, large crowds of people would crowd by and I’d be distracted. I went to go see The Virgin of the Rocks, a Di Vinci painting, but I had to wait five minutes to get up close to it. I went to the Mona Lisa, and had to wait like ten minutes, trying to elbow my way through a bunch of tourists.  How frustrating. The same was with the no-armed sculpture.

I dealt with the crowds for about an hour more, and then decided to go see the works I wanted to see, and leave. Good thing I didn’t book two days’ tickets in advance.  The artwork was beautiful, though.  Too bad it was so crowded. I like my museum experiences to be relaxing, and this was not that.



I hear Jerusalem bells ringing, Roman Calvary choirs singing...

I walked around Paris for awhile, around the parks and pretty streets.  It was beautiful.  Check out the pics, yo.



Lunch of champions.

As many are, I was mesmerized by the Eiffel Tower.  I didn’t realized how large it actually is.  It’s just massive. My house could fit under it at least four times, maybe five. I think the wonder of it for so many people is how peaceful it looks. And it can’t help to be.  It’s so big that when you look at it from a ways away, you can’t even tell that there are lines and crowds of tourists yelling and taking pictures for facebook and buying key chains underneath it. It was so cool, I had to find a place to fly my kite near it. I was successful, thanks to a friend from choir giving me his camera tripod. Anyway, the Eiffel Tower is just a wonder.  Especially at night…


Oh, here comes the light show. 

Okay, the light show was great.  I hung around the park for an hour and now I’m sitting in a little café, drinking wine in view of the Eiffel Tower.  This is a way to end the night.

After the disappointing Louvre, I walked around the park near the Louvre for a while.  Now that was worth it.  Very…French. I realized after a while that I wasn’t walking but strolling, which made me realize what a privilege it is to be here. Absolutely wonderful. I ate lunch, and desert, and—I think—walked back to Laurent’s when it was dark and I was tired.

The next day I decided to go to the Musee d’Orsay, which Laurent and a friend of mine from the States suggested. This one is less-known and more relaxing, they promised me.  So I got up early (well, planned to, anyway.  I ended up leaving an hour after I had originally planned) and went, thinking that it would have less of a line than the Louvre.

Wrong.

It was a billion times longer. 

Okay, maybe not that much, but still.  It was long. But the wait was definitely worth it.  There were a bunch of Monet’s, and Van Gogh’s…two of my favorites.  I spent as long as I wanted, which ended up with me making sure I saw every room in the museum at least once.  Some twice. To be able to see the actual brush strokes in such famous paintings was so incredibly moving. 


Hey sexy.

After that, I went back to Laurent’s for a break.  I talked to my lovely girlfriend on Skype, took a shower, and went back out.

I returned to the park near the Eiffel tower to read for an hour or two.  Since I don’t really have a plan here and I have such an open schedule, reading in front of the Eiffel Tower was exactly the thing I wanted to do. Once it started getting colder and darker, I started to walk to the Metro station, but was distracted by a cute little café near the Tower. Figuring that a day completely and confidently by myself was worth celebrating, I went in for some banana flambé and some wine.

Best idea I’ve had yet. 

The flambé was delicious, and so was the wine.  There’s something about drinking wine in Paris that makes it taste so much better. I tried to take a picture of me toasting my mom (who, by the way, is traveling vicariously through me with wine…she buys wine from the country I’m in and drinks it while I’m there) but was not succeeding when a cute little Australian couple sitting next to me in the café asked if they could take it for me. I told them why I was taking the picture—and why I had so strangely taken a picture of my flambé, and we ended up talking for a good hour about homesickness and family and the wonder that is France. I had a fantastic time. 

After that, I walked to go see the lit up tower for the first time, and the sight literally took my breath away. I did one of those quick, unintentional sobs and stopped myself.  The sight was beautiful. And as I was standing there, the light show started (my first time seeing it), and it was absolutely incredible.  I took a video that night and tried to say something intelligible, but nothing came out but stupidity.  I’ve found that the videos I take and choose to say something in end up to be really stupid, so I probably won’t show the video from the first night. J

I’ve messed up the order of things somewhere in the previous paragraphs, I know, but it doesn’t really matter. On one of the nights I was in Paris I decided to go look for the Arago line. For those of you who’ve read The Di Vinci Code, they called it “the Rose Line” at the end of the book and Robert Langdon follows these little bronze medallions to the inverted pyramid at the Louvre, and there discovers that’s where Mary Magdalene is buried.

In reality, there is no medallion on top of the inverted pyramid, but there is the Arago line that runs north south along the Paris meridian.  I did some research on it, thinking that I’d want to just find one and take a picture. But the history is that there was a very successful and important astronomer in Paris named Arago, and when he died, someone he knew wanted to commemorate him with an “invisible monument”—135 bronze medallions placed along the meridian line all over Paris. There are three near the pyramids at the Louvre, and I took their pictures, but thought to myself, there’s gotta be some more around here, so I followed the N for north and looked for another. And another. And another.  I ended up finding about fifteen or so Arago medallions, which caused me to get quite lost somewhere in Paris.



