Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Making Someone's Day

24.04.04 Plitvice National Park
I don't know which is more enormous: Plitvice's magnificence or its surface area. These 16 lakes contain thousands of big waterfalls and little waterfalls and in-between waterfalls, all of which are burgeoning with water and gushing over bridges and walkways. It's been raining all day, which explains why all these waterfalls are overflowing. Most tourists are indoors to keep their feet dry. It's a bit lonely poking around the park, but it's also peaceful. It's just me, the waterfalls and the rain.

The path I'm following curves, and I see a group of Asian tourists. Eight or nine pose for a picture as the designated picture taker prepares to take a shot.

Then they see me.

The whole group starts shouting with glee. They are all shouting in a language I don't speak. To my anglophone ears, it sounds lke "YAY YAY YAY YAY YAY!!!" I understand. Of course I will take a photo of the whole group. They don't even have to ask.

I snap two shots, each bringing more ecstatic shouts from the crowd. As I walk to hand back the camera to its owner, everyone starts applauding. The group parts as I walk through to continue on my way. "Thank you! Thank you!" every single one of them says. There is still a lot of that YAY YAY YAY YAY YAY going on, too. Everyone is laughing and so so happy, including me.

That silly expression 'to feel like a million bucks' suddenly makes sense to me. I just made 10 people's day, all at once. All I did was take a picture. What a great feeling.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On Finding a Hostel

24.04.09: Split
I'm excited for Split. Change of place, change of scenery. It's the country's second-largest city and is the home of some magnificent palace ruins. I just need to dump my backpack at a hostel, and I'm off to explore.

But the hostel is full. So is the next one. Hostel three is closed. As is hostel four, but the cleaning lady helps me out. After she makes a phone call and she and I have a bit of a confused English/Croatian convo, I gather that I can go to hostel five, where Mario should meet me in a few minutes.

An hour and a half has passed since I first started on this hostel-seeking journey. My pack is feeling heavier. My bottom lip is feeling poutier. I am officially grumpy.

Some hostels are closed because it's off-season. Which is exactly why nothing should be full. Who are all these people sleeping in hostel beds that are rightfully mine?

Hostel five does have a bed for me. I check in with three girls wearing matching purple hoodies with BUMMITS plastered across their fronts. It must be these bummits who have infiltrated the Split hostels.

They have accents. British ones. Right now I really cannot stand to have a conversation with people who sound like they have gobs of Bubblicious jammed in their cheeks. Especially because these people (albeit unknowingly) caused me all this trouble. I throw my backpack next to my bed, lock up my wallet, and bolt from the hostel. I am sick of hostels and people and everything.

As soon as I'm back on the street, bummit and backpack free, I instantly feel better. This whole thing has been a huge hassle, but it's over now. I have a place to sleep tonight. I survived. Big sigh of relief.

Now I can do what I came here to do. I explore Split and mostly forget about the first two miserable hours I spent there.

On Traveling Alone

20.04.09: Bus from Dubrovnik to Gradac
Alongside me stretches a sea that fades from green to blue and back to green again. Orange-tiled rooftops and gardens speckle the hilly landscape. If I weren't on a moving bus, I would get out my camera. Instead, I take a mental picture to remember.

Some would say it's a pity that I don't have a companion to share this moment with. Some would say traveling alone is the only way to go. I've only been a solo travler for a few days, so I'm not able to say. I can say that at this very moment, as the bus rounds another curve to reveal a landscape that is more photogenic than the last, I don't mind absorbing it in my lonesome. It's pretty, and I don't need someone sitting next to me to tell me so.

But I have a lot going for me right now. The sun is shining. I've just met a couple of nice Canadian girls this morning and am on my way to meet a couchsurfing host. So I have a good level of human interaction for the day. I'm not lost or tired or bored.

The weather could change, my host could never show to pick me up from the bus station, or I could get off at the wrong stop. Any number of these things could do a 180 on my attitude. And that is when I will wish that I had never come to this country alone and think I would have been better off spending my vacation twiddling my thumbs in Paris.

I do not think that right now, so I will not dwell on the thought. I am content to be alone right now. I will revel in the goodness of the moment because I know in a few hours or a few days, I may have the opposite sentiment. Traveling alone has taught me that nothing very good or nothing very bad can last for very long.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Too Good to Eat

On Sunday, I bought these:
Then I made some of these:
Sadly they didn't last more than a few hours. When I woke up the next morning, half of the strawberries were rotten. :-( It's okay. I got lots of chocolate in a package that just arrived from the states, so that makes it all better!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Post About Writing

Sometimes I wonder why I want to be a writer/journalist. Writers make hardly any money, and it's quite a lonely lifestyle. How many hours are spent revising and redrafting and rewhatevering? There are talented people much much better at writing than I am. There are not many jobs for journalists right now. So why do I want to be one?

(Now I shall transition abruptly into a semi-unrelated story. Later I will come back to the first paragraph, the two stories will come together, and it will all make sense.)

I'm writing blurbs for a site about bars and restaurants in Paris. I have to go to these places, snap some photos and ask them silly questions such as "Do you accept all foreign credit cards?", "Do you recommend that people make reservations?", and "What is the average cost of a meal?" Meanwhile I try to ask some interesting questions too, just because I want to know. Such as "Where did you get those funky couches?" and "How did you chose the name of your bar?"

