Jack Kerouac is accused of writing about people going nowhere…but they were always going to Denver, and that is a definite destination indeed. -As quoted in the Denver Post, December 29, 1974
Back on New Year’s Eve 2008, as the year turned to 2009, I remember being struck with an overwhelming feeling that it was going to be a good year. It felt definite and unavoidable. There were things throughout the year that quite actively worked against this but nothing could change the fate of 2009. It was, when all was said and done, a good year.
I know people who would fall on both sides of this argument, those who firmly disagree with me and didn’t bat a eye or shed a tear as the calendar turned from 2009 to 2010 and those who, upon meeting the new year, said,”You got some big shoes to fill, 20-10.” While I am admittedly someone who admits failure much more readily than I do success and will therefore avoid putting any sort of superlative next to 2009 (e.g. “greatest year ever,” “most important year ever,” “year that I ate the absolute most”), I will say that as a year it felt important/good/new enough that I couldn’t help but look at that big old full moon that 2009 left as a housewarming present for 2010 on New Year’s Eve and, like anyone who played after Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival, say, “That’s a hard act to follow.”
Taken during a friendly game of hide and seek at the Denver Contemporary Art Museum with Kyle and Aileen. Aileen was trying to be completely camoflauged.
So, you ask, what made last year so great? What made it so good that I find myself addressing calendar years as they were human? Was it that I started the year in New Orleans, spent half of it on a Greek Island and have ended up in Colorful Colorado- three of my favorite places? Well, that surely helps. Surely it has something to do with all the new people you met and strong connections you made, right? Right, thats important. What about when the Nuggets made the Western Conference Finals? Yeah, that really helped. Was it all the new places you visited and new experiences you had, from camping in Mississippi to having the best birthday you’ve maybe ever had to skinny dipping in the Aegan sea and learning how to play chess? Of course, those were all important, just like my students succeeding and all the good music and books and food that helped to make it a good year. However, there were things that didn’t help it as a great year- things I won’t go into here- but suffice it to say that every year, even the really good ones, have their ups and downs. This is why I won’t say that the aforementioned things were the essence of why this was a good year, though it bares repeating that I am thankful for all of these things and know that I wouldn’t be where I am without each and every one of those things.
Interlude for a photographic essay entitled, "Things that happen in Colorado around the holidays." First up, making apple pie.
Arguing about who gets to ask the question in Trivial Pursuit and then getting in a fist fight with your dad because he won't let you read it.
Congratulating families on their new arrivals.
Solo musical performances.
Musical duos that involve profoundly unattractive facial hair.
Get to the point, right? Here is why:
A route differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point with another. A route has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the points that it connects. A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop. A route is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been rereduced to a mer obstacle to human movement and a waste of time. -Milan Kundera, “Immortality”
I feel like 2009 was a year that thrust me forward into new places with new faces, and it was the decision to make the year a road instead of a route that made the difference for me. I wanted every stretch of road to have meaning in itself and accept its invitations when it asks me to stop.
I spent so much of my time in Greece attempting to be present in a moment, to worry not about what was coming next or what came before but what was happening then. The funny thing is I realized, when all was said and done, I failed at this. I was unable to simply be present, and, to be quite honest, I’ve never been happier to admit I failed at anything in my life. One misses so much when they are simply present or in only one moment. Being present is important but I think I realized I already knew how to do that. What I really needed to learn was that life is indeed moving forward, or at least around, and the challenge is knowing when you’ve been invited to stop and value the space you’re in along this road. When I said I wanted to be present in my life, I think I actually wanted to make sure I wasn’t on a route with my actions, experiences, and movement purely defined by the point I started and where I would end up. And, you know what, it isn’t.
More than anything, I know I was much more than present because I’m in a different place than I’ve ever been before. 2009 as a road took me from one place and I’ve ended up somewhere completely new with stops on a Greek beach to play backgammon with Mike and Sarah, in John and Zalina’s house talking and laughing, in the Rude Shipyard in Sheffield, in a London warehouse flat as the blue morning light flooded the room, in Eunice, Louisiana to listen to Cajun music, and on my porch on Mardi Gras day. I will admit, the reason 2010 is going to be different than 2009 is that I’ve started it just trying to make sense of the new space I’m in. The new place to which I’ve been brought. But I’m not worried. I’m really not. As long as I step forward meaningfully on this road, this new year, and make as many stops as possible a long the way, I know everything will be fine.
Let’s start with this: A lot has happened since I last wrote. I don’t mean a lot as in someone saying they ate a lot after having a second helping of a good meal or when another person says they did a lot of walking following a five-mile hike. When I say a lot here, I mean it as a bold, stark understatement. I mean the kind of a lot that would convey brimming over, filled to the top, or having NO capacity for anything else. A lot in this context means there is literally no way that I will be able to get all of what has happened on this blog. But just know. A lot has happened.
So, where to start? Well, music, of course. It has come to my attention that many people have been unable to listen to my music clips the last few months, and through trial and error I have concluded this is largely due to the fact that this site’s music player only works on Firefox. Knowing that not everyone uses Firefox and in an effort to create the best blog-reading experience as possible, I have switched to another music widget. Hopefully, it works for everyone. You should be able to download the song by hitting the arrow on the right of the player and streaming should be better for everyone. In case you are wondering, I learned this from Michaela (aka Mak, Mak Attack, Makintosh Computers, MakDonalds, MakFace, or Makaroni and Cheese) who has recently unveiled her own wonderful blog that is well worth a visit or two or eight.
Tom Waits- You Can Never Hold Back Spring
If I remember correctly, we left the story off when I was last at the farm in the Czech Republic. I concluded my time there feeling rested and thankful for the opportunity to work with my hands and have time to process everything that had happened. I left with my love of the Czech Republic, chopping wood, and reading by one light underneath the covers as strong as ever, my pocket a bit lighter from losing at poker to Rich and Katie, and my hatred for doing the dishes at an all time high. I remember feeling a bit disappointed that I hadn’t seen any Czech snow, as some of my finest memories from being there in 2006 was from it dramatically snowing in the way that brought out anticipation in every flat place in the city and made the quietest of streets just a little bit quieter. But sure enough, my last night, after having an impressive homemade curry that made me forget how cold it was outside, someone muttered “I think it’s snowing,” and upon double checking on the porch, it sure enough was snowing just slightly.
As you can tell, I am almost single-handedly responsible for the deforestration of a whole Czech forest.
The next morning I made my way back to Prague with high hopes of my second stint in the city in as many weeks. The first day was spent and felt much like my brief stay their before the farm, familiar but only in a nostalgic way. Despite a visit to the Communism museum (where I had never been before) and the celebratory and slightly subversive way the sun was shining even though it the beginning of December, I still felt much like I was knocking at the door of the city, not being able to fully access it in the intimate way I knew it when living there.
Here was what I brought with me from Greece as a present for the Czech Republic- sunlight. I could barely get it through customs but it was worth it.
It wasn’t until I met up with Katka that Prague opened its door fully and let me back in. Katka is a dear friend I made back in 2006. With the exception of a stop at her parent’s flat and a viewing of the classic Czech film “Closely Watched Trains,” our relationship back then mostly consisted of meeting up in the cold Prague night and just walking and talking. Walking a lot and talking a lot (see above description of a lot) in ways that makes a city your own as it yields its finest secrets- little cobbled side streets, views of the city that literally move you backwards in your steps, or the sounds you might have missed in the noisy, busy daylight. And there we were, just like we had been almost four years ago, and feeling like we were the only people in Prague walking and talking. I was madly in love with Prague again, intoxicated by the lighting and the cold air and happy to be with an old friend after spending the two or three weeks prior very much in my own head.
The only photographic proof that Katka and I are friends.
That night feels significant on many levels because it felt like for the first time many of my thoughts on where I was going and the places I was coming from became clearer, not concluded but clearer. It was as if I had been lost and then suddenly found myself on a map. I still wasn’t sure where I was going but at least I knew where I was. And it should be noted that as a taxi took me to the airport, it started to snow. A lot.
It is here where I would put Greg Brown’s song “Every Street in Town,” but I only have a copy I bought on iTunes and it won’t let me do that. Reason #1 I don’t buy anything from iTunes anymore.
This will have to do. I’ve been listening to this over and over recently on trains and buses and just being taken by how beautiful it is.
Lara St. John- Bach’s Concerto No.2 in E Major II Adagio
After catching my plane and leaving the Czech Republic, I arrived in London, once again staying with Jack but this time having two other great friends, Ellie and Debbie, to visit. Here are things that every visit I’ve had with Jack involve: good music and good food. There are no questions about these two things and within the first night we had gone to one of the best restaurants in Central London and listened to the Dirty Projectors on vinyl. The next day we took a trip to a British beach town which I for the life of me can’t remember the name of and I ask Jack about once a day. Sorry, blog.
The English seaside, the English pub, and the English sweet touth- English traditions I was able to adopt immediately.
The next day is when things started to get crazy and when you start to understand what I mean by “a lot.” I boarded a EuroStar train, which takes passengers under the English Channel and to Paris and/or Brussels. I made my way to Brussels with the goal being to see Horse Feathers in concert. According to my Last.fm page, Horse Feathers is my most listened to artist by a long shot, so that is saying something. The perk of seeing Horse Feathers in Brussels is…well…being in Brussels. I had been warned on more than one occasion that Brussels wasn’t very beautiful and might not be worth my time but this couldn’t have been more wrong. I took to the city right away. It had a way about it, an honesty, that I don’t sense from many cities, particularly ones that I am just passing through. It wasn’t beautiful, though it had beautiful things in it. It just was and it felt like the city and its citizens were ok with that and you had the choice of either taking it or leaving it. I, wisely, took it. I walked around the city center at night before the concert, enjoying the fact that families were out and also enjoying the city and not just tourists. I stopped in a cafe famous for chess being played there at all times, and sure enough I was able to watch a few games of speed chess by guys who were profoundly better than I currently am.
The Horse Feathers concert was incredible. Simply put. And the Belgian crowd was the greatest concert audience I have ever witnessed in my life. Horse Feathers was firing on all cylinders; their harmonies and arrangements were perfect, his voice was better in person than on the record, and they closed by coming out into the crowd and playing acoustically with everyone sitting quietly around them. While much could be said about Horse Feathers, and I had good conversation with three of their four members after the show, the star of the evening was the Belgian crowd. Forget Belgian waffles (which I had and was blown away by), Belgian chocolate (also enjoyed), or being the capital of the EU (despite this, ATMs could not be found anywhere in the city, especially not when I needed them), I want Belgian music fans in my life all the time. The was a silence in the underground venue that was charged with an energy that was distinctly directed at the performers. The artist’s silences where exactly that- silent- and their music competed with nothing at all. I realized that in such a context a musician is no longer just playing music but rather they are filling a space with themselves, with their ideas, with their art, and that energy just pulls everyone towards the artist as we hang on their every note and, much more importantly, on their every silence.
Two easy steps to meeting one of your favorite bands: 1) speak the same language as them, and 2) act like you know what you’re talking about. I did both of these things well, though one more than the other
Are you seeing what I mean by a lot yet?
So, I took the train back after a morning of more exploring in Brussels where I found an antique post card shop, a whole building decorated in Chinese lanterns, and numerous groups of school children that made me wish I was able to take my students to Europe with me. Maybe I will just yet. At this point, I’m starting to feel the weight of “a lot.” I’m feeling overcome by the beautiful things, places, and people in the world and feeling almost frustrated that I can’t experience it all and contemplating not sleeping anymore so I can do more things (ask people who know me well- family, coworkers, roommates- how good of an idea this is. It’s just terrible.).
I arrive back in London, take a shower, and immediately head out to meet Ellie to see none other than…Horse Feathers. If there was any doubt that incredible relationships transfer from the bookshop to the outside world, this has been shattered by my friends in London by this time. Despite electrical problems that kept the house lights on and the stage lights off, Horse Feathers played beautifully again. Once again, the European audience surpassed even my greatest expectations of an American concert crowd, and they once again were able to venture out into the crowd for an acoustic encore.
Horse Feathers- Working Poor
By now, the term “a lot” is ceasing to even be in the ballpark of appropriate. We ended the night by walking down Brick Lane, having a beer at a wonderful bar that made me think, “Alright, London, that’s where you’ve been keeping your secrets,” and having wonderful conversation. The next day Ellie started to check things off a Whimsical To-Do List. We marveled at the British Museum and explored the wing completed dedicated to clock making. Just a lot of clocks.
I need you to understand that I haven’t even met up with Debbie at this point, and when I do shortly after leaving the British Museum, she took me on a quick whirlwind of her neighborhood which included Rough Trade records where I was so overwhelmed I just had to ask to leave, a ukulele shop, and grocery shopping. A lot? I would say so. We went back to her flat and played chess on a board that we made right there and then we had dinner with Ellie and a group of their friends who were some of the best dinner company one can ask for.
Have you even made it this far? If you have, you must surely be agreeing that “a lot” has happened, and its not even close to ending. Do you need to come back in a bit? Don’t. Stick it out.
The next morning Ellie took me to a meditation class and I realized how much I could probably benefit from meditation in terms of being present, focusing, and calming down. We met with Debbie and had lunch in a cafe that should submit itself in the “Cafe most likely to be called perfect and then be featured in a charming romantic comedy movie” contest. I could’ve gone to sleep at this point and had enough whimsy in my life to sleep into 2010, but Debbie then took me to a farm…!!!…in the city, and we ate gelato and hung out with the goats and Debbie didn’t even make any jokes about my beard when we happened upon the “Ginger Pigs.” That night, Atlantis Books worlds collided as Jack met Debbie and Ellie, and guess what we talked about? A lot of stuff.
Debbie was in love with this goat and showed it through repeated praise and petting.
I showed my love for the goat by getting in its face and making fun of its biggest fears and insecurities.
I rose the next morning and caught a train to Sheffield, England, which if you don’t know is in the North of England and is the fifth largest city in the country. Pete met me at the station and we started doing- yep, you guessed it- a lot, and here I mean a lot in the way that there was so much goodness around me and so many new experiences that I just stored them away as if I was a bear about to go into hibernation.
Here is a fashion of "Where's Waldo?" that some people think is too easy, its called "Where is Pete in this photo?" Next post we will use this same picture for another game called "Guess what Pete is doing in this picutre." I like my readers to feel successful.
Now, understand, Sheffield is not at the top of people’s tourist list of places to visit in the way that Prague or London might be, so, as has often been the case in my travels, I found myself feeling like I was in a secret, but the only thing about this secret is that the people who lived there were well aware of the secret. I have been few places in my life where I experienced such hospitality and witnessed the way people take pride in where they live as I did in Sheffield. Not only was Pete letting me stay in his house, wear his coats (I left mine in London), eat his food, follow him around, and meet all his friends, but his friends all had distinct ideas of what I should do while in their hometown. But instead of just recommending things to do like most people would, they went the extra mile to ensure I did it right. I liked this. A lot. When Neil thought I should be be able to go for a car ride through the country side, he came and picked us up himself and took us driving to a near by village for a gentleman’s brunch. When Kate told me to try geribaldi biscuits and read Ted Hughes, she bought them herself and brought them to me. It is here I learned just how much of a difference being hospitable, going an extra mile for a stranger, and just generally following through with the things you talk about can make a huge difference in others’ experiences. Meeting all these people, feeling so welcome in their home, and sharing a part of their life was one of the most affirming experiences I have had in a long time, and is the exact epitome of what I blogged about all those months ago about meeting new people, planting seeds for friendships in your little garden of life, and hoping for the best.
Pete and I walked the countryside and ate chipbuttys (which I just cannot say correctly no matter how hard I try) and had what was simply called a “pint of tea.” We enjoyed excellent beer as often as possible and listened to excellent music. A lot of all of this, and I concluded that whether or not I return to Sheffield in my lifetime, it will always hold a dear place in my heart.
I present the Chip Butty, a northern English treat that gives the New Orleans po boy with fries as the most carbo loaded sandwich ever. This sandwich, it should be noted, was ridiculously delciious with that English brown sauce and a pint of tea.
Another thing that happened in Sheffield is that Pete’s roommate Rosie opened a photo exhibition at Pete’s bookshop/coffeehouse called The Rude Shipyard (which is an incredible space). For the event, I was asked to open for Pete as the music for the evening. This was the first time I had played a proper gig as such in well over three years or so and the first time I had ever played by myself in this way, and I must say, I loved doing this and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like I was just playing music but I was filling a space with myself and my ideas and I felt an energy as people listened and I felt the weight of respect in my silences. It was a really special evening and yet another reason to love Sheffield.
Wow. This is a lot. I’m impressed you’ve made it this far. I’ve returned to London and find myself yet again blown away by the new friendships I’ve made as I feel the power of this great city below me, around me, and towering high above me. London is such a big city that having three great friends in the city means that you see three incredibly different worlds. Ellie’s ability to continually come up with whimsical adventures is similar to Mary Poppin’s ability to pull objects out of a hat- the goodness just keeps coming. Debbie knows the coolest places in the city it seems and, blog, you need to know, that she beat me at chess today and Ellie has decided she is ready for the world championships. Jack’s work in the classroom and at his school as he rises every morning at 5:45 is inspiring in ways that have me missing teaching more than ever, and after he took me to my first Pantomime at his school (which I will add next to tea time and free museums as something that Americans have really missed the boat on) I was as inspired as ever.
So, here it is. Walking through the city and seeing Christmas decorations, walking through the London snow today, and seeing a performance of Handel’s Messiah in the British Library have made me realize it’s Christmas. I leave for the US on Friday, meaning tomorrow is my last full day in Europe. What this means exactly I still don’t know. I can’t tell you if my journey is over or not in the way John Steinbeck could at the end of his journey. I can’t tell you what I’m doing next and I can’t quite verbalize the ways I’ve changed and grown. What I can do, though, is remember why I chose this path in the first place. I refrain from using the word “expedition” here or adventure because as I just read in “Lady Chatterly’s Lady,” an expedition hints that you will be returning home. In a way, I suppose I am in that I am going home, but I don’t feel as if I will be returning anywhere. Despite physically returning to somewhere, I feel myself moving forward in so many more ways.
I’ve don’t a lot to say the least. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places and met a lot of beautiful people, and I use “a lot” in the way that you might say that Dikembe Mutombo had a lot of blocked shots in his NBA career (he had 3,289). I learned a lot and had a lot of new experiences, and I mean that in the way that you might say Bob Dylan has released a lot of albums (according to iTunes, there are 77 of them including greatest hits compilations). More than anything, I’m thankful. A lot.
Happy music for safe travels. Talk to you from the US.
The Boots of Leather Concert series continues, this time in rural Czech Republic outside of a town called Cernovice. In other news, I won at a soccer scoring contest today on the farm in what was a huge victory for United States soccer.
By the way, Sylvie if you are watching this, I’m sorry. It’s not what it seems with the other kitten. We’re just friends. I swear, you’re my one and only.
It was a black night, the Hudson swayed with heavy blackness, shaken over with spilled dribbles of light. She leaned on the rail, and looking down though: This is the sea; it is deeper than one imagines, and fuller of memories. At that moment the sea seemed to heave like the serpent of chaos that has lived for ever.
‘These partings are no good, you know. They’re no good. I don’t like them.’
It's too bad Santorini isn't beautiful, because that would almost make leaving difficult. Good thing its not... (photo courtesy of Pete David)
It’s been a long time, so there is much to cover. I left the bookshop on November 16 and started a journey to Prague. Upon landing in the Athens airport, I chose to take advantage of the 45 free minutes of wireless internet to write a post about leaving Santorini, in other words, to neatly wrap up my four month experience only two hours after leaving. This was, of course, incredibly unrealistic but I did muster this line, “It seems you can live a whole live in only four months.” I was struck by the difference a day could make. One day I was living a life on a beautiful island, surrounded by friends, cats, good dinners, and books, and the next day I just woke up and left. It seemed abrupt and I already felt removed from it.
This song has been stuck in my head for days, and it content-wise fits nicely here. Enjoy the classic.
Dinah Washington- What a Difference a Day Makes (download/wiki)
If you thought this was me at the highest point on Santorini overlooking it all, you were wrong because this is me in front of a tiny model of Santorini complete with a tiny ocean. It was adorable.
But, with hindsight on my side, I am going to disagree with my past self. Saying that I lived a life in four months just isn’t simply true because, a) its a bit dramatic even for me, and b) it carries with it a sense of detachment from the rest of my life, as if that was an isolated event that is now over. And, let’s really think about this, past self, because thats just simply not true. The experiences I had there were very real. The lessons I learned are things I will carry with me into whatever it is I do next and even past then. The friendships are as real as any I’ve known. Not to mention, I didn’t even “just wake up and leave,” I stayed up unnecessarily late (per the usual) and then got up with Vlad and Pete to see what we thought was going to be the sunrise, only to realize it was WAY too early for the sunrise, so we went and hung out on a cliff in the dark, with the dark sea below us. I remember some laughing, some farting, and some “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” being hummed. Mostly, somewhere in that dark moment, we were happy to just be there. That was enough.
Vlad may have beaten me many other times, but, make no mistake, I won this one with a little help from an opening I learned from Craig.
What books did I buy to take with me, you might ask. Well, I bought "Empire" by Niall Ferguson, "The Woman Who Rode Away" by D.H. Lawrence (see above quote), and "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides- the last of which I was recommended by Pete David, went on to tear through in only a few days, and strongly recommend.
So, there I was, in the Athens airport trying to make sense of what was happening- long after my 45 free minutes of internet were up and I had managed a few simple sentences of a blog entry. Memories filled my mind of the way the light filters into the shop, the sounds of donkeys above the ceiling of my room, walking the main walkway of Oia with John as he headed home and stopping along the way so we’d have more time to talk, and all the beautiful faces I’d met a long the way. The thing about writing a blog like this is that somewhere in all of these events and thoughts, I am supposed to arrive at some sort of conclusion or some concise lesson or lovely thought that I can write down and make document forevermore. And thats just not going to be the case here. I’m going to be processing this one for a long time to come, and I think I am going to choose to keep a lot of those things to myself. At least for now. Sorry, blog, there are some things I just won’t be able to include here.
What post from Santorini would be complete with this face? Why is she looking so down? Don't fool yourself into thinking its because I'm leaving, it's probably because she knew she was about to get fixed. So, for all you Sylvie fans out there that were hoping to have a baby Sylvie of your own and to all you hip male cats who were hoping to "get wit this," sorry, you're out of luck.
With the minor physiological crisis passed/averted/working itself out, I arrived in Prague, unaware of what it would be like to return to the place where I studied in spring of 2006. Prague, with its incredible buildings and history and the mighty Vltava, is famously a city for walking, and thats exactly what I did upon arrival, just as we used to do back in 2006. The thing about visiting Prague is that I had kind of told myself that I wouldn’t do visit it for quite a while, because I knew it wouldn’t be the same and the vision of Prague I had in my mind was near perfect and largely contingent upon the people I shared it with back in 2006. So, being there, almost only four years later, seemed strange, and it felt as strange as I could have imagined. The only way to really describe my first night there was that it felt like I was looking at a photo album. I felt nostalgic, but in the way you feel when are you very far removed from something. However, the memories of my time in Prague, a time that I still call one of the most important of my life, came flooding back. I could feel the way the winter felt and the breaking of spring. I remembered the friendships I made, many of which I’ve been fortunate enough to keep up with over the years. This night of wandering around the city in the rain served to remind me why I had loved Prague and my time there.
The year? 2006. The place? Prague. The problem? One beer for three guys. Two of us don't seem that upset about that.
The year? 2006. The place? Petrin Hill with Prague Castle in the back. The problem? I am made nervous by beer when not having to compete with two other guys for it. It seems too easy.
It was here that I realized the importance of revisiting an important place from my past, as I leave one from the present. Being there, and realizing how much of that experience I carry with me still, especially the relationships, worked to assure me that my time in Santorini was anything but an isolated life in and of itself. Remembering my time in Prague and its profound mark on the path I ended up taking, from new friends, to the Romero Troupe, to joining Teach for America, etc. It was as if it was all saying it all works out and when it does, its for the best.
Here is a song I got once from Bonnie. I’ve been enjoying it lately and considering how much blues we used to listen to in Prague, its also fitting.
The next day, however, served to illustrate the things I love about Prague at its core. Of course, I made a point of visiting all of my favorites places from before, but I was also very much engaged with Prague as it stands now. It was an important balance to strike. I visited Maly Buddha and had coconut milk, I had dinner at Pivovarksy Dum and had cerny pivo, wandered around Petrin Hill and overlooked the city, I visited the Kolej (where we all lived), had a beer at A Proc Ne, had a spinach pizza outside of Tesco (which is no longer Tesco, it is some partner of Tesco), sat next to the Vlatava, rod the tram, and the metro. This all fell on the national holiday of the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, and I was fortunately to see the days festivities. It was somewhere in the midst of walking from one side of the city to the other on this day that the feeling of it all changed from me being nostalgic to sitting down with an old friend and catching up. There was a reciprocity to it all- a sharing. “Oh wow, Prague, your hair looks great long and your economy is as strong as ever! Things seem to be going well for you. You deserve that. Oh, me? Ha. Yeah, my beard is long. Do you want another beer?” Because, lets face it, if Prague was a person it would be really exceptionally good at having a beer with a friend, reminiscing, and reconnecting.
Let’s quickly play game called Greece or Prague. Ready?
That one. Greece or Prague? Are you stuck? Hint: It DOES NOT rhyme with the word fog.
Now this one. Hint: This one DOES rhyme with fog.
My visit to Prague was short-lived, however, as I made my way south to Novy Myln- better known as the farm I will be staying at for the next few weeks. Let me paint a quick picture for you of my greeting to rural Czech life. The bus dropped me at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, with all of my bags from Greece. I had been told that the farm was the only house on the left, but not only was there not a house on the left, there wasn’t a house anyway, not that I could be sure of this, though, because I couldn’t see anything in the pitch black. So, I wandered for a bit thinking a few trees here and there might be a house, preparing what Czech I could remember to try and find the farm, and muttering swear words to myself. Thats when I just started walking. I knew I’d find it, but what I didn’t realize is that I would have to walk through the wooded part of the road to do so. As I walked deeper into the forest, never straying from the same road and avoiding the cars as they passed, all the while, barely being able to see and relying on my trusty iPod for light to read the signs, I eventually saw a house on what seemed to be the left. I said aloud, “Please be a house on the left.” Since it was and even though it had no visible lights on I ventured up to the main door, leaving my bags on the street in the case that I had to run or something. Not only was it the right house, as not one but three English speakers greeted me, but it was a wonderful, huge home with a kitchen warmed by a fire and cards on the table ready for a game of poker.
By day? Beautiful! Enchanting! By night? The perfect setting for a horror movie.
And that’s the way its been ever since- nothing short of storybook-esque. The weather is supposed to be really cold in the Czech Republic right now, and while its chilly, the days have been beautiful with blue skies- a bit of the fall I didn’t really get in Greece. We wake up in the morning, eat porridge, and the get to work around the farm. There is a lot of wood cutting to be done, as all our warmth comes from wood burning stoves. We scour the forest for mushrooms and take turns cooking. There are many projects around the farm, including painting window panes and refurbishing furniture, and always time for a tea break and kicking the soccer ball around.
Despite the fairytale nature of the farm, the real excitement started last Friday when we ventured into Tabor, the nearest big town. We played indoor soccer with a bunch of Czech guys and I…ready yourself, blog…scored a goal. This was probably the most Czech I’ve ever been, and followed it up by going to a pub and enjoying Czech beer, or, as it is better known, the best beer in the whole world. Whether its in Tabor at a pub with a pivo or walking the forest looking for mushrooms or reading my book next to a fire, this is proving to be a wonderful experience and a welcome addition to my European adventures.
Pictured? The house in which I am currently staying. Not pictured? The piles of wood we cut. Also, not pictured? Greece.
By the way, a late Happy Thanksgiving to all. As the only American on the farm, the holiday was more toned down that I am used to, but I still managed to make apple-walnut stuffing, mashed potatoes with beans, and steamed spinach with some help from Richard and Katie, the Australian couple here. This is also not to mention the pumpkin pie I made from scratch- yes, I mean from a pumpkin. I do hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
I’ve been enjoying the band the Dirty Projectors lately, thanks to Jack. So, if you like the track, you can thank me. If you don’t like it, feel free to contact me for his contacts and you can tell him personally.
There is much to think about these days. I am planning my moves for when I return to the States and trying to process all that has been this last year, including the last four Greek months. Between all the new people and new experiences this last year brought me, I find myself moved by how much I’ve learned from these things. I am reminded of a woman who came into the bookshop, bought a book and asked to shake my hand. She said it is always an honor to meet someone who is living their dream, mistaking me for the person who started the bookshop. Being at the bookshop and living the realization of a group of people’s vision, being at the farm and being the part of a couple realizing their dream, knowing John as he works on a Greek island to finish his poetry collection, and meeting all the people who are made their journey possible, I realize what this woman was talking about. It is so easy to do the easy thing, the thing that makes sense, or to ride the waves we’re given, but the honor and inspiration I take from the people I meet who are living their dream is something I can only hope spills into my life. Until then, I think I will just shake their hands and then chop some more wood so neither of us get cold.
The second installment of the Atlantis Books concert series features Pete David of the Sheffiled band Pete David and the Payroll Union performing his song “Abigail.” Let me set the scene for you. After dinner, borrowed guitar, books, Aegan Sea, beard. Get the picture?
If you are interested in more of Pete David’s music, you can go to his MySpace here. If you are interested in learning more about the migration patterns of Alaskan salmon, you can go here. I recommend the MySpace page, Pete is very talented.
Two blog posts in two days? Things are getting crazy around here. So, this is me sitting in our courtyard, with a five string guitar that won’t stay in tune, after a rain storm, in dirty clothes, after dinner, when the shop has closed, and we are about to watch a movie. Just trying to set the scene for you. How am I doing? NATURALLY, I decided to play this song.