Tag Archives: beer

Čočková Polévka

That is what is boiling on my hotplate. I eat a lot of lentil soup here. But it is good, it is easy, I can throw in whatever vegetables I have on hand, and I’m pretty sure the lentils provide protein.

I had a good, busy weekend. Posted a lot of pictures, which tell the stories in a more exciting manner than this entry will, I’m afraid. My flickr has a bunch, as does Mike’s (it is fun being friends with a photographer because he documents everything for us and doesn’t even make us pay!), as does Brian’s, as does Tina’s yahoo page.

The Zoo was amazing. I couldn’t ever remember going, although Mom and Dad informed me that they took me to not one, not two, but three zoos when I was a child; all of them have escaped my memory. But there were only a few of us Friday, with Zdeněk, Jana and Jana’s photographer friend, and it was fun to see the elephants and giraffes and lemurs and everybody. Went to Malý Buddha after we got back and I gorged myself on crab meat spring rolls and fried noodles with vegetables. . .all for like 90kč. We went back to Klub Újezd Friday night, had a few drinks, and left to go to a dance club. But we were intercepted at the night tram stop by a Slovakian guy named Robert, who told us he knew a really good, cheap beer hall where lots of locals hang out. We figured we were okay, since there were 5 of us and 1 of him, so we followed him on a long walk around Nové Město (he was totally lost) and eventually ended up at — lo and behold — a big, cheap beer hall with lots of locals. It was pretty fun; we talked with Robert and a few of his friends he was meeting there, I drank some good house bilé vino, and we were boisterous among the Czechs.

Got up early Saturday for a day hike in Hřensko, a little town near the German border. It was fantastic to be out in the woods, get my legs moving without the hindrance of traffic signals or cars or dog poop or frowning Czech people. We hiked about 6 miles on a nice, though heavily-traveled trail, and stopped in a little town to get an authentic Czech lunch at a beer house. I had really good mushroom and potato soup and bread, and the best dark beer I have ever had in my life. It was a Czech microbrew called Březňak, and it was so creamy it almost tasted like a milkshake — but it was beer. It must have been some kind of milk stout. Delicious. Then we hiked a bit more and got on a little rowboat that a Czech guy paddled down this river while pointing out camels and dragons and snakes and lions in the rock formations lining the canyon and playing Amazing Grace for us on his harmonica. We didn’t get home until about 9:30, because our bus driver got lost in Prague for like an hour, so a few of us went to the Hanging Coffee and I had a warm Irská kavá before they kicked out the Americans, as usual, at midnight. We came home and watched Lost in Translation.

Slept in a bit Sunday morning, and then went to Petrin Park for a picnic with TIna, Laura, Brian, Zac and MIke. It was pretty much the best idea Tina has had so far in Prague. I took a baguette, a hunk of Eidam, an apple, and a bottle of Müller Thurgau, and I was set. I also brought along my iPod and speakers and we rocked out to some old school emo while we lounged in the sun. It was a really fun afternoon and felt good to just be outside, relaxing with friends. I had to do homework, however, when I returned. Read a bunch of Kafka (I’m pretty sure he’s going to make me insane) and wrote a paper for Pavla about kitsch, my yellow submarine tattoo, and the films Wedding Crashers (which my roommate gave me a spur of the moment synopsis of, since I haven’t seen it) and Štěstí. Yeah, that’s why I want to go to graduate school for cultural studies.

Had a good day today; got through my boring classes, and walked around Malá Strana and Smíchov a bit to find Mom and Dad’s hotel. The neighborhood where it is seems cool; it is practically in Malá Strana, and close to everything else, so I don’t think they will even need tram passes. (I think since we got tram passes issued to us, we just always take the tram and the Metro, but really, it isn’t necessary at all, because this city is tiny.) The hotel is on the main street, but if you go off a few blocks it is a bit more secluded, and there are some cool bars and a kavárna with “Cat” in the name that I really want to check out. I rewarded myself with a trip to Bohemia Bagel where I ate a cheese bagel with garlic and herb cream cheese. If that doesn’t taste like home, I don’t know what does. It was delicious, and I did my Czech homework while I ate.

