Growing up in my house was never dull. My parents are conversation starters, and so became Steven and I. We would sit at the dinner table all together, every night for eighteen years with so few exceptions that I could probably count them on my fingers, and discuss things which deserved to be discussed. The topics, tones, and takeaways could respectively span from arbitrary to topical, lighthearted to serious, and righteous to Far Side-esque. There was a gentle urgency to the conversations which pertained to dangerous fads on the news, like teens who were eating bath salts or fainting after hyperventilating and punching each other in the gut. I’m genuinely positive that Steven and I had the innate common sense not to do those things, but how am I to really know that since the warnings started at such a young and malleable age? I’d like to give credit where credit is due for our survival skills. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
Other times the discussions were pedagogical, as it was not uncommon for one of us to have learned something so interesting that it was dying to be tossed around like a hot potato, touched by the input of everyone at the table, taught by whomever had provided the topic. Although the conversations evolved through the years as we matured, the first example that comes to mind is the “scenario” game— a sneaky little tool my parents employed to teach us street smarts when we were in elementary school. A situation would be presented to Steven and I that we as youngsters had never encountered before, and we’d try to concoct the most reasonable plan of action. Then we’d discuss our solutions and my parents would provide insight as to why we were either right or should adjust our strategies. A few examples I can recall were how to politely reject a ride home should a stranger offer one, react astutely if we were blamed for someone else’s fault, and decline to let someone cheat off our tests even if it was our very best friend. Of course, many of these scenarios never did happen, but the safety, diplomacy, and problem-solving skills we learned to apply to other inevitable situations was the key. It was fun and easygoing, yet still offered a crisp sense of competition to see whose answer made sense on most accounts. We would sometimes even request the game if we were feeling particularly prudent.
Mind you, Steven and I are not competitive siblings; this was very mild contention. I’ve actually compiled a comprehensive list of the things that we are truly ruthless about. The only real doozies are: (1) badminton (2) foosball, which is frighteningly intense, and (3) whose senior portrait is above the other on the staircase wall, as we still switch the frames whenever we get a chance. This impressively short list is just meant to prove that we are not the sibling-rivalry types. Except for those three things, which remain cutthroat.
Returning to our dinner conversations— most of the time, they were downright hysterical. I’m talking tears. I’m talking accidental snorting. I’m talking, sometimes I would spit out my milk. This was always due to a perfect storm of comedic timing, shock regarding the line that the comment probably crossed, and all eyes on me waiting for it to happen. While I’d try to regain my composure, which is not easy to do and becomes quite the desperate task when you’ve just taken a giant sip, they would start further embellishing the joke or just repeat it until I finally lost it. One time I think they covered all the plates with their napkins in preparation. My family isn’t mean; they’re brilliant. Also, I’m not embarrassed that you all now know this is something I’ve done more than once. It’s only happened exclusively in their company (don’t pity them— entirely their fault), so you’re all in the clear for any future meals with me.
We tell stories at the dinner table. It might be an anecdote from the day, or an old tale from years ago that we’ve finally deemed acceptable to share with one another. Sometimes it’s a theory we’ve taken an interest in regarding history or philosophy or science, that ends up spiraling into a series of witty or droll hypotheticals. When this happens, the story completely loses its arc. It’s just a hill that keeps rising with the next ridiculous addition and never plunges or even forms the dinkiest parabola again because there is no resolution. Just the final peak which determines whether or not I spit out my milk. I think that’s why my family egged me on so many times while I was trying so freaking hard to contain it; it was like an achievement, a notch in the belt of our collective humor. By the way, I know there are some people out their who might want to say to me after reading this, “You still drink milk at dinner?” Not anymore, okay? I did for a really long time. This was before people got up in arms about milk. I know I’ve said the word “milk” a lot in this post, and I’m done now.
We didn’t have dinner together every night because of a curfew or a rule; that was just where we all wanted to be. Plans could be pushed back or cut a little short for an hour of fun with each other. I was going to think of a fancier word than fun, but in its simplicity, its ease, its pure definition, that is what it is and always has been. There’s a new kind of gratitude that I feel when the four of us, between three cities and busy schedules, all make it to the dinner table again.
I miss yanking on the brass handles of the heaviest door imaginable. Walking into the courtyard of the apartment building, dingy from the outside, dirty still yet from the common interior, yet a sight to behold once in the confines of our apartment. Still outside, yet through the first line of defense, the cobblestone courtyard was half-covered by the higher floors of the building and half in the open air, this being where the dumpsters sat. I miss turning the bigger of my two silver keys into the lock of the second set of doors, slightly easier to open, and reaching over to the adjacent wall once I was inside to press the singular button. Only one button to push from any floor because there was only one elevator to go up or down. It would light up and you’d hear a satisfying “clunk,” and see the traction cables begin to rise through the auto-locked glass door as the lift descended, quite noisily. The door didn’t slide open like one would envision; it came outward like a store’s front door, and the opening was not wide enough for two people to walk into at the same time— single file only. Although it creaked at times, we weren’t afraid of all six roommates getting in at once. If we were collectively sober, however, two of us would be sensible enough to take the stairs to the fourth floor while the other four enjoyed the unsettling ease of the thing— our gravity was always felt intensely as it grunted into liftoff, and then not at all for a nanosecond upon its sudden, inevitable jolt of a stop.
