thoughts on travel

Hello, my dears! Or rather, Guten tag… ūüôā right now, I’m on an Austrian train from Salzburg to Vienna, have finished with my school trip to Ireland (which was amazing) and am about a week into my family trip. ¬†I’ll try to post as often as I can, because I have a lot to say, but we shall see.

This is where I went to church this morning:

It was lovely, and the choir may have honestly been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. ¬†It was also entirely in German, but oh well. ¬†Details.

I thought I’d briefly type up some of the things I’ve learned thus far while travelling. ¬†Maybe it won’t be brief. ¬†But here are my reflections:

Pack light. ¬†With all of the stairs, trains, and cobbled streets, the last thing you want is a giant suitcase. ¬†Mine, regrettably, seems to be growing with each stop. ¬†I just keep sitting on it… Also, you don’t really need everything you think you’ll need. ¬†Vacuum bags are a thing of beauty.

Another reason to pack light is that you’ll buy things. ¬†And you should. ¬†Not the stupid knick knacks that they sell at souvenir shops. ¬†But if there’s something thats sort of expensive but that you’ll a) never see again b) use a lot c) cherish for a long time, buy it! ¬†I ended up going into a tiny Parisian shop that sold dresses and coming out wearing one of them. ¬†But it’s designed and made by a local woman, so I’m sort of excited about that.

Accept that you will lose something.  Like maybe a brand new CF card.  Or the food your brother steals from you.  Or all of your socks.

Accept that you will be a tourist.  That always makes me feel awkward, going to a sight and taking lots of pictures and speaking loudly in English, but I just had to say screw it and smile when my mom points the camera our way.

Be a good tourist, and not an ugly American. ¬†That means being quiet (such a struggle for me…) and being aware of cultural differences, like bathroom fees and opening train doors…

Unfortunately, you’re still going to offend someone. ¬†Like the very angry bathroom attendant who yelled at me when I didn’t have money to pay the optional fee. ¬†I didn’t know! ¬†Oops.

Make friends!!! ¬†This one is my favorite. ¬†People have so much to say. ¬†Just start talking to someone. ¬†If they‚Äôre unfriendly, then all you’ve lost is their opinion of you ‚Äď and who cares. ¬†They’re a stranger, let them think you’re weird or awkward. ¬†If they’re friendly, though, you‚Äôve gained a connection, a friend, a way to pass the time, and all of the stories that they tell you. ¬†Be safe, CLEARLY. ¬†But chatting with your cabbie, listening to the stories of two old Irish men revarnishing a Presbyterian church, getting emotional with someone about the Gutenburg Bible at TCD, or talking to a dapper British man reading Roald Dahl at a Parisian laverie? Probably okay.

Try to learn the basics of the language. ¬†I haven’t been very stellar with this one this time around, but I can say “please” and “thank you”, apologize (sort of), say “it’s good”, and greet people. ¬†My accent may be awful and embarrassing, and I’ll probably make some hilariously awful slip ups, but most people appreciate the effort. ¬†Well, some people. ¬†It’ll be a mess when we switch countries. ¬†Oh well…

Be aware of the homeless. ¬†This one doesn’t just apply to traveling. ¬†Okay, if I could, I’d give money to every homeless person or street performer I came across. ¬†Maybe not the rude ones. ¬†But I feel for them, and I really want to help them. ¬†Money doesn’t do much, but it’s one of the only ways I can show them that they are loved. ¬†I’ll never forget. ¬†We were walking into the subway system in one of the cities when this very sweet man asked for money. ¬†We moved on, since I didn’t have any, but I got some and ran back to give it to him. ¬†He kissed my hand and absolutely beamed. ¬†Not because it was a lot of money, but because I went back for him.That said, be careful (girls especially). ¬†Don’t be stupid, and don’t talk to people when you’re alone. ¬†Some homeless people will hassle you, and many are mentally unbalanced, so don’t disregard your own safety in your generosity.

Wander. ¬†Dear heaven, wander. ¬†This is some of my favorite advice, because I’ve found some of my favorite places this way. ¬†Stray a bit from the beaten path of touristy areas and find somewhere cool. ¬†Shakespeare and Co is the most wonderful place in the world, and I LOVED IT, and I wanted to live there… I’ll probably write a whole post on it. ¬†UGH. ¬†And in Salzburg, we walked through an outdoor market and bought food from lots of different stalls, then stood around a table outside to eat. We had fried chicken, pretzels, and raspberries, and it was lovely.

