Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just a Few Random Totalitarian Thoughts Inspired by Europe

These recent trips to Europe have made me think a lot about my favorite subject; history. Europe offers endless experiences to indulge in history. It is after all the cradle of modernity, and has the most magnificent history from the Greeks to the Romans, the medieval fiefdoms, and the British Empire. I love any and all forms of history. I love a trip to the ancient city of Bath of the Roman Empire, just as much as I enjoy a good tour around the battlefields of Verdun. However, I enjoy contemporary history above all, which in regards to European history means 19th century onwards.

Since my DGPS trip, I have gone a weird research obsession with Nazi Germany. More specifically Adolph Hitler. I realize this is not something to admit proudly, and I do so only because my studies have all but taken over my life. I find myself immersed in Mein Kampf to truly understand Hitler’s reasons and thoughts, hungry for more information on the Goebbels family, and the inner most life of Eva Braun among other things.

I have across many books and many ideas and generalizations in my research about Adolph Hitler. One such book, which I picked up while studying the bible before my Hitler mania, talked about how even Hitler went to heaven. Is in heaven currently. And after all that reading, I do think that Hitler believed what he was doing was good, as seriously sad, sadistic, and messed up as that may sound. Also, I believe that seriously "misguided" souls like his serve as a reminder of what we are capable of. Though on a another level it has inspired true compassion we all have for humanity and the like.

I read Hitler’s writings and I understand what he says. I see his points and acknowledge the black and white words on the pages. But the generalizations are so biased and not backed up by ay such facts. How he got all of the Germans to follow his into the world’s worst war ever fought is completely behind my ability of understanding.

I watch the news and see Cuba, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia among others.

There are still many non-democracies but will the world see the rise of villainous tyrants again? What I mean are the authoritarian types, probably, our lovely Vladimer Putin for example, but what about near-gods who completely control the destiny of millions or even billions?

Will there be totalitarian giants in the 21st century? The immediate answer that comes to my mind is no. But I wonder if it is because the world is generally more stable than ever before? After all, WWI made the Russian revolution and Hitler possible. And dissolution of western and Japanese imperialism following WWII made Mao and third world revolutions possible. Will there be a great ideology or great struggle that could unite vast numbers of people desperate for change or a more hopeful future in a period of horrific turmoil--one that usually catapults individuals into the heights of power?


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My True Love

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” -Samuel Johnson


I am in love.

Head over heels, drop-dead smitten, had me at "Cheerio," unconditionally and irrevocably in love. I like to say that I left a little piece of my heart in all the places I have traveled to. And while this is the case for most countries, one place holds the key to my whole heart. The city of London.

I tell everyone that I have seen the likes of Sydney, Australia, which has been ranked the best city in the world for 8 years in a row. Been romanced on the charming canals of Venice, Italy, a favorite among most people. Seen wonders and ancient beauty in mysterious Kyoto, Japan. Indulged in the grapes of Burgundy and seen the lights of Paris, France. Indulged in delicious beer and chocolate in Belgium and Germany (can not decide which has better beer and chocolate.) I have now seen the Emerald Isle and all of it’s green spector and chased bagpipes and literary genius in Scotland. I have been to a lot of places around the world by this ripe old age of 20 years old. I realize how fortunate I am and yet, in all of these spectacular place, I truly have one love. London.

I cannot explain this phenomenon. From what I gather, even most Londoners are not too fond of their city. I suppose it is the same for my neighbors at home, who have either a love or hatred for New York City. I love New York, but not to the extent that I love London. There are no words to describe how strongly I love the city. Except that every time I hear someone say London, my heart flutters as a school girl with a little crush.

My love for London is returned to me in a wonderful feeling of being at home. It's an incredible feeling, that warm and tingly sensation of being home. It's a familiarity. It's the ability to know everything about something and still love it (or at least tolerate it.) You can go right into the closet and pull out a jar of strawberry jam and it would not be a problem. It's a comfortable bed and a feeling of safety. It's putting one's feet up in the sofa, a cup of tea with just the right amount of sugar and a crumpet to be washed down. It's comfortable and easy conversation over a big plate of comfort food and a pint of beer. It's home. And for some reason, I feel that way every time I am in London.

