Sunday, September 30, 2012

about how i really like jules verne

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it. --Cesare Pavese

It is interesting: I was quite certain that I would post on this blog throughout my summer travels in Europe. I anticipated it, and I took all of the appropriate pictures, and I lugged my laptop along in my pack, and I thought of witty remarks and ways of consolidating my anecdotes and all of the essentials of writing brief-yet-notable things. Quaint things, even.

And yet, I did not. At all! And afterwards, I said that I would let time kind of... fondly slide over the moments, flatten the dogeared pages a bit, and wait to see how nostalgia colored everything.

And here--it has been two months since I got back, and I still have not posted a single story related to my time away on my cute little travel-oriented blog.

Fascinating things happened, sure. I took a tour of Amsterdam with a homeless man who claimed to be a retired acrobat and planned to sail to Australia after years of traversing the globe. I took local flamenco classes in Sevilla and listened to lectures in Spanish about Lorca and tasted the most spectacularly roasted vegetables of my life in Cadiz. I learned everything that one could conceivably want to know (and more) about Jack the Ripper in London. I spontaneously went to Belgium. I got consistently rained on in Norway. And Sweden. And Denmark. I ate fantastic Korean food in Berlin with some of my most valued friends.

It was one of the best, and least logical, two months of my entire life. The itinerary made essentially no sense. You can see this coming when the first flight path of your trip is... the Dominican Republic to England. I had no funding outside of my own pocket from working--no scholarships, no fellowships. My maximum bed cost per night, with one or two Scandinavian exceptions, was twenty dollars. My food budget was a lot less. My backpacking pack was about a third of my body weight. Including the gradual accumulation of gifts for those back in the US, that rose to closer to half. I looked completely absurd. I often traveled alone. I made strange friends in strange places. I saw sandcastle competitions and religious ceremonies and jubilees and sunflowers. I saw incredible poverty, and tragic histories, and all kinds of bizarre and inexplicable things.

I guess I was too busy catching flights and trains and buses to write, and now I am back in Washington--constantly reading and writing about places and people and notions that I have never experienced (and may never experience) at Georgetown in my grad program. Life moves, and moves, and moves.

It may not be a journey to the center of the earth, but it is definitely a journey toward the center of... something.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

escape to the circus: the dominican republic

CIRCUS, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.

My experience in the Dominican Republic has been far more circus-like than anticipated.

It began with the sparkle and fanfare of a small band of Dominican musicians bursting into song upon our foray into the customs line. Then, we excitedly purchased our ten dollar ticket (or visa,) and then frantically attempted to fight our way through wayward crowds/drunken motorcyclists/infuriated taxi drivers to find ourselves below the above banner.

Kaceitos Circus.

Much like at the actual circus, the food here was radically overpriced (surprising, given that a private bedroom here is only $30/night)--but instead of living on popcorn all week, I opted for rice. Did you know that many restaurants have at least five different condiments that you can put on rice in a variety of exotic and complex variations? No? Well, take it from an expert!

Our first day was lovely (the other days weren't bad, either.) The weather here is perfect ninety-nine percent of the time (it only rained once... for about fifteen minutes) and I was thrilled to learn that thanks to Italian and French, I could start my private Spanish lessons as "Beginner," and not "Absolute Beginner." Also, this beach. THIS BEACH:


You can't really see it there, what with the people and window grime and all, but it is quite lovely and quite often completely unencumbered by human hands/feet/etc. And it was, in fact, my playground. A slightly more visually accurate example:

Really nice and clean and laden with vitality. Would have gone kitesurfing this time around if not for all of the Spanish lessons and trapeze, which took up four hours a day and two hours a day respectively (and both were often private lessons, as it turned out!) Perhaps another time.

AND THEN, like at all bawdy discount circuses, I was pickpocketed at the pool hall. Tossed from financial stability on this leg of my trip into beggardom like so many F. Scott Fitzgerald characters (Okay, mostly like The Beautiful and Damned.)

