Tuesday, September 29, 2009


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

It has been another week of tremendous adventures in Europe! I visited the grocery store last Monday to stock up on food for the month. The aisles of the local Aldis were quite different than the Aldis where I shop at home; there is an aisle for Indian food, an aisle for vinegar and salt, a freezer for chips, and seemingly thousands of choices of cheeses. I selected all of the necessary groceries and then wandered the store looking for some brownie mixes or something to satiate my sweet tooth. Finding no high calorie snacks on my own, I asked for help and was directed to a small stand of desert products with unfamiliar brand names and ingredients. The packaging for one cake-like product said “sugar icing” so I figured it would probably be a winner. I walked home from Aldis to open my sweet treat and discovered that it was… a fruitcake. I don’t know anyone who enjoys receiving fruitcake, but more so, I don’t know anyone who would be pleased to get a fruitcake when one had expected a traditional cake. I took a bite of it and was surprised to discover that I actually really like fruitcake. Life is full of times when we get fruitcakes while expecting something better. I don’t know why I jumped to the conclusion that the fruitcake was bad when really, I had never before tasted fruitcake. Perhaps instead we should be open to all types of foods that come in strange packaging: we never know what life will give us but, maybe it will be better than we expected.

My flat mates are continuously surprised with my lack of recognition of popular British foods. One dish that my roommates all enjoy is called “cheese on toast.” I asked Katie, one of my roommates, how to make cheese on toast and was told, “well… you make toast, and then put cheese on it.” So I did just that- I toasted a piece of bread and then placed cheese on it. Katie saw my creation and told me that I failed at making cheese on toast. Apparently, I am supposed to toast the bread, and then place the cheese on the bread and put the bread in the oven.

Over cheese and toast and fruitcake the other night, my flatmates and I were chatting and I was asked about reclamation projects (where certain words that have negative connotations are “reclaimed” by groups to become words with positive connotations). I explained the many angles of reclamation and why I chose to avoid the “N” word. I was surprised that it took my roommates about thirty seconds to realize what is the “N” word. England treats people of African descent so differently than does the United States. I believe that racism is prevalent in the United Kingdom, but it is so interesting to me that an African person can move about the city without being questioned, stared at, or otherwise singled out. This society is proof to me that a world without hatred toward people of African descent is possible. I still believe that the United States can overcome our legacy of slavery. I hope too that my grandchildren will know the “N” word only in a historical sense.

This weekend I traveled throughout Paris. I spent Friday and Saturday in Paris and Versailles and then on Sunday travelled in Normandy to the city of Caen wherein I was able to visit the D-Day beaches. I saw all of the traditional French sites on foot on Friday and then spent the evening in the Louvre. On Saturday I explored Versailles, took a cruise over the Siene river in Paris, and spent the afternoon at a rally against land mines and cluster munitions. Never before have I been in a country that speaks a language foreign to me all by myself. It was kind of scary to be limited to the phrases “hello” “goodbye” “I am American” and “I live in England.” I didn’t even know how to say that I didn’t speak French! When I learn to successfully navigate a new town I feel so invincible, that I can do anything. The world is my playground and all I have to do is hop on the swings.

In the youth hostel where I stayed in Paris I met several interesting people. The first night my roommates were boys from Japan, the second night I shared a room with a girl from Spain and a girl from France. The Spanish girl challenged me to work harder on learning Spanish. She told me, fairly bluntly, that there is no excuse for me to not be fluent. I am so self-conscious about my American accent when I speak Spanish but my travels have shown me that everyone speaks foreign languages in their own native accent. I will probably never be able to roll my R’s, but if I stop worrying about sounding American and just speak I am sure that I will improve. I really crave the opportunity to live in a country for the purpose of learning a language. I am researching ways to study or to live at some point in a Spanish speaking country to push my Spanish to the level of fluency that I so desire.

One day in Paris I was leaving the metro card purchasing station and heard a loud scream at my feet. A gypsy womyn had positioned herself between my legs and I had not heard her pleas for money. In stepping away from the station I had stepped on her toes. I said I was sorry several times while concurrently wondering why she had decided to sit below my miniskirt. She began moving her hands like the wizards in Harry Potter muttering a curse in my direction. From the position of my studies of race relations, I am very intrigued by the Gypsy populations. I am continuing to read all of the literature I can find about the Gypsys. I haven’t found any remedies to a Gypsy curse online, but I have a feeling that I will be okay. One of my flatmates has also been cursed by a Gypsy and everyone I have met seems to have a very negative image of the Gypsys. At the Tour Eiffel around twenty Gypsy womyn were wandering around with a piece of paper that said, “My mother has been killed and my brother is starving. Please help.”

My main intention in going to Paris was to see the D-Day beaches off the coast of Normandy. I am very interested in World War 2 history and… I love beaches. I bought a train ticket to Caen, France where my guidebook said I could transfer to a bus for the beaches. I got to Caen expecting a developed city that was accustom to English speaking tourists looking for the beaches, instead I found the train station to be surrounded by fields and the nearest stores (about 1 mile away) to be closed on Sundays. I didn’t find a single person in Caen who spoke English. I wandered around the town pointing to the words “D-Day Beaches” in my guidebook hoping that someone would be able to direct me to the correct beach. At one point I was asking a family leaving church and a homeless man came up and indicated that I should follow him. I followed the homeless man for several blocks in totally desolate areas. Eventually we got to a bus stop and I thanked the Lord that this guy hadn’t caused me harm! On the bus I had no idea which stop I should get off at to access the beaches and performed a reenactment of D-Day in the front of the bus until someone figured out what I was talking about. Eventually I got to the beach. First, I went to a museum that was created by D-Day veterans and gave personal accounts of the invasion from the British perspective at Sword Beach. I found the accounts to be very eerie and it was difficult for me to think of so many soldiers and bodies as being real people. The pictures of the graves show the names of boys aged 19-22, boys that are my age. It was eerie to think that those names could have been the names of my school friends, my brother, and people from my community. The World War 2 generation is a generation that I believed showed unprecedented patriotism and dedication to fighting for a cause that they believed to be just. The World War 2 generation certainly is the “greatest generation.” From the museum I made my way to the Casino that was invaded and became a temporary Allied bunker, and to the beaches where thousands of British landed, broke into France, and died. I was surprised to find that the beach was not covered in memories of the war. Unlike the American beaches, no military equipment remains on the beach. Now the beach is a place for people to swim, lay out, fly kites, and ride horses. I have never seen such a happy post-war area. I believe that the message of Sword Beach is that bad things happen but that we can overcome those resentments and deaths. I stood on the beach with German tourists, descendants of the Nazi party, remembering such a horrible atrocity but also enjoying the sun on our faces and the water hitting our legs. It was nice. As I walked along the beach I felt the sand between my toes, sand that could consist of the crushed bones of our Allied brothers. A beautiful world has been given to us by the sacrifice of our sisters and brothers in uniform and we should not forget that sacrifice, but we should also enjoy the legacy that we have been given. One of the German tourists offered to take my picture on the beach. I felt uncomfortable smiling in such a somber place, I think that the Germans sensed my discomfort as they said, “No, smile- the battle is over.” Smile. The battle is over.

After being in a country for which I did not speak the language, any sight of a British flag was much appreciated as it generally indicated that an English translation was nearby. England feels completely like home to me now. When asked about my residence I find myself quickly saying that I live in Preston, England. As my airplane flew back into England I felt like I was coming home after a long weekend away. “Back to my country,” I thought, a place where I know the language and am completely comfortable! A feel a sense of nationalist pride when I see the British flag that I did not feel before arriving in this country. I will always be American and will hold the American flag closest to me, but I never realized that I could have such a connection with multiple countries. I have a feeling that when my parents read this paragraph I will get some very concerned e-mails.

Things are wonderful in Preston as well. While I am gone each weekend my flatmates have managed to get 2 warnings from security meaning that another visit from security will leave us all on the streets. My flatmates are a lot of fun and all very nice. They definitely enjoy sleeping in quite late, sometimes I am eating dinner when I hear the first one wake up. I am lucky to have been placed in such an accepting and welcoming flat. Classes are going wonderfully as well. Today I had three hours of Modern Political Theory and three hours of Ecology. I am infatuated with my ecology course! My ecology professor is one of the leading worm researchers in the world, today he lectured about reproductive habits of worms. My Modern Political Theory course has only four students. At Missouri State the Political Theory courses involved a short lecture and significant amount of time in seminar, in England the course is half lecture where we study the events of the time and history that affected the writing of the theorist (i.e- today we studied the effects of the story of Judith in the Bible and the uprisings against the Medici family on the writings of Machiavelli) and then half seminar. Tomorrow I have Polish and Thursday I have British Politics. I’m off to Amsterdam this weekend and will update upon my return.

All my best,

1 comment:

  1. "Life is full of times when we get fruitcakes while expecting something better"
    fantastic! xxx