Monday, May 31, 2010

Things I think about: Inevitable return

The past two weeks and the next week will be tough for me because I have papers to write, but mostly because I have to handle the academic pressure on top of handling my friends' departures.

In some effort to console myself, I jotted down this list of things I am looking forward to doing when I return. Of course if I could, I would make my exchange experience last forever. But I can't. Even though I pushed back the date of my return by almost three weeks, it still feels like there's not enough time. I'm sure this is how everyone feels but still, it's a crappy feeling. In the end, we all feel like this, no matter how late we are departing.

The downside to being one of the last to leave is that I have to go to all the goodbye parties. But that's just me complaining. I wouldn't want to leave early either because I would want to squeeze out one more moment here.

Anyway here's the list, in the order in which they came to me:
Panera bread
Victoria's Secret
Soup Spoon
Kelsey Museum
Bubble Tea
Big shopping carts
Whole Foods
Espresso Royale
Sweetwaters, particularly the new one on Plymouth/Green
Downtown Ann Arbor
Art Fair and Urban Outfitters Sale

Looking at this list, I realize it sounds like I'm longing for the consumerist wastefulness that is the worst of American life but it's really more about the things that make me feel comfortable and the people I will be with when I visit these places. There are specific people who I want to do these things with. At least some of you know who you are so we'll surely be in touch when I get back.

EDIT June 2 11:10 PM
a really big watermelon
Great Plains Burger on Plymouth Road. I don't know what's special about it but I like it.
TJMaxx and Marshalls
Dr. Pepper
Bookstore where I can actually read the books
Old Navy flip flops

Friday, May 28, 2010

Things I think about: The next 10 years

It's in part the publicity about the Sex and the City movie, in part the transition to medical school -- a narrowing career path, and in part joking with some friends here in Århus, that in the past couple weeks I've imagined a life like this 10 years from now. 

They include: 
an apartment in NYC
a vineyard in upstate New York
a cat
a stay-at-home husband to cook, clean, and oversee the wine-making in our vineyard
and a job to support all this

As you can see, some of these goals are more realistic than others. Or actually only one is likely to come to fruition and it doesn't involve real estate or subservient spouses. 

With all seriousness, none of these things will happen, probably. And really, I don't want a stay-at-home husband to cook and clean. By calling out the inadequacy and injustice of patriarchy -- assuming the male experience to be the correct and universal one -- I don't want simply assume the dominance. That's not feminism. 

But all this represents some things that I do hope to have: a sense of home and permanence. It's not anything I want now! But I think that after 10 years, I'll be weary of school, of moving around every few years to complete my education and start a career. I want to be able to live life the way I want, maybe have some choice in the city or region I live. And I would really like to have a cat. It would be a nice life. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sex and the City as Open Cultural Product

Small detour from talking about Denmark and Europe...

Every review of the second Sex and the City movie has been excoriating. Many of them took issue with the inevitable march toward conventionalism -- finding Mr. Right/Big, getting married, having kids, settling down.

So it was refreshing to hear this video of a Emory University sociologist explaining the impact and contradictions of SATC in a more nuanced way.

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Excerpts from the video:  
It's a very ambiguous show. It's got some notions of liberated women but it also has these traditional notions of women focusing on romance and finding the right partner, which is the flip side of being independent and self sufficient. 

Because you can interpret it in different ways, it's what we call an open cultural product, meaning that many people can look at it and enjoy it for different reasons. Those are usually the cultural products that are most successful,ones that aren't trying to impose some meaning on the audience but lets the audience take the meaning that they want. 

I've only seen scattered episodes of SATC so I can't comment on the development of the show's themes and throughout the seasons and the movies from what I've watched but from these reviews, everyone thinks there is a noticeable shift in the characters' preoccupations. What do you think? Have the girls become frumpy old women? Is it inevitable that we all settle down? And will we be happy when or if we do?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Travels: Party of one

I spent some time during this Spain and Portugal trip travelling alone. The evening I ventured out on my own, I had my friend walk me to the entrance of the metro station. It was not for fear of my safety walking a block to the metro but I wanted a little companionship up until the very end. I was rather nervous, to tell you the truth.

When I came back to Århus, my friends asked me about this trip. One remarked that I seemed ... different after this one than the others. Perhaps it's true that I am somewhat different than I was before but I think this is a change that more likely happened over the last five months rather than a two week trip. I think I gave such an impression because I gushed about the trip to them. But my sudden effusiveness wasn't a manifestation of some newfound daring but precisely because I didn't have anyone to share these comments with while I was in Portugal. 

Travelling alone has its conveniences, certainly. There's no negotiating of what to do and what to skip. Importantly, I can take as many photos as I want! 

But after a couple days I wanted someone with whom I could share my delights and frustrations. While I have taken my journal on every trip I've taken, I am a noticeably more prolific writer on the days when I'm alone. On the one hand this is simply because during the evening I don't generally go out by myself so journaling is a way to pass the time. But it's also because I needed some outlet to thoughts that had come to me that day.