I miss getting out on the fourth floor landing, which always smelled heavily, disgustingly, of fried fish— the only floor that did, based on empirical evidence. I miss twisting the smaller of my silver keys two full times counter-clockwise to unlock the door that led to the Havel Suite. Shouting “Dobry den,” regardless of whether anyone or everyone was home, and opening the translucent door to my bedroom where I’d either find two unmade twin beds separated by the grey and yellow rug, or Steph swaddled in hers. The jet black couch against the window, the many Havel photos and even one caricature of him smiling at us, and the black and white bookcase wallpaper that will be in my future home one day. Taking off my varying layers of jackets depending on the month, throwing it/them on the ground below my hanger bar, and wandering to the kitchen where six girls kept their appetites in one refrigerator. Pouring a full helping of white into the comically small wine glasses provided to us, which never once stopped us from reaching our drunkest— only doubled the amount of time it took to pour— and decompressing as I cooked chicken on the stove or poured pasta into a pot, all the while singing to the Dixie Chicks.
I miss Milka nights. The six of us became so concurrently enamored with the Swiss Alpenmilch chocolate that somewhere along the timeline of our semester together in that apartment, we went from each buying our individual bars and surreptitiously stealing squares of it while the owner wasn’t home, to wheeling through turns of who was buying the lot for everyone that night when someone announced their craving. Whomever’s turn it was to bulk on the layers and prance across the street, literally across the street, to the mini mart which traded us Milka for money all semester long, would go do so while we all waited for our vice-mother to return with the goods. Then we’d push open my bedroom bay windows to sit on the ledge and stare at the surreality of Jungmannova while sharing our "Rose and Thorn" of the day, or planning our next trip, or already reminiscing about our latest one as we ate and drank and made merry.
I miss the chaos of grocery shopping. Knowing that I needed a game plan or I wouldn’t make it out alive— what an exciting twist on the mundanity of such a chore. Walking past the bread section and thinking, I don’t even eat bread like that, and having that be a better reason to buy it than to not. Searching for coffee filters in four stories of a shopping mall and never finding them for 4 months. Paper towels sufficed. Walking the short length back to the apartment from Tesco, wondering if there would be room in the fridge for the grocery load, or who would be making the family dinner that night since I bought the food this time. Seeing, without fail, rain or shine, dusk or dawn, tourists photographing the glittering rotating Kafka-head statue directly outside our shopping center, and having the luxury to even think at all, even in error, oh, tourists. That’s not me. Buying a spiced apple cider from the pop-up booth that appeared sometime between the fall equinox and the winter solstice, right beside Kafka, and then wondering with Steph why we were standing in the cold for 15 minutes while the vendors took that long to heat the cider back up to give us their very best version of it, before realizing that we had not a thing in the world to complain about.
I miss passing the tiny obscure corner bar on my way home from class, the only one in our vicinity we never went into as it was always filled with men who appeared to have just gotten off work, regardless of the time of day, shouting their woes in Czech over pints of Pilsner. Popping into Wok In, our favorite Asian fusion place, far more than was acceptable for our blood pressure when we got off the tram at our stop, Národní třída. Alternatively, and just as frequently, eating goulash and dumplings at the sit-down restaurant right through a misleading alley-way smack in the middle of our own street, whenever we felt like it. Hanging a right for 10 steps from our building and walking down the stairs of U Sudu, the cave bar that you knew to wear your already-worn clothes of the week into because the cigarette smoke would set itself into the cotton and require an immediate wash, if not for the Czech public, then for yourself. Ten steps to the left, Anonymous, the bar that served drinks based on a menu made exclusively of Rorschach drawings which left you hoping you’d interpreted them correctly and chosen a drink with a fruit base you liked. But you could just never be sure until it came to you in whichever plush love seat in a dimly lit corner you’d settled into.
I miss Cafe des Taxis, the cafe of Anglo American University, where I’d grab my coffee and croissant on Wednesday mornings for my 3-hour 8am, and also, where Steph, Mark, and I would order “discreet wine” in lidded coffee cups so we could drink our way through Visual Culture on Wednesday afternoons. The lectures of my social theory professor, the sound of his Czech inflection on a British accent of English as he discussed Weber, Durkheim, Foucault, and many others I won’t remember now. Walking the streets with our Art and Architecture professor and studying the distinct styles of the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque eras in every monastery, bridge, and garden in the city. I miss the view of the Prague Castle from directly outside my school, perched on a not-so-distant hill, unobstructed by any taller buildings or trees. Walking across the bridge from Lesser Town that led directly to the Rudolphinum Museum and onward into Old Town Square, where all our favorite markets, bars, and restaurants were, and the memories began on that inaugural visit to Chapeau Rouge during week one. Week one, which is already over a year ago. I miss finding new places to eat or explore all the time, hidden treasures, walking through a door not knowing what would be on the other side, only that it would be spectacular in its own way.
