Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The announcement first came in German, then English: Next stop Dachau.

It was a beautiful sunny day in September. It was unseasonably warm; 80 degrees or so.

I stepped off the train and looked for the bus to take me to the KZ Dachau. I was in a hurry. I had to catch a night train to Rome that evening, and I wanted to get back to Munich to ‘flaneur’ around.  Luckily, there was a bus waiting. It was slowly filling with tourists. I was one of them. We had come to see the first Nazi Concentration Camp.  I hopped on the bus, and sat down.  As the bus pulled out, I  was struck with a sense of discordance. Dachua is not just a camp. It is a surburban enclave. It is….quaint. It is beautiful.

My imagination had not prepared me for what lay outside the bus window. Here was a supermarket, there was a small restaurant. People were walking dogs, enjoying the sun on 14330127_10207732700498004_3000411190714615599_npatios and drinking coffee at the local Starbucks.  The sun and blue sky made the suburb feel alive.  The colorful houses and buildings of green, red, blue seemed incongruous with the black and white photos of the camp stuck indelibly in my mind from countless history books.

As the bus made turn after turn, I wondered how far outside this little German suburb filled with gemütlichkeit we would travel.  Surely, the camp must be far removed in distance from the pleasant scenes I just passed.  There must be woods to cross through; perhaps some empty fields?  But no.  Here a park, there an electronics’ store, and the next stop was the ‘KZ’ (Konzentrationslager).

14322704_10207732700778011_9022260041487163341_nI stepped off the bus, back into the sunny warmth.  There are tourists everywhere, slowly walking through a twisting wooded pass. Before entering there was a sign of notices=.  No dogs, no Neo-Nazi clothing….be serious. This is hallowed ground.  Respect the over 30,000 dead of Dachau. Remember that they faced murder, torture, malnutrition, illness.  Forget about all that world you passed through to get here.  Throw your Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte away.

The camp is large.  People walk around in a daze. Student groups mill around teachers.  Religious pilgrims go to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish memorial chapels. I really don’t 14344681_10207732703258073_5736731126016002469_nwant to take pictures, but I can’t not.  ‘Click’…the barbwire fence.  ‘Click’…. the crematorium.  Glance at the ovens. Walk inside the gas chamber. Don’t worry though, it was never used.  Look, over there!  ‘Click’….a meandering path into the shady woods. Escape 14332926_10207732704018092_5335833254930929323_nthe sun. But  there is no escape from this place. The woods hold a plaque informing the visitor that the dilapidated wall to the left was the pistol execution range. The human nightmare scars nature.  The remnants of a ‘blood-ditch’ used to easily clean up the aftermath of the executions makes that clear.  14292522_10207732704658108_8986492502300581023_n

Need to get out of these woods. Back into that sun.  It is beating down. The sky is perfect. I am sure a couple hundred yards away, some teenagers are sitting in that park enjoying the last chance for a summer tan.

As I walk out, I get a distasteful moment of shock.  A young woman wearing heels and sunglasses asks her father or older boyfriend to take a photo of her leaning against the front gate that says ‘Arbeit Macht Frei‘.  She poses.  It looks as though she is concerned about her best side. All I can do is raise an eyebrow. 14358707_10207732701458028_4311876331519568457_n

I walk back to the bus stop.  I need to get to Munich.  The bus is crowded for the ride back to the bahnhof.  I look out the window again, and life is going on as if all is normal.  I wonder how these people out for walks to enjoy the sun can live in a place like this?  How do you say you live in Dachau? ‘I grew up in Dachau’, ‘I go to school in Dachau’, ‘I work in Dachau’.  The identity of these people is connected to a name that means cruelty and death.  The KZ is central to their town.  When it was built in 1933 it was an economic opportunity.  Hundreds of jobs for the local populace; you need KZ guards after-all.  And who is going to feed all those prisoners and guards?  Bakeries, restaurants, markets saw the opportunity.

No longer do prisoners and guards need nourishment. Now it is I and my fellow tourists. Stop for a bite at a local cafe after seeing the barracks. Grab a coffee, and try to erase your memories.  If you need to, reserve a room at a local inn and find some local Bavarian fare.  A little beer never hurts.

The people of Dachau must just get acclimatized.  They are desensitized to the horror that is right next door. Or, maybe they just turn away and ignore it.  If the Nazi period taught us anything, it is that people are really good at doing that.

 

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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I recently returned from a truly terrific trip to Spain.