In New York, I always feel that the city is mine. It's familiar but it's a different kind of familiar. It's that good friend you have had for a very long time and you probably will have to the end of time. Yet you rarely see New York because they are always doing other things and moving quicker than you can keep up. It's the long conversations that only scratch the surface of the whole character. And after time, you realize you'll never truly know New York because it's too fast-paced and constantly changing for you. But that does not change what a good old pal they are, and how they will always be there for you. Paris is another old friend, but is also that snooty little spoiled kid you grew up with. Always more beautiful, smarter, cultured than you, and sure to tell you at every opportunity. Yet your still good friends with Paris because it amuses you and still has that magic it always has. But Paris is a small doses kind of friend. You still really enjoy spending time with them, but not too excessively. You can not take being with them for too long without feeling insulted by your lack of culture. And then there is London.

I love everything about London as well. I love the terribly gray weather because it brings out the brightest colors in umbrellas and rain boots. I love the bright red mail boxes that bear E R II, for the lovely queen. I love the smell of curry wafting through the streets, mingling only with the fried smell of fried fish. I love how terribly bland British food is, and how delightful and exotic ethnic food is here in this great city. I am obsessed with the Tube stations, “Mind the Gap,” and all the wonderfully elegant names for each station. Picadilly Circus, Leister Square, High Street Kensington, Notting Hill, Paddington. The theater district actually allows you to take food in and eat during the show. Pret a Manger on every street corner. Taxi cabs with more elegance than most cars. The preparation for the Olympics and the scaffolding on almost every building

I love feeling this blend of history and modernity in one city that simply works. New York is modern. Paris is old. London is a combination of the two. A combination that just works. The Tower of London in all of it's majestic ancient beauty has the gherkin building looming in the background and it just works wonderfully. Whereas a view of the Parisian city line with the Eiffel Tower is besmirched by that awful Montparnasse building, which is a complete and utter definition of an eye sore. New York does not have anything old. But London does not just have to be compared to other cities. A stroll down Notting Hill or Kensington brings out a suburb feeling. Hyde, St. James, and Green parks transport you effectively back into a green world.

I'm gushing now as I sit here and talk about London. I am remembering my time spent there and going back to a wonderful moment, that feeling of falling in love for the first time. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just a Few Random Totalitarian Thoughts Inspired by Europe

These recent trips to Europe have made me think a lot about my favorite subject; history. Europe offers endless experiences to indulge in history. It is after all the cradle of modernity, and has the most magnificent history from the Greeks to the Romans, the medieval fiefdoms, and the British Empire. I love any and all forms of history. I love a trip to the ancient city of Bath of the Roman Empire, just as much as I enjoy a good tour around the battlefields of Verdun. However, I enjoy contemporary history above all, which in regards to European history means 19th century onwards.

Since my DGPS trip, I have gone a weird research obsession with Nazi Germany. More specifically Adolph Hitler. I realize this is not something to admit proudly, and I do so only because my studies have all but taken over my life. I find myself immersed in Mein Kampf to truly understand Hitler’s reasons and thoughts, hungry for more information on the Goebbels family, and the inner most life of Eva Braun among other things.

I have across many books and many ideas and generalizations in my research about Adolph Hitler. One such book, which I picked up while studying the bible before my Hitler mania, talked about how even Hitler went to heaven. Is in heaven currently. And after all that reading, I do think that Hitler believed what he was doing was good, as seriously sad, sadistic, and messed up as that may sound. Also, I believe that seriously "misguided" souls like his serve as a reminder of what we are capable of. Though on a another level it has inspired true compassion we all have for humanity and the like.

I read Hitler’s writings and I understand what he says. I see his points and acknowledge the black and white words on the pages. But the generalizations are so biased and not backed up by ay such facts. How he got all of the Germans to follow his into the world’s worst war ever fought is completely behind my ability of understanding.

I watch the news and see Cuba, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia among others.

There are still many non-democracies but will the world see the rise of villainous tyrants again? What I mean are the authoritarian types, probably, our lovely Vladimer Putin for example, but what about near-gods who completely control the destiny of millions or even billions?

Will there be totalitarian giants in the 21st century? The immediate answer that comes to my mind is no. But I wonder if it is because the world is generally more stable than ever before? After all, WWI made the Russian revolution and Hitler possible. And dissolution of western and Japanese imperialism following WWII made Mao and third world revolutions possible. Will there be a great ideology or great struggle that could unite vast numbers of people desperate for change or a more hopeful future in a period of horrific turmoil--one that usually catapults individuals into the heights of power?