And so the week went! My trapeze technique improved drastically and I did some pretty sweet catch and returns from bizarre-looking aerial poses, my hands are torn to shreds, and I learned about a year of college Spanish in four days. My skin is tanned and bug-bitten. And all the while, I saved and saved at each dinner to be able to afford one nice night out on my last evening here--

and naturally, it all blew away in a freak gust of wind on the beach, with the exception of a few small peso notes which I gallantly ran after for over a mile (at probably my top running speed in about five years.)

Just like at the circus.

Now, with an impressive backpacking transition from tropical to ...not tropical climate gear, onto Western-then-Northern Europe!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On Sea Turtles

UPDATE: If you like this post and have a Facebook, PLEASE click the following link and 'Like' it to help me TRAVEL TO COSTA RICA WITH MY BRETHREN. Thank you!

It is with the most jubilant of hearts that today, on this Very Blog, I celebrate the sea turtle. This was sparked by my status as a finalist in the SEE Turtles Volunteer Contest, but also by my adoration for sea turtles and my rendezvous with them on multiple occasions. The only word that comes to mind when considering their evolutionary greatness is this:


They are essentially... Poseidon's discus. Noble and round. They merit Courier style font.

They deserve to be protected by humankind, as they have protected us for centuries from briny villains such as A) the Loch Ness monster, B) the Leviathan, C) pirates. I will prove my case below.

First: If you switch around the letters in the superfamily 'Chelonioidea,' you will receive the following remarkable anagram:

'Hi, Ocean Oldie.'

This is not a coincidence. Indeed, the sea turtle has been around longer than Latin. Sea turtles practically designed all structural aspects of Latin. Sea turtles are very serious business.

Sea turtles keep our oceans safe by eating box jellyfish. Would you eat a box jellyfish? No. And that is why the sea turtle is more impressive than you will ever be.

In fact, the Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped the sea turtle. They were significantly ahead of their time, because the sea turtle is hip. Brilliant. Savvy. They are also efficient, as they can lay 50-200 eggs in thirty minutes. This is an impressive and probably marketable skill for any animal to have.

Sea turtles are the Best Mothers. Period. If on Mother's Day you are not celebrating a sea turtle, you are doing it wrong. This role involves a lot more hauling and hind-flippering than your mother could even have dreamed of, unless your mother is a mermaid. The devotion of a sea turtle to her inordinate number of children is commendable. The presence of sea turtle nesting also improves dune vegetation, which helps to prevent beach erosion. Remember that the next time that you are on summer vacation, you should thank the sea turtles for making your beach a possibility!

Without a doubt, the sea turtle is the stalwart friend of all creatures.

They are the
avengers of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans that might otherwise be choked out by sea grass. They are also a friend of mine:

So now, hopefully you understand why the fact that these intelligent creatures are reduced to tons of fisherman by-catch each year is absurd. Is this how you want to see your sea turtles?

(He is not sleeping.)

NO! And you can make a difference!

Check out to see how you can work with sea turtles, and change fishing and environmental practices to help protect them. Sea turtles are man's best water-friend.

And remember: slow and steady wins the race, but if you are a sea turtle, you are fast and steady. Therefore, you are the champion of all races, regardless of their distance or the other animals involved. Always bet on sea turtles.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

forgotten beautiful things!

Today's post highlights some things that I think merit remembering because they are lovely, and people forget them. I remembered while traveling. The first is to the left: holiday decorations, even if they may be neglected and seasonally inappropriate. These ornaments were still up (presumably from Christmas) in mid-March in Serbia. That tree is a little tired-looking... but boy, is it trying! And I love that: Absolutely every day is a holiday.  Simple. And it merits a celebration of some kind, regardless of how large or small that celebration ends up being (but hopefully large, given that waking up every morning facilitates every aspect of our accomplishments, and therefore deserves recognition as an Important Thing.) I do think that these celebrations should be intentional, and noted: it is my April 11th resolution to do that enthusiastically and reliably from now on. The next thing: symmetry where you don't expect it. Everyone knows how lovely and fascinatingly ornate a butterfly's wings can be, as well as other examples of natural symmetry. But seemingly unintentional architectural and man-made symmetry can bring people closer to nature in a way that is interesting and at least kind of profound.
It is so easy when living in a city to think of nature as an 'escape.' To forget what a lovely and intricate environment has been constructed and maintained by other people (as well as ourselves, at the very least through tax dollars.) That people Made These Things on Purpose, and presumably that purpose was not to be ugly. I want to start appreciating the beauty in things that are "inorganic." The next  thing is clear water! This is one underrated item, at least in my book. Clear water is fantastic. Swimming in it is pretty much the best, and whenever you are thirsty, you can drink it. I mean, LOOK AT IT. Croatia is the capital of it. It is pretty sweet.

And lastly: vandalism. Good old-fashioned graffiti. The sheer multitude of different emotions expressed on the walls of seemingly every buildings in the Balkans is incredible. This graffiti has the makings of thousands upon thousands of epics. I absolutely adored it. I wish that I could wear the graffiti like I wear clothing. I could write poems of this graffiti for the rest of my life. And how powerful a feeling must be to compel you to write all over the city! Hatred, love, the whole lot of it. That alone is worth traveling to see. Especially when it is this:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

First and foremost, cheers for a blog post that can finally involve my photographs!

I can happily say that despite the vehement attempts of at least one Croatian Airlines official, who seemed dead set on making me miss my flight through claiming that each of my bags was one kilogram over the size limit and that I needed to spontaneously check my (rather small, thank you) backpacking backpack, I have arrived back in the United States. This was also in spite of Heathrow airport's attempt to hold me hostage indefinitely, when my 6 hour layover became 8 hours and then 11 hours over the span of Sunday afternoon.

On the bright side, I can happily say that I am keenly aware of every item available at  Harrod's.

The trip really was just beautiful. Little did I know that Southeastern Europe is the mecca of every bizarre and oddly quaint item that I could possibly want, as the following pictures indicate. If I could furnish my entire apartment with the array of absurd and intricate items that I witnessed on this trip, you can bet your bottom dollar (and my bottom dollar, probably) that I absolutely would. Who does not want, no, need these Jim Henson-like creatures peering out of their window every night? Fending off bandits and bears? I know that I would sleep better.

And this gem! This is ecofriendly both in literal terms and in so much as it actually resembles the Earth.  See the back wheel, like a small and subservient moon. Route 66 would be in its prime if some sort of tax break were associated with using these bad boys during rush hour. And how could you conceivably be out of shape? You would flop right over. Real inspiration to keep on top (yes, literally) of your workout.  In sum, most city museums might leave this out... but not Zagreb. They have their priorities in order.

Even just walking down the sidewalk, there were all kinds of really unexpected figures... like to the right. This elephant creature appears to be planning some kind of grand escape, and I say "grand" because he was about fifteen feet above the ground in that window sill. Best of luck, friend! This was not a storefront or anything, by the way. For all I know, for all anyone knows, he pays the rent and runs the household and I am being horribly offensive by making these assumptions regarding his size and existence.

These are my favorite elements of traveling, exposed in a rather peculiar way. Unearthing these completely unanticipated elements of a place by quietly walking through the residential neighborhoods, and then comparing that to the way that the city represents itself in its museums. Watching the way that people transport themselves, how people stand on the bus and if they are speaking, what icons they personify and present (even when they may think that few people are looking.) I was going to talk about the 'Zombie Ballet' of Belgrade in this entry, but then I got all wrapped up in the completely wacky aspects of the cities themselves...

Actually, here. If the zombie ballet were an object, it would be a combination of the previous three photos. If you are like me, you would find it gorgeous because it represents all of the surprising grotesqueness that conventionally beautiful actions can convey: passion, movement, light.

And to end with a photo that perhaps embodies all of these elements in a similar, and tragic, sense:

It is so hard, but essential, to remember that Someone once lived there.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

on war and scales of measurement

The biggest graveyards in Sarajevo are immediately next to the sports fields. If you were to have a tendency to shoot for the net too high, like I do, I can only imagine that you would be in danger of some seriously iconoclastic soccer games on a regular basis.

Coffee houses and bars are immediately next to many of the other, smaller graveyards (where "smaller" means "not Olympic swimming pool-sized.") One of my favorite outdoor cafes was less than five feet from a series of rather impressive tombstones. The square footage of the graveyard was greater than that of the affiliated mosque.

This is not surprising, of course, given the number of people that died during the war. But... I have not seen life kept in this close physical proximity to death anywhere else that I have been in the world. The fact that at any given location in Sarajevo you are surrounded by high mountains, the "Bosnian Alps," exacerbates that feeling of enclosure--it is magnificently claustrophobic. The blown-out buildings every couple of blocks serve as a reminder of this. And further, the Historical Museum captures this elegantly: there are sections that recreate living conditions during the war. For example, the importance of the kitchen as a public space becomes obvious: you can walk into said kitchen. This reminded me of the Holocaust exhibit in the Museum of Yugoslavia: you can walk into a concentration camp cabin.You can feel it and smell it--and while I am sure that the feeling and smell are wildly unrealistic--you get a sense of it. The tiniest additional notion of scale.

There is a section of the Sarajevo exhibit entirely devoted to pictures drawn by children before their schools were bombed. One of them depicts a raincloud pouring through a rainbow--and then, there is a color wheel. Essentially, the rain seeps through the rainbow, and that is how colors on Earth are made. Another, in response to how 'destroying bridges destroys people' as a prompt, wrote their name (Adna) in beans pasted to a loose leaf sheet in the shape of a bridge. There were rapids in the background... that was it. Two colors: brown and blue.

It was very simple and powerful. And almost impossible: I was able to see the museum even though it was "closed" by sweet-talking the guard into letting me in. (In Italian! Three years of language study: justified!) Seeing it by myself was brilliant. Actually, this museum may be one of the only ones left in Sarajevo, soon. All of the public museums are being shut down by the government due to a lack of funding. This is evidence that distributing public resources amongst fourteen different cantons, with radically different governmental systems, can't be easy. The National Museum was practically in shambles--my two dollar admission got me into one room of very nice doric columns, and every other exhibit had been shut down. Except for the graveyard, which was not an exhibit, so much as a graveyard... placed in the museum courtyard.

Unrelatedly, I met the most fantastic hitchhiker, and we talked about cognac for about twenty minutes because the only phrases that either of us could articulate in Bosnian and English involved alcohol. (It knows no borders, apparently.) Bear this in mind, if you should ever find yourself in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in need of a topic of conversation. He was about one thousand years old, and he let me take his portrait:

In my next blog post, I plan on trying to adequately describe what I can only rightfully call a "Serbian Zombie-Themed Ballet." If Tim Burton himself had choreographed it, I would not be surprised. Brace yourself accordingly, as I will be scouring the internet for video evidence of this beautiful, beautiful thing.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Balkans: Foray into Adventure and Sociopolitical Intrigue

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Christina. She wanted to travel frequently and fervently. She also wanted to experience the bizarre and fascinating things that Washington, DC had to offer. And then, she found her use of the past tense somewhat macabre (instead of nostalgic as intended) and launched into the point of her new blog through anecdotal means, instead of introductory.

I was not going to write this entry this evening. I had absolutely no intention of doing so. But then, just as I was packing up from the Sarajevo hostel lobby, the spritely owner of this very hostel sent me a piece of cake on the house. This is not just any cake, either. Bosnian cake is manufactured entirely from fresh honey, apples, cinnamon, and stardust. IE, the exact ingredients of my favorite dish: the deus ex machina.

And so, here I am. Rejuvenated, and interested in recounting the bounty that the former Yugoslavia has offered me. Usually, this blog will have photos of my own taking. They are often good--I promise. Unfortunately, due to the archaic nature of my travel laptop, those will have to wait.

Today, I went to the 'Tunnel of Hope' in Sarajevo, which is fantastically difficult to find in the suburbs of the city--perhaps to its initial advantage. It was used in the nineties to transfer food and munitions during the most violent portions of the siege (if you have no idea what I am talking about, I highly suggest that you read *at least* the following Wikipedia page: and was, frankly, quite important. The museum commemorating the tunