Though not as scathing as said blonde bombshell, The Step Ahead Unit Five book is fairly unforgiving towards the waist-belt challenged baseball players featured above. The texts used at my school, many of which were written by Canadians, offer curious (and often outdated) outlooks of America, not to mention the country and people of Mexico, which my students are taught is a wild place that most recently introduced the world to H1N1. One of my other storybooks features a character study of a young American named Chris Jacobson who comes from Connecticut, has recently received a brand new SUV, goes home after school to play rather than study and lives in a house that rivals the presidential estate here in Taipei. Now I’m not saying that America doesn’t have its indulgences but that this particular book chooses to show America from the view of the tiny state of Connecticut, which many refer to as a large suburb of New York City, is a bit misleading to these gullible young souls who already think that American food revolves around three ingredients: meat, ketchup, and bun.
It could be the writers of our material are simply having fun with their power over these young minds. Still I am constantly encountering examples of America getting a bad name. There will be more to come I’m sure.
Sad news from Stateside. John Hughes, the once legendary filmmaker of 1980s teenage angst comedies, is dead. Damn. Just look at this lineup up of classics that he either wrote, directed or both: National Lampoon’s Vacation; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; The Breakfast Club; Uncle Buck; Home Alone; Sixteen Candles; Pretty in Pink; and the great, great Holiday Travel comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles. If you come from the Northshore suburbs of Chicago he is also a bit of a local legend, having filmed many of his greats in our backyard. This youtube fan montage pretty much sums it up.
So when I originally set up this blog, going back to my Eastern Europe romp in the summer of 07, I figured it would be a place to share my experiences with family and friends, maybe test my hands at light Travel Writing. I have always enjoyed writing the entries and find that the logs as a whole create quite the narrative. I also tend to write a lot more on a computer than in my actual print journal I keep.
So it’s been a while since I last posted. Lately I’ve been keeping busy trying to write and make some money. I started writing for a Chicago website, reelchicago.com, which serves as a trade webzine for the Chicago film industry I’ve been trying to write at least one piece a week for them and am hoping that the site will help jumpstart some future writing gigs in the same field.
Since website writing jobs don’t pay that well I have also been working a couple night a week at a French Vietnamese restaurant (yeah I wasn’t sure what that was either) on Chicago’s ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood (check it out here: (http://www.lecolonialchicago.com/ ). The money is pretty solid which is nice cause I’ve been able to completely re-save what I spent over in Europe and continue to pay off some student loans etc. Plus we get a nice number of celebrities showing up to dine on spring rolls etc. So far I served Ben Harper’s drummer and keyboardist, and most recently Joe Montana made a presence. Remember Joe Montana?
I’ve been apartment hunting since the commute downtown is a bitch and I’m ready to get out of the suburbs. The Northside of the city seems like the best fit and is fairly cheap. Other than that I’ve been absorbing a lot of music, I’ve been getting into the new Ken Burns “War” series on PBS, I’ve been dreaming up another trip (South America seems to be beckoning me more and more), and I’ve been reading a lot–last good books, “The Places In Between,” “Learning How to Die” (a book on the band wilco), and more 33 1/3 books (currently the one on Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation).
I’ve also been trying to sort through the roughly 4000 photos I took this summer in Europe. Ugh. Below are a couple ones that stood out in my mind.
I’m back in the routine of life after college. Trying to make some money, trying to figure out my life, you know, the usual.
This is a shot inside Istanbul’s stunning Egyptian Spice market. Being in a country that is 99% Muslim is a very different experience. Turkey may be the one country I miss the most and hope to see again.
So this photo was taken in Kilkenny, Ireland. Prior to this photo these two junior street thugs had walked into a local tourist shop and walked away with these two football jerseys, without a care in the world. Thieving buggers. Anyway, they took quite an interest in Paul and I and were happy to pose for the camera. If you’ve ever seen the film “Snatch” these kids were like Irish pikeys–mangling the English language with every word out of their mouths.
Mostar, Bosnia (actually in Herzogovina) is another place that is dazzling to the eye, well at least half of the city that is. Mostar was devastated by the war with the famous stari Most bridge being completely destroyed (it was rebuilt in 2004). I was only here for half a day which was enough to see the city but I could have easily spent more time exploring the area. Another beautiful, often overlooked part of Europe.
This is a cool piece of the Eastside Gallery, which is the last remaining stretch of the Berlin wall. A couple years back a number of artists from around the globe painted portions of the wall. Unfortunately few remain in tact since the sands of time are unforgiving to street art.
I’ll be posting more soon. I hope to start updating the site with more music and film pieces and as I sort through more of the photos I’ll post those as well.
Lisbon blew me away. I didn’t really know what to expect heading down south to Portugal’s capital. I had heard mixed things from the past (Paul in fact had a pretty bizarre experience during his Lisbon trip two years ago involving a drugged out crazy who chased he and two of our friends down a crowded street in the middle of the day) and wasn’t sure how it would compare to where I was coming from in Northern Portugal. The city was not only extremely different from anything else in Portugal (this makes sense since it is the capital and draws the most diverse crowd) but also radically different from any other place on this trip or in neighboring Spain.
I arrived by bus and immediately met two nice Dutch travelers, Janika and Clemens, who I met at the Metro station. We shared a train ride to one of the central stations and decided to meet up later in the evening for some drinks and dinner. Clemens knew a local Lisbonite from the Netherlands, Jao, and he ended up showing us around the city and taking us to an authentic Lisbon restaurant. I’ve learned from previous cities that hole-in-the-wall restaurants without trilingual tourist menus, that are predominately occupied by locals are the places to be. I had a grilled squid dish that Jao recommended, accompanied by a local red wine.