Sometimes the questions have relatively interesting answers: the couches came from Ebay. Sometimes the questions have really interesting answers: before this was a bar, it was a typewriter repair shop. It was one for ages and ages. Here stood the last surviving typewriter repair shop in Paris. We really liked the typewriter theme, but the place was a bit dirty and cramped. So we cleaned it up a bit, and named our bar "typewriter" (Machine à Ecrire in French). Still today, sometimes people will still bring their typewriters to be fixed, because they remembered this place from long ago.

(Now, I begin to get to the point.)

If I had never signed up to write this low-paying Paris bar listing, I would have never gone there and talked to the owner. I would have never asked the question, and he would have never given me the answer.

(Now, I actually get to the point.)

I want to be a journalist because I want to learn things I would not have learned otherwise. I want to make a life out of asking interesting questions and getting interesting answers.

(I just made my point, and there is nothing left for me to say about it.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

I Guess Nerds don't Translate

Last night I was in the company of a couple Europeans and an American. We were sharing car crash stories. I told my sister's story, when she totaled her car while eating a box of jumbo Nerds. Apparently the Nerds flew everywhere at collision. When we went to clean out her car, there were multi-colored nerds scattered high and low. She was embarrassed by the evidence. So we spent a significant amount of time removing every single itty bitty Nerd from the totaled car.

The American thought it was funny. Because it is funny. Say you were working at a garage and you see a totaled car. Then you see rainbow Nerds everywhere inside that car. It is very evident what happened. This person crashed his or her car while eating Nerds. A big box, not one of those dinky fun-sized boxes or two-colored ones. The car crash involved a box of king-sized Nerds. Funny, right?

Well it's not funny if you don't know what Nerds are. If you don't understand how pointless of a candy it is, that Nerds are in fact clumps of dyed sugar. If you don't know that on a box of Nerds, there are pictures of cartooned Nerds rollerskating and skydiving and playing frisbee. If you don't understand that a large box of this candy is such a ridiculous amount of Nerds. I can't explain it. They're Nerds. It's funny.

But it's pointless to try to explain Nerds. It was a lost cause. I'll just have to accept that Nerds are part of my culture, and outsiders will never understand it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Market

Happy Easter everyone! The weather in Paris today is marvelous, so this morning I went to the Bastille Market, even though I had nothing in particular to buy. I made a picture-taking event out of it.

There are tons of photos to be taken at any Paris market. Everything being sold, from the produce to the tablecloths to the fish, is overflowing with color. But it can be too much, too. It's difficult to focus on one thing or person with so many colors getting in the way. So, I experimented with black and white today.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Night Movie

Tonight I saw Nous Resterons sur Terre. After seeing the preview several times over the past couple of weeks, I thought I should be a good citizen of the world and see it.

A literal translation of the title would be "We Will Stay on the Earth," but the English title is "Here to Stay." I thought the movie would make me feel guilty for all the mean things I had done to mother nature. I was expecting it to be a preachy, Al Gore global warming sort of movie.

But instead of a monotone narrator disapprovingly wagging his finger as smoke billows from a factory (as in An Inconvenient Truth. That movie was boring. Also, it sucked), music served as the backdrop to some stunning film shot from all over the world, from Indian to Iceland. One of four scientists/Nobel Peace Prize Winners/really important people would speak briefly between themes to transition to the next one.

The movie showed all sorts of stuff: landscapes, pigs being slaughtered, masses of people spilling onto crosswalks, tomatoes being processed, a deserted and rusted playground. And the music was right on. It always seem to match. For example, if you watch the preview, you'll see a brief clip of some humpback whales who look like they're dancing. This very last scene of the movie was paired with Sigur Rós' "Untitled 1." Gorgeous.

My point is that I learned zero facts and numbers from this movie. I don't know how many fewer trees the planet is missing each year, or how many tons of carbon monoxide are spit into the atmosphere per month. It was combining images with music really did it for me. The directors got their point across to me. They asked me, "What are you going to do when we've used it all up and there's nothing else left?" And I answered, "I don't know."

Friday, April 03, 2009

Père Lachaise at Last

Yesterday morning, I was impatiently tapping my foot and waiting for a late train when I heard this announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen. Due to a signaling problem, there will be no trains departing from this station before noon." I thought the train gods must have been smiling on me. Already at 8:00 a.m., it was shaping up to be a gorgeous day. And there was no way for me to get to work.

I had been waiting for a day such as this one to do a special something in particular. Now that I had a whole sunny day free to do what I pleased, I could finally go to Père Lachaise Cemetery. Pictures below:

Collection for the poor people of Paris. I have never seen one of these before.

Standard photo of tombs, just to give you an idea of what most of them look like.

Steps down into the crematorium.

My favorite crematorium plaque. All the rest were etched with fancy gold script, so this one really stood out.

Do you think those tombs are expensive? Nah, you can probably buy them at Target. Well France doesn't have Target, so Monoprix.

Oscar Wilde's resting place. Forgot my lipstick, so I didn't leave a kiss.

I crept inside someone's monument to take this one. I hope I didn't disturb any ghosts.

There were a few memorials for concentration camp victims. They really gave me the heeby jeebies.

I refuse to post a photo of Jim Morrison's tomb because I spent such a long time looking for it, and it was SO disappointing! If you are so inclined, you can take a virtual tour of the cemetery, and maybe you can see it yourself.