I miss the comparative analysis it took to travel efficiently— which country to visit next and why, which mode of transportation was cheapest, which hours of day to leave and return to maximize time yet minimize lodging costs. Getting cultured by learning the histories, participating in the traditions, eating the foods, partying with the nightlife, and internalizing the zeitgeists of every city we visited. Buying train tickets from Czech-only kiosks that had no English option, hoping it worked, and pulling up the bootstraps when it didn’t. Hiking Hungarian hills that would yield views we couldn’t have even imagined at the base. Scanning a menu in a French courtyard surrounded by potted plants and other groups of 20-somethings, while being serenaded by a woman and her concertina. Eating wiener schnitzel with the beautiful Austrian family who housed me and Steph during our time in Vienna at their favorite restaurant, and exploring their wine cellar when we got home. Watching Love Actually in London with Erin, 5 weeks to Christmas, and walking the Millennial Bridge the next day. So many more places, surprising experiences, joys so tiny and simple that they seem easier to remember because they were easiest to infuse into my life once I came back home, small ways to keep living the way I lived while abroad.
I miss these days which were the genesis of the memories I’m still clutching, and I keep writing about them so that they don’t slip out of my grip. Maybe I’ll write about these 4 months for the rest of my life— I hope I do. And it’ll be more and more time that’s passed since I arrived and departed Prague, and maybe it’ll get fuzzier, but with any luck, not by much. So I’ll keep writing about it, not to be stuck in the past, but rather not to lose what’s added so much to my perspective in the present. Maybe it’s sad to keep saying that I miss these things, and actually more accurate to just say that I lived them, and I loved them, and I think about them enough to know that I won’t forget them.
I know, right? What the frick? Why is a 21 year old woman writing a spec review about an animated kids movie? That’s a fair question, and this topic seems very arbitrary to me too, but here’s what I know: 1) Hercules is truly an underrated treasure, and 2) I just finished up a big writing project yesterday and needed something new to chew over today, so we're discussing a movie as old as me because I just watched it.
I’d like to start by saying that this is not just a kids movie. I’ve recently become aware that the Netflix synopsis claims the film is for ages 5-7. First of all, how insulting. If they insist it’s for kids, at least be inclusive to more than a three year range. Secondly, the dialogue is for adults. The mythological allusions are for adults. The jokes, sarcasm, and attention to detail is for adults. The physical humor and exaggerated animation is for the kids… and the adults. So, according to my calculations, it’s a movie for grown-ups which children will also enjoy. This is true for most animations, I know, but this particular flick has been a top choice for me since I first saw it as a tot, and remains that way to this day.
While I do still enjoy their more dated accolades and a select few of the newer features, it should be noted that I’m not an obsessive Disney person— I just really love this movie. I wish I was, because I’m in a prime location to revel in their glory, but I haven’t been to Disneyland once since I got to college where their nightly fireworks are visible from my backyard. I just happen to think the company’s best days are behind it, and I’m not here to offend anyone by saying that, but it’s also my blog, so fuck it, I’ll say what I want. Frozen is garbage. Okay, the police are after me now.
From the beginning of this film, the sass is apparent. The banter between the Muses is the perfect way to introduce the headiness of ancient Greek lore, yet present it with vivacity and charm, because we all know that those real myths (an oxymoron) are brimming with themes of adultery, deceit, revenge, assault, parents eating their children, and other whack shit that should be censored from a storyline propagated and tailored for an age range beginning at 5. Mind you, every movie that Disney bases on pre-existing stories or people is altered similarly. But in regards to Hercules— they nailed the introduction. The actual tale of this hero is pretty gnarly, yet they found a way to put the plot on a track that’s main stops are depth, morality, and intelligence. Well done, team.
The overtones of sarcasm and the quick-witted wordplay and repartee between characters, especially Hades and Megara, are ingenious. As a kid and to this day, I’ve always been tickled by physical comedy or a good dramatized facial expression— and this film is chock-full of them— but behind those moments are whip smart jokes that further merge the absurdity of it all. From when I was five to when I was fifteen, Hercules became an entirely different movie to me. Kids watch the screen and laugh at outrageous sights. Adults listen to the dialogue and are genuinely amused. I can shamelessly and accurately admit that I’ve seen this movie over 20 times, and I still laugh at something new in every single viewing that I hadn’t noticed before, while continuing to appreciate the quips and certain one-liners that never get old.
The villain in his sardonic wit is the funniest character. In fact, I’ll say it— James Woods as the voice of Hades is the most flawless casting choice I can think of at the moment, and I’m not saying this lightly. Like, I’ve watched countless phenomenal Oscar-winning performances. I’ve seen Eminem portray himself in his own life story. I stand by what I said. I’ve done some petty research on him in this role, and found that he ad-libbed quite a few of his best lines, which is even more incredible to me given that he was speaking to a microphone rather than a real person who could even give cues from which to improvise in the first place. My hat goes all the way off to him.
Our hero is endearing and humble, and does not portray the hackneyed flaws of the archetypal arrogant victor. The “damsel in distress” is clever, perceptive, and biting. The mythological references are off the charts, whether they’re in your face, or so subtle that you don’t even hear them unless you’re watching with subtitles. What the fuck is not to appreciate? Granted, I love Greek legends and the stories of the gods and heroes to begin with, so maybe my affinity for this film is extremely particularized and the humor won’t rub others in the same way. But damn, it gets me every time.
It has begun: I became a senior in college at 7:45 on Thursday night, and have embarked on summer vacation with my personal proclamation that this will be The Summer of Culture. I want to spend my time enriching my soul with new experiences, lessons, and achievements between work and sleep. I don’t necessarily mean that I want to be at museums or poetry readings all the time — I more just want to participate in things that make me feel worldly. A ton of my friends will be in Orange this summer as well, and we might go hike unexplored spots, or check out new breweries, or baptize ourselves weekly in the Pacific Ocean at different beaches each time. As for my personal goals though, I’ve got a few lined up so far.