As is sometimes the case, I hadn’t really expected to go on a trip to Spain. Travel opportunities present themselves in rather interesting ways. Margo and I went on one other somewhat spontaneous trip to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest eleven years ago, so we knew each other to be compatible travel partners. She wanted to go to Europe to celebrate a big birthday, and generously brought me along, in no small way helping heal my recently disappointed heart.

There is nothing quite like getting away to find your way back to who you truly are.

My older sister Margo and I spent twelve days exploring a spectacular slice of Spain, from Madrid northeast to Barcelona and southeast along the Mediterranean coast to Valencia.

The highlights of our trip were as eclectic as the country. We enjoyed art and architecture, culture and community, food and drink.

Here, in no particular order, is my “Top Ten” Spain List

Cable Car to Montserrat

Riding in a cable car was a new experience, which is enough to make it special, but the views of the surrounding mountains were also memorable.

Flamenco Dance Performance in Madrid

flamenco

The most apt response to seeing the phenomenal flamenco performance at Café de Chinitas is that it is worth crossing an ocean to see the artists perform: simply breathtaking!

Paseo in Madrid

The tradition of evening strolls is pleasing as both spectator and participant. On the second night in Madrid, I followed the crowd across a street and stumbled upon the park at Plaza De Espana, complete with sparkling fountains, kissing couples, happy families, and enthusiastic street artists. Oftentimes during my travels, I find myself feeling completely at home in some far-flung part of the world, imagining another life I might have led, if only. .

Mercat de San Miguel in Madridcava

Here, my sister fell in with the Saturday night rituals of Madrilenos, inspecting the delicious foods on display, and finding our way to the bar for a fantastic glass of cava.

Tapas, cervezas, and sangria: oh, my!

Much of our travel itinerary included sampling as much local fare as possible via tapas crawls, really just day-long bar crawls, of which I was happily aware. My favorite discoveries included boquerones, fresh anchovies pickled in vinegar and served with olive oil, bread, and garlic. I shall attempt to make them at home and see how well I can recreate the delicious taste of salt and sea in this delightful dish. Tapas are just an excuse to sit and have a drink, so we concocted as many excuses as possible and had a great time!

While I’ll never be able to remember all of the bars where we stopped for a quick rest, a cold drink, and a salty snack, El Rincon, connected to the train station in Montserrat, appeared like a mirage in the afternoon heat, offering glasses of iced sangria while we waited 30 minutes for the next train back to Madrid.

A great view and a friendly waiter at a bar in Segovia

bar

Our day trip to Segovia ended with a steady walk downhill, with a perfectly-timed stop at an inviting sidewalk café and bar. The view of the surrounding countryside, the cozy tables, the shady umbrella—it was all delightful.

Our bartender immediately noticed our family resemblance and asked me while pointing to Margo, “Tu Hermana?”

“Si,” I replied, and our conversation rolled well from there.

beach

Swimming in the Mediterranean off the coast of Valencia

I mean, c’mon. The sea is a lovely place to be.

Paella in Valencia

We tried the seafood paella at La Pepica, one of Hemingway’s old haunts. He was so effusive of his praise of restaurants that some clearly survive off just the rumor of his passing through. The next night I got the paella Valenciana at El Coso, prepared with rabbit and chicken, and, honestly, it was even better than the seafood version. I shall endeavor to make a decent paella sometime soon for my Urban Family.

Barri Gotic in Barcelona

For goodness sake, when you go to Barcelona, go here immediately and wander into the charming squares and have a drink under the archways and listen to local gypsy musicians sing and play.

The Magic Fountains on Montjuic

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Selected to cap off our trip and happily scheduled for our last night in Spain, the Magic Fountains are an incredible show, with music and colored lights and seemingly at least 20,000 spectators. My sister and I grabbed a table and ordered beer after beer until the show began at 9:00pm. We stayed long enough to see the colors and hear the songs, until we were both happy, and tired, and drunk.

The world is home to all of us, with all its natural and man-made wonders. We must enjoy them, and each other, while we can.

One of the truly humbling—and crucially important—aspects of international travel is the necessity of communicating in a language other than our own. I stumbled through my weak Spanglish, occasionally slipped into terrible French, and often resorted to reusing important two-word refrains, “muchas gracias” and “lo siento” being the most suitable.

Traveling allows us to see the world differently, and understand how unique and wonderful every individual is. We all have our own histories and neighborhoods and experiences that shape who we are and what we become. As we venture far from home, we come to know ourselves better, recognize in fresh faces new friends.