Luckily I met another traveler like myself, an American college students studying abroad in Europe for a semester. Before this I didn't really believe it when people said that it was easy to meet other travelers because it always seemed to me that the people staying at my hostel were already travelling in groups or for whatever reason we just never wanted to do the same thing. But this time we hit it off very well. It turns out that we would be in the same city for a couple days later on so we met up again. 

During one of our trips together, she remarked that it was nice to have a travel companion. I wholeheartedly agree. I didn't write in my journal when we were together because I actually had another human being to talk to. It also felt a lot better that we could check up on each other.

She told me a scary anecdote that made me realize the importance of keeping someone informed about your whereabouts, even if they're not travelling with you. On one of the many flights of her month-long travels, her plane was hit by lightning. No tragedies occurred but for a few terrifying moments she thought the worst. Her parents didn't know that she was on this flight. After that close call, she decided that in the future she would keep them informed of her flights though not of the hostels she was staying in.

For the most part traveling alone wasn't that bad... except when my return flight from Portugal got cancelled. My lowest point on the whole trip was the day I found out my flight was cancelled. I was left stranded in Faro, a small town in the Algarve but I was ready to get on that plane back to Denmark. I had to stand in line at the airport to rebook my ticket because, of course, the Ryanair website wasn't working and it seemed that everyone else stranded was at least stranded with their friends, spouses, or relatives. But I was all alone.  I wanted some companionship because I was bewildered by what to do. Should I try to find an alternate flight home from Lisbon, Porto or Seville? If I waited until my rebooked flight four days later, maybe the ash will still be in Faro or maybe even in Denmark! Even though having travel companions wouldn't have been able to make the ash disappear, I could have used some reassurance.

Now that I've been traveling a lot, alone and with friends, I realized that I like best a mix between travel alone and traveling with a few other people but not too many.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I'm bad at saying goodbye

It's a bit blabby, just to warn you.

I can't deal with saying goodbye. I'm actually not leaving Århus for another month but already I clearly feel that this is the end of many things. It seems irrational to me that the end of our time here should make me so sad because I knew that this day would come.

At the beginning of my exchange, I had no idea it would be so hard to leave here. I didn't understand how difficult it was for an Italian exchange student I knew. She was supposed to leave in February or March. Several of her friends post a brief video on facebook to say goodbye to her. She commented below the video that it had made her bawl. I knew she was scheduled to fly back to Italy. But the next day I found out that she decided to rebook or cancel that return flight entirely. She wanted to get back to Denmark as soon as possible, anyway possible. In the end, she got an internship placement in another city in Denmark and comes to Århus on weekends to visit her Erasmus friends. It all seemed so immature to me to do anything to extend a previously decided length of studying abroad. When it's time to leave, you leave and are a little bit sad about it but you know that Erasmus is a finite experience. But now I think I know what that's like.

I've been trying to figure out what it is exactly that I have such a hard time letting go of. The friends I have met here, I will miss. The life that I have lived here in the last six months, I will miss. But it's the experience that I will not be able to continue.

The world is small and we'll meet each other again. And even if we don't, we have Skype, we have Facebook.  But the set of circumstances during which we have been friends will not be the same.

It sounds like I'm saying that I don't miss my friends here but that's not what I mean. I will miss them very much but I am just a teeny bit comforted by the fact that we will keep in touch in other ways. All these people will remain. The geography doesn't bother me that much because I have friends living in different states. We don't see each other except via social media. I can deal with that. When I was feeling particularly sad about our impending diaspora, I repeated to myself, "We have Skype. We have Skype. We have Skype," like a mantra.

But the experiences here are not only dependent on individual people but also circumstances which will never occur again. There is only one first time. There is only one moment where we went to the beach and the sea and the wind and the clouds and the sun looked that way, only one moment where we looked that way and felt that way. My friends here will continue to exist after Erasmus ends but our Erasmus semester itself will end. And I'm not sure that anything can comfort me.

There were times in the first weeks in Denmark where I missed the States dearly. Now I know that my first few weeks back "home", I will miss my friends and my life in Århus intensely. Thanks to all my Stateside friends who sent their cyberlove when I shamelessly asked for it. I know when these Århus friends that have dispersed, I will go home to you all.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Travels: What's the daily recommended number of egg yolks?

Number of egg yolks consumed in 1 day: at least 4 or 5 ...

I don't eat well when I travel except that day in Seville that I already blogged about. Basically I eat breakfast at the hostel, a lunch of a sandwich and fruit, and come back to the hostel for dinner of another sandwich or pasta or something equally of no nutritional value.

Sometimes I sample local sweets. In Lisbon I had pasteis de Belém, egg tart pastries made from a lot of egg yolks, from the bakery that supposedly has the best ones. They were delicious with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Unfortunately during my two days in Lisbon, I decided that I would buy half a dozen eggs because my hostel had a very nice kitchen (for a hostel) and an omelette or hard-boiled egg would be a welcomed change. The day that I ate two pastéis de Belém, I had also eaten two eggs earlier in the day...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Travels: Literacy

It must be the season for book fairs in Spain and Portugal. I saw booths set up in parks in Madrid, Seville, and Lisbon. I wandered through them but didn't buy anything as I don't know any Portuguese and minimal Spanish and I couldn't bring back any more luggage due to flying Ryanair. 



