Sunday, June 20, 2010

Exhaustion and Bravery...

I arrived in Montreal and let's say its so good to be home. To walk down the corridor of my old apartment, sleep on that sinkable marshmellow sofa, listen to the Quebecois, go through the motions of catching the metro and buses like I did everyday for school... it's a great homecoming feeling.

I arrived after a shitty bus ride that made me convinced never to take a greyhound bus again. I've had some bad experiences with them, and we were delayed, which is to be expected when crossing the boarder between Canada and the US. How I miss the Franco-Swiss boarder crossings where you, more often than not, don't even show your passport. Now that's a boarder crossing!

My life is exhausting me. I feel myself aging ridiculously (and no, it's not just my recent birthday that's making me say this). I am so tired but also, ready for more. What a paradox I am! I am the definitive Gemini. I want to stay home, I want to study, I want to work but I find myself checking out buses to Baltimore, flights to Istanbul, hostels in Warsaw and hotel deals in Rome.

On my many sleepless hours on the bus, I began to think about why I keep doing this to myself. I didn't come up with an answer. Perhaps I'm just never happy, never satisfied, and feel the need to run away.

When people hear about my life, the fact that I am 21 and have already been to 23 countries, that I average more than one flight per month and that I do it, for the most part, on my own, they comment on how brave I am. I don't agree with them. I am not brave. I am the opposite of brave. Brave would be staying somewhere, brave would be fighting for what I want. Personally, I feel that I have just taken the easy way out.

I have friends who moved abroad and started to make a life not even knowing the language, getting jobs, getting degrees and getting papers. That is brave. Me; what have I done? The most I've staying in one place in the last year is 4 months. Not quite - an even 16 weeks! I didn't even make the commitment to study here for a year. When I didn't get the internship I wanted in New York, I took the easy way and stayed in France. Well, the EASIER way - moving to France was not easy. But I didn't even have a real life there. I had a crazy half-life that was bound to end on May 30th. That's not brave. Brave is doing something when you don't know what will happen. I know what will happen. There was a BA flight waiting for me in Paris. That's not brave.

Sitting on the bus I thought of this and how I tend to run away when things get too hard. Staying in the US became too hard, too stressful, so I hopped on a bus to Canada. So I jumped the border. What about having my entire summer planned out? That's not brave. Not at all.

When people say I'm brave I smile politely. In reality, I'm the opposite of brave. I am stupid and naive and nothing about me is brave.

And although I wish I was braver, and stronger, and prettier and more outgoing and a million other things that I'm not, I find comfort in the fact that everyone feels like this sometimes. And although I hate it sometimes, I love that I don't just have one life, I have a multitude of lives that I jump in and out of- I have my Australian life, my Polish life, my French life, my Canadian life, my travel life, my Europe life, my America life. I get to live a plethora of lives simultaneously - that's the only way to look at it. And, let's face it, that's as close to immortality as I can dream of.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Birthday Week

As we all know it, time travels on. And before you know it, you're 21 and jumping across 5 timezones in one week. My "birthday week" started in Lyon and ended in Santa Cruz, CA.
To be honest, I did not get totally drunk and crazy like most people do when they turn 21, (I can do that any day) but I think this short resume will prove that it was a birthday to be remembered for sure!

It all began in France last Saturday with coffee, fruit tartlettes and good company. It then graduated to a sushi dinner, Hagen Dazs icecream in the main square of Lyon, cocktails and champagne. A definite amazing start to birthday celebrations and a fantastic 'aurevoir' to France.

The next morning, I said a tearful goodbye at the Lyon Part Dieu station but was soon welcomed into the arms of the British Airways Paris business lounge. And, well, travelling has never been so luxurious. I must admit, I over-did it on the free food and free alcohol on the way, in both Paris and London, repeating my 'birthday flight' mantra of: "They will have to roll me off this plane!!"

Not to mention the fact that I got to see the Eiffel Tower, London Eye AND fly into New York at night in the one day! Oh, I must not forget the complimentary massage and facial in London!

Then, I had 2 days in New York, and, really, you can't go wrong there. On my first day, I took Manhattan for all it's worth, hiking from Riverside to the Upper East Side, from 96th to 40th. There was 5th Ave, there was St Patricks, there was window shopping and amazing food at the Barking Dog Cafe (as seen on Sex and the City... I read that on the menu... I've never seen a single episode of Sex and the City. I have to recommend the Blue Ribbon Museli.)