***

On a more somber note, the tragedy in Nice, France, occurred while I was abroad. My first awareness of the event happened via Facebook. My friend, Vicky “checked in as safe” as she and her husband and young son live in Nice. I met Vicky in Nice in 1999, on my first international trip to stay with our mutual friend, Leah, who was in France teaching English at the time. I’m glad I could learn that Vicky was safe without having to wait and worry, but how dreadful that such technology is necessary. The tragic loss is just one of countless losses, the result of ideology that seeks to see only irresolvable differences between people, rather than shared humanity. Travel does the opposite.

Across the world, I have encountered countless friendly strangers, willing to help me find me way when I was lost. We can and must continue to celebrate ourselves and invite others to join our celebrations. The only way forward, onward, will always be together.

The world is vast, but travel can help develop an open mind and a loving heart. No matter how different we may seem, we are all one human family.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Travel brings out the best in me; thus, I am deserving of a camera crew, creative editing, fabulous make-up, and wardrobe.

I’m a great traveler, primarily because I am happy one, thanks to my techniques for terrific trips.

rockies

In the Rockies

Be impressed

My destinations vary greatly with respect to broad appeal, but every part of the world possesses treasures. Many places are not glamorous, but every corner of the world has something worth seeing.

Act normal

Find a grocery store, a neighborhood park, an independent book store, a coffee shop, a comfortable bar. Those are the places I spend most of my time in my own city, so why not do the same in Boston or Portland?

Talk to strangers

I travel alone as often as I do with others, so I am comfortable staring conversations with friendly-looking strangers, typically asking for recommendations, or often directions. My experience as a waitress and bartender makes me feel at home perched at the end of the bar near the service well, where I can enter into conversation or listen and learn. One memorable conversation was with a man at a gyro stand in Prague. He didn’t speak English and I don’t know Czech, but we shared horrible French skills and spoke for a while, just impressed we could understand each other at all.

Seek the unique

As globalization builds, the opportunity for experiences that can’t be replicated holds immense appeal. Local charm is why high-priced airfare is still a good buy.

torchklight

Parade for The Aquatennial in Minneapolis

My penchant for parades is just an extension of my desire to get to know a place by celebrating their local identity with them. Drink wine in Sonoma; watch orcas in Puget Sound; stroll the Promenade des Anglais in Nice; groove at The Continental Club in Austin; eat beignets at Café du Monde; drink in a beer garden in Munich.

Visit new places

orcas

Dock in the San Juan Islands, Washington

The world is vast, and as my friend, Tammy, recently pointed out, we can expect at best three new destinations each year, and maybe forty more years of active traveling, which means there are only 100 new places in life I might still get to see (unless I win the lottery). Better get going!

Get around

Navigating a new city via public transit, on foot, and, recently, by bicycle remains a rewarding challenge. There’s no better way to get a sense of a place than to wander, or even get lost. A trusty paper map is a good beginning, but a two-night stay in Vienna taught me to always consider a sense of scale.

Start early

My status as an “early riser” is firmly rooted in my family tree, so I don’t bother fighting it. On vacation, I wake up early and am frequently the first person anywhere. Last year while visiting Seattle, I got to Pike Place Market before many of the vendors. Bonus: shorter lines!

Pack light

I bring what I can carry. I find it easy to abide by the one-bag limit on the seriously going-to-charge-for-everything Spirit airlines. I wear dresses and add layers. I accessorize with scarves (of course!) which can make a similar outfit look different or used as a shirt or skirt. I stick to the two pairs of shoe rule. As my friend, Ivor’s sweet Irish mother used to say with regard to fashion, “Ah, sure, who’ll be looking at ya?”

native am

This gallery of handcrafted Native American art has existed in Santa Fe for 150 years. I will shop here.

Don’t waste time shopping

When I travel, I seek out things that are distinctive to the area; this means no strip malls. No malls whatsoever, if they can be avoided. My recent trip to Minneapolis did not include a stop at the Mall of America. Unique it may be, but I suspect it is just as soulless as any other mall I’ve ever visited. I am not a shopper. Unless it’s a local market with history and style along the lines of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I’ll pass.

Do it on the cheap

I may spend a bit more for special meals or once-in-a-lifetime excursions; however, I won’t spend a ridiculous amount of money on any one thing. A round-trip ferry to the Aran Islands is still only 25 Euro, so I cannot be convinced to get the $75 lamb entrée.

Bring it home

Life-charging travel adds spark to daily life. Anything that’s worth doing on vacation is worth making a part of daily life, too!

My travel-savvy I might stems from my deep and abiding love for this big, beautiful world, and my close friends assure me that my travel photos and planned excursions are all tailor-made for engaging TV.

Someone better tell Rick Steves to watch his back.

By Cecilia Olvera, RMU Student.

Last year I had the opportunity to go to Puerto Rico. I have always heard great and exciting things about it, but to finally see it on my own was even more exciting. My family of five packed up and headed for our fun-filled week. We had our days occupied with excursions, driving around the island, and seeing the jungle.

1405552788030On the third day, we visited The Morro. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the enormous brick walls of this huge military structure on the other side of the island. The Morro is an old fort that was designed to guard the entrance to San Juan from 20140716_181905any enemies. We took a tour and the guides explained that it was built in 1539 as a tower, and in 1587 it was expanded into a military fort. I was astonished by the history and the battles that took place. I would have never imaged that a fort this size could be in the center of town.

As I walked around the outside, I knew instantly there was an attraction. I felt the walls and with that I could feel the history, the pain, and the worry that these walls held in them. The views from the top of the structure were breathtaking. They overlooked the ocean, where I could see small sail boats floating, and the beautiful city that lay on the other side. As I entered the dungeon, I could smell the dirt from the ground. I could hear the rain outside as it began and smell the scent of the rain on the brick and ground. We spent the whole morning and afternoon exploring the grounds and learning the history. I took in every moment of this maleficent place, not knowing if I would ever return.

After the trip, we returned to our everyday lives here in Justice, Illinois. I was able to have the day off before returning back to work and staring at a computer all day. My sister and I talked outside on our patio swing, feeling the cool breeze and hearing the shuffle of the leaves from the trees, which alerted us rain was coming. I reminisced about The Morro and the tourist that were there visiting, and with that I could image the cold bricks and the smell of the salt in the ocean air. I would get lost in my own mind thinking about how the days were back at that time, and as the summer rain began, the scent of the dew can always draw me back to The Morro.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

All in all, I loved my college years.  I wouldn’t say they were the best days of my life because I am pretty happy with where I am at right now. Still, they were pretty great.

For five years (yeah, that’s right, five years! So what?) during the mid to late 90’s, I attended Michigan State University.  Most non-Michiganders know MSU for their recent big-time sports success, but I wasn’t a student during the last two decades of our football and basketball highpoints.  I really didn’t care though. Just MSU Spartans defeat Boise State University 17-13 on Aug. 18, 2012.attending the games, no matter the weather, was great fun.  Tailgating with friends, and going crazy with 75,000 strangers with a common passion is always a rush.

Did I say ‘go crazy’? Well, not really. I wasn’t a huge partier. Don’t get me wrong, I did have fun when I wanted to have fun. But I was more conservative than many of my classmates. The parties were okay. But, what I really loved was the notion that I had the opportunity to party. And not just party. I had the opportunity to do what I wanted with my life.  It was this freedom that I loved. This crazy, wonderful, beautiful freedom. From my first day at MSU, to my last, I cherished it. One of my fondest memories of my college years actually took place during my first week at MSU. Why? Nothing shocking.  A couple good friends of mine from my hometown stayed out all-night.  There was no reason to do this. We weren’t drinking. I think we ordered a pizza at 2 college-photo_15926.AM, simply because we could order a pizza at 2 AM! Most vividly and warmly, I remember sitting out in an open field near my dorm at 4 in the morning discussing….well….all the quasi-philosophic stuff 18 year old college freshmen discuss during their first week away from home. It was great.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one who had this freedom, and many of my co-Spartans took advantage in much more, shall we say, boisterous ways.  As I got older, I became more serious. I decided I really wanted to dedicate myself to my studies. I wanted to go to graduate school, and I realized grades would be important. So, I truly began to love school; not just the freedom and the fun. I found I preferred the library over parties. I enjoyed the classroom more than the dorm-room.  I wanted to read books, not just beer labels. Yeah, I was a pretentious little ass, but I really don’t feel much embarrassment about it.  Being 21 is the time to be a pretentious little ass.

Over those five years of my life, I look back with satisfaction and fulfillment….but, there is one thing….just one thing I wish I had done. No, I don’t wish I had pledged to a frat; or had tried more drugs; or had taken part in more riots (don’t ask; I will save this for another blog). My one regret is I wish I had studied abroad. I wish I had taken classes in Europe, seminars in Asia, colloquiums in the Middle East.

Study abroad would have been wonderful.  Everyone I have ever known who took part in study-abroad have raved about their experiences.  After working at a University for 13 years, I have seen students go overseas and come StudyAbroad-things-to-considerback new, more intriguing people.  Why did I not do this? It is the same old story of all regrets. I thought I would have all the time in the world, and now I realize I was a foolish, pretentious 21 year old for thinking so.  Now, I have two kids, lots of bills to pay, and seemingly little free time.  Alas, I missed my chance….

But wait! I’m not going to feel sorry for myself.  As the lads from Monty Python said, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.  I’m not going to let this regret eat away at me. I need to recapture some of that college freedom! I need to step up and do this! If I regret not going 20 years ago, imagine how I will feel in another 20 years?

The big 4-0 is right around the corner.  Time to make that decade the best years of my life!  The era of Stelzer Jocks/Jocks Stelzer travels are about to begin! Let’s do this!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time. ~Bill Bryson

Very soon, I will be enjoying the one preposterously pleasant perk I receive for my pains as a teacher: two months off. I’m anxiously awaiting my travels this year, which include a trip back home to Ohio and my first trip to the Pacific Northwest with stays in Portland and Seattle.

Travel brings out the best in me, which is true of everyone else, too.

travel

Traveling renews our sense of our selves. The essential core of people—their inclinations, habits, and predilections—will emerge in full force once entirely engaged in vacation mode. Travel results in self-augmentation in every possible way. A “putzer” will be content to laze around a hotel room until 2:00pm. A shopper will battle the crowds and bazaars with zealous abandon. A night owl will be escorted from bars at 4:00am.

Many people erroneously suppose that they will encounter a life-altering experience whileHawaiitravel on vacation, but this is seldom true. While being on holiday may encourage each of us to let go of our daily routine, expecting a dramatic transformation will only result in disappointment. On your flight to Hawaii, you will not meet a handsome stranger.

I think too often vacations are sold (and bought) as “getaways” and “escapes” from everyday life. No matter how surroundings change, the traveler remains the center of the experience. Although people may leave some reservations behind when they go on a journey, the activities pursued arise from interest and desire, not a lapse of reason. Despite the brilliant marketing campaign, whatever happened in Vegas was intentional. I do not like Vegas (and will never go back) primarily because it is the antithesis of my life, to which I say, “No, thank you.” I do not understand the appeal of Las Vegas since in addition to being completely artificial it is also fundamentally depressing: the luxurious hotels and opulent casinos built on the foundation of lost money. Moreover, gambling with a group is unwise; a lesson learned when sitting at a roulette wheel with my oldest friend’s husband. Every time I won, he lost, and vice versa, which does not make for a pleasant evening among friends.

Holidays are trancroissant-d-or-seatingsformative when we allow ourselves to do and be what we want, thereby illuminating ourselves from within. I’m an early riser. After fifteen years of impatiently waiting in hotel lobbies for friends and fellow travelers, I recently started going to breakfast on my own and returning to collect my group. I fulfill my wish to explore the city and my friends get to take their time. In this way I have discovered remarkable spots, including the terrifically charming Le Croissant D’Or in the French Quarter, to which I will return if I pass that way again.

Ultimately, the genuine, open, engaged selves we display on vacation while exploring happily, accepting heartily, and indulging eagerly simply reveals the phenomenal people we already are.

By Kaylin Hetrick, RMU Student.

My first solo trip out of the United States was just this past October. Many times I invited some friends and wanted them to start saving to come with on this great adventure. Needless to say, everyone backed out. There was no way I was, though. There’s a website I visit often, sometimes too often, that has great deals on adventure packages. I decided to book my trip to the Galapagos Islands. My package included hiking the world’s second largest active volcano and visiting Santa Cruz and Isabella Island for seven days.

Travel is a passion that will never escape me. I love going to the airport to check in, go through security with efficiency, and then wait at the gate patiently. It’s almost like a meditative process knowing that I am about to embark to an unknown place with unknown people.

When I first arrived at the “airport” on Baltra Island, Galapagos, the plane taxied straight up to the only building on the island. I felt like a VIP. I didn’t have to walk but fifty yards to find out my luggage didn’t make it out gal5of Miami where my connecting flight had been. This never fazed me though. When I’m on vacation, I don’t need any material things, just my legs to walk and my eyes to see.

The first Island to explore was Santa Cruz; it is the most populated with 17,000 inhabitants out of the total population of 30,000. The mission was to drive from one side of the island to the other, which is only about thirty minutes. At first the island looked barren with short shrubs and no trees. The sun beat down on this side of the island. Then, finally with a slight elevation towards the middle of the island it was completely different. The area became foggy and misty with no sun. All around trees were everywhere and the grass seemed to be glowing green. Along the way two huge craters came out of nowhere. Over two million years ago the craters were huge lava tunnels that had since caved in, and greenery had set in the craters to make it more scenic.

As traveling continued, the opposite side of the island became alive. This was where all the people lived. Next to the water there were many shops and people walking outside. The smell of the ocean was calming. The sounds of the birds, sea lions, and clicks and clacks of the crabs on the rocks were the sounds of nature.

The Galapaganians are the only people who can inhabit the four of fourteen islands. Most students and tourists can only get a visa for three of less months at a time when visiting. The only other way to stay indefinitely is if you marry someone that is from the Galapagos. What’s so fascinating about the people is that they have a depth of respect for each other and all the creatures on the islands. Many times while in a vehicle driving to and from a destination, if there was a bird in the road the driver would honk, and even slow down to ensure the animal would not be in danger. It was forbidden to take anything from the islands, even a small rock or shell. No one may touch any of the creatures or try to harm anything. I loved the respect the people had for their land.

sierra-negra-volcano-isabela-island-signAfter a couple days on the main island, I got in a boat and traveled to Isabella Island. This is the largest, yet youngest, island of the Galapagos. Isabella Island is less developed and only has a population of about 2,000. This is also the location of Volcán Sierra Negra. I hiked that volcano for ten hours. It was worth it. Similar to the other island the climate changes drastically. Ascending the weather was foggy and wet with mist. Sometimes the sun would show through, but the sun was dangerous at such an altitude. Towards the top of the volcano, about three hours into the hike, a clearing came through.

The volcano was vast and looked like a pit of black sharp rock. The volcano peak is 12 kilometers across. A million years earlier, lava was flowing violently down the side ofgalapagos-islands-volcan-sierra-negra-y-volcan-chico this dangerous place creating new surfaces of this island. On the side the lava flowed you could see the path it took all the way to the ocean. Only the areas where the lava didn’t touch had greenery. The other areas were covered with sharp, rough volcanic rock. I could even feel the heat coming through my feet from the lava that still flows way below the surface. It was incredible.

My trip wasn’t long enough, but what adventurous trip is? The islands in the Galapagos over time will shift and fall back into the ocean. There are five humungous volcanoes under the surface that create the islands that are visible today. The tectonic plates continuously move and after several million years more islands surface from below the ocean. How cool it that? I think it’s pretty awesome.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

On Thanksgiving morning, my wife, two girls and I headed out on a five hour car trip to Michigan.  Grandmas and Grandpas live up there, so our family makes this trip a good 10 times a year. We are all pretty used to it; or, I might say, we are all pretty sick of it.  Five hours with 2 children under 7 years of age in a car can seem like an eternity.   Keeping them occupied, and away from any sharp objects they could use to stab each other, is the name of the game.

This year, for most of the trip, we continually scanned radio stations, looking for the channels that play nothing but 1406eb94Christmas music during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas day.  We figured this would keep our girls happy. Happy girls means happy parents.

However, after five hours of listening, we had had enough. The family discovered that there is a limited number of recognizable, pop-radio friendly Christmas tunes.  Though there seems to be endless iterations of these songs, there are only so many different versions of ‘Winter Wonderland’ (reggae, synth pop, smooth jazz) you can listen to before you are ready to jump out a moving car on I-94.

After hearing the same twenty or so songs over and over, I realized that Christmas music falls into a limited number of thematic categories. These are:

  •  Your classic, extremely Christian Christmas carols that have been within the catalog for a couple centuries.  This would include ‘Silent Night’, ‘The First Noel’, ‘O’Holy Night’, ‘We Three Kings’, ‘Joy to The World’, etc.  Generally, I love these songs….as long as Josh Groban or Carrie Underwood don’t get their mitts on them.  If so, I shudder.

    keep-calm-and-listen-to-josh-groban-christmas-music-5

    THIS is not calming.

  • You also have your Santa Claus songs.  Usually not very religious, but obviously written specifically for one day of the year.  Most of these are from the twentieth century, and can be performed by artists from almost any genre. Think ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’, ‘Rudolph,’ etc.
  • Don’t forget the hybrid of the previous two. Christmas songs more serious than the Santa songs, but not as revered or religious as the classic ballads/choir pieces.  You could put ‘Silver Bells’, ‘A Christmas Song’, ‘White Christmas’ under this heading.
  • Lastly, you have the songs that are associated with Christmas, but are more about the season than the holiday.  Songs such as ‘Sleigh Ride’, ‘Winter Wonderland’, ‘Let It Snow!’

But, wait! There is one more genre of Christmas music; the weirdest kind.  You might call this ‘adult’ Christmas music, as it usually deals with love and romance.  Some are sad, such as ‘Blue Christmas’, and some are just pop songs, such as ‘Christmastime is the Time to Say I Love You’.  Most are pretty innocuous.  But then….

We come to the sexualized Christmas song.  That’s right, sexualized. A small number of regular rotation Christmas tunes are filled with adult situations, and double entendres.  Look at ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’.  Here is a song about a guy trying to talk a woman into staying the night at his house. Why is this song a holiday classic?  I mean, the dude tries to spike her drink, for goodness sake! Maybe it is my 21st century jadedness, but all I can think of is ‘ruffies’ when I hear that lyric.  

But, the most inappropriate Christmas song has to be ‘Santa Baby’.   The language, the singing style, the message, the music; double entredre on top of double entredre, with ‘strip tease’ beats.  It is so out of place to hear this tune squeezed between “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.  If you think I am overstating things, or reading too much into an innocent song, have a listen to Eartha Kitt’s classic version.

Remember, this song was recorded in 1953.  1953! In 1950’s America, this song must have been inappropriate, comparable in the 1990’s to a ‘2 Live Crew’ recording of ‘Frosty the Snowman’.

Okay, with that mental, and aural image in your head, I will just stop.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

It’s kind of awful, but people need to be reminded to enjoy the holidays, and I am here to do just that.

I’ve always had rather mixed feelings about Thanksgiving celebrations. The thing that most people (especially women) realize early on is that Thanksgiving is a lot of work. I used to wonder where the reward was. Eventually, I determined that the true gift on any holiday is the time spent together, and all holidays only happen once. In a few short days, Thanksgiving 2013 will have come and gone, and I intend to try to relax and enjoyeat_drink_enjoy_1 all that.

A Thanksgiving meal requires at minimum three hours of preparation (this doesn’t include any deep cleaning or holiday decoration). The clean-up also requires several hours, sometimes overflowing into the next morning and beyond. This is all fine. Family meals are important rituals, going back millennia. It is not the preparation time that irks me; rather, it is the speed with which some guests gobble a meal and pack-up to head home, or often to the next event.

I sympathize. I understand that many people are expected to visit two or more households on Thanksgiving. I used to do the same thing when I lived in Ohio. We all know in the end, we are fortunate to have so many loved ones inviting us to visit and dine and drink. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded: enjoy your holiday! Perhaps arrive a bit earlier and stay a bit later if only to allow yourself time to have a bit more time to savor.

No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving (or even if you don’t), try hard to be present in each moment. Enjoy the simple act of laying the table. Marvel at the mismatched china and silverware that hold the secret stories of the origins of families and friends. Waiting for guests is something we do on every important event. If one family happens to be late, relish the moments of waiting; there is nothing to be done, just sit down and anticipate their arrival. Someday, they won’t be able to come to dinner at all.

Nice-FranceSome of my favorite Thanksgiving meals have been less traditional. In 1999, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Nice, France, with my cherished friend, Leah. She was living there, teaching English. We went out shopping to get items for the meal, but because we were in France, where turkeys aren’t in abundance and Thanksgiving doesn’t exist, the closest we could get to a turkey was a chicken. We shared that Thanksgiving with her French neighbor and her Moroccan boyfriend. After the meal, we went to the Irish Pub Leah and her friends frequented. Here, I drunkenly explained our mysterious Thanksgiving traditions to the owner.

In my terrible French, I said, “Nous mangeons trop. Nous regardons la tele. Nous regarder le football Américain.”

We enjoyed ourselves immensely. We didn’t stress because we weren’t required to get it right; no one had any expectations. We were free to enjoy where we were and the people with whom we shared the day.

Many times, altering holidays helps alleviate feeling overwhelmed. Our day-to-day calendars might have to remain unchanged, but celebrating doesn’t have to be limited to UFThanksjust one day. Since many of us will be scattering by holiday travel, I hosted a wonderful, imperfect Thanksgiving with my Urban Family this past Sunday at my place. My heavens, they are a gorgeous group. More importantly, they are all smart and funny (or laughable) and unique and quirky and loving, which is the way I prefer my family members to be, and spending time with them is always reason to celebrate (it doesn’t hurt that Kris had the foresight to bring a “signature cocktail”).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the meal isn’t perfect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even want a perfect meal. Laughter is the lasting result of dealing with the beautiful imperfections of life. One of my absolutely favorite memories is when my exacting mother over-cooked the roles. My hysterical brother-in-law Dana determined “these must be the wheat rolls.” Years later, we still reference the “wheat rolls,” so the humor and the moment live on.

When you find yourself rushing or running around or raising your voice to those loved ones for whom you are trying to make the holidays so perfectly special, I invite you to pause, and follow Kurt Vonnegut’s suggestion; “I urge you to notice when you are happy and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

It certainly is.

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Many aspects of my sister Margo’s personality defy consistent characterization. One of her many peculiar choices was the decision to accompany me on an adventurous trip to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. She is far from a seasoned traveler, vacationing typically with her husband and four children on the beaches of North Carolina. Why she felt compelled to join me on a 12 day trip to Europe, I don’t know.  Still, it was an once-in-a-lifetime trip, as so many are. Margo does not complain, generally, and enjoys things without giving them too much thought, as long as they are different or entertaining. She is easy company, though I did exhaust her tolerance for art museums. We travelled in January. I prefer to travel in the off-season because of the reduction in both cost and number of tourists. For as much as I love people, I dislike crowds. Our trip began in Prague, a wonderfully charming and walkable place.Image

The apartment we rented exceeded our expectations, and the weather, though cold, was bright and sunny. We visited the Old Town and the New, explored Prague Castle, crossed the Charles Bridge, and ate and drank at inviting restaurants and pubs before reluctantly making our way to Vienna.

Vienna was planned as a quick stop, a midway point between Prague and Budapest. Vienna is exquisite, exciting, and enormous. A day and a half in Vienna was the result of my ignorance of the city’s grandeur. Nevertheless, our itinerary included one perfect item: attending a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Vienna Opera House! Our seats were literally numbers 3 and 4 in the first box. Though Margo doesn’t particularly care for opera, she went along happily, enjoying the glamour and the spectacle. The next day, we departed for Budapest, where our good fortune ran out. The first issue arose when the good-natured Margo mistakenly thought that the man who offered to carry her bags to the train would do so for free (Margo somehow still inhabits an enviable world where men do such things). Naturally, the strange man accompanied us onto the train, insisting a high payment for a task we had not requested of him. I was forced to give him the rest of our cash to get rid of him. Thankfully, I had packed some sandwiches and snacks; otherwise we would have had to go hungry, en route to. . .Hungary.

Budapest was not welcoming. The weather had turned colder and the region was swathed in shadowy fog. The view of Buda Castle across the Chain Bridge was nonexistent. The whole city was the color of dishwater.  Our search for a restaurant near our hostel was endless and fruitless. We walked aimlessly until we were forced to stop because Margo had to use the bathroom. We found a bar on a tiny avenue in Pest. Like most conscientious travelers, (especially those who want to avoid being labeled an “ugly American”), I abide by the rule that if you are going to use a bathroom, you must order something. So, while Margo rushed in the direction of the toilets, I ordered two beers at the bar and took them, with the glasses provided, to a nearby table. I waited patiently for Margo, feeling perfectly at ease, though clearly out of place. We were the only women in the bar. We were the only Americans in the bar. Only one other person spoke English, which he made clear when he approached and asked what had brought us there. He was friendly, but wanted to warn us that our presence was perceived as unusual. I planned to tell Margo we should drink our beers quickly. When she returned from the bathroom, her face looked a bit pained.

“The bathroom was gross,” she whispered.

When she saw the beer she asked, “We’re staying?”

I invoked the rule of good travelers, which she knew well by this point in our trip. She sat down and began to pour her beer into the glass provided. Then she looked at the glass. It was as clean as the rest of the place, which was not very.

“I shouldn’t have used the glass,” she said sadly, mostly to herself. 

Moved by her misery, I passed her my beer, which she finished in three desperate gulps, and we left.

As we walked back to our hostel, I asked Margo if, perhaps, she thought we should leave Budapest earlier than planned and go back to Prague.

Instantly transformed back to her animated self, Margo began to chant: “Back to Prague! Back to Prague! Back to Prague!”

One thing I can say for my sister Margo, she brings enthusiasm with her wherever she goes.