I might go to a welcome party tonight for the international students studying at Karlova. It will be cool to meet more of the Germans and Fins and Poles and Danes and French and Swedes that are in some of my classes. And I think there might be free drinks.

Pivo ja dobre.

Two days of classes down, a lot more Czech to learn.

It has been great to have class. It gives me structure and purpose and an excuse for not hanging out every second. My class is from 2:00-6:30 every day for the next two weeks (well, not Friday, Saturday and Sunday), and it is definitely difficult. But I feel like I’m keeping up with the professor, and it isn’t as difficult for me as some of the other people in the class are complaining it is for them. I am amazed at how much I’ve picked up already — I can read some of the signs around town, recognize words and sounds and whatnot. I guess it helps that this is the only responsibility I have right now, so I can focus on it and really try to retain.

My professor is a 50-ish Cechka named Zdena, petite with crazy blonde hair. She’s pretty reserved, but she’s got a good sense of humor, which is nice when you have to teach adults a language like they are toddlers. She took us on a walk today, showed us some off-the-beaten-path places around Stare Mesto, and dropped us off in Wenceslas Square, telling us to find our way home on our own.

Had a good day yesterday. Walked down to campus with Megan and Bekka, got lost because we left the Castle too soon, so it ended up taking a bit longer, but we got there on time. It’s a nice long walk. We went to an orientation at 10:00 and heard from the Director of the ECES Program at Charles University, as well as the head of the Literature department, who is going to be teaching my Kafka and Kundera class. He talked about the course offerings, how the department works, etc. He seems awesome, and I am excited to perhaps go to the pub with him after class and further discuss Czech literature. They are big into their literature here; it turns out that I’m going to take 3 lit classes this semester, because they added a bunch since I first registered. I got into the Kafka and Kundera one for sure, and then I’m taking a course on Czech film since 1989 (when communism ended) that focuses on issues of “identity and containment,” and also a course on Czech Samizdat, or underground Czech literature.

I had a bit of a break before my language class yesterday, so I walked around Wenceslas a bit, got a sandwich near the University, sat on the steps of the building where our classes are and ate lunch. There is a great view of Prasky Hrad there, with trams going by this way and that; it was a good, quintessential Praha time.

Went to my new favorite bar after class — the Engish translation of the name is “The Hanging Coffee,” with the idea being, when you go in, you buy two coffees, and when someone comes in who doesn’t have any money, they can have a free coffee. Megan, John, Mike and I walked up from campus, but got lost, of course. We ended up taking a scenic tour of Praha 6, some more posh areas of the Hradcany neighborhood, and walked through an awesome little park that had fallen leaves crunching all over the ground. We frolicked and sang and felt happy in the fall. I forgot how much I love the fall; I always do, until it is here. It will be nice to spend the fall here. My last few falls have been pretty great ones; this one will be different, but good, too, I think.

So I had a few Gambrinuses at the Kafe, hung out with Megan and Zac and John and Mike and Tyler, and got some delicious potato dumplings for dinner; they had smoked meat inside them, and were surrounded by cabbage sauteed with onions, kind of like sauerkraut but stronger. Delicious.

We left the bar after a few hours and decided to go up to the Castle again, because it is so flippin cool in the dark. We just stood outside the gates and talked, and happened to be there for the changing of the guard. That was pretty creepy. I haven’t really though much about the political history of this country and this city, but seeing those guards dressed in their real army outfits, with hats and guns with bayonets made me think about the days under Nazi rule, even the oppression under communism. There was nothing novel or chintzy about them, nothing to make it seem merely ceremonial, compared with the stereotypical red suits and funny bearskin hats that the British guards wear for the tourists to stand around and photograph. It was erie to be watching this in front of this ancient Castle, in which who-knows which world leaders have lived and conducted their most important business. (Zdena told us today that the President of the CZ has his office there now.) But the night, the eerie, the quiet, the Praha made it feel like another time, a time I’ve never gotten an inkling of in America.