For starters, I want to brush up on my Spanish and propel myself further into the semantics in preparation for the next time I get a chance to smash a language barrier. Last year, I assisted with a simple clarification at Target between customer and employee, and although it was very rudimentary, I was so freaking jazzed that I'd even been able to conjure up two sentences that quickly after three years since a formal Spanish class, that I've been dying for another opportunity to arise so I can test myself again. Since then, I have been reviewing my level of proficiency in my head and have decided to administer some self-taught lessons. Estoy lista para continuar aprendiendo. If I had one superpower, I would want to be completely fluent in every language. Even the obsolete ones. I’ll write my next blog in hieroglyphs, I don’t care. But really, I would just love to be able to pick any spot in the world to travel, and ingratiate myself with the locals in this way. Step one is to keep practicing my Spanish.
Another goal of mine is to play the piano again. I have fiddled around on keyboards, but have not competently played a tune since perhaps the first grade. I did not indulge in the importance of practicing after my lessons when I was seven. I did not appreciate the grace of classical music when I was seven. I possibly wasn’t even fully dexterous when I was seven. I feel I can confidently say that within these parameters, I have really turned my life around. I want to read music again, which I have not done since my vocal lessons in high school, and prior that, since my flautist days in junior high. I was going to embellish myself and write “first flautist,” but I can’t pretend that Liang Chin Su didn’t beat me in the scales test every single time. Haunting.
I truly enjoy the feeling of my fingers dashing across a computer keyboard to create my favorite art form, and I think the delicate skill of piano-playing is so analogous to this that no matter how poor the quality of my music is at the beginning, I will still enjoy practicing it. If he allows it, I will take my brother’s keyboard from home this summer and re-teach myself at my house in Orange. If he decides to take it instead, then my next step will be to find a pub with a piano in it, befriend the bartenders, and grace their ears with my rendition of Hot Cross Buns after hours. They won’t be sorry once I graduate to Bach. Are you wondering what kind of bar wants Bach Suites as their house music? Me too! Maybe my intermediate songs will cover classics like Sweet Caroline that everyone and their mom’s enjoys getting down to. It’s all part of the plan for free wine.
Speaking of wine, that’s another aspect of this culture theme I’ve got cooking. I’d like to continue trying new ones. This won’t be a change of pace at all, as it is already a habit I enjoy immensely. I fancy myself a wine and cheese pairing connoisseur. At the beginning of this past semester when I moved in to my house to sublease after being abroad, and met all of my roommates, they would make fun of the frequency of evenings in which I’d partake in this routine. It wasn’t every evening— but enough to where they realized that there needn’t be any kind of special occasion for the glasses to be poured and the plate to be arranged on the living room coffee table. I always shared though, and watched as one by one, they all started coming home from Trader Joe’s with their own vino of choice and blocks of English cheddars or wedges of brie to eagerly join me at wine o’clock. I knew it would happen. No one can resist the lifestyle once its upon them.
This summer will also consist of movies and books, art and music, and a deeper concentration for each. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year which I have stuck to like glue was to watch films I had never seen before, in order to broaden my knowledge of not only the classics but to expose my mind to new writing, different actors, and stories I hadn’t already seen a thousand times. Whether they are heavily referenced movies like Shawshank Redemption, critically acclaimed foreign films, or Netflix originals that no one has ever heard of, I am watching them and keeping a list of my favorites. I’ve got some great recommendations, should anyone need any! Pursuant of my screenwriting passion, this has been a very apropos spring of culture for me. Not to mention, it has proved a colossal advantage for my friends and I during the Movie Quotes round of Tuesday trivia nights.
I also very recently recovered from my IB English trauma of highlighting five different themes in entire books and annotating every empty space of each page for a grade, and am finally back in the “reading for pleasure” game. I like to begin each sunny morning by stretching out on the couch on my back patio in my pajamas and sunglasses, hot coffee in hand, and my dog-eared book propped against my legs while I read. Not one single complaint about that. I’m almost done with Atonement, and will soon be riding my bike down the road to the Used-Book store to begin my next search. My ears are open to suggestions!
And lastly, for now at least until more ideas crop up, I’ll be working on my writing. I think each new experience I attain this summer will only inspire me further!
I’d just like to say that I titled this before I wrote it, and directly after I put those words on the page, I also typed them into Spotify to see if there was a playlist for this exact kind of day. There is. There’s always an upside to the data of the global population getting breached, right? Spotify knows what the people want. Now I’m listening to “We Are Young” and have been mentally transported to the Last Chance Dance during my final week of tenth grade, when hundreds of teenagers became one for three minutes as we sang the words “carry me home tonight” at our friends, at our peers, and at the ceiling, just reveling in being the titular characters of the song. But that’s not where I was going with this at all. My mind wanders more than usual on Sundays.