Lisbon is larger and definitely more intricate and confusing than I had anticipated. To start, the city is built on a series of steep hills very similar to what I would imagine San Francisco is like (there are also trolley cars at every turn which furthers my comparison to San Fran). Since it is fairly far south and a port city the sun is brutal and mere 30-minute walk along the river will turn your neck lobster color if you’re not careful. This said, the city is full of beautiful sights at every turn and is a great place to wander and get lost. On a number of occasions I put the map away, headed north or south (hard to say), and hiked around till I either was truly lost or I hit a beautiful overlook of the city or river.
Since the Portuguese empire once had reaches all over the world, not just Brazil, the city of Lisbon is also one of the most diverse cities I’ve been to. Local Portuguese make up the majority, followed by immigrants from Brazil, Angola and other former colonies such as East Timor, Macau, Guinea, and Mozambique. I learned from Jao that for the most part the Portuguese welcome most immigrants from former colonies since they take many of the undesirable jobs, however, there is an overall contempt for the Roma (gypsies) coming from Eastern Europe via lackluster Spanish border. Since the recent Orange Revolution in the Ukraine there has also been a surge of Ukrainian immigrants coming to Lisbon, which, according to Jao, has raised fear and questioning from locals since unlike the other immigrants in the city Ukrainians often come educated and ultimately take the more desirable jobs. I am very interested in Diasporas and waves of migrations. It’s fascinating that of all the European countries Portugal becomes a Ukrainian hot spot or how in the Netherlands, hands down the most liberal country in the world there are large populations of Moroccans (a predominantly Muslim country hardly known for its liberalism) and finally take the city of Chicago, which at one point had more Poles than the Polish capital of Warsaw. Fascinating stuff.
Back to some sights. Lisbon’s highlights include its Praca de Comercio, which are the main gates of the city via the industrial ports (see below), the Lisbon Castle, the Torre de Belem (also seen below), and a replica of the Cristo-Rei (Christ the King) statue that is situated above Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
One the third day I visited the Oceanario de Lisbon, which has the second largest aquarium in the world. Since it had been years since I had last been to the Shed Aquarium in Chicago this was a bit of a treat to see. The third night I ended up meeting with Jao, Janika and Clemens again for drinks at some of the bars on Lisbon’s main nightlife hot spot. In Lisbon it is very common for people to drink in the streets, rather than inside the actual bars. Basically at around 2-4a.m. the streets of certain neighborhoods are flooded with people holding plastic cups of beer or mixed drinks making the area one big bar. Very cool to see. For you Indiana grads imagine if Kirkwood had no limitations on taking beverages outside and everyone walked around the street with a drink in hand. Very cool experience overall and one that I probably wouldn’t have taken part in had I not met my new friends.
On the fourth day I took a daytrip to the mystical city of Sintra, which is about 45 minutes outside of Lisbon by train. The city is known for its Moorish castle, vast forest and national park range, and a majestic mansion estate constructed by a Portuguese millionaire that makes Michael Jackson’s neverland ranch seem like a local carnival. The area is also known for its heavy fog, which I got to see firsthand. Almost once every day the fog rolls in from the coast covering the forest and castles around Sintra. It’s a sight to see but also covers much of what there is to see. I met three Brazilian girls from Sao Paulo who had been studying in Southern Spain and were in Lisbon for the weekend. We ended up spending the whole day together, which was nice, and they definitely talked highly about Brazil putting the country on my current “Must See Before I Die List.”
The night I returned from Sintra I met up with Jao, Janika and Clemens once more before Janika and Clemens headed to Spain. We had a nice dinner (I had the Bacalao, which is salted codfish, a staple food item on the Iberian peninsula) and ended up walking around the city at night taking in the nocturnal scenery. The next day I had to switch hostels since the one I was at could only have me for three nights. I ended up finding one for the same place closer to the main part of the city (might I add the new hostel also had nicer rooms and free breakfast including fresh baked homemade bread, a first for my hostel experience!). During the day I headed to the Lisbon “suburb” neighborhood of Belem, which was a 20minute tram ride away from the center. Belem is home to the Torre de Belem, featured above in the photo but also has a great archaeology museum and is famous for the pastel de belem, a doughnut like pastry sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Again, the Portuguese are suckers for pastries. Frankly I find most of them to be too sweet but still pretty tasty.
Later in the evening I met up with Pedro Dias, a local Lisbonite who Stephanie got me in touch with while we were in Turkey. Pedro is also a major player in the international Judo scene and is currently in the top 5 in Europe. I met Pedro in the Praca de comercio and we got something to eat and then went to a cool boardwalk area under one of the main bridges that is another youth hot spot. The bar was pretty cool since it was full of Portuguese, Brazilians and countless other people from other nations including some Eastern European countries. Again, a very cool experience that I would not have taken part in had I not met Pedro.
On my last day in Lisbon I took a daytrip to Evora, another city about an hour outside the city by bus. Evora is known mainly for its medieval bone church, a small church that is line with human bones on the inside. I had previously been to another far more fascinating bone chapel in Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic two years ago and was interested to see how this one compared. The church in the long run ended up being the least interesting part of the Evora, a city that was full of old cathedrals, beautiful plazas and squares, and a cool little castle. The city of Evora is also another UNESCO world heritage center because of the old medieval architecture, the roman temple ruins, and an aqueduct that bisects the city. Evora was a great final taste of Portugal, the country that I truly saw the most of this trip and truly blew me away.
The next day I caught a flight from Lisbon to Dublin where I had a night layover in the Dublin airport, which is actually a surprisingly nice airport to spend a night in. The area near the car rental places in the Eastern corner of the baggage level has a very comfortable bench to sleep on that is quiet and away from the busier parts of the airport. I’ll go more into this experience in my next entry, which will be a recap of the trip remembering the best parts. I will also finally be posting some photos from my trip!!!
Until next time…