I ate breakfast at the dorm again today, and took my time showering and drying my hair for the first time since i’ve been here. I walked downtown again, this time on real streets, not through the Castle. Went to the AIFS Office in Wenceslas Square to check my email and pay my 200kc deposit for the trip to Moravia this weekend, and the 50kc deposit for the day trip to Chesky Kremlov, in Bohemia, next Saturday. I didn’t get lost once the whole way there, and it was a great walk through Old Town Square and down a commercial street I’d never been on. I felt quite good about being able to get around with no trouble; I think I’m finally getting somewhat of a mental map. So then I walked back to school, found a cool courtyard on the way that had lots of interesting sculpture in it, very contemporary stuff, and sat on a bench there for a bit with some Czech students and studied. Then it was class, and a tram back home, because I have walked a ton today.

My suitemate is talking to her parents on the phone in Serbian. She lived there until 1998, when she moved to the States. I have my windows open, and there is a bit of a breeze coming in. The weather here has been hot. It’s been sunny and warm every day. I think I’m staying in tonight, maybe will watch a movie with some people, call Mom and Dad, because I haven’t talked to them in a while. Eat some more of the really good dark Czech chocolate, and continue drinking 1.5 litre bottles of bubbly water (or perliva voda, not to be confused with neperliva voda, which was the still water I meant to buy). But I’m kind of beginning to like it. . .

I Have Arrived.

I’m sure when classes start I won’t have enough time to write blog entries after every thing I do. Also, there probably won’t be as many new, exciting things happening every day to write about. But there are, now, and I like writing about them, so I’m doing it.

Got up this morning and went for a run. It was nice, although I felt a bit out of place, and people were looking at me funny. Silly Americansky, all health-consciousky. I ran away from downtown on a main street near the Kolej; I haven’t ventured away from downtown yet, only toward it. So that was cool; there are a lot of little shops and groceries and cafes and pubs — and old Czech men drinking beer on the pub patios at 9:15 in the morning.

I ate breakfast at the dorm again, and went to the internet cafe across the street to activate my AIFS debit card. Gmail wasn’t working, so I couldn’t check my email. Then I took a shower, and Kathryn and I decided to venture down to Wenceslas Square and Tesco for groceries and little things for the apartment. We hopped a tram down there, and I thought we would have to get off at a certain stop to catch the Metro, but we got off there and there was Tesco!! So we ventured all over the 5-story consumerist hellhole, buying can openers and cleaning supplies and blankets and towels and groceries. I got a good week’s worth of food — apples, bananas, rice, whole wheat pasta (once I found the health food section), tomato sauce, baked beans (I couldn’t find black beans!), bread, turkey, cheese, bottled water — for 350kc (less than $20). What a deal. And it was only a mildly harrowing experience. (See Appendix A.)

We went down to campus today for an orientation meeting. It basically consisted of Marketa reading us everything that was in the literature they gave us when we were accepted to the program. But we saw the building where our classes will be, and it gave us an excuse to be downtown. After the meeting, my friends wanted to look at cell phones, so we went to the Oskar store and got the scoop. I’m still not convinced I’ll need one, so we’ll see how this week plays out once everyone else gets theirs. We walked around a bit and tried to find a place to sit down and eat; we ended up at a weird fast-food wrap place. I don’t remember the name, but they served a bunch of different types of wraps, like Greek and Thai and Japanese and Italian and Norwegian and Dutch and French. So I had a Thai wrap with chicken and good Thai dressing and lettuce and tomato. Not very Czech, but cheap and good. Then we decided we wanted a bar and some beer (because I hadn’t had any yet and it was like 7:00!!!), so we walked to Mala Strana, where none of us had hung out, and found this awesome place called U Stkaklksdf Cafe. They had 27kc (about $1.10) pints of Pilsner Urquell, so we hung out there, and it turned out it had free WiFi, and I also happened to have my computer in my backpack because I was afraid of thieves taking it while we were gone, so I passed it around and we all checked on class schedules, etc.