This morning, I woke up at 8:30, and then actually got up as well. Sometimes waking up and getting up can be of two hours’ difference for me, but not today. I’ve been adamant lately about becoming a morning person. Now that it’s starting to feel more like summer, I would rather start my day earlier and be awake for more of the nice weather than asleep anyway. Warm mornings are my favorite; the midday scorch is a bit much, but when the sun is still rising and the temperature is prime, I am absolutely here for it. No one else was up yet, so the house was quiet except for the hum of a lawnmower somewhere on my street, and the birds tweeting about; the usual drawl of a Sunday morning. I opened the window, made my coffee, and turned on Meet the Press in the living room to recap the week’s news. I put in my two cents out loud during the panel, wondering if my parents were at home questioning the same comments. It was extremely gratifying, but I wished I’d been eating bacon while I was at it.
After I got dressed, I met Erin at our favorite coffee shop down the canyon road to do some work, and we talked for ten minutes before acquiescing that the internet was down and no work or research could be done there. Not the worst realization in the world. We drove to another place for Studying, Take 2, only to find that there was a street fair going on, and no parking was to be found for who knew how many blocks. Take 3 was my house, until that fell apart as well, because sometimes, Sundays are just not for schoolwork. I may not be religious, but I practice the sabbath too.
When the air started to cool later in the afternoon, I hopped on my bike and cruised to the used book shop on the main boulevard nearest my house, and bought Eight White Nights after reading a line near the beginning that delineated such a scrupulous exploration of the human experience that I had to buy it immediately. I wanted to channel my European lifestyle and start reading it on my porch, blanketed by the soft warmth of the falling sun, with a cigarette dangling from my fingertips, just to taste the continent again. Don't judge me; I already judged myself, and I did it for a culture reminder, not because I actually smoke. And each hit, each 2 second inhale, momentarily displaced me from my front porch— suddenly, it was last call at Chapeau Rouge, or I was dangling my legs from the bay window of Jungmannova 5, or storytelling at the upside-down bar in Berlin— until my lips left the stick to exhale, and I was back in California where smoking is disgusting. Home sweet home. If anyone’s thinking, My God, if you miss Europe, just eat a wheel of gouda— I’m all over it next time.
The book I bought is as good so far as I’d initially deemed it; I read certain sentences over and over and over again, and raced over others as fast as the words seemed to run. Depending on how they are strung together, words read like a heartbeat in my opinion; they either slow to the pace of the mood, or pound and dash to the excitement. I don’t know if this is unique to myself, or if everyone feels some version of this while reading; I’ve never thought to ask anyone.
Everyone was about the house for dinner time. My roommates are very easy to live with. One of us is always walking in with stories to tell, or leaving to go make some. Later in the night, I swooped by Steph’s house, which is two streets down. We debriefed our days, and planned to do it again tomorrow at happy hour. We’ll have more to discuss by then, because life keeps happening; the autonomous decisions we make and risks we take are only upping the stakes at this point, and this stuff just doesn’t get boring. It’s the season of our lives when we either bask in the glory of our efforts, or reap the consequences of the impatient impulses on which we acted. Both are equally fun to reflect on, because we know how to laugh and learn. Truly, that’s what Lazy Sundays are for: Reflection. That’s practically all I did today, in some form or another.
We as a nation have taken bold steps against bullying in schools. Don’t hit other kids, don’t verbally abuse them, don’t purposefully exclude them. We don’t want children to get hurt at school; that’s the whole goal. There are 'zero tolerance' policies that work exceptionally well. Why is it then that when kids are murdered in school, we are slower to take action? The stakes are infinitely higher, and yet our gun laws are not being justly modified. The ideas of our current administration do not count as just to me; they are backwards and nonsensical. I mean, what if we decided that any teacher who stood witness to a bully in action could just throw an uppercut at the meanie and call it a day? That’s preposterous. Why would we perpetuate the problem, rather than enact that 'zero tolerance' idea that seems to work super duper well? I'm not saying we need to ban guns all together (although personally, I wouldn't mind it at all), but let's tighten the regulations on them rather than distribute them. That's what a progressive nation is supposed to do. Act on problems that arise and actively try to fix them, rather than shrug and say, "At least I'm safe. And so is my gun."
Why is our government impotent when classrooms of children are being taken out by a gun? Bullying used to be the biggest worry for kids in school, and action was taken against it. But those who are targeted by shooters are not going home with a scraped knee or a bruised ego; they are not going home at all. Why are we having to beg Congress to stop allowing the next leading generation from getting slaughtered? Why is it taking so long, and so many lives away from us, before our gun laws are amended?
The foundation of United States law was established not even 250 years ago. Let’s get acquainted with those times. When our founding fathers were writing up the Constitution and Bill of Rights, they owned slaves. It took the better part of a century for slavery to be abolished, because racist individuals and groups were hung up on what they still thought to be their “rights.” We didn’t let women vote for another 50 years or so after that, because the Constitution didn’t guarantee it. We are currently only on the cusp of equality for the LGBTQ community, but we still have a long way to go. We have no agenda for treating mental illnesses, even though they have been the cause of mass shootings time and time again. Why does it take forever for the laws to catch up with the intended progress of this country? The most ignorant members of our government stomp and yell about our “sacred” Constitution, which was written by men who didn’t even make it three years before realizing that it wasn’t really working for them, and that it actually necessitated a whole new bill full of amendments to go with it. Let me reiterate; these same men decided that their code of law needed some progress after such a short time. So how come when 250 years go by, our Congress still clutches to a document that wasn’t even good enough at the time without re-writes and additions? In fact, the drafters realized that the will of society would fluctuate over time, and purposefully gave it elasticity so that Congress would have the power to do whatever is “necessary and proper” to do its job. I’d say saving lives is the proper thing to do. It’s been necessary for a while now. So, you know the end of the sentence, Congress: Do your jobs. You are called law makers, not law reminders. The right to bear arms doesn’t work for us anymore, clearly. So let’s save innocent lives and fix it again.
I’ve been trying for the past month to think of how best to sum up my semester in Prague. When I got back, one of my friends asked me if I could reflect on my time abroad in a few sentences. Well, no I can’t, number one, and number two, I wouldn’t do it justice if I tried. Of course I have my favorite trips, cities, memories, and roommate (you know who you are*)— but how to capture everything I experienced in those four months into a single sentiment? It feels impossible, so here’s a whole blog post about it.
*It's Vaclav Havel, all 12 framed pictures of him.
I’m extremely proud of how my roommates and I traipsed through Europe. We planned to the nines, and equipped ourselves for each new city not only with overpacked suitcases, but with bursting to-do lists as well. They included our must-sees, our recommended, and things we were interested in doing if there was time. We sort of had a hierarchy system of codes going by the end; each bullet point on the list was marked with a symbol which indicated its level of importance to us. If Rick Steves got a hold of one of them, he’d shed a little tear. I mean, we were not fuckin around when we travelled. Actually, that’s not true— we were, all the time, because we thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. I guess it would be more accurate to say that we weren’t fuckin around with our precious time, because we were very aware of how little of it we possessed in the grand scheme of things. We had 48-72 hours to maximize each trip, and we were never in our Airbnb unless it was to change from our day-sensible-travel-outfits to our night-hit-the-town-outfits. Or if we were sleeping. But there wasn’t even very much of that, either. The days were jam-packed, the nights often even more so, and the wee hours of the morning were the ones when we’d squeeze in a wink or two of sleep. It wasn't uncommon for us to catch our best experiences on a whim, because we went with the flow and didn’t cuff ourselves to a strict itinerary. There were definitely a few things in each city that we had booked ahead of time, such as city or food tours, and for those we of course planned around a time frame. But for the most part, we were exploring while walking with purpose. If we were going through a park to get to a museum or marketplace and saw pedal boats, we’d hop on and peruse the canals first. If there was a hole-in-the-wall cafe right next to the restaurant we’d found on TripAdvisor, we’d try that one instead. If we met crazy fun people along the way, we would find a bar all together. Our to-do lists were less an itinerary and more of a way to make sure we were never sitting in our hostel, wondering, “What is there to do in insert city ?” We were left without a single regret from each trip, which feels amazing.
My roommates and I did everything together. Our reservations were for six, and our plans were always in the group chat as we explored Prague throughout the semester. I never travelled without at least two of them, and it was almost always more than that. We learned so much about not only each other, but about our strengths as a group. For example, nobody throws a party like us. I wish I could have added everyone I know to the Facebook groups we made— there was a haiku involved in our Christmas invite, and it honestly belongs in an anthology of great American poetry. We also had some killer family dinners for which the six of us would contribute in some way, whether it was doing the grocery shopping, cooking the feast, or buying the wine bag that would furnish our dining table like a centerpiece during the meal. We would say grace by clasping hands, inhaling sharply, and trying to shout "Grace!" simultaneously. Then the supper shenanigans commenced.
Sometimes we got on each others’ nerves (so it goes), but our apartment was harmonious for the most part. Harmoniously dysfunctional. I can’t think of a single story involving the six of us that doesn’t fit that description. I really wish I could tell them on the internet in good conscience. The ones I do love to share, however, mostly require facial expressions, gestures, and dramatic pauses that necessitate and in-person telling. I wrote a lot of things down, but so many of them are little tokens for my own personal memory bank, and I wouldn’t know how to explain them to anyone else anyhow. As someone who so enjoys telling a story, it’s a very strange thing to realize that many of my experiences only make sense to me, and would be near impossible to justly relay to others. I mean, I went and lived in a different city, on a different continent, and had different friends at a different school, and went to another country practically every weekend where even more new people and factors entered the mix. How to provide all the necessary context and details now that I’m back home, when none of them are familiar to anyone else? I’ve come to suppose that some of them will just be spectacular memories that aren’t compatible with declamation. That’s okay, too. In my head they are still perfect.
It’s taken me a long time to write this. I’ve had some difficulty articulating my time abroad as a whole, because it really wasn’t just about travel. It was a breath of fresh air metaphorically, and an inhalation of secondhand smoke literally. It was an opportunity for me to live outside of my comfort zone. I was able to see that even in the face of such massive change everywhere I looked, I still carried myself in the way that I’ve always been proud to. I went into the semester thinking, “Everything is different there; I can be anyone I want,” and came back with the confidence that the entire time I was there, I was just me, and that’s who I wanted to be. Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t change; I grew, and became stitched into the fabric of Prague, and I absorbed as much as I possibly could. I can't believe that city is still out there existing without me— how dare it. :)
So, as for my single sentiment regarding my time abroad:
I learned about myself and the world, and I was inspired every single day.
At the very moment we turn left onto Beach Road, we plug in the AUX chord and hit play on our cued up song.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
We all sing as whoever is driving steadies the mph to 40 for the long stretch of road that will end in the parking spot right next to the beach condo. Our dramatics intensify as the ballad swells.
