Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Walk in the Woods...

It's official. On April 17th I'll be joining centuries of folks who have made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, better known as the Camino. I won't be hiking the entire trail (it's a doozy, let me tell you) but the last 100 km, finishing Easter Saturday. 

Last weekend, I took to the trails of Luxembourg with Lux Cafe to begin our training for this little adventure. After that first 10km hike, I realized it was going to take more than a few weekends of hiking to get ready for the Camino. But isn't that the thing about pilgrimages? It's all about the journey, the steps you've taken to get to your goal.

From now until April, I'll be spending my weekends in the woods, discovering the back country of Luxembourg, getting ready for Spain, getting ready to take this pilgrimage by storm. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Land of the Dutch

Any country characterized by flowers, bikes, pancakes and wooden shoes is okay by me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Peanut Butter and Jelly

It's funny the things you miss when you're so far away from home. I'm not talking about friends, family or your two fluffy cats (that's a given) but those unexpected things.

There's a whole category of missed things that go into the 'culture shock' column. Things like unlimited tap water at restaurants, establishments that stay open past 6:00pm or on Sundays, coffee in large paper cups. These things you learn to live without. You realize that tap water in Europe is actually kind of gross, Sundays can be really relaxing without the excuse to run errands, and all you really need is one small cup of strong European espresso instead of a vente of watered down coffee.

And then there's the category of things you miss that just linger in the back of your mind. You wake up one morning and think  'Today? Today I just want Taco Bell' (strange, but true). You don't constantly yearn for these memories of home, but every once in a while Europe has nothing to offer you if it can't give you your cheap Mexican food fix.

This is exactly my relationship with peanut butter and jelly. When I was in elementary school, I ate this sandwich every. day. It's ingrained in my nostalgic memory as a comfort food, something that reminds me of home when I'm especially homesick.

 (from here)

But let me tell you, this crazy concept of peanut butter? on bread? with jelly??? doesn't exist here in Europe. During my last week of teaching in France, I decided to introduce my students to the wonderful world of pb&j. This, I said, is more American than McDonalds and cowboys combined.

They looked at me like I was insane.

And then I told them what they would be eating. They looked at me like I should be committed. I had every reaction - some, in love (c'est trop bonne!), some, disgusted, and the majority, intrigued.

I've weened myself off of this good ol' American standard. Gone are the days of eating a peanut butter sandwich everyday. More recently I average about one every six months. But the other day, I had that moment. That moment when all I wanted was creamy peanut butter, mushy bread, and strawberry jam,  smushed together. And I realized that maybe, in the land of artisanal cheeses and gastronomique delicacies, sometimes all you need is a taste of home.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Expat Book Club

One of the many perks of this job is that I get to pretend that I'm still in school. I love being in a community of learning! Each semester I wonder what would happen if I just audited 17 hours worth of courses, but alas, I do have a job to do and students to help.

This doesn't mean, however, that I can't shamelessly steal the reading list and experience at least a little bit of the classes. And that is how I found this most recent book. Lent to me by a student last semester (and never returned...oops!), this book was used for an anthropology course that looked at humans and the holocaust - not just from an historical perspective but from a psychological one - and attempted to answer a lot of really hard questions. The one this book deals with is forgiveness. 

Written by a holocaust survivor, the question is posed 'If you were one persecuted by the Nazi regime, would you be able to forgive them?'

Powerful powerful stuff.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Prague, Czech Republic

The Charles Bridge on an early, quiet November morning...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Cemeteries

I was reminded last weekend of one of the reasons I love Luxembourg so much.

In fact, the reason why I love Europe, why this place fascinates me and keeps me curious.

Last weekend I visited both the German and American military cemeteries in Luxembourg. It was the fifth time I'd walked among the tombstones, but the experience had still retained its powerful impact. Geographically one five kilometers apart, but ideologically, at one point in time, limitless space was between these two groups.

You see, in these cemeteries sleep the men (or boys) of the second World War, mostly from the Battle of the Bulge, a fight fought mostly on Luxembourgish soil. One group, Luxembourg's captors, the other, their liberators.

From time to time, you'll interact with older Luxembourgers who remember the occupation. One host mother apologized for her poor French, explaining that during the war they were only allowed to learn German. Last May, during a Mass commemorating the liberation I walked into the small Luxembourgish cathedral only to hear the Star Spangled Banner blasting from the pipes of the organ. And there, sitting in the pews, was a generation who could remember a time when their country was not their own.

Today, only sixty years later, it has become just that, a memory that will soon join others in the annals of ancient history. The countries that once tore each other apart are in the same Union, vote in the same Parliment...I can only imagine how hard it was to take that first step. But now? Now there are new generations that know peace in Europe.

Last year the Dean wrote a beautiful column about just this: 

“One of the primary objectives of traveling abroad is to foster relations between peoples and people, and to hope that it will serve the purpose of a making the world a more peaceful place to live. There are people immune to the charm of the places where they have stayed for a little while as students. But for most of us, the magic works… Our challenges are different, even if the US, along with its allies from Europe and elsewhere are still fighting a war in Afghanistan. In these very different circumstances, one truth remains: something in us belongs to the places where we developed as young adults and students. And this something is the seed of future peace.”

Looking out at the crosses, bearing the names of young Americans and Germans, I realized that we live in a world where these are no longer the final resting places of the defeated and victors, but of, simply, young men who left this world too soon.

And I'd like to believe that these soldiers would be proud of their visitors, young Americans coming to learn, not to fight, in order to grow and to understand.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Well hey there 2011

 Rambling along this first week of 2011, I'm feeling good about this new year.

In the wee hours of this morning, the new group of students arrived, a little bleary eyed, a little nervous, just trying to get their bearings. I welcome them with my colleagues, matching transportation passes with the correct names, handing out orientation schedules, all the while answering a lot of questions.

I love this part of the semester. In fact, it's this day that I think about towards the end as the students begin to pack their suitcases to return home. They have no idea how much they're going to grow and learn in these next four months. That it might be a little hard at first, but slowly, they'll start figuring out that they can do so much more than they ever realized. Watching that transformation is inspiring.

Bosa, Sardinia

In some ways, I felt the same way this morning. A little bleary eyed (hello 3:30 am wake up call), a little nervous, wondering where this year would take me. There are wonderful things afoot, and while I'm packing a sort of carpe diem attitude about these last months in Europe, there's an equal part of the great unknown that's balancing out 2011.

The inevitable 'what's next?' is just around the corner (actually, seven months down the road), and I realize those nervous stomach flips are coupled with a lot of excitement - I feel like a little girl where anything and everything is possible.

But for now? For now I am living every moment in Luxembourg. A while ago I was reading things I had written in July of 2008 as I crept closer to moving to France:

"Mais, alors, this is the adventure I've craved. When the nerves subside, and the paperwork lessens, I feel that quickening in my chest. I smile and realize I'm finally doing it. I know that no matter how often I look up my new home on map-quest, it will be nothing like the day of my arrival and the first time I step off the train, no matter how many french novels I read, it will be nothing like that first conversation I'll have with les francais, and no matter how many times I've read about little red-head in Paris, it will be nothing like the adventures of this brown-haired girl in France."
(reader's note: the red-head in Paris is the iconic picture book character, Madeline)

In a way, I find myself in the same position. And no matter how much I plan, how much I research, I don't think anything will prepare me for that next adventure, where, who knows, maybe I'll find something more than I could ever dare to ask or imagine.