There were a couple of other American-looking girls in there, so we talked to them and it turned out they were from American University, doing the FAMU program, living in the dorm next door to the cafe — the dorm that Teddy is living in! So I asked if they knew him; they did, and he was a good friend of one of them. So the one girl said she would tell him she saw me, but he was out or whatever. But about a half hour later, who walked in but TEDDY!!! It was crazy — I haven’t seen him since we were like 11! So we caught up, talked about what we had been doing in the past 10 years, talked about his program and its director, who was a Czech ex-pat in the US for a while, and came back after communism and now lives at the Kolej and runs this program. So it was incredibly good to see him, just cool to see a formerly-friendly face in a crazy place halfway across the globe from where you last saw each other.

So, we got a bit rowdy at the bar after our 3rd round, and were getting kind of obnoxious, so we left a big tip for the American-friendly Czech bartender, walked back up the hill to our dorm and hung out in the lobby a bit. A lot of people were around tonight, probably feeling like they should be social because school is starting or something. We have an orientation for our intensive language course at 10:00 tomorrow morning, and then class after that. I’m excited to get started, have school, learn, have some structure and some more things to occupy my time. It’s been nice to hang out, but it will be ever better to get back to classes, learning, intellectual stimulation. And beers between classes, of course. Most of my classes are in the morning and the late afternoon, so I will have lots of time to kill at cafes and pubs and doing work during the day. I can’t wait.

So, I had plugged my computer in with my Czech adaptor for the first time when I started writing, and there were weird little blips on my screen. I felt the adaptor and it was really hot, so I unplugged it and now it kind of smells like burning. This is not a good sign. My Pod is also dying, so I was hoping to charge that, too. I should probably figure out what is going on, if I need some kind of transformer or something. I wonder how I do that. . .call 1-800-APPLE? Oh, wait. I’m in Eastern Europe. That won’t be possible. Guess I should conserve battery, then, for now.

Therefore, time for bed. Gonna get up and shower and eat breakfast so I hopefully have enough time to walk down the hill and across the bridge to class. That will be nice.

Appendix A:
Things that are similar between Tesco in Praha and Giant Eagle in Squirrel Hill:
1. Elderly Eastern European people speaking Eastern European languages with anger.
2. More people than the aisles can comfortably accommodate.
3. Not enough cashiers.
4. Lines at the deli.
5. Braeburn apples (my favorite).
6. A very rushed and frenetic atmosphere.

Things that are different at Tesco in Praha than at Giant Eagle in Squirrel Hill:
1. Prices listed in Crowns instead of US Dollars (this is a bridgeable gap, because I am a mental math star).
2. Clerks at the deli counter who speak English; in Praha, one must point to the type of cheese one wants and then nod when the clerk has put enough of said cheese on the scale, or one must try to pronounce the type of meat one wants and be corrected by the clerk, but with a smile.)
3. The price of Braeburn apples (my favorite) — 16kc per kilo, compared with $1.69 per pound.
4. The presence of delicious dark chocolate candy bars for 9kc.
5. A little counter by the produce that you have to take your produce to, where a man weighs it and puts a sticker on it for checkout ease.

Czech, Czech. . .

I am in Prague.

Finally, after a somewhat harrowing day yesterday in transit. My hotel-roommate had to get on a bus to the airport at 4:15, and even though my shuttle didn’t leave until 6:15, I didn’t go back to sleep after she left. I got on the bus at 6:15, but we didn’t get all the luggage loaded until about 7:00, so more sitting. We got to Heathrow quickly, though, and drove past the brewery that makes London’s Pride.

I was quite amazed at how easy it is to fly when you are not in America. As we were walking up to security, I untied my boots so I could take them off quickly — the security lady looked at me like I was crazy and told me to keep them on. They set the alarms off in Pittsburgh a few days ago, so I looked at her skeptically, but I walked through with no problem. I didn’t have to take my laptop out of my backpack, and they didn’t look at my passport, ever, until right before I boarded the plane. They also don’t assign gates to flights there until right before they leave, so everyone sits in this big waiting area with tons of shops and restaurants and kiosks and watches these little TVs to check gate assignments. Much different than flying in the States, for sure.

