Monday, September 28, 2009

damn that man

I was going through an old journal and found this. I liked the vulgar simplicity of it.

[my blood ran cold
and my stomach clenched
and my heart just packed up
and fucked off
and I thought to myself
'damn that man. damn him']

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lisbon, Portugal

The kingdom of heaven is like a bad road trip.

After two weeks of traveling through Spain, my two best friends and I started our trek to our final destination: Lisbon, Portugal. I had heard and read amazing things about this place. But the day started off wrong from the first hour.

Although we had a set schedule to leave at 8 to avoid traffic, one of my friends decided to take her sweet time. She had taken her sweet time the entire time we were traveling, and I was about to strangle her. We had had a conversation with her the night before, and even though she assured us that she would be ready first thing in the morning; such was not the case.

But she was not the only thing. I lost my passport for five heart stopping minutes. But of course I lost it in my purse. There was a momentary concern over whether or not Lisboa, where we had booked our hotel, was the same thing as Lisbon. And the GPS let us know in a snobby British accent that Lisbon was not three and a half hours away as we had heard, but 6. We got on the road an hour and half later than scheduled. And we hit traffic. And car accidents. The gps took us on the scenic route through towns and even preferred that we off road next to the highway instead of actually being on it. The GPS tried to run us into oceans and off mountains and for most of our trip told us that the road we traveled did not exist. We turned her off after a few hours and some heavy name calling.

Once we got to Portugal there was a 35 dollar toll. When we stopped for gas it took 45 euros, which was about 75 dollars to fill up the car. The food we purchased had a lovely 35 percent tax added onto it. People spoke Portuguese that sounded more like Russian. Once getting into Lisbon the GPS told us our hotel didn’t exist and we spent an hour circling the town.

By the time we reached the hotel, which did indeed exist, we had been driving for nine hours. We were grumpy, discouraged and broke.

That night we trudged out to the historic downtown. Within a few minutes however, we were greeted with some of the most beautiful sights of our entire trip: Portuguese men.

Our spirits lifted somewhat.

We noticed second the weather- it had been miserably hot in Spain. As the sun began to set it was a beautiful, cool 75 degrees. We walked by shaded parks and fountains and beautiful statues. Nearing the historic center the paved roads turned into white mosaic tiles. It was like walking on art.

The architecture was elaborate and dramatic. Entire buildings were covered in tile mosaic, like fine china. Statues of angels and past kings on horseback adorned parks and squares. There were enormous fountains and towering cathedrals. The golden sun was setting behind an ancient monastery nestled into the hills right above the city. The ocean glittered, visible from the streets. Lisbon is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

After walking around for a few hours in awe, investigating museums and palatial structures, streets that seemed virtually unchanged in the past thousand years and antique shops, we settled into a little café on a quaint winding side street. A few meters away a street performer sang requests and painters painted and children danced on the white street.

Surfers from brazil sat behind us and we small talked with them. Next to us, a dignified man in a three piece business suit sat to enjoy a fine dinner and glass of wine alone. He did not attempt to talk to us, and I thought to myself that he had sad eyes.

Half way through our wine and desert a street performer made his way over to us. We requested a song of his choice and he began playing ‘the girl from ipanema’. A few minutes into the song, with sad eyes raised to heaven, the businessman next to us opened his mouth and sang the chorus, moving his head along to the tune.

We gasped.

The two surfers behind us were not to be outdone. They sang along with him. A family of Italians walking by stopped and joined in the melody. Other tourists and shop keepers came out to listen to a real life musical in the middle of Lisbon. I looked at my friends and I think our hearts stopped.

You know those moments in life that you know, while experiencing them- that it is a time you will think about for the rest of your life? So I tried to memorize every moment, every detail and sensation. The smell of the sweet night air. The building adorned with flowers and lights; the guitar chords; the man next to us singing to the stars, the expression on my bestfriends faces…

When they finished, we burst into applause. The business man paid for his dinner and left. The Italian family continued down the street. The surfers went back to their meal, the performer on to another group. We walked back to our hotel in a daze.

It is one of the most beautiful memories I have.

And perhaps Lisbon was so sweet because the way there was so terrible. And perhaps heaven is a little like Lisbon. I don’t think of heaven much, it starts a lot of controversy down here and all. But when we were in the middle of our fairy tale song, none of us were still thinking about the car ride. None of us cared about the toll or the tax or the gas. None of us were still fuming about driving or sleeping or being late. We were so grateful to be in the present that the past was only a brushed away memory. St. Theresa, a woman much accustomed to suffering, said that life would only be like a bad nite in a hotel once we reach heaven. life is like a road. Sometimes the drive is wonderful, music is great, you are sitting next to someone you love. And sometimes the car breaks down, accidents happen, and we lose our faith, our trust in God. But no matter the road we take, our destination is the same. We don’t know heaven, but God does. And so when we cry out for justice in the present, he knows it will come to everyone in the future. When we suffer, he knows how all of it will be erased, he knows and is the destination for everyone. God did not promise an easy life, Christs road was lonely and bloody. We don’t have a God immune to our suffering, we have one that entered into it. We have one that will ride with us, remind us of the importance of being the justice, the kindness, the answer to prayer the people around us are asking God for.

So when on the road, remember the destination.