Mortality

This is my second trip to Europe this summer. And while I have been to London, my most favorite city in the entire world, once before, it is my first trip to the United Kingdom Isles. But as most would realize, I have been to France and Germany this summer already. A summer spent filled with European excursions is bound to have some profound effect on the way I think. As for me, I have just become more European than before, but more on that later.

In Europe there are a lot of graves. A lot of people over the years have met their end to disease, famine, war, age, and so forth. Death seems to linger everywhere one goes in Europe, and the UK is no exception to that generality. Just because England does not share the same killing fields of Verdun and Normandy as France, or death camps of Germany an most of Eastern Europe, does not mean a lot of men and women did not fall in UK.

I am afraid of death, or more specifically, dying young and not accomplishing all my dreams. I am not entirely sure of a heaven, although I truly hope there is one. (On a different but not wholly unrelated topic, I recently watched a really interesting Stanley Kubrick  movie that has given more insight into this frame of mind. Paths of Glory is a wonderful portrayal of the horrors of World War I and the atrocities committed by everyone in the conflict. In one scene, the evening before a suicide mission, one soldier tells to his comrade his theory about death and the way we humans view it. He thinks that we are not afraid of death, because if we were afraid of dying we would not be able to get up everyday. The fact of the matter is that everyone dies and each day inches closer and closer to our impending doom. We are afraid, however, of dying painfully. I agree with this theory, but I am more afraid of dying without living out everything I hope to do and dying with regrets.(

But to me, heaven can be found on Earth: on the tops of mountains, in the cafes in the cities for people-watching, in a large Frappucino on a hot day, in a long run through the woods, and curled up in my bed watching a good movie. On Sunday's, while my friends and peers at Clemson head to their weekly church session, I can usually be found on the top of mountain or n a long run through the woods. It i my solace and my reason to live. Dying means losing these brief fleeting moments of happiness. I am aware of my mortality and scared because of it.

That being said, being around death in a place so old got me to thinking. Mortality. One's awareness of life and death. The plain fact of just dying, and then being nothing is completely mind blowing to me. The thought of not knowing what is out there in the Universe, or able to find out the mysteries of even the earths past seems cruel to me.

In a way it is cruel. Dogs and cats, for example, who do not think (at east in the deeper ways we do,) also do not suffer worrying about the future or about death. A dog or cat might live, say, only 15 years, and yet they are much happier than we are and they don't obsess about death. How would you feel if you knew from the time you were young that you would probably live only 15 years? Of course, animals are unaware of their 'deadline' and I wonder who has the upper hand in this equation.

This got me to thinking about some of the graves we passed along the way. 4 year-old boys that fell victim to the plague, countless other children that did not get graves because of poverty. The thing that I wonder is if this boy should really be pitied. Was he even aware of his own mortality? It’s doubtful. He died with no expectations and hardly anything solid to hold on to. He probably had little to hold onto and look forward to anyway. Sure his parents had stuff for him to look forward to, but I doubt very much if he had anything himself.

It's a morbid thing to think about, I realize. There is no right or wrong about death, only that it is.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Learning How To Think European

I like to think myself as fairly well traveled. I realize I have mentioned on every blog entry that I have lived in France and Japan before and that I am using these past experience as a starting point to understanding some of the things I encounter along the road of life. I apologize for this, but I truly believe that it has given me the ability to see past the surface culture of France. Past the baguettes, the charming houses, and the slightly rude everyday Frenchmen. I have been able to indulge further in the culture, and I have learned how to think. At least, in regards to how the French and the Europeans think.
When I arrived in Strasbourg, and later on when I stayed with my host family from my Rotary youth exchange in 2008, I could not help but find myself wondering if France, and by extension the rest of Europe, ever really changes. The country seems to be frozen in time. The same buildings built hundreds of years ago are still being used, and not part of small epic new mini-mall. The Boulanger sits on the street with the same bread and jam to sell. There are still tons of strikes, even if they have evolved into anti-EU tax strikes rather than anti-French government strikes. The French people still have the same mindset about Americans: they only respect you if you at least make some sort of effort. Had this country changed at all since 2008? Surely, there must be something different?