Oriente train station, Lisbon

While in Spain, I realized just how much Spanish I had learned in high school. Of course I had forgotten a lot of it since but I managed to buy bus tickets in Spanish with some gesturing and ask for directions too. I mean, I know more Spanish than I do Danish and I'm living in Denmark. I was hopeless in Portugal...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Travel: Papa Bento

The day before I went to Lisbon, a girl at my hostel in Faro told me that the Pope was going to be there at the same time. Indeed Lisbon was very excited for the visit. Portugal is the second most Catholic country in Europe, after Poland.

I guess in Portugal they don't have bento boxes because the Pope is called Bento.

Nearest distance to Pope Benedict: 50 feet. He went by in the Popemobile but I didn't get a picture of him at that moment. But there he is, very small in the chair.

People attending mass with the Pope: LOADS including me. I read somewhere that there were 80,000 in the square and 200,000 along the streets. 

Average mass attendant: old lady in her 60s. 

Banners, posters, flags with the Pope's face: LOADS 

Bank of the Holy Spirit, appropriately, has a banner of the Pope. 

At the end of mass, a lot of priests came amongst the crowd to give communion. I got a funny look from the old lady standing next to me when I didn't go up for it. 

No thanks. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Travels: My local fixer

As I recounted my Spain trip to a friend, I was asked which city in Spain was my favorite. Sevilla. This was surprising to me and my friend because we both thought that I would like Barcelona or Madrid because they are larger cities than Seville. But Seville was the obvious answer because I had a fantastic local fixer who showed me the local tapas bar where we got what the locals eat and drink.

My and my fixer: Angel(a)

Angel has so far been the only person from the States I have met up with in Europe. I have a lot of new friends here but sometimes it's nice to see a familiar face. 

In Seville I had tapas from a very authentic and not touristy tapas bar, tinto de verano and churros con chocolate. Literally "red wine of summer", tinto de verano is about 2/3 red wine and 1/3 soda of your choice and ice cubes. I had it with lemon soda, not Sprite but something like Schweppes lemon soda, which is much more common here in Europe than in the States. Orange soda is also an appropriate mixer. It's such a popular  drink among locals in Andalucia that 2L pre-mixed bottles are available in every grocery store.

Churros con chocolate is fried sticks of dough dipped in hot chocolate. The fried dough actually resembled a Chinese breakfast food 油条. I started to eat them plain the way 油条 is eaten, which prompted my friend to chide me to start dipping them. The stand we went to was located at one end of the Triana Bridge, the bridge from one side of Seville to the neighborhood of Triana.

Las Columnas is one of the best tapas bars in Sevilla, according to Sevillanos. It was also evident because the place was mobbed on a Friday night! Going to the bar to order was intimidating because so many people were crowded around it. I thought the waiters would forget our order or give us the wrong food but they were good at their job. Their specialty is fried thinly sliced egg plant drizzled in honey. We also had this spinach pie topped with cream sauce and anchovy.

Where's the sangría, you ask. I had that in Barcelona. But I hear that it's perceived by Spaniards as a touristy drink. In Barcelona I had cava, a sparkling white wine produced in Catalonia. I had just a glass but could have had many more...

Thanks Angel! 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Travel: Faro or airport of the Algarve

I wasn't planning to go to Lisbon but my flight out of Faro, in the south of Portugal was cancelled. The next flight I could get on back to Billund was Friday, four days later than my original flight.

I found Faro quite boring. The average citizens, it seems, is a 70+ year old. But the residents seemed outnumbered by British vacationers who all came on EasyJet and Ryanair. That's really the reason Faro is a popular destination at all. It's, I think, the only airport in the Algarve that international flights come to.  Postcards of Faro show its whitewashed old buildings, palm trees, and sea but I think they should have a big photo of a Ryanair plane.

The beach at Faro isn't even very good but I guess it's good enough for northern Europeans desperate for any sun. It's actually several km from the old city center where the train station and bus station are. The beach itself is accessible by a bus which comes only once an hour...

I was desperate to get out of Faro after just one afternoon. I decided to take a 4 hour train ride up to Lisbon, which I found charming and pretty.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Travels: Recent Trips By the Numbers

I finally got back home in Århus at 11:30pm on Friday May 14th. Let me briefly recount my recent back-to-back trips.

I was basically gone for three weeks, with a brief day and a half in Århus:
April 24-April 28: London
Back in Århus for 36 hours
April 30 - May 10: Spain May 14: Spain and Portugal

Cities visited in Spain:

Cities visited in Portugal:

By the numbers:
Days delayed in Portugal due to Icelandic volcanic ash: 4
Hostels stayed in: 6 (Worst hostel of the trip: Faro Youth Hostel)
Percent of mosquito bites sustained at Worst Hostel of the Trip: 86% (6/7) The other was in Lisbon.
Airlines flown: 1 (Ryanair)

Photos and videos taken: 355 in London 843 in Spain and Portugal
Couches surfed: 2

Suntan from my flat that have zigzag straps