At one point I saw a little underground bar along one of the streets with a dog outside (always a good sign) and went in, figuring it was a nice night for a glass of wine. When  I  went in, the bartender said, “Hello,” and—wait, “hello?” no “bonjour” or anything? He said that this particular bar was an American bar. In fact, it’s the only American-owned American bar in Paris. As I looked around, I found that everyone there was speaking English. Two people from the UK, and three from the States. It was nice to hear some English, so I decided to stay.  The bartender (his name is Jeb, a New Yorker who came to Paris for three months and decided to set up a bar ten years ago) poured me a glass of wine and we, his British girlfriend Margo, and a random British man sat and talked for a good two hours or so.  In the middle of it I got done drinking my glass and thought I would go look for some more Arago medallions, but Jeb poured me another one and said, “Stay awhile.  I’ll buy this one as a ‘safe travels’ gift.” So I stayed and talked. About family, about traveling, about social issues, about Christianity, about Paris, and about Blue—the big, shy Dalmatian in the bar who peed to much. It was a great time.

Afterwards, I said goodbye and went on my way to find more medallions, but the wine had made me really sleepy so I went back to Laurent’s for one more night.

Anyway, I’m here at the café, and I think I’m done telling this story. Tomorrow is Giverny, where Monet lived. An all-day adventure.

Miss you all,

Brian

EXTRAS: 

A cool street act! 

Yes, I saw the massive Arc. 

And I had a delicious crepe along the way!


 

 

 

Paris

(Posted from La Rochelle)

As I begin this entry, I am sitting on the Metro in Paris, listening to an old man play the violin for money.  This happens all the time in Paris, apparently.  People will actually come on the Metro, whip out an instrument and then ask for money—sometimes full bands will do it, even. I quite enjoy it, given my obsession with street acts, but it’s obvious that most Parisians do not.

Paris has been a roller coaster of a journey. So challenging and difficult, yet wonderfully rewarding.  I can’t really remember a complete itinerary of this time, as I did not plan one.  I simply decided to plop myself in Paris, and go from there.

I set up a host for my stay via CouchSurfing.org.  (If you haven’t heard of it, check it out; it may increase you’re chances to travel, if not that, at least your drive.) His name is Laurent Bruneau, and he explained to me in the beginning that, as much as I tried, I would not be able to pronounce his name correctly.  He was right. I will try many times and think that I have it, only to see him shake his head at me or give me a look with a smile that says, “Sure, that’s it. …Not. “ He’s a very nice host, though, and he showed me around the city and was very kind.

I arrived late on Saturday, the 20th.  He gave me some seemingly-vague directions on how to get to his house from the Metro station.  When I got to the station at which I needed to be, I exited to a random street in Paris somewhere (to be honest, I’m still not necessarily sure where it is—I know what station it’s near, though).  I looked to my left: some French store, a small market, some boring apartments. I looked to my right: some scaffolding, a Kodak store, and, oh, the top of the Eiffel tower. 

I guess I had some idea of where I was.

Paris, baby.

I arrived at Laurent’s house (the directions were actually spot-on), and me Laurent and his nice flat.  It was quite late by this time, and all we really had time for was a quick chat and then we had to get ready for bed. I was tired, anyway, from all the stress that came from finding the right train, to the right line, to the right station, and the right apartment complex, for crying out loud.

The next day, Laurent showed me around the city a bit. I briefly saw the Eiffel Tower and took some pictures, but I knew I’d come back to it later.  


After that, I had the rest of the day (until 8pm) to myself. I walked around the city a bit more, saw some sights, but then realized something: I’m not enjoying myself. I was incredibly anxious and could not concentrate or enjoy anything.  

I decided to go back to Laurent’s house and calm down.  I sat around for a bit, uploaded the Galway entry to GCIA (God’s Call is Abroad.  Can I call it that?), and then tried to leave. 

But I couldn’t. 

I realized then that I had been away from home for a month. A whole month. This trip has been a month’s worth of amazing experiences, but it’s also been a month’s worth of challenges and stress. And I found that I was simply terrified to go back out there.

There was something huge and scary building inside of me. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I needed to call somebody, just to hear their voice.  After getting a few answering machines, I called the person who I knew would make it better: my mom. I called her—who, at the time, was eating lunch with my grandparents—and said, “Mom, it’s me. I’m feeling fine, I’m completely safe, and there’s nothing for you to worry about, but I’m really scared to go outside right now.” And at that point I couldn’t go any further. I broke down completely, crying uncontrollably. I tried to say some things to her, but not a lot came out.  I just cried and cried.

And cried and cried.

And cried.

Cried to the point where I was done being scared, but then kept crying. Cried to the point where I could have a conversation, but kept crying.  I even laughed a few times, but kept crying.

Something in me told me that this was good. I had a month’s worth of emotions built up inside of me, emotions I had held on to from way back when I was packing for Europe. And all of them had to go.  I realized God was doing something very interesting inside of me through that.

He was cleansing me.

He and I knew that I still had two months ahead of me, and I’m quite scared about it, so I needed to get rid of all the junk that had welled up for a month.

And Mom just kept telling me that she loved me and told me updates on the family and what she had been doing so far this summer when I couldn’t speak. It was absolutely wonderful.

And, after more than an hour, I had one more sob, and then I found that I could take a deep breath. “I think I can go now,” I said to my mom. I was ready again to go out into the world and see what I could see.

After we got done talking, I went back out in time to meet Laurent for a music festival.  I still have no idea what it’s called, and even if I did, I would not be able to pronounce it. Beforehand, Laurent introduced me to a friend of his and a friend of that friend. We had a really nice conversation. And, the woman in the picture lives in Venice and will be there when I’m there, so I may have a homestay. J

Laurent is to my right, and the woman I may be staying with in Venice is on the end.  (She's the only woman, too, so that should make it easy.)

The music festival goes from 8pm to 8am.  Musicians can sit wherever they want and just play the music, and no one can call the police on them. 

These guys were good. 

I mean ANYONE can play. 

Anyone. 

We only stayed until about midnight because Laurent had to work in the morning. (This was Sunday night, by the way.) And I was considerably, peacefully drained, so I went back to bed as well.

And that was my first full day in Paris.

You see, because of the fantastic genes that my parents gave me, which inevitably made me live with an anxiety disorder and depression, my body is almost engineered to not want to do things like travel the world alone.  It’s too stressful and I can’t handle it, my body tells me.  But I want to do these things. It is difficult, and it’s stressful and can sometimes leave me sitting in my room at Laurent’s and being terrified to leave. But one step at a time, God is cleansing me and helping me.  Just today (as I write this, three days later…started writing this entry yesterday) I had a small freak-out session which stalled me for at least an hour, but I’m working through it. I talked to my parents again and had only a short cry (apparently there were a few things left in there) and now, once again, I am sitting in the Metro station waiting to go into the city, and exciting for what new things I’ll see today.  I don’t doubt that I will have tough days again, but I’ll get through it.

Let me tell you now, for all those who are worrying when they read this blog: I will be fine. The difficulties that I'm facing are all part of this journey. I want to be completely transparent with all of you who are following, because like I said in the beginning, this is not just about my trip, but my journey. So don't worry.  Pray for me, ask God to be present around me and give me strength through His everlasting Love. I write this paragraph from La Rochelle, and trust me, I've had much more anxious times since. But one step at a time, God is taking me through. I'm learning wonderful, life-changing lessons here, and even though it is very difficult, I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

My second post about what I did in Paris for the rest of my time there is coming soon. With more pictures, too.  

Brian

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'm in London, Baby!

(Posted from La Rochelle, France)

Our trip to London began, again, with us running through the airport, trying to catch our plane.  We actually planned it out quite well to be on time, but the little flight line we were using said that my bag was too heavy. So I had to go back and forth between two stations—standing in line at each one, by the way, and one of them had five people working at the desk chatting and only one doing the work, just to let you know—so we ended up being quite hurried to get on our plane.  Luckily, it was delayed, so we ended up being fine.

We arrived in London. How exciting! And I took The Underground for the first time.  One of the people in my group had used The Underground before, so he was an old pro.  But I had no idea what was going on. I remember thinking, I’m going to have to get a lesson in this. Soon enough, I did, and I also became a pro.

We checked in to our hotel, and decided to go around to see the city. We were quite hungry, and since Zach heard that the best place to get Indian food outside of India is London, we had some Indian food. I, surprisingly, did not get a chance to take a picture of it, but let me tell you, it was some of the best I’ve ever had. I loved it.

We went to Picadilly Circus, which is like London’s Times Square. On a whim, we decided (more accurately, I decided) to go see a play with a good student rush rate. The guys grudgingly came along.  The show was called “The 39 Steps,” which is a spoof of a Hitchcock movie. It was hilarious. There are four actors in the cast, and between the four of them, they play 139 characters in the play. It was money well spent. The guys liked it too.


After the show, we got to look around Picadilly Circus for awhile, and that was very cool with their bright advertisement screens and their crowded streets. When we were done with that, we walked down to where Big Ben and Westminster Abbey were. It was quite late by this time, and the river Thames was beautiful. The London Eye (it’s that big Ferris wheel, for those who don’t know about it) and all the other buildings in London were all lit up and magnificent. I never dreamed that I would see Big Ben except in pictures.  When I was younger I never thought of myself as a traveler, and I never expected to see London.  There it was, however, just being Big Ben, and I was right there next to it.  Amazing.


The next day us four went to different parts of the city, and my choice was to go to Westminster Abbey. It was something I always wanted to see, and it was well worth it. There were no pictures allowed inside, but I have some outside shots for you. The inside was incredible, though. I saw the tomb of Handel, the first Queen Elizabeth, a bunch of King Henries, Shakespeare’s memorial, the tomb of Jane Austin (for all you chick-flick-book-lovers), Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin, among others. It was about a 3-hour experience. Amazing.

After that, we all got together and went to dinner, because we had tickets to AVENUE Q!! This was a musical that I desperately wanted to see in Minneapolis, but I didn’t get tickets. So I jumped at the chance to see it, especially with a discount, which we got. The show was hilarious and wonderful and raunchy and entertaining…exactly what I expected. The only thing that was a little distracting was that every once and a while the actors would slip out of their American accents.  Other than that, it was fine. 


The next day, my friends left for America. I was quite ready to be on my own. I knew the city, I knew The Underground, I was fine. So I decided to see some things I wanted to see.

Like Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’ve been a huge Shakespeare fan since high school. I love it. So of course I needed to see some Shakespeare while I was in London! And what better place than the Globe?  I got cheap standing tickets for As You Like It, which was all I could afford. I was a little put down by that, because I didn’t want to stand for the whole show, probably in the balcony. 

But when I got there, I realized that the expensive tickets are in the seats away from the stage, and the cheap standing tickets are right in front of the stage! I grabbed a spot in front and spent the whole show resting my arms on the stage. I could smell the leather of the actors’ costumes as they walked by me. Many of them made eye contact with me. The woman next to me accidentally got spit on by one of them.  It was a wonderful experience.


As You Like It went until about 5p.m. I was really excited because—something I forgot to tell you—I got up early that morning to stand in line for tickets to Hamlet, with Jude Law playing the lead. That was in a bigger theatre, of course, and the standing tickets were way in the back.  I paid for a standing ticket, but at the last minute they found a seat in the front of the first balcony for the same price, so I took it.

Of course.

I went for some Chinese take-out before the show. London has its very own China Town, and the food was awesome and cheap, so ate there as much as I could.

Anyway, I went to Hamlet with Jude Law! Now I took a Shakespeare class in high school. One of the sections was based completely on Hamlet, and we ended up reading the original and a abridged version, and we watched the Mel Gibson and the Ethan Hawke Hamlet movies.  Needless to say, I know the play pretty well (and I was pretty sick of it).

Jude Law probably gave the best performance as Hamlet that I have ever seen. He was intense and pissed off and just fantastic.  See, I never really liked the Mel Gibson version because it was too boring and too non-relatable, given that the movie took place during the time Shakespeare planned it. And the Ethan Hawke version was too contemporary; they lost a lot of meaning and depth because they tried to make it too fashionable.  The Jude Law version, however, was (in my eyes) a very perfect medium of the two. The costumes were modern, but simple. The set looked like it had been carved out of stone. And the simplicity of the set and costumes ensured that the story and characters would take over. And Jude Law pulled everyone in during his amazing soliloquies. I was on the edge of my seat that whole time.  I took some pictures, even though it wasn’t allowed. J


My seat. 


Jude Law during the famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy. Absolutely brilliant. 

The next morning I got up, went to go see the Changing of the Guards in Buckingham Palace (totally cool) and hung around in London for a bit. 

Oh, and I flew my kite in Green Park!! That’s the park near Buckingham Palace, by the way.  I was excited.


I didn't think my trash was royal enough to go in here. 

There's also fine print on the bottom that says, "Oh, and the poop needs to be gold." 

Then I stopped at a cheap Indian restaurant, ate like hell, and ran to go catch my chunnel ride to Paris.  The chunnel is a train that goes under the English channel, and into Paris in two hours.  What it does is cooler than the experience, unfortunately.  It’s just a train. I suggest that they should make the tunnel under the English channel out of glass so people can look out at the water—like Underwater Adventures at the Mall of America! Should have looked for a suggestion box.

Anyway, I loved London.  The (unLondonlike) food, the accents, Big Ben, and the shows. It was a fantastic time.

On to France!

EXTRA PHOTOS:

This was what I thought the London Bridge was, but no.  

THIS is the London Bridge. Not a lot to write home about...or a SONG about, for crying out loud. 

One day, when Christie and I turn into birds, this is what we'll look like. 

An English breakfast. I ate the whole thing. 

Of course, the red phone booths. Had to take a picture. 

Cute old people.

Street Acts!