One thing I did realize was how much I have changed as a person since I last lived in this country. And I truly believe that my DGPS trip is part of that change. Perhaps because I was surrounded by like-minded curious American Honors students, eager to learn and embrace a new culture, or maybe because I am a little older and think of more sophisticated things. I used to think of France as a country of delicious bread, cheese, and wine, endless strikes for meaningless purposes, and a mindset of being the center of the culture. I used to think of it as a single country in Europe. I now see it as part of the European Union, even if the French do not necessarily see it in this light. "Oh yeah, the French hate being European, " says L R correctly.

An entity in the European Union is not an easy thing to wrap one’s head around. It is not the same status as my home state New Jersey in Washington DC. It does not have a representation in a two-body Congress. In school, students learn French history, before they learn European history. The president of the United States symbolizes far more than the President of the European Union, while the president of France is far superior to the governor of New Jersey. Even though a Senator from Alaska still has to agree on the same bill for legislation in Florida, representation from Finland for legislation in Portugal is different. At least the Alaskan and the Floridian both call themselves American and speak the same language. The same cannot be said the Fin and the Portuguese. So knowing this, it is hard to put the status of a EU state into one’s mindset. One has to completely learn how to think, and not try to put a square peg in a round whole with regards to learning how the European Union works compared to our American federalist system.

I remember back in 2008 arguing with host parents about the European Union. My host mother was born and raised in Germany, but married a Frenchman and is now currently a French citizen. She had the same mindset at our tour guide, Christine, with her sheepish admittance to being a German citizen. (Although when it came down to it, she was German before she was French. And it was insult to think otherwise.) “I’m European before I am anything else,” she would say with force. We used to argue the importance of the European Union for Europe and for the rest of the world. I would always argue about the additional red tape and bureaucracy, and question why Europe was so keen on big governmental institutions. My host parents would retort that I was being foolish and hypocritical, with Washington having the same problems as Brussels and Strasbourg with regards to bureaucracy. But red tape and big government aside, I now see the European Union as a necessity. Perhaps not to the extent that it hopes to be, but an institution as such needs to exist.

Our trip to Verdun settled my back and forth thinking about the European Union. I have wrote extensively about how deeply touched I was by Verdun. Having seen the ruins of Normandy, and juxtaposing it with the ruins of Verdun, I have another completely different outlook on the French and the Europeans. It not only changed my mindset about the necessity of war, but also about the importance of a governing European body. It has also helped me to understand why the Europeans have not always supported the American endeavors in Iraq and/or other military expeditions. One look at the ravaged countryside of Verdun, which is still a haven for unexploded artillery, will help anyone understand this.

In conclusion, the trip has given me more than just 12 amazing friends, an unforgettable experience in a beautiful place in this world, and a history lesson that I will never forget. It has given me a new appreciation for all that Europe is, how it functions, it’s goals and dreams, and it’s haunting legacy that continues to plague its trek into the future. 



I realize something else too. I'm European. I'm American. I'm lost. Eternally lost.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Just a few photos from the Trip

The chateau we stayed in and of course, me!

The entire DGPS group at the European Parliament.

Christine and Me overlooking Baden-Baden, Germany!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

What Makes Our Fate

Maybe our mistakes are what make our fate. Without them, what would shape our lives? Perhaps if we never veered off course, we wouldn't fall in love, or have babies, or be who we are. After all, seasons change. So do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it's comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart. And if you're very lucky, a plane ride away. -Carrie Bradshaw


I am a huge fan of quotes. Ever since I was a little girl, I have been reading quotes and applying them to my life in some way shape or form. My favorites of course are everything spoken by Audrey Hepburn and travel quotes. But I also love the quotes form shows like How I Met Your Mother and Sex and the City, such as the quote listed above. This quote specifically speaks directly to me.


Mistakes have always made my fate. Never once have I done what was expected of me, or stayed on the path I should have. I'm not saying that one out of the way to make some huge faux pas, just to receive the hypothetical benefits of what might come. But I have come to accept that maybe that mistake my parents made by putting me in Kindergarten at age 4 was not a mistake at all. Or that emotional melt down I had in March 2008 about not being ready to go to college, which led to my France exchange, was not a mistake either. Without these things what would have shaped my life? I would not be sitting on my lap top in Fixin, France writing this blog entry. That I can say for sure. Everything else is a mystery.


If I never veered off course, I can't say for sure I would be the person I am right here right now. I never would have met the Masaki's, The R's, or won the scholarship for my DGPS trip back to France. I don't even know if my Wanderlust would even be as prevalent as it is right now.


But things change, seasons and cities. Dijon is constructing a tram way out into the vineyards, while Kochi is raising money for Fukushima victims. People come in and out of your life, Andrew, Alex, Althea, and Brom to name a few. But it's really comforting to know that these wonderful people are always in my heart, and just a Facebook chat or phone call away. And if I'm really lucky, just a quick plane ride, train ride, and bus ride out into the vineyards away.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Age Before Beauty. No Age is Beauty.

So I have been writing on this blog since 2005, just under 6 years. Granted, I have not been very consistent. I took considerable time off to live my life between travels. And even though lots have things have happened in between trips, I just never felt compelled to truly write it down.

As time goes on, so does life. We get older, that's part of progression. We also experience certain events in life that change us. Some things can be marked by a specific day and time and incident. For example, on August 17, 2009, I moved into my Stadium Suites dorm to begin my college experience. On January 6, 2011, I ran my first ever Marathon in Walt Disney World. But not all great events can be marked by a date an time. For example, I left France 2 years ago, and while I do not think I have changed all that much, I have grown up a little but more. I am a little older and a little wiser, and a lot less naive. I can not give you a specific moment when I reached the point I'm at now, but it did happen along the way in a series of events.

Just before France, I emailed the R's about my return to France and to see if I could stay with them for a few days. The answer was of course, and several emails ensued in regards to updates to the lives of the R's. Cha cha's progression with her studies, Ant's new girlfriend, JF still working like crazy, Coco still being Coco, and L R still being L R. But what really bothered me was that L R also told me she was not able to run anymore due in part to a torn tendon in her Achilles. (In the email, it sounded like she would never run again. But in France I have learned she is just taking about 5 months off from the sport to recover.) It really bothered me to think that L R, who I believe I had grown so close to because of our mutual love for running, could no longer run. I talked to my Dad about it, and he just said these things happen with age.

I love my Dad to death, but I absolutely hate when he talks about getting old, which unfortunately is all the time. I'm not entirely sure I have the right to sit down and talk about this since my body has not progressed to the stage that he is in. And I know if and when he reads this, he will probably get annoyed. But I am really tired of hearing about how age destroys the body and forces you to give up a lot of good things. The way my Dad spoke this past vacation in Vermont sounded as if he was truly going to give up skiing for good. I accept the fact that I am a marathon runner, and that I am in far better shape than he is, but I am tired of hearing age blamed for every little thing. I also used to think it was just my Dad who had this crisis with a "frail" aging body. But I have learned the very opposite.

As I mentioned before, L R and I share the mutual love for running. So her injury kind of hit hard for me as well. Of course anyone can become injured from a sport such as running, especially when running in the Combs of Fixin, which is hard core trail running. The interesting thing is rather than blame a bad step or fall or something, L R told me that after age 50, things change. You can not do as much any more, because age holds you back. Essentially, she believed that the injury came about because of her age. This was not the first or only incident of L R blaming age for something. Several times she mentioned her age as a barrier to some things, until finally I told her to stop it. Age is Beauty. She has lived too wonderful of a life to feel disappointed by a number.

Before I left France the last time, Fred told me that I would have to come back in 10 years so that we could go in the Combs and run again. I ended up coming back after 2 years, and we were able to go up into the Combs and run again. But this time instead of telling me to come back in 10 years, she told me I would probably have to come back after 2 months. At minimum, every two years. I'll come back every two years or so because I love my host family ad I love the country of France, but not because I think everyone is going to drop dead from age as they all seem to think.

I am not naive enough to truly want to be old. I love my life right now. I'm 20 years-old, a hard-core long distance runner, an avid traveler, and a curiosity that probably never will be satiated before I bite the big one. I have also listened to many of my sorority sisters and older friends say that after the 21st birthday, there really is nothing to look forward to with regards to birthdays. But I don't see getting old as taboo. Sure, I know I will probably freak out when I find a gray hair in my head, but I sort of find silver streaks pretty cool. A sign of wisdom and a sign that you have lived a good life. And I know a lot of older people find crow's feet to be completely atrocious. But I like they are signs that you have lived a life full of laughter. Furthermore, I truly believe that you are as young as you feel. Maybe your knees creak and your tendon gets pulled easier, but if you can laugh and find joy in the simple things, a number should not define who you are.

Then again, I accept than I am only 20. Maybe I should come back to this post in 30 years. That's a terrifying thought.