Be patient with your fellow travellers. ¬†This is something that I have not been, and I’m so sorry for that. ¬†When you’re with someone constantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sharing rooms, you might start to wear on each other a little. ¬†And that’s normal. ¬†Be gracious, and forgiving. ¬†Try not to fight (or apologize after you do). ¬†Give each other space and alone time.

Don’t sleep in. ¬†Also ridiculously difficult for me. ¬†But when you roll over in bed, and it’s deliciously comfortable, and you’re warm and sleepy and never want to move, try to remember that you’re in a new place that begs to be explored. ¬†(this is a bit of a confession/ self-reminder since it took me 30 minutes and my entire family yelling at me and pulling off the covers for me to get out of bed…)

Do your research. ¬†It will help you be a savvy traveller, and you’ll feel super cool when you know your way around and have tickets and things planned out. ¬†It also makes things less stressful.

But embrace when things don’t go according to plan. ¬†I say when, because they won’t. ¬†Make the most of it, though, and see where the changes take you, because it might be better than what you originally planned. ¬†One day, our episode of Awkward Adventures in Germany was entitled “We don’t get off of trains when we’re supposed to”. ¬†So it turns out that doors don’t actually open automatically… Another American was very upset about it. ¬†And we were too, to a degree. ¬†But we were¬†sitting (serendipitously) next to a wonderfully sweet stranger from the Railway Advisory, and he helped us. ¬†That day was also one of the most fun I’ve had with the jokes that happened and the people we met (Too late…….).

Record your adventures. ¬†Take pictures (but don’t spend so much time behind the lens that you miss out!). ¬†Keep a travel journal. ¬†Don’t say, “I’ll remember”. ¬†You won’t (I’ve forgotten many things this way). ¬†Write it down.

Finally, consider it a beautiful, glorious thing that God is the same in any language. ¬†Christianity allows people to keep their culture and individuality while still being a part of the same family, and it’s amazing to meet and see others who worship the same God all over the world.

That’s all for now! ¬†And I realize that wasn’t brief at all. ¬†OH WELL! ¬†I’ll write more soon with excerpts from my Ireland travel journal and places I’ve been (SHAKESPEARE AND CO). ¬†Until then!

the poet

The Diviner

Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions.
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly,
He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.

~Seamus Heaney

Excuse me while I try to form my feelings and hazy ideas into something that makes sense.

So the week before Spring Break (two weeks ago, I suppose), we were talking about Seamus Heaney in my Irish class.  I adore Heaney, and his poetry is beautiful and meaningful and very much a living thing.  Among all of the things that he has to say about life and Ireland and all the rest, something that struck me the most was his talk of the role of the poet.

Now by poet, I don’t mean strictly someone who writes poetry.¬† That sounds funny.¬† Let me explain.¬† I mean “the poet” in a broader, more ancient sense, one that encompasses more than rhyming or what you may normally associate with poetry.¬† I mean the poet as a sort of epic hero, who brings truth to his people, sometimes painfully.¬† This is the traditional Irish view of the poet, or sencha√≠: someone with great power that speaks the truth, even to the king, and that some fear.¬† He has the power of sight, and can use his words in satires against his enemies.

Or like the Oracles of Ancient Greece: someone who is chosen to be a mouthpiece of the divine, someone who is spoken through. Which brings me to the most important parallel to the poet, the true calling of such a person: the prophet, someone who carries the truth from God to the people.  Although this brings to mind the prophets of the Old Testament who spoke with God (how amazing!), you can still be a prophet today.  Anyone that God uses to speak through is a prophet, and God most certainly still speaks to people.

