Archive for the ‘past glances’ Category
Going through old emails is a fun jaunt into the past. You never realize quite how much you’ve grown until you’re looking back several years in your inbox.
I dug up a few emails from July/August 2006, when I took a trip to Switzerland with one of my best friends to visit her aunt’s family, who lives in St. Gallen. Comments and excerpts, for nostalgia’s sake:
- The first day we arrived in Switzerland was the first time I tried grappa, a strong Italian drink.
- I noted that the calcium levels in the tap water were very high: “…so it’s good for you, but showers hurt if the levels go unchecked.”
- One of the main things I noted was how much environmental consciousness informed all aspects of daily living:
- Bike lanes are ubiquitous because they discourage driving if you can bike instead. Example: At the train stations, the bike parking area is much closer to the platforms than the car parking spots are.
- Trash bags cost 15 francs (at the time) for 10 bags. This works out to about one US dollar per trash bag, and the only way your trash will be collected is if you use these special bags that are specific to the area you live in. The money you pay for the trash bags covers some of the local government’s cost to pay for the maintenance workers and trash servicemen. People default to recycling if at all possible – it’s just too pricey to throw a lot of garbage out in Switzerland.
- We were told it was typical that most houses aren’t air-conditioned. I wonder if that’s still the case now, or whether it’s changing. It’s also not common to have a refrigerator in a Swiss household; my friend’s aunt had to special order theirs (she grew up in the United States and was used to having a fridge in the kitchen). I found out that fresh eggs don’t need to be kept refrigerated, like we see in most US grocery stores.
- “Beautiful mountains.” (You know I’m a fan.)
- Huge drug problems among the teenagers there. Some public restrooms have blue lighting installed, so that intravenous drug users can’t find their veins to shoot up.
- While in St. Gallen, we slept with the windows open and breakfasted on the terrace. Such idyllic days.
- “The cheese is wonderful, and the Swiss are very proud of their cows, so you see cows wandering everywhere, even across roads. They are sweet and wear cute bells.”
Cows allowed to wander. After I returned from the trip, I summed it up this way: “It was amazing and refreshing and I ate tons of delicious food and took many photos (all while missing the DC heat wave).”
I give thanks that again that long nights, though they’re lonely, are lit by stars and end with suns that climb. And the moon will back me up on this, just look up. - The Microphones, ”Thanksgiving”
In 2010, I’ve had much to be thankful for. At breakfast with my family, we’ve gone over the ones we like to remember each year (if not each day). Friends. Family. Health.
And also: it takes time after traveling to internalize the depth of one’s experiences abroad. Being in a new place makes me want to run around and take it all in completely, pushing myself to be more active – the obvious compression of time makes it feel necessary and of course the air is surged with excitement – and there’s less time for introspection. Most of my thoughts are saved to be written down in the stale air of an airplane or to the rattling of a rail car, but often just lost to time. My memory isn’t so great. So as time passes, there’s the test of what comes back: the sound of screaming cockroaches in a concrete shower, feeling warm and embraced by a roomful of strangers singing along to American songs in Bandung, watching the afternoon rains from a window in Bangkok.
My addition to my list of thanks in 2010 is this: Recognizing that I am one of many living in a world that does not deal evenly with all people, and yet it is no reason to lose faith that it gets better. I’ve seen a little more of the world: cried in a bedroom on an island far from home, made friends abroad who have loved unconditionally across oceans and sent their tidings across years, and found utopia in the most inconspicuous places.
Working full-time means any salvaged weekday energy goes towards the anticipation of weekends. You think, This is going to be the best weekend ever! and it usually is, each time.
New jobs mean exhausting oneself fully trying to get caught up — “learning the ropes” is a complicated process depicted fairly well by the phrase — and learning the value of sleep. With sleep taking precedence over going out, you think to yourself, It’s inevitable. I’m aging just as quickly as the others. (I’m past this part, even coherent and somewhat social on weekday evenings now.) My roommate just started her new job, so she’s still in the stage of collapsing into a puddle of tired by sundown.
Moving house means investing lots of time and energy into getting your basics set up. For me, this includes Internet. Why does Verizon think it’s acceptable to have so much of their support lines automated? Can you havepeople answer your phones, Verizon? It takes me through an aggravating maze of prompts, advertising, and hold music before getting through to a real person. Every single time I’ve had to call. Which has been many many times, because the information they give you is confusing and incomplete, and in the end they didn’t show up for their appointment (which had a time frame of ”between 8am and 5pm”). OK, /rainy day rant.
I recently read a prediction that public libraries would be facing the same plummet as newspapers and other printed media: shuttering more doors and leaving a gaping hole in freely available resources to the community. Is this a valid concern? Libraries play an essential role in cultural preservation, and even with the digitization of printed sources, they may be losing ground. I wish I had some stats here, to gauge how worried I should be. But by no means is a copy an absolute replacement of the original.
From Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (required reading in any critical theory course),
Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership.
Am I the only one, or did your elementary school (or middle or high school) librarian also tell you that it was no longer a library but a media lab? That memory blipped back into my consciousness a moment ago. I like print media and some things deserve preservation. Which things? That’s tougher to say. More questions than answers here.
Consider the guidelines used to designate UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. Pages upon pages of characteristics based on the type of site, but they’re necessarily general so sites must undergo a nomination process. The driving purpose states, “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations,” and so: “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” Preservation of sites such as these is important because the World Heritage sites are seen as interconnected to the lives of all people – a global history. The task of determining what is and isn’t included as “cultural heritage” is too specific to each culture to accurately represent the collective landscapes of the world. There are overlaps and missed spaces. Are there peoples that participate any less than others in history?
The GW English Department, the coolest kids in school.
“Sticky Words” project, a selection of beloved quotes by students and faculty.
I noticed this notice on my professor’s office door: “NOTICE: Thank you for noticing this new notice.”
Square 54 in progress by Clark Construction Group.
Overlooking the space between buildings from a window within the Academic Building.
Flying to Paris this coming Friday with my friend Jenna. I’ll be walking those pleasant streets for a week, and this time around I have more a vague wishlist than an itinerary.
1. Visit Père Lachaise Cemetary.
Last time I was in Paris, I was on a three-day trip with a group from my first high school, and we ran out of time to see this. It was a whirlwind tour, practically running between the Louvre and Sacre Coeur and la Tour Eiffel and the Opera Garnier and the palace and gardens of Versailles in the daytime. At night, I recall the usual high school antics in our hotel rooms. And one memorable cruise upon the Seine – Let’s just say a classmate certainly left his mark on the river.
I’m excited about Père Lachaise because many great French writers, philosophers, and leaders are buried there. Imagine there invoking spirits past, amongst them Proust, Bizet, Théodore Géricault, Édith Piaf, Paul Éluard…
But not only the French! The tomb of Oscar Wilde stands in Père Lachaise, though he was Irish. The grave of American poet Gertrude Stein, with her partner Alice Toklas engraved on the reverse side. Jim Morrison too, buried in the city where he died. ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ.
2. Eat a macaron.
This may sound like a dull goal, but I never have, and I figure Paris is the ideal place to have this confection for the first time. WeLoveDC just wrote a post on these, “Is the Macaron the new Cupcake?“, if you’re curious. I am. They’re colorful, hinting at a fun texture with a spectrum of different flavors to try.
3. Take some 5 year photo reshoots.
My previous visit was in spring 2005, so it will be almost five years exactly when I return. I’ll do my best to see some of the same places to record differences in scenery, personal sentiment, and my relationship to the urban landscape.
I was in high school then, I’m almost a college graduate now. We’ll see if I’ve grown up any.
4. See a concert.
Something intimate and not too expensive if possible, since my budget only amounts to pennies (or euro-coins?) by Parisian standards.
Not picky about the music. I’d say in this case, atmosphere trumps all else. Recommendations?
5. Try out the Paris Vélib’ bike sharing system. As long as you return the bike to another station (and there are many) within half an hour, you can ride as many times as you want for a Euro a day… it looks like a great way to get around.
I’m comfortable with cycling through 16th Street during DC rush hour, so hopefully I won’t die. And if I do, I wonder how one goes about being buried in Père Lachaise…
If you’ve been to Paris, what stands out as most memorable for you?
The popular gathering-place for social progressives and their ilk, Busboys and Poets, held an unforgettable tribute last night to the late Howard Zinn. Zinn, known widely as the people’s historian for A People’s History of the United States (and all of its incarnations), was an active organizer, an inspiring author, and a voice alongside others at the crucial moments when they needed to be heard. He didn’t pick his battles. He opposed against all injustices, the entire system of war. In his mind, there was no possible justification for it. Zinn wrote of war, “The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain.” As a soldier during WWII, he dropped napalm on a town in France. He was unable to shake that experience – Zinn returned to this small town after the war as a civilian, vowing never again to participate in the killing of innocent civilians.
…the thing is you’d bomb from 30,000 feet. You don’t see what’s happening down there. You don’t see people suffering. You don’t see people burning. You don’t see limbs falling. You just see little flashes in the dark. And you go back, and you’re debriefed and you don’t think about it. And it’s horrifying. [Interview with Brian Lamb]
Howard Zinn died at the age of 87, just a few weeks ago. But sounds and spirits, past and present, filtered through the space of the cafe and bookstore and even outside, to those standing strong in the snow. When Bernice Johnson Reagon (of Sweet Honey in the Rock) called for song, voices of varying shapes and tones rose in a chorus to resurrect the voice of the people. Howard Zinn was a man who lived out of necessity, who knew individuals everywhere were being stripped of their basic rights and dignity. Many voices of resistance were born and first taught of triumph through his work.
Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.
Extended observations on the state of our reading, by Sam Anderson:
“Bolaño’s relationship to narrative grew organically out of his many years as a poet, but it resonates nicely with our new habits of web-inflected incremental reading. We are increasingly fluent in (to quote 2666) “images with no handhold, images freighted with all the orphanhood in the world, fragments, fragments.”
This also reminds me that I intend to read some Bolaño this year. His books have been personally recommended enough times now for me to act. Persistence is key with a memory like mine, heh. Martin Amis is another author that has been suggested to me multiple times, so I’ll make time to read more of his work soon. My first read of the year, however, will be the short novels in Kenzaburō Ōe’s Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (another recommendation from a friend).
End of 2009 reads were Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, David Benioff’s City of Thieves, and J.M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K. All three are quick, compelling reads.
I’d say 2009 was a good year for my blog – the first complete year of blogging, and I kept with it fairly well. I found that writing a blog is easy: it’s all about showing up. And I am sure that 2010 brings glad tidings. Bonne année, с новым годом, 새해 복 많이 받으세요!
We return from our travels, edges and everyday stresses worn smooth by foreign sands, dressed down in a weary sort of fulfillment. We come bearing gifts: postcards and photos and scarves. A souvenir, we say, but these objects… pour souvenir… keep their meanings hid to one.
Our friends want the stories instead, the laughs and blank looks that came with the language difference, the reason that shot’s blurred. They want to feel the presence of the teenagers that trailed for a few too many blocks in the wild of the urban night. And how was the food, they ask. We try to wrap our words around an entire nation’s cuisine to set the table for them, and the interplay between our home and that place, the yawning divide opening further still – it doesn’t provide a satisfying relay. Again, we’re lost. Again we yearn to venture out, saying to ourselves, yes, an understanding’s possible but I simply need more time…
Over a year into this blog now, and have I learned anything yet?
In short, yes.
I’ve learned over and over again that success is about showing up. Commit to writing regularly on whatever schedule works for you… mine isn’t even a set time of day or week, though I try to spread them out rather than having bursts of posts followed by a silence. Start writing a post even when your thoughts are half-developed. Having the initial start will prompt you to follow up with research and some deeper analysis. If you’re anything like me, you’ll not want to abandon an entry once it’s there as a draft. Psychologists study the much greater value that people attach to an item they own, known as the “endowment effect” or “status quo bias”, and I think that’s applicable here. To “delete” is so hard. (I often think the Internet has made it so easy to “save” content for yourself online that it has contributed to pack-ratting in new forms. Digg, I’m looking at you. But not only at you.)
Fresh content is important, but make sure it’s not a continuous rehashing of what’s already been said. When re-posting an article or blog post, insert your opinion or take on it. Your readers are following your blog because they value your perspective. Or they mistook you for that other guy.
Also, it’s the Internet, possibilities are wide open, but don’t try to do everything. I’m often guilty – I want to write about everything that catches my interest, which is a lot.
I’m starting to look at stats such as search engine terms to find which posts are bringing in traffic, and it’s primarily the ones related to writers and literature. Take for example my post from 5 months ago on Art Spiegelman’s Maus talk, which is still bringing in new visitors almost daily. Maybe this will help me find my own focus. Since I do spend a lot of my free time reading (and writing about English lit at university), I should set a goal to post more book reviews and analysis.
Although my readership and blog engagement is still getting off the ground, I’m working on being a better blog citizen. I’ve been following many many blogs – you should see my Google Reader, I can’t ever keep up – and I’m now setting a goal to take more time to comment on others’. Bloggers value your input much more than you think. Hint, hint.
This all being said, here’s to the start of another school year for me, and continued blogging for any readers out there in the inter-web-space.