Friday, September 4, 2009

European Story Snapshots: Madrid, Spain

Giena and I are languishing on a quaint side street in Madrid, Spain. It is 100 degress, or at least, it feels that way. The winding road has beautiful cobblestones and white shop fronts. The street is mostly empty; it being siesta. Spain shuts down between 1-ish and five-ish for food and sleep. This is highly inconvenient to Geina and I since we did not leave our hostel until 1:30. We managed to find an Asian store, “my people!” Geina declares triumphantly, that sells pure junk. I pick up a fanny pack. Geina drags me outside to question my sanity.

Pro: my wallet was pick pocketed within an hour of being in Spain. I feel confident of not losing and/or something being stolen which is strapped to my body.

Additional pro: great fanny jokes.

Con: rather hideous, fashion wise


Pro: rather awesome, fashion wise.

While going over the practical and emotional ramifications of such a purchase, a stunning African woman walks by.

She stands out especially because there are very few minorities in Madrid. I have noticed in European travels that cities along the coast support varied ethnicities. Futher inland, cities and entire countries have the same skin color, as well as similar facial constructs. Spanish women are elvish, to my surprise. They have rather sharp faces; more handsome than pretty.

This woman’s white flowing dress and hair wrap glows against her dark skin. She is older, perhaps in her forties. Her face is smooth and broad, accentuated by dramatic black liner and red lips. She floats through the Spanish street.

“Giena,” I whisper, “how do you tell someone they are beautiful in Spanish?”

Geina pauses. “Tu es bonita?”

The woman notices us looking at her and smiles grandly. She runs her eyes over us. We stand out just as much as she.

Geina is half Scottish and Korean. She has the large, almond Asian eyes combined with dark auburn hair and freckles. She is beautiful in any culture, any country. While most Americans have always spotted me as Irish for the red hair and freckles- Europeans are not fooled. During my first trip to Europe I had to admit and embrace my mothers Germanic heritage. My face is the exact opposite of the Spanish women; broad and angular. My hair is red and blonde, two colors not at all popular or natural to Spanish women.

“Spanish men will either find you very beautiful, or very ugly,” our first hostel employee tells me, “you look different.”

About thirty meters away she stops and shouts something to us in Creole. I speak rudimentary French and understand she is trying to tell us she thinks we are beautiful. Giena shouts “Tu es bonita!’ at the same time I say “Tu es tres belle!”

The woman and her companions laugh. Shop keepers and tourists come out to see what all the shouting is about.

“Beautiful girls,’ she calls in a heavy french accent, continuing her walk down the street.

Geina turns to me, “I want to live in Madrid.”

“I want to look like her.”

Geina and I grin at each other. There is something magical about being in another country, yelling compliments across cobblestones.

We decide to get the fanny pack. While we doubt the gorgeous woman would wear such a thing, the jokes are just too good to pass up.

We transfer all of the things from our purse into my fanny.

(Hee hee hee)

I am on a balcony at my hostel, smoking cigarettes with a fellow traveler. The balcony is barely that- it is more like a fenced in ledge. We have about five inches to lean over the railing and look at the busy Madrid street. There are diamond shaped blue tarps criss-crossed over the busy avenues, about forty feet below us, to shade people from the sun during the day. I have never seen such contraptions, but they prove to be both beautiful and useful. It is about 11 oclock, and the sun has just set. The tourists from earlier are slowly being replaced by locals and younger travelers eager to experience the famed Madrid night life. My tourist book says people from Madrid are the only ones that can say New York and Paris was boring with a straight face.

My hostel room mate is a pretty, curvy girl from London. She has a delightfully thick English accent erring more on the side of cockney than upper class posh. Geina and I are trying to get her to come out with us, but she is recovering from heavy partying with a group of Australians from the night before.

On the stone paved street below we watch two police officers sitting on the hood of their car.

“What do you suppose they are waiting for?” She asks, blowing smoke.

"Geina and I.” I respond.

She looks at me wide-eyed. “You’re kidding?”

“Nope. I went out earlier to grab some food and they were leaving the building when I was coming back in. They asked if I was going dancing later and I told them yes, with a friend. They offered to escort us for the night.”

“You’re going out with bobby’s? Are they old?”

“Nope, only a few years older than us. One of them has great tattoos. I figured it was the best way to keep Geina from getting in trouble. She is a handful.”

“Lovely girl, that one.”

“And she knows it. What do you do in London?”

“Oh, God. I don’t want to tell you!” She exclaims, lighting another cigarette. “It’s so terrible.”


“Worse. Teacher.”

“What do you teach?” I ask.

She takes on a pained expression.

“It’s too awful.”

“Math? Science?” I prod.

She turns to me, biting her lip.

“Spanish, I teach Spanish.”

“What’s so bad about that? Spain must be a great vacation for you.”

She shakes her head, her blonde hair floating in the wind. She sighs, lifting her expressive blue eyes. “I’m here because I am total shit at Spanish. I don’t really know it. The students are better than me.”

“Wait, what? You teach Spanish and you don’t know it?”

“I know, I know,” she says mournfully, “I know French but to get the job I had to teach two languages. So I told them I knew Spanish. But I'm shit at it. The students are onto me. They know I don’t really know it. So I figured I would spend a few weeks in Spain before I go back to work.”

“Is it helping?”

She shrugs. “I should have found Spanish blokes to party with, but Australians are just so fun.”

“Understandable.” I put out my cigarette on the ledge. The cops below get into their car and drive away. “Darn.”

She grabs my hand and I turn to her. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone about the Spanish thing. It’s so embarassing.”

“I promise.”