Mama… Ooooooooh… I don’t want to die…
We cruise past the strawberry fields and continue towards the coastline. The beat changes. We start bouncing to the chopstick-like piano chords.
I see a little silhouetto of a man…
We try to harmonize the “Let him go’s” and “We will not let you go’s” as they blend together. Here comes the head-banging. We go all out, obviously.
Ohhhhh babyyyyy… can’t do this to me babyyyyy…
We approach the gatehouse as Beach Road curves toward the Ostrich pen. The mph slows to 20 as we drive through the gate and into the vast parking lot. We head towards condominium A. We pluck our air guitars as the solo peaks and then slows into the final verse of the 6 minute song.
Nothing really matters… Anyone can see…
We’re almost at an empty parking spot. We do not fluctuate our speed to fit the timing— that’s cheating.
Any way the wind blows…
We sing softly as we pull in and park the car. The song ends. The engine turns off. And, scene.
I can’t remember exactly when my family figured out that the runtime of Bohemian Rhapsody is also the precise amount of time it takes to drive the length of Beach Road and end perfectly in a parking space next to the condo, but I do remember that the first time it happened, we were absolutely astounded. We do it every time now. There have been friends in the car to witness this, and they need no instruction on joining in. This ritual begins each beach vacation we take, and what follows is always a fantastic time. I love that little tradition.
If you haven’t heard Bohemian Rhapsody in a while, go give it a listen. Maybe even google the lyrics if you’re in the mood for a few revelations.
I wasn’t aware that I actively lead a Danish lifestyle until I visited Copenhagen, and realized that the entire philosophy of happiness for the Danes is also mine. There’s even a word for it— hygge. I'll get into what it means in a second, but first let's review the pronunciation, because my roommate Juliann says it differently every time she mentions it and we never know what the fuck she's referring to. It is a mixture between “hoog-uh” and "hug-uh," so just like... put a little Germanic emphasis on it, ya know? I don't know how else to explain it. If it sounds unnatural when you say it out loud, you're probably doing it right. As for whether hygge is a noun, adjective, or verb, I really couldn’t tell you, but I’m probably going to use it as all three in this post.
The closest English translation to the word is “coziness.” Hygge, and all that it encompasses, is the practice of doing what makes you feel happy. It’s getting off work by 4pm so you can spend time with your family and focus on your hobbies, because Denmark’s priorities are goddamn ingenious. It’s indulging in your creature comforts, like lighting your favorite candle and swaddling yourself in a plush blanket when you watch a movie. It’s pursuing the good things in life, and that warm, fuzzy feeling, in any way you please. Hi, hello, that’s how I live my entire life. Here in Europe, my most hygge moments have been on my runs across the bridge nearest my apartment, and seeing the glinting street lights, the Prague castle, the Charles Bridge, and the leaves falling into the river, all from one panoramic vantage point. I also peaked while floating in the Mediterranean when I went to Nice. I think traveling abroad in general is Hygge-City.
To further quantify this lifestyle, here are some daily examples:
This summer, in a 24 hour diner off of South Figueroa near USC, (a short walk from the frat house), Steven and I discussed our natural inclination to the hygge lifestyle over croissant sammies and possibly an entire pot of coffee. Again, we didn’t know there was a word for it at the time, but all the central themes were already there for us. We questioned how much of the lifestyle we’ll be able to retain when we’re both employed with full time jobs. Of course, he and I are both lucky enough to truly enjoy our career paths, but we also are adamant about finding time for our hobbies outside of work, and enjoying life's simple pleasures.
We outlined the parameters which we think are necessary and reasonable for us to withhold in life: Ample time spent with our families— an obvious check for the future. Regarding the present, we both like to create personal projects, whether it’s developing a new app or working on a screenplay (guess who’s who), and that’s a huge part of our daily inspirations for which we set time aside. We’d like to be able to meet up with friends for dinner or drinks every so often during the week, schedule permitting. Obviously, we’ll need some time to submit to our inherent need to binge a few episodes of whatever we’re watching on Netflix. And what about the next time we’re craving a diner breakfast in south central LA? Well, we just found ourselves wishing that the full-time working lifestyle, which he was on the cusp of entering and which I’m headed for soon, allowed more time for all those things. Denmark— 1; U.S.— 0.
Steven and I have led the hygge lifestyle for as long as I can remember. In high school, we used to take “creative breaks” after twenty minutes of homework at a time, which would consist of us running outside to play badminton, or exchanging YouTube videos, or swan diving onto the couch to recharge. During past visits to each other in the Bay Area or Orange County, we have twice abandoned plans to hit the bars, and watched Harry Potter instead. And we were so excited about that decision both times. We've hiked the highest hill in Berkeley to enjoy the view, and traipsed the streets to find the best meals. We’re aware that we can’t expect to fit all our favorite hygges into each day as life gets busier and more complicated, but maybe with practice and extreme time management (which I hear is a new X Games sport), we can figure it out as we go. We’re optimistic.
The sage and debonair John F. Kennedy once spoke to the people of Berlin to offer his comfort and support, and somewhere in the midst of his speech, he said: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” His intent was to connect to the citizens in saying that he was a person from Berlin. However, the laws of semantics were not on his side that day, and what he really said there was, “I am a donut.” Just to clarify, jelly and cream donuts in Berlin are called Berliners. If you want to say you’re a citizen of Berlin, you gotta switch up the syntax a little bit. So, he literally said he was a donut. I know that most people would hear this story, maybe laugh once, and then forget about it for the rest of their lives, but for some reason this really tickles me to think about. I have so many questions. Did his press secretary raise his eyebrows, and just start shaking his head? Did the crowd laugh, or sympathize with him? Did his translator get fired that day? I like to picture what his own experience was like. I wonder if he was twiddling his thumbs beforehand and thinking don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up, and then proceeded to say, “Hello, everyone. I… am… a donut.” Guys, tell me this doesn’t make you smile. It got to me for a solid 48 hours.
Regarding my actual trip to Berlin this weekend, I’ll start at the very beginning. Three of my roommates (Stephanie, Juliann, and Amanda), and I got on our bus at 6am, and it was extremely empty except for a few single travelers who were already seated in the back. Because of this, we were able to snag both of the 4-person tables, and kick back for the ride. Within half an hour, Juliann had fallen asleep, and Amanda was head-banging to her music and deliriously laughing at memes with me as I caught up on my Twitter feed. By the second half of the ride, we’d switched places, and Steph and Juliann were laughing hysterically while Amanda and I were knocked out, limbs lolling off of our double-seats that we tried to lay in like beds. When we got to our place, we were a little out of it. We made a few cups of coffee in our room while we changed out of our comfy bus clothes and got ready for the day. I snapped out of my sleepy delusions after the second time I accidentally put instant coffee into my already made cup of Nespresso. We got going at that point, because we had an itinerary, and damn it if we weren’t going to see every single thing on that list and then some.
Besides the JFK anecdote, there were so many things about Berlin that amazed me. For one thing, it’s really not that old. It’s still up and coming, so it’s quite trendy and chic. There’s a ton of stuff to do there, but of course, we began with a walking tour of the city, which never disappoints. Our tour guide was the quirkiest, coolest little man we’ve ever met. We saw some amazing and humbling sites, and stopped for some hot mulled wine in the middle. He told some strange anecdotes, and when the tour was over, he let my friends and I know that he played the saxophone at underground clubs at night. He then proceeded to give us his opinions on our itinerary, which were actually quite helpful.
We went to an open air market afterwards for dinner, and the journey took quite a while, because the bus we were instructed to take only took us two stops before retiring for the rest of the evening and kicking everyone off. So, we found other means of transportation, and by the time we arrived at the market we were pretty starving. It looked exactly like the kind of indoor food market you’d find in downtown Los Angeles, or at the Anaheim Packing District— like I said, Berlin is way stylish. We found some curry worst, which is Berlin’s speciality, and a wine booth, and then settled down at the top deck of a wooden set of bleachers. We met some cutie British men, and hung out with them there for a few hours. One was an MD, one was a PhD, and the other one was like, some type of farm-to-fork pioneer. So basically, the whole package for a group, right? Make sure you can check these three things off your list next time you are making friends— otherwise, they don’t make the cut.
After the market, we all made our way to a bar called Madame Claude that some friends from our program and our interesting tour guide had told us about. Apparently, the Brits had been on the same tour as us earlier, which I still don’t fully believe because I don’t remember seeing them, but their story totally checks out. So, the seven of us went to Madame Claude, and I definitely approved of the recommendation. For one thing, everything was upside down. There were tables, chairs, and the works of a bar, on the ceiling. I mean, they were on the ground as well— it wasn’t a pointless bar. But it was definitely cool to look up and have the floor mirror the ceiling. We stayed there for another few hours, telling our best stories and finding out increasingly too much about each other as the night went on, but that's what made it so hysterical and fun.
The next morning, Stephanie rallied us all out of bed and out the door like a goddamn cattle wrangler, and we were back on track to complete our itinerary. We saw more of the Berlin Wall, walked through the Topography of Terror museum, and saw parts of museum island, which as it turns out, was not an island and did not have any German-history museums. But, we got some steps in for the day. We saw the East Side Gallery, which is a part of the Berlin Wall that artists were allowed to work on. They turned such an ugly concept into a beautiful canvas of art, which was one of the coolest parts of the city in my opinion. By the time we’d seen all the art, it was nearing dinner time, so we tried to go to the Turkish Markets. Tried. We took an uber to get there, but to our dismay, our driver dropped us off in front of a single tent with the words “Istanbul Supermarket” painted on it. There were some apples, bananas, and lettuce in the tent. It was not what we were looking for. So, we walked the rest of the way to the actual frickin’ Turkish Markets, which cover an entire street and look like a farmers market and flea market combined. It’s kind of a large attraction, so I’m still unclear as to why our driver thought we wanted to go to the little tent in an abandoned square, but we live and we learn!
We had some more moments of delirium and confusion before we finally made it back to Prague. One of them was that we stood in front of the wrong bus for a good five minutes, ready to board, even though it’s last stop was Berlin. The bus driver actually got out, smiled a little as he lit his cigarette, and asked if he could help us. We said, “No, we’re just going to get on your bus when you’re ready.” He told us that we weren’t going to do that, and explained why. We laughed and backed away in embarrassment. We did eventually make it back to Prague— correct bus and everything. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to make little mistakes like that in different cities, but when they happen, you just have to remember that JFK once told the people of Berlin that he was a donut.
This is a Berliner.