We sat in the plane for a good hour before we actually took off, but the flight to Munich was fast, I dozed off, and the landing was one of the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. (I have been impressed as all get-out by British Airways, all around.) The Munich airport is really cool — lots of neat, clean lines, tons of open space and glass, very German. I think I’d like to go back to Germany at some point in the semester; Berlin is close by train and would be cool to see. There was a big yellow Mercedes bus there to pick us up, so we piled in and hit the Autobon — the first highway; it still has no speed limit. We sat at the border of Germany and the CZ for about an hour while the officials checked all our papers. That was a pain.

But the first stop we made once we got into the CZ was in Pilsen, at the Pilsner Urquell brewery, of course!! They served us tall mugs of fantastic Pilsner with about 3 inches of head, and we had our choice of authentic Czech dinners — I had beef sirloin in a vegetable cream sauce with Bohemian dumplings (which are actually like slices of rich, heavy white bread.) It was delicious. We got back into the bus and were finally headed to Praha.

We got to our dorm, the Kolej Komenskeho, around 9:30. Waited in a big line to check in, and got to my room on the second floor of this old dorm building. My roommate is a girl named Kathryn, from Long Island, who is studying elementary/special education at the University of Rhode Island. I was a bit overwhelmed when I got here, after a long day of traveling, and coming into a barren dorm/apartment that definitely made me feel like I was in post-communist Eastern Europe. I called Mom and Dad with one minute left on my phone card after connection fees and pretty much just spent it crying. But Kathryn and I put up pictures on the walls, moved our stuff in, and it felt a bit more homey.

A door to our suite opens from the hallway, there is a toilet to the left in a little cubby (it flushes by pulling a string above your head), and there is a hallway that leads to our room. We have a room with two beds (they look like beds, but they just have these long church-pew-like cushions on them). We have two cabinets stacked on top of each other that we use as dressers, two desks with drawers, two chairs, and three big windows. Outside our door is a little kitchen-type area with lots of cabinets, a mini-fridge, a hot-plate, and a sink. Also in that hallway are four floor-to-ceiling (the ceiling is probably 12 feet high) wardrobes, for us and our 2 suitemates. To the left is their bedroom, and to the right is a tiled room with the shower and sink. The shower is interesting — it is just a free-swinging hose with a nozzle at the end, so you have to hold it the whole time you’re in there so it doesn’t fly all over and spray everything, and you have to turn it off every few minutes so the drain can drain. But the water is hot. So, it is an interesting setup, to say the least. I’m calling it home for the next 3 months.

I was feeling pretty disheveled when I got here, kind of didn’t know what to do with myself. I used a phone card they gave us to call out, but Mom and Dad and Jut weren’t there. So Zac and I decided to go for a walk; he wanted to go to an ATM to get some crowns and by cigarettes, so we found the nearest one, and I walked off some of my nervous energy. We ran into some other people from the program, and a kid named Dylan, from Illinois, joined us to find cigarettes. We finally stumbled upon a little cafe that sold Marlboros — Zac got a pack of Lights and a lighter for 77kc, less than $3. After that we just kept walking, and stumbled upon Prague Castle, which turns out to be about 10 minutes from our dorm. It is really amazing — it makes me think of communist Russia; a mass of people gathered on the flat stone floor, their cheers echoing off the tall walls (come on, it’s almost poetic — I’m trying for that irony. . .). Within its walls is an incredible gothic cathedral with endless turrets and creepy gargoyles of screaming ghost-women. It was so cool that everything was still open at 10:30 at night, and it was really great to walk around at that time not only because it was really eerie, but because there weren’t many tourists around. We sat there for quite a while, just enjoying the solitude, the amazing cathedral, the night sky, the lights of the city across the river. I needed that, just to feel a bit more calm here, like this will be a bit more manageable; I needed to see pretty-Prague, not crazy or ghetto-Prague. It was a nice welcome.

