All these beautiful things about travel

Prazkys

Prazkys

Mostly, it’s the people.

I finally made it to the Pacific Northwest two weekends ago and damn.  I feel like a different person here in Chicago.

Or, I feel Chicago may be a little different.  It has been a year after all, of living in Little Vietnam and Andersonville and Uptown.  I needed to get out of the Midwest for a little while.

Brooke, Brendon, Christi Anne, Kathy and Bill.  All great travel companions in Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Bolivia.  I saw them all in Seattle and Portland this month, in that bright emerald vastness.

Ah, the green.  The fresh air.  Their laid-back defiance.  Made me realize how high-strung I’ve been lately.  How tight and frustrated I’ve been.  I don’t know if it’s the rush of the city, or just not being able to keep up with all my lovely guests, or my week-long conference class, or summer blues, it’s been a June I ran through.  The city is certainly alive and fighting in the summer.

So, Seattle and Portland were SO good.

I don’t normally have friends like Brooke, who I do just about everything with just about every day.  We were great friends living in the Kolej together on our semester abroad in Prague, wearing scarves as skirts and 90’s flannel so popular in the Czesky clubs, rolling smokes in the hallway and cooking noodles for dinner.  We had SUCH times, running around that twisted city together, Brooke whispering Czech in my ear at bars. Ah, the gypsy music and Balkan beats, those long crazy 4am walks laughing through the Golden city, the street food and our shameless attempts to get free drinks and steal boiled eggs and yogurt without being chased by the Kolej breakfast ladies.

I hadn’t seen her in five years.  Since then she’s had a lovely little girl, gotten married, gone to graduate school, and moved from Oregon to Washington.  Five years.  Girl, it was just like yesterday, those four months in the dirty east that made us all into hippies, when we saw Brooke off at Šárka where we’d watched the meteor shower. . .  Prague was like yesterday when we got together in the Pacific Northwest.

And Brendon, continues to be as cute as ever.  I found an old poem his eyes had slipped into one day when we were sitting in Shakespeare and Sons.  Ah the old memories.  Ah, the new memories.

Of course I went dancing with Christi Anne too, and of course Kathy fed me from her beautiful garden.  I is like a fresh place to live, despite the rain.  Perhaps better than Chicago.  I can’t explain how good it was to get away.  To sail, to dance, to love my friends and to LAUGH at the absurdity of Eastern European living, and how dearly we miss it.

I await sweet letters from the Pacific Northwest.

Holding on to Brooke's dad's sailboat

Holding on to Brooke’s dad’s sailboat

A sunday smile

Two of my most beloved friends both arrived at my apartment this morning at 8am.  I served pierogis, cinnamon toast, kielbasa, sour-cherry cobbler and espresso for breakfast.  Leftovers, from yesterday’s Polish feast.

Artur, Molly and George.

Artur, Molly and George.

One’s a Jesuit, the other knows their world like me–from living, working, and hanging out with them way too much.

I saw Molly just a few weeks ago in Omaha for Easter.  Her presence in Chicago was a surprise plan though, as it just so happens her new/old squeeze is working around the area.

But Artur, who first originally brought me to Poland in 2008 to work at the English Summer Camps, I hadn’t seen since I lived around the corner from the Jesuit house in Krakow three years ago, when we frequently went out for Tatankas and kielbasa in the old Jewish district.  He was a Godsend in Krakow, letting me stay at the Jesuit house when I first arrived after my wild stint in East Africa and frequently supplied me with cake and coffees at his office where I occasionally worked.  It was a strange time for both me and Molly, as we reminisced today how many nights we skype-chatted from Kenya to Thailand, or Poland to Cambodia, about how terrified and sad and overwhelmed we always were doing the refugee work, (and also how awesome the moto-rides and crazy international nights were.)

There have been many travels between us three.  After a few Tatankas yesterday, Artur and I spoke Spanish for a solid 30 minutes, at least.  We seem to be about the same level, as he is coming straight from 9-months in Mexico.  That, more than even me living in Chicago, gainfully employed, made me feel the time that has passed.  Three years was moons ago.  And I can still speak Spanish, which was a nice surprise.

I love reunions.  I love my friends and my wonderful memories.  What a great start to summer.

2014, Lake Michigan

2008, Kazimierz

2008, Krakow

 

The Green Mill is my new Zinger

Mom and Dad visited Chicago this weekend. Their trip was filled with uncanny similarities to their visit to Krakow/Prague three years ago when I was living between Poland, Rome, Kenya and the trains and couches of Eastern Europe.

Beyond the Euro similarities of my father taking a mob taxi, all of us eating kielbasa, pierogis and drinking Zywiec, we also spent the first night drinking gin and dancing to a big band at the Green Mill, my favorite prohibition-era jazz club that’s a few blocks around my corner.

Mom and Dad dancing at the Green Mill

Mom and Dad dancing at the Green Mill

I love the Green Mill–the music is fabulous and the decor takes me back.  Folks get sloshed and you can dance with whoever you want after midnight or so.  You lose yourself in another time.  Zinger was like this too–my favorite old bar in the Kazimierz district of Krakow.  My parents got a visit there, too.

Recently I had to come to terms that it wasn’t going to be practical to return to Rome with Molly, or Poland with Artur this summer.  I’m saddened by it, because I feel like I’m losing a part of my life that is so very important to me–traveling and living abroad, especially in Central/Eastern Europe.  I’m afraid that era is behind me, when I never thought it would be.  But perhaps it’s just a pause.

The pause is because things are so good in Chicago right now.  Life in semi-governmental housing is surprisingly interesting, and though my Master’s program at Loyola is institutionally falling apart, I’m finding a voice among the opposition. And we have strong allies, in LCWR President Pat Farrell, and many others.

I renewed my lease on my super-cute apartment here, and I’m entering into my second spring in the city.

The Green Mill, for now, will have to be my Zinger.

Dad steals Nina's hat--also a Poland connection--at the Green Mill.

Dad steals Nina’s (of Couchsurfing in Poland days) hat at the Green Mill.  It was a gem of a night.

WAKE UP AND FIGHT

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I’m helping direct the media campaign for Loyal to Justice, a group of students, alumns and supporters of my MA in Social Justice and Community Development degree program at Loyola University Chicago.

We are taking on the administration of Loyola tomorrow at a noon rally at Water Tower Campus in River North, Chicago.

See: Loyal to Justice for details.

And from my pen: PRESS RELEASE: Loyola Graduate Students Protest Dramatic Curriculum and Faculty Changes

and: An Open Letter to the Society of Jesus

Solidarność.

I just know I’ve got something coming


The great news is that January is over!

The other great news is that while I’ve been preparing packages to send to friends post-Christmas, I’ve been listening to old Regina Spektor bootlegs I hadn’t heard for a long time which remind me of Ukraine (and Christi Anne’s kitchen. . .)

This has transfered my current travel-writing plans to Ukraine now, since EUROMAIDAN and its fresh on the mind.  Somehow, the night bus excursions still are important to detail in Ukranian travel.

I took a long long walk today through my neighborhood, up to the market to buy Polish and Ukranian candy to mail to friends.  FINALLY I remembered that it felt good to live in Chicago.  Because Chicago has been WERID and dark lately.

February has got to be better.  I got my crazy narcotic-like crush out of the way for the year (an opera singer).  I should be good to go to focus on things that do actually matter in non-heroine-like states. . .  like Rome and World Refugee Day and that crazy Polish website. . . oh and, the fact that I was abruptly transfered from the Communications department to Strategic Planning and Reporting at my Illinois quasi-governmental job. . . frankly, it’s a fine move.  I get the whole nepotism thing now too. . .

I had a dream with James Martin in it, last night, which is a bit weird. OR an amazing sign of getting published in America. . . we shall see.

Feburary, lets walk toward sanity and sunshine together.

Where have all the flowers gone?

Long time passing. . . 

Singer of folk songs I taught to Polish high school children in classrooms facing low-lit rolling hills of flowery babushkas and cows.

Farewell Pete, favorite singer of favorite friend, Miss Molly.  I think of her bamboo-tatoo of your banjo.  And others who appreciated you, and all the broken hearts you’ve touched.

Listening to American folk music abroad will always be central to me.  Will always help feel like the best parts of home, of friends, adventure.  Of connecting with someone once in awhile in our solitary journeys.  It helps to remember that it is all romantic. . . that maybe you will buy those boots of Spanish leather.

And here, I remember skipping around in circles, the lyrics of Oh Susanna written in chalk.

Wars and revolutions

Because Nina always sounds like Europe, and it’s a good time to note that Ukraine continues to explode–protestors  are being shot and journalists are being beaten and photos of Kiev look like a war zone.  I heard that a priest from YKY was taken from his home last night, and it feels even more real.

And South Sudan. . .

And our master’s program . . .

Oh the darkness.  How DO the Russians do this winter.  How do CHICAGOANS do this winter?

I was told that the first time I yelled at one of those Green Peace guys asking for money on Michigan Avenue I was a true Chicagoan.  But it’s not true.  Only winter will earn the Chicagoan stripes.

I should embrace it’s similarities to Eastern Europe.  I felt a little Poland today, I wore the gray thick sweater I bought there a few years ago, and had a conversation about finding a sauna.

The sauna in Ukraine, that one was the best.

A high of -15

Chicago, post-Christmas break

The noises coming out of my radiators tonight are truly incredible.  More incredible, in fact, than the cold steam coming  through my bathroom window.  They are incessant tonight, which is abnormal.

Usually, there is a 15 to 20 minute break between this hissing, banging, gurgling sounds of my radiators in the winter.  At least enough of a break to get some sleep (as I write after 2am.)  They’ve now heated my apartment so fully that my friend’s comment earlier on my complaint of the severe cold in Chicago does seem correct,

“Well at least you’re apartment is 10,000 degrees.”

I opened my shades to let in a little air.  There’s ice on the inside of the window.  I turned on my fan.  Everything can be managed by a good fan.

It is, really though, great to be back in Chicago.  Christmas break, despite my first two buses back to Chicago getting canceled, despite being de-friended on facebook by someone who days earlier gave me earrings–was restful, and filled with friends, family and love.  It was hard to leave Nebraska, to realize I was going back to a lot of hard work and many very busy days.

The adjustment reminded me of my days of travel, the days of absolute torturous loneliness and sadness when I left home or friends or family.  Transition always broke open new possibilities though, and I don’t think it’s possible to grow without it.  I always hate saying goodbye to Peter and Rooney and the Mollys, and I always will.  And I’m painfully lucky to get to experience those kind of familial bonds of love.

My last night in Omaha, after two haphazard nights sleeping on my brother’s futon after canceled buses, I got to spend several wonderful hours with my mom, shopping and then eating French food and drinking wine.  Then, we met my best friends one more time–friends with whom I’ve never felt more fully like myself, more content in the moment.

Before 10p.m., Mom and I sped off and then waited for nearly an hour and a half for Megabus to finally arrive.  It was enough time to befriend a fellow Nebraska-to-Chicagoan who was game for drinking on the night bus.  The two things I discovered from this adventure were 1: don’t buy Sangria-flavored red wine even if it is the only twist-off bottle in the store and 2: I finally found someone who has a boat! (and offered to let me ride on it!)

I have been back, alone and content, in my apartment in Uptown for a few days now.  I’ve been given time to organize this semester’s classes madness and to think a little bit about the break, about relationships and friendships and various holiday packages I still need to send around the  world.

I’ve been reading a lot too, which has been a comforting reminder of how I  feel so much more human when I’m reading works by James Martin or Murakami or whoever.  The more I read the more I want to write and the more I write the better I feel.

My best friend in Chicago, Nina, called 2013 the “Year of Sophie” but I’d like to continue it on into 2014.  New plans, new friends, new love and adventure.

And hopefully, by the end of this winter, a tolerance to my miserable fucking radiators.

Hello 2014

New year, resolved intentions, Woody Guthrie/Bridget Jones style for 2014:

#1 Graduate with MA

#2 Create great media project for DEON.pl

#3 Go back to Poland this summer (and Balkans. . .)

#4 Find fabulous job in Chi or abroad

#5 Be in beach shape by March

#6 Start Jesuit examen et. James Martin

#7 Make deliberate, sober, honest men decisions

#8 Write more letters

#9 Visit Rachael in Indy

#10 Start travel writing again/keep up blog/edit old travel stories

#11 Work on feet calluses before they become unmanageable

#12 Create new recipes with lentils and other legumes

#13 Try harder at work, patience. . .

#14 Work on photography skills and learn video editing

#15 Read more non-school or news

#16 Avoid beer

#17 Spend less money on booze in general

#18 Grow out hair a bit

#19 Find a church and time that are attainable to attend

#20 Thoughtfully be a part of MASJCD battle

#21 Send package to Australians

#22 Write regularly in new journal

#23 Plan trips more than days in advance so as to avoid repeated Megabus disasters of 2013

#24 Don’t let the 4:30pm darkness of Chicago winter get me down

#25 Sleep earlier and more

#26 WAKE UP AND FIGHT

Image

Krakow, oh Krakow!

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