Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Now I know how it feels to be the village idiot August 29, 2008

Beautiful Barcelona

Beautiful Barcelona

Spain has it in for me. There is some weird trend starting up here wherein every time I check out at a grocery store, something explodes. Today is was a bottle of sparkling water (oh, how I love my agua con gaseo). I don’t know how or why, but as the woman reached for it to run it over the scanner, it busted a leak like Old Faithful and shot a powerful stream all over me. I do prefer the wet t-shirt contests where I’m the only contestant. Ups the odds that I might win (which are usually pretty slim).

Yesterday, it was my little four-pack of ‘Danone’ yogurt in “Macedonia” flavor (no idea what that means). As the woman (different city, different cashier at least) sat it down for me to bag, a giant glob of it launched all over my shirt and shorts.

These things are really no big deal and even kind of funny (especially because I cannot recall a single instance in my whole life where this has happened, and now it’s happened twice in a row). The issue is that it causes a major stream of dialog that I can’t comprehend a word of. So basically I try to fake like I understand what they’re saying with lots of nodding and smiling and “Dios Mio!” (kidding on the “Dios mio.’ I’m not sure anyone says that. Kind of like ‘my stars!” or “good golly, Miss Molly!”). Anyway, usually I figure if I were in their shoes, I’d be saying something like, “Holy crap! I’m so sorry! Go grab a new one.” So I leave to get a new one. The problem usually kicks in when I come back with the new one and they ask me something.

It’s at that point that I have to formulate and speak a grammatically tragic sentence in Spanish that likely translates to, “Here is new one. Me go now.” It’s like Arnold Schwarzanegger (sp?) before he was the Terminator or governor. Those monotone adverb and article-less sentences aren’t so cute when you’re just a ‘roided-out, orgy-loving Austrian weight lifter. Does that sentence mean I can never live in California again?

Anyway, back to my story of one-woman food fights, it’s at this point that everyone invariably gives me the sad, sorry look that you would to a parent with an obviously very, very slow (eight sandwiches and a red checkered blanket short of a picnic) child. A look that says, “Oh. You’re deficient. I didn’t realize. I pity you.”

In the same vein, I realized this morning that there is no way to look sophisticated while running down the street with a giant backpack bouncing behind you. I don’t care if you’re Jackie O. It cannot be done. Even Jackie O. would look like a lumbering jackass in the situation. Even with the big round sunglasses and the head scarf. Even with John John in tow. She would. Trust me.

I had this realization, naturally, while running down Calle Atocha in Madrid. I hate it when stupid events (like the lazy woman never waking up to allow me to check out at 9am) conspire against me, and I realize I’ve got to run – and about 40 pounds heavier than usual – if I’m going to make my plane/train/bus/starship. At this point I’m pretty well acclimated to the physical element of lugging the bag, it’s the fact that it renders me bulky and gigantic that I can’t seem to get through my head. I’m like a cat with clipped whiskers. I head into a space and get in so far…and realize I’m stuck. This is a clever and allegorical way of saying that this morning I was late, so I had to run down a busy metropolitan street during rush hour with a giant backpack strapped onto me, and I more or less bonked, bumped, jostled and plain old knocked over a dozen or so people en route. Sorry about that, slow moving people of Madrid.

In other news, it could just be a coincidence, but i saw no less than 5 shops selling kittens yesterday. It did occur to me that traveling with a trained cat (maybe i could get it to sit on my shoulder like a parrot?) would liven things up. I could name it Wanderlust and together we could cross the continent, sharing cans of tuna and performing stupid cat tricks. A lesser version of that seemed to be the thing to do in Portugal: Get a huge dog (Mastiffs were usually employed for the purpose) and then go from table to table at the outdoor dining spots in all the alleys, begging for money to feed the giant dog. Invariably these were healthy-looking men in their 20s and 30s, and all I could think was, “Why did you have to drag some poor dog into your mess?” The dogs were always laying on their sides looking exhausted from all the heat and panhandling. Or maybe they were just embarrassed to be associated with that guy? The guy ruining everyone’s lunch. I’m sure dogs know if their owner is a loser just as much as kids know when their parents aren’t cool.

Meanwhile, I’m out of that awful little room in Barcelona. Barcelona rocks and makes me realize how much I didn’t really like Madrid. It kind of reminded me of Boston. Not to pick on Boston (too much), and not in terms of specific looks, but in vibe. Both are large cities with a lot of history, and both have some cool old stuff and crazy roads that lead to seriously confusing floor plans. But in both I find the people kind of standoffish and the town inaccessible. I walked a solid seven or eight miles of Madrid, and could never find it’s ‘pulse.” I guess it’s safe to say that I just didn’t really vibe with Madrid.

Barcelona, however, is fantastico. It’s lively, it’s got history, it’s funky, it’s tropical, it’s gorgeous, and it has a nice rack. There are beaches and palm trees and little shops where you can get the biggest falafel pita on earth (and possibly the best) for 4.20 Euro. The metro system is delightful, and I am no longer sleeping in a prison cell. Who could ask for anything more???

Viva Barcelona!!!


Now I know why the ancestors left the old country August 17, 2008

By the Peace Wall (three stories high, and built to keep the Protestants and Catholics separate) in Belfast, Ireland

By the Peace Wall (three stories high, and built to keep the Protestants and Catholics separate) in Belfast, Ireland

Riding through river-deep floodwaters, trying to get to Belfast
Riding through river-deep floodwaters, trying to get to BelfastBy the Peace Wall (three stories high, and built to keep the Protestants and the Catholics away from one another) in Belfast, Ireland.
Where to start? My flight into Belfast was delayed a couple hours, and I kept hearing whispers with the words “torrential” and “flood.” As we’re landing it’s more of the same – rain, clouds, gray, blech.
I get my bag and head out to wait for the city bus. And wait. And wait. And wait. It’s Saturday, so the sign says it comes every half an hour. An hour and fifteen minutes passes…Nada. We hear that the roads are flooded, and perhaps the bus can’t make it? Thus – abandoning all logic that if a fairly tall bus can’t make it, what can? – a few of us band together and hire a taxi. It’s a really nice one, at that, a new black Mercedes. Maybe it has special waterproof powers installed by crafty German engineers?
It didn’t, although we did avert any true tragedy. There are something like five routes into Belfast, and after crossing veritable rivers, but ultimately being turned back each time, we went to attempt the last possible (way out of the way) route. The passengers consisted of me, an Australian, a couple from Belfast, and the driver, also from Belfast. The locals made comments upon seeing lakes (that apparently weren’t lakes the day before) and rushing rivers (ditto) like, “That’s scary.” Although I originally expected to be at the hostel around 5pm, I got there – tired, hungry, cold, and emotionally drained – at 10pm.
Everything was closed, so I had to fix dinner from my emergency rations – powdered lentil soup – and it was every bit as bad as it sounds. I got about 1/4 cup through and could bear no more. Budget travel through Europe could be the hot new diet you’ve been looking for!!!
Speaking of which, I am DYING for a salad. I haven’t seen a healthy looking or desirable vegetable in two weeks. What I wouldn’t do for one of those giant Olive Garden salad bowls (the size intended for the whole table). My kingdom for some iceberg lettuce and Italian dressing…
Anyway, since they owed me one, the Celtic gods smiled and delivered up some glorious sun amidst the rain. I took the Black Taxi political tour, which goes to the Catholic and Protestant sides of town, where you can see the (edited) murals painted by each during The Troubles. Or not. That’s why the ‘edited.’ Apparently what was once a listing of every catholic who died, when, and how old they were, is now an oddball mishmash of pro-Palestinian, pro-Cuba, Picasso’s Guernica, and a whole lot of anti-Bush rhetoric (which is pretty funny.) Regardless, it was a fascinating look into a terrible and somewhat senseless period in Irish history.
Perhaps if you catch me in a different mood, I’ll share my theories on the potential influence of the famous Irish temper. Being the daughter of a full-blooded Irish woman (and  thus, obviously, half-Irish myself), I know of whence I speak! Let’s just say, in the words of Bruce Banner, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…”

Thoughts on the meaning of life (no, seriously) August 8, 2008

Nothing like some geothermal activity to get those deep thoughts churning...

Nothing like some geothermal activity to get those deep thoughts churning...

Indulge me.

So I overslept and threw off my whole grand plan. I borrowed a clock from the girl at the front desk of the guest house last night, and set the alarm for 7:30 a.m. I was going to go for a run, and then pig out at the free (or, more accurately, included in the cost of my stay) continental breakfast, which end at 9:30. As any good budget traveler knows, when you can, get the bulk of your calories for a day at a meal included with the price of lodging. Americans have already ruined their reputation overseas, my eating like an NFL linebacker isn’t likely to further damage our cause. In fact, maybe that can be my “gimmick”?

I had an interesting conversation last night with my somewhat impromptu tour guide, Jon, about the need for a gimmick to rocket me to fame and fortune…or at least assuage some of my ‘how do I carve a new career from more or less nothing?’ and money-related concerns. He mentioned someone he’d heard of who went around the world and would dance – badly – at varying locations (like the Great Wall), which would cause children to spontaneously join in. There’s nothing that gets kids going like crappy dancing…

Anyway, I guess this whole thing was filmed, and somehow a chewing gum company saw it and now this guy is sponsored to go and dance badly on behalf of Big Red or Hubba Bubba or whatever. Gimmick = fun, well-paid career.

For a while, we pondered my options. Sadly, “it’s all been done before.” (Where is my damn rubber band!? The lack thinking has snuck back in with a vengeance. Actually, I switched over to a hair band and it was in my hair at the moment). Admitting that it’s a sorry shame the market for bad dancing is gone (because I have no rhythm and zero groove naturally), some of my ideas were:

  1. Erroneous fortune telling
  2. Unwanted recipe giving
  3. Wildly inaccurate directions
  4. Completely fabricated palm reading (which probably isn’t any different from ‘real’ palm reading)

So back to this morning, after sleeping through the alarm (I tested it last night, and it was so quiet as to be subtle – not exactly a top feature in a wake up call), I skipped the run (with plans to go this afternoon) and went straight to the eating. Then I came back up to my room and decided to get some stuff done. Like bills.

Oh bills. Oh cruel, relentless, clearly mating and multiplying like rabbits bills. How you stop my heart and send my brain careening into visions of pain and suffering. The mere sight of your numbers brings a tear to my eye…all in direct conflict to one of the key points of this journey (both in the immediate backpacking Europe sense and in the grander ‘life journey’ perspective): To learn to trust the universe and ‘allow’ abundance to come to me.

Does this make me sound like a New Age crackpot destined for a hard fall? To my own ears, it does. But on the other hand (and not a plug for the truly revolting new X Files movie. If you enjoy the “Saw’ and ‘Hostel’ movies – neither of which I have actually watched, but the trailers make it pretty damn clear what you’re in for – then by all means, run, do not walk to the new X Files movie. If not, then DO NOT GO. Sick, sick stuff), I want to believe. I truly want to believe it’s possible.

And why not? What makes any of us ‘better than’ or more deserving or more talented than the others? I have my charms. I can be damned interesting and entertaining when I put my mind to it. I make an excellent statistic. To quote Ani D., “Someone should study me now. Someone’s got to be interested in what I feel, just because I’m here, and I’m real.”

So in that sense, why the hell do I need a gimmick? Can my gimmick be being me? Does David Sedaris have a gimmick? What was the Eat, Pray, Love lady’s gimmick? Nothing against gimmicks, it just kind of flies in the face of my whole point, which is just kind of being authentic and in the moment and trying not to anticipate doom and gloom around every corner.

Which, at long last, brings me to the point and the title of this blog: I’m paying bills and putting into practice what I learned during my workshop with Judy – pay everything off (to not do so implies lack; that you can’t or need to hoard), be grateful for bills, be grateful for the opportunity to pay, etc. – and experiencing sheer panic at the same time. I become aware of my mind racing and freaking out and scheming all kinds of worst case scenario back up plans like sleeping on trains every night, like I did when I was 19.

So I stopped in my tracks and resumed my positive thinking and affirmations and wondered if I was a total jackass for believing that if I simply had faith that things would work out well, and continued with my writing, and was authentic and real and genuine and simply me, and ‘allowed it’, the universe would dump good stuff into my lap? And then I did a little internet research and read a few thingsand decided yes. Who’s to say it doesn’t work this way?

So in that spirit – the spirit of watching your thoughts and trying to bolster your confidence and faith as much as possible – I thought I’d share the following, “According to The Holographic Universe by the late Michael Talbot; University of London physicist David Bohm, a protégé of Einstein and one of the world’s most respected quantum physicists, has admitted in private conversation to believing the Universe is all “thought” and reality exist only in what we think.”

Quantum Physicist Dr. Fred Alan Wolf states; “I’m not talking…from the point of view of wishful thinking or imaginary craziness. I’m talking…from a deeper, basic understanding….Quantum physics says…you can’t have a Universe without mind entering into it…mind is actually shaping the very thing that is being perceived.”

Although it should be noted that this is just one interpretation of the evidence and isn’t the conclusion of all physicists, the compelling evidence still exists that the only time electrons and other “quanta” (plural of quantum) manifest as particles is when they are being observed by someone. Otherwise, they behave as waves.

And so there, in addition to some generally trippy and eye-opening ideas, we have the insight into not one, but two mysteries of the universe: a philosophical question and a Buddhist koan. Does thinking it make it so? Seems plausible. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? No.


On second thought, maybe naming it ‘Iceland’ wasn’t all that deceptive? August 7, 2008

Boiling pool of Icelandic mud

Boiling pool of Icelandic mud

I’m here, and I have the freezing cold feet and frizzy hair to prove it. It’s almost 12:30 a.m., and having failed to enlist anyone on either U.S. coast (where it’s 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., respectively) in an e-mail conversation, I realize I’m sleepy. I should probably ride that wave, but in the interest of a quick post, I’ll share my first impressions:

1. Colder and wetter than I anticipated. I bet they make a killing on those handmade wool sweaters…

2. Despite my best efforts on neutral clothing, the second I open my mouth I am branded “American girl” – but not in a mean way or anything. In fact, the man who rang me up at the little grocery seemed positively delighted that I was from “the States.”

3. Somehow it’s so very European here. Every nook and cranny. It’s hard to explain, but if I were kidnapped and drugged and came to in this strange place (and said strange place happened to beReyjavik), I have no doubt I would know it was Europe somewhere (not that that’s a terribly specific insight). It almost has its own smell.

4. Forget Southern California, if you’re looking for blondes, this is your mecca.


If my chiropractor could see me now… August 6, 2008

He’d probably tackle me to the ground while delivering a long and powerful sermon on the dangers of carrying 1/3 of your body weight on your back. Admittedly, I’m no fan of it either – I’ve had no less than two bad dreams in preparation – but what are you gonna do?

I got the whole mess down to about 38 or 39 pounds…and unfortunately at least ten pounds of that is books. Trust me, if I thought I could do without I’d dump them, but when the bulk of your plan for three months is to wander and wing it through Europe, leaving your Let’s Go! Western Europe, Let’s Go! Eastern Europe, and Thomas Cook Summer 2008 train schedules behind seems foolish, if not plain old dumb. The fourth book is on freelance travel writing, which is probably more wishful thinking than anything. However, seeing as I’m unemployed now, money is definitely an object. I’m feeling a bit edgy about the fact that the dollar is worth more as a piece of note paper or a napkin in Europe right now.

In other news, having turned in my company car, computer, and Blackberry last Friday (an unlike a lot of people saddled with a BB for by their job, I LOVED mine and will miss it), I am low on technogadgets and adapting to my mini-computer, the ASUS EEE. I’m not sure how they arrived at this particular name, but phonetically (in my mind) it sounds like Ass Us EEEEEEEEEEEE. Not a good name. Thus, owing to my habit of naming inanimate objects, allow me to freestyle my way to a more fitting moniker for my companion. Insouciant, Assisi, St. Francis of Assisi, Frank, Sous, Susie. I’m liking Susie. Susie it is! Welcome to our solo backpacking trip, Susie. I promise not to paint a face on you with my own blood. Hopefully.

Anyway, the keyboard is crazy tiny and has a few funky elements (where right side shift key should be is page up, there’s some key combo Ive hit twice that wipes out the last sentence you wrote and replaces it with a $1 – TOTAL DIGRESSION: what is that were true!? Every sentence I wrote gave me a dollar!? Or better yet, a pound or euro? Seriously though, I like that. In my newly jobless gypsy state, I’m taking it as a good sign – back to the learning curve: need to hit the function key to get an asterisk, etc. On the good news side of the coin, but for my two bandaged middle fingers (paper cut and weird cuticle peeling thing only my dad and I seem to struggle with), I have small hands and with some practice, I think I’ll be able to pull this typing business off pretty fluidly.

No one, not even the rain, has such small hands…