We walked aimlessly for a while, down cobblestone streets with high walls and houses on them, winding around and up hills, until we got our bearings again and found our way back to the dorm. I finished unpacking and felt better about being here. It’s culture shock, for sure. It will be better when I learn some of the language — people say a lot of English is spoken in Prague, but all the street signs/names, signs at stores, billboards, signs on Trams, etc are in Czech. I haven’t seen or heard much English, so far; I will be much more comfortable when I can understand some of the Czech.

And there’s a strange kind of loneliness — a twinge of that loneliness that persists even when you’re surrounded by people, because you feel like you don’t know/trust/like any of them; but there’s something more, something related to being an outsider, probably, something having to do with gaining perspective on the country you come from, knowing how other people think about you because that’s where you’re from. Probably also something about not understanding the words the letters you see make, sometimes not being able to identify the letters themselves. It will take some getting used to. But it is beautiful here; I’m sure there will be moments like seeing the Castle last night, which will be what keeps me going.

Slept well last night, on my church-pew-bed. Got up and took a shower, as described earlier. Went down to breakfast, which is served every morning for us, in a cute little room in the dorm basement. Little Czech ladies put the food out for us and bustled about. There were doughnuts, bread, rolls, jam, lots of different lunch meats and cheeses, cut up tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers, yogurt (that tasted more like cream cheese), fruit, watered-down Tang, water, coffee and tea. Not bad.

So, we are meeting in the hotel lobby soon and are going to a brewery for lunch. Then we are getting a tour of downtown Prague, places we need to know about like the post office and AIFS office and the nearest Tesco’s, which is supposed to be the “best” place to get groceries in Prague — oh, British Empire. I’m hoping to change some of my American dollars into crowns, and hopefully go out tonight, get some beer or wine, get more acclimated. It will be nice to see the city in the daylight, since it was difficult last night to get my bearings. Viva, Praha.

All of London, 30 Hours, It Can Be Done.

I pretty much saw everything in London today.

I got up and had a nice continental breakfast at the hotel while I read the London paper. Lots of lunchmeat and cheese and pastries and fruit for breakfast, and good bran flakes with yogurt. It has been strange to read the news and watch TV coverage of what’s going on in New Orleans, while being here. It feels surreal to hear other people commenting on what’s going on in your own country when you aren’t there. All the editorials here are lambasting us for being such racists, since the majority of people who got out of New Orleans were white, and the majority who are stuck there are Black and Latino. An accurate and critique worth thinking about, I’d say.

We had a big guided bus tour that started at 8:45, and our cheeky, middle-aged British lady tour guide took us around to all the sites — Prince Albert Hall, St James Palace (where we got to stand next to a stone-faced guard in a red jacket with a bearskin hat), Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Picadilly Circus, Soho, Trafalgar Square. . .you name it, we drove past it in a bus, and if we were lucky, we got out and took pictures. We ended the tour at the Tower of London, where our admittance was prepaid. So we ventured in a for a bit, saw some torture chambers, the Crown Jewels, etc.

Then a group of us decided to venture across the Tower Bridge and we walked along the Thames to see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (the third one, because of that damn fire-attracting thatched roof) and ended up at the Tate Modern. What an incredible museum. I guess I’m used to the Carnegie International being the most art I get, so this blew me away. They have an amazing Mark Rothkoe room, and the galleries are arranged by subject, rather than time period or artistic movement — I particularly enjoyed the “Landscape/Matter/Environment” and the “Nude/Action/Body” sections. We picked up a few more people in our little sightseeing group, and after I defended the value of modern art against Victorian pictures of little boys and boats and puppies, we walked back across the Thames on a cool pedestrian bridge and found the nearest Tube station.

We bought all-day Tube passes for £4.70, hopped on the Circle Line, and ended up at Covent Garden. It is a cool, hip place to eat and drink and shop and walk on little cobblestone streets, so we wandered there for a while before finding a pub to crawl into. I had an amazing amber ale — London’s Pride — that was the best beer I’ve had thus far in Europe, and we hung out for a good while. It was the first time I felt like I was at a pub drinking with friends, rather than random people I met for study abroad, so that was a great feeling. It was me; Zac from Pittsburgh; Tina; a girl named Megan who goes to Gannon in Erie; Becka, from Minnesota; John, from Lubbock, TX; and Mike, from Austin, who has great music and film taste (he brought up Matthew Barney and Cremaster at the pub!!) A nice little clique with a good dynamic.

After the pub, we got back on the Tube and decided to ride to a random stop and explore there, so we ended up a few stops up at Goodge Street, a kind of technological center, it seemed. I convinced the group to hop on the Jubilee line and go to St Johns Wood with me for my Beatles pilgrimage of London — Abbey Road. They obliged and we walked across the zebra-striped street, posed next to the scrawled-on street sign, and I marveled at the EMI Studios, “where it all happened.”

We went back to the station to head down to Chinatown for dinner, but there was a power outage and the Jubilee line wasn’t working. So we got on a big red double-decker bus instead, and rode to another station to connect with another (functional) Tube line. We ended up in Chinatown and ate at a dingy restaurant and had big plates of beef and vegetables and rice for about £7. Not bad. We stopped at a convenience store on the way back to the Tube and I got a £1.49 can of Stella Artois for the ride; went to the internet cafe across from the hotel and wrote some emails, and now it is time for bed.

It was a good, busy day. I like London, and would enjoy spending some more time here, getting to know the place, driving around on the country routes, if you will. Perhaps someday. . .

All The Gold in California. . .

I am done. I made this official today by drinking a Red Hook draft at an airport bar, and smoking Marlboro menthols with KJ this evening.

Our closing retreat was surprisingly amazing. I didn’t realize how much I had bonded with my Area, the San Diego and San Francisco staffs, how much fun we had together and how well we had gotten to know each other, despite the short amount of time we got to spend together. We had a blast hanging out the past few nights, going to dinner together Sunday night, staying up late playing Mao at the hotel, having an emotional processing time Monday afternoon, a great time of just us worshipping Monday night, staying up together and finally falling asleep at the church.

It was also surprisingly difficult to say goodbye today. I didn’t feel all that invested in this whole thing this summer as it was happening, but as I realized that I might never see any of these amazing people again, all that has happened in the last two-and-a-half months hit me. Tyler and I saw Ricardo off at 4:00 this morning, praying together one last time, crying. I saw Tyler and Stephen off at 6:00, and then rode to the airport with Becky, Ross, Ben, Brandon, and Jessica. We went to the bar and celebrated, said our goodbyes, and Becky’s mom and brother came to get us. They dropped me off at the Applebee’s in Brighton, Colorado, where KJ was going to pick me up. I said goodbye to Becky and sat on a bench in front of the restaurant with all of my crap, watching them drive away and just crying, feeling more lonely than I’ve felt in a long time.

It’s crazy to go from living in this type of community — the support, accountability, love, encouragement, presence that is so constant. And even for all the times I may have wanted to get away from it, have time to myself, for people to just leave me alone — it really is powerful to live like that, and when it is suddenly gone, it really hurts. I truly grew to love all those fools this summer, especially Becky, Tyler and Ricardo. Despite how we must have felt when we met each other, having nothing at all in common, wondering how in the world this summer was ever going to work out, God drew us together, and I’m walking away from this summer with a bunch of life-long, dependable friends.

I kind of hate the closing retreat because it makes me forget about all the crap we deal with during the summer and makes me love YouthWorks again. Honestly, last night I was listening to someone talk about a site in Wyoming and I was like, “Yeah, I could totally do this next summer and go to a rural or reservation site!” It’s sort of absurd. I hope I have a real job by next summer so I don’t have to fight about whether or not to come back.

So, I’m at KJ’s now in Greeley — he picked me up from Applebee’s and we went to lunch with his friend, Dale, who has been working with him on the book he wants me to edit. We had good, stimulating conversation about the relevant church, youth missions, and mega-churches over pizza with artichokes and avocados and cream cheese and tomatoes. We went to KJ’s church and he showed me some of the stuff he’s been working on with his youth group. He’s really doing an amazing job out here — it was just refreshing and encouraging to see a youth pastor who cares about his kids, who wants to challenge them and engage them, who is helping them grow, after all the jerks we’ve seen this summer who don’t seem to care. He also made me edit a letter his secretary wrote for him. With a red pen.

We hung out with his youth tonight at a Tuesday night “Cafe” hang-out thing they do. At first I was like, “If I have to engage with kids one more night I’m going to knife myself in the eye,” but it was good. His kids are cool, and it was awesome to see a bit of their post-mission-trip processing, just to reinforce that they get something out of it. I also got to hang out with an adult leader from San Francisco two years ago and just catch up with her, which was great. The bonds I’ve made through YouthWorks never cease to amaze me.

It’s been awesome to chill with KJ and Yendra at their house — all of which are awesome. Yendra is really cool; I like her a lot. I had really no idea what to expect of her, but she’s a really sweet girl and it was great to talk with her this evening. Their house is really cute — they’ve done a ton of work on it and have made it into a home. Instead of a TV in their living room, they have a lilly pond/waterfall thing with fish in it. KJ said that not having a TV forces them to talk to each other and hang out together, even when they might not want to. They’re working on their basement now, and I have it all to myself for my stay — a room with a big double bed, a bathroom with my own shower. It’s cool to see KJ and Yendra together — I can hear them talking upstairs in bed, and it’s really cute. I’m sure they have their share of troubles, as any young couple does, but they are cute together and it’s just nice to be around them.

I’m going to turn in early, being as I slept about 3 hours last night. KJ is taking the day off tomorrow and we’re going to Estes Park to hang out at cafes and talk about his book, and then I’m finding some way back to the city to my hostel. Train-ing out bright and early Thursday morning to Albuquerque!

sometimes you’ve gotta go

“I love this bar.” – Toby Keith

Went to the bar last nite and got trashed on $5 pitchers of Budweiser with 2 old friends and 4 new ones. It was awesome.

I was having a bad day – I’ve been having a string of them – and it was confounded by a too-much nonfiction readings class with Lee Gutkind. There’s something almost erotic about listening to people reading things they’ve written. It’s interesting enough reading other people’s stuff, but to hear them read it is almost overpowering – it’s vouyeristic, but not listening-to-the-people-next-door-doin’-it vouyeristic, it’s like creepy, emotional vouyeristic. I don’t know. . .you can learn a lot about the way someone acts or carries his/herself from listening to them read something they’ve written. When you’re doing that, you can’t hide your insecurities, you can’t always keep up the act you keep up the rest of the time. So I don’t know, I was just struck by a sadness in people around me, an emptiness, a numbness, that rubbed off on me. It makes me think about whether or not I can actually write this San Francisco memoir I’m planning to do. . .the other day, I couldn’t even get through reading some old notes and drafts on my computer from a story I tried to write about Doug. But anyway. . .

So after class, Jut, Josh, Thomas and I went down to P.D.’s, and had just finished a pitcher when Caitlin and Jen showed up, and later Jen’s friend Greg. We had a good time getting drunk and gossiping about nonfiction and laughing and trying to figure out how old the bartender was cos she looked about 14. I haven’t gotten that drunk just on beer in a long time. It was a fun, stereotypical social situation that was just really good to be a part of.

I’m listening to Rent and enjoying it – a lot. It’s so cheesy, and it’s a flippin opera, but it’s great.

Giving myself a snow day today and getting stuff done around the apartment, getting some schoolwork done, working on internship and study abroad stuff, and maybe getting my hair cut.

Just got this joke in a stop-paying-high-prices-for-your-meds piece of spam:
Three brothers bought a ranch in Texas and planned to raise cattle. They couldnt think of a name for their ranch so they asked their mother, who said, You should name it Focus. The brothers were puzzled. Why? they asked. Because, said their mother, Focus is where the sun’s rays meet. (Note: this joke is famous because it is a triple pun! In physics, a focus is the point at which rays of light come together or meet. The mothers sentence also sounds like, Focus is the place where the sons raise meat.)

Wow.