After this epic day of Manhattan by Foot... it was my actual birthday. Which started off at the Barking Dog (again - this time for blueberry buttermilk pancakes) and ended up sitting on a curb in New Jersey... go figure. So, after breakfast at the barking dog, I spent the late morning and early afternoon laying on the lawns at Central Park, and then browsing through the bookstore at the Metropolitain Museum of Art - because books and art AND New York - well, if you know me, you'd know I'd be on cloud nine.

After that I took a stressful (to say the least) cab ride to the station through Manhattan traffic. And then some metro, because I went to the wrong station. But, before you know it, I was in Seacaucus, New Jersey, having chatted with a lovely Dominican man on the train, waiting for the next train to Clifton. I met up with one of my oldest friends (oldest meaning - who I have known the longest), in Clifton and we stuffed ourselves rotten on Sushi and drank a bottle of wine each. And the waiters sang happy birthday to me... no waiter has ever sung happy birthday to me, especially while carrying a sundae with candles! After dinner, we dragged ourselves home for more wine, and some gin too. We sat on the porch talking until another friend drove past and took me to the Shannon Rose, an Irish pub in New Jersey. Before we even walked in, my heel got tangled in the seatbelt and I was hurled to the ground. Attacked by a Saab! A massive bruise still lingers on my left leg.

After I picked myself up (with a little help), there was, of course, more wine, some sangria and we finished it off with a round of vodka shots (because it was, in fact, a Polish birthday)... and we headed back. (In all fairness, it was 3am at this point). But, somewhere close to Garfield, NJ, the car broke down and we were stuck waiting for a cab for close to an hour, and that is how I ended my actual birthday sitting on a curb somewhere in New Jersey.

The next day started early, at 6:30 or 7, I think. All I know is that I didn't sleep at all, or if I did, it was for less than half an hour. We went back to pick up the car, which still wasnt starting, hiked to the closest mechanics (me in heels, of course!) to get a thingy (my car-parts knowledge is astounding) to re-start the battery to drive the car over and get it fixed properly. All I noticed is that heels and white cocktail dresses are not the most appropriate when trying to find a small-town mechanic somewhere in New Jersey. We were stuck in 'little Poland' for a few hours, so we aimlessly tried to find a Polish restaurant open for breakfast. There were none (apparently my people don't eat breakfast). So, instead, we got some Polish groceries and ate a pseudo-picnic on the side of the road. There is nothing better when you are stranded, exhausted with aching feet in the heat of summer than mint-apple juice. Nothing. Period.

When the car was ready, we headed to get Peruvian food for lunch. I have to admit, I've missed Ceviche while in Europe... missed it terribly.

The next few days flew by quickly in New Jersey. Those days involved some stresses, but most importantly, good food and good company, and before I knew it, I was running around Seacaucus station trying to find which track I needed to get to New York Pennsylvania Station. It was not easy, but I managed. I also managed to find the Shuttle Bus on 7th Ave/33rd St which got me to La Guardia. I checked in, I paid American Airlines' extortionate fee to check in luggage, and I settled down for the few hours that I needed to wait until I could board my flight to Chicago. Now, I dont know if it is common knowledge, but perhaps it should be; Airlines HATE me. There is not one flight with a major airline that I have been on in the last 3 years that was not delayed or cancelled or something. And well, we were stuck sitting on the tarmack in La Guardia for 40 minutes.

Now, 40 minutes is not that long, I understand. But when one only has 40 minutes to connect to one's San Francisco flight in Chicago; 40 minutes is vital. So, we landed at 7:53pm local time at the Chicago O'Hare airport and my plane was boarding at 7:55pm. By the time everyone got off the plane, it was 8:10pm and all I could do was sprint across the airport to my gate. I made it. But only just. All in all, I spent 32 minutes in Chicago. I landed in San Francisco, found Amy and Yusef (my wonderful hosts in California) and we drove back to Santa Cruz.

Today was the last day of a pleasant stretch of time I have refered to as my 'birthday week'. I lounged around a bit and spent hours getting grilled, toasted, baked and all round reddened by the sun on the beach. Then we went out for Sushi. And it was wonderful.

So I didn't get drunk and wake up in a strange parking lot wearing only half my clothes and one shoe. I didn't play 'kings' in a VIP vodka bar. I didn't organise a lavish party for my friends and spend hunderds on a dress. I spent 17 Euros on a dress and traversed through 3 countries, 5 timezones, 10 cities. I experienced the full range of sensations, from free massages to waiting for a cab on the side of the road. Looking back on it, I loved it, and I definately wish all my birthdays involved a crazy week during which, on many occasions, I laughed to myself and thought 'how did I get here' - but in a good way.