And around this time in my class, as we’re talking about poetry being made up of partly scop, or craft (being a good writer), and partly vates, or prophesy or vision, speaking the truth, I start freaking out.¬† Really freaking out, and zoning out of some of the discussion or being way too much into other parts of it.¬† I can feel myself getting excited all over again as I type this.¬† I’m looking at my paper right now, and I have little notes scrawled all over it, like:

my heartbeat shakes my whole body in trembling rhythm with the hand of God,

Or this overly-excited realization of the poet’s job:

poet as a go-between!
a translator of truth!
a diviner!
a mouthpiece!
a prophet! an oracle!
a tool in the hands
of He who holds all Truth
a liminal, ferried between
two worlds,
granted another sight by the

poet as messenger
of the eternal, birthright
of an oracle
why am I almost twitching?

a mortal body and an
eternal soul,
like all the amphibians of humankind.

and I am suddenly restless,
yearning, churning, swelling
with a feeling I don’t know
and a desire for something past
this mortal coil.
My heart is beating with desperate purpose.

So, I was freaking out.¬† And still am.¬† Because I couldn’t, and¬†honestly can’t, imagine a greater purpose than being spoken through.¬†¬†The¬†lump in my throat tells me that I desperately want that, to have a purpose, to have this purpose, but I don’t¬†know.¬† I honestly don’t know.

We read another poem that day called “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” (click), where a bird makes a nest in St. Kevin’s hand and he is responsible for their lives and can’t move until they leave.¬† I talked to my professor about the role of the poet and such things after class on my way to study for my calc exam (that was easy to focus on after all of this).

I wrote down all that I could remember of what he said.  He looked at me and told me that the calling of the poet is not an easy one to accept.  He asked me to remember St. Kevin.  What did he do?  He went out to the wilderness and hid away from everyone else.  But God found him anyway.

You were made with a purpose, and you’re here for a reason.¬† I watched the movie Hugo a few days ago (which I heartily recommend), and was nearly¬†moved to tears by certain parts of it.¬† There’s one part in there where Hugo and Isabelle are talking about purpose.¬† Hugo looks at people like machines and wonders if they too become “broken” when they lose their purpose.¬† It’s beautiful.¬† And then he says this:

“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason too.”

You are not an extra part.  I really identify with Isabelle.  I wonder what my purpose is, too.  But I know that I have one, because God has given me one.  We were each made for something.  And I trust that He will help me find that something.


See this:  Seriously, watch this movie.

self-portrait of an artist…

Although it’s a fabulous novel by James Joyce, this post doesn’t actually have anything to do with dear, searching Stephen Dedalus (although he may be referenced in the future).

In my Irish literature class a few days ago, we discussed O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of a Nation”.¬† Basically, some Irish soldiers are holding British soldiers, but they’re friends with them.¬† Eventually, the Irish recieve the order to execute their “chums” and regretfully do so.¬† The interesting part is this:¬† Frank O’Connor’s real name was Michael O’Donovan, and he gives the name “Donovan” to the most detestable character in the story.¬† That Donovan is ruthless and actually looks forward to fulfilling his duty of killing the two British soldiers.

When O’Connor was in the Irish army, there came a point when he did not fulfill his duties to his superiors.¬† Was this self-portrait a mark of regret, or disdain for himself?¬† Or was he simply drawing from past experiences?

When we talked about this in class, it triggered several other memories of artists inserting themselves as less than flattering characters:

In his Persistance of Memory, Dali inserted himself as the centrally-located melting face.

In the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the disgustingly vulgar, self-centered, and lustful patriarch is named Fyodor.

Caravaggio painted himself into several of his works, including a broken and prayerful St. Francis (painted after Caravaggio himself killed a man) and as both David and Goliath.

Michelangelo painted himself into the Last Judgement as nothing but a flayed skin held by St. Bartholemew.

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So what does this tell us about these artists’ souls?¬† They were quite aware of their own mortality, that’s certain.¬† Is this a sign of humility and an admission of their own brokenness and need for salvation?¬† Does this show us that, despite their greatness, they are nothing more than men?¬† Are they projecting to the world, “I am fallen, and sinful, and not like you think I am?”

I’m not entirely sure.¬† But it’s very, very interesting.¬† Thoughts?


Read this: “Guests of the Nation”, Frank O’Connor ; The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky ; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions‚ÄĒit is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

newest obsession

Harry Clarke.

You’ve never heard of him.¬† I know you haven’t.

But he was an Irish illustrator/ stained glass maker.¬† Now how cool of an art form is that?¬† If we’re being honest here, I just spent the last hour or two researching his work (which I’m going to use on a project).

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And that’s not even any of his illustrations.¬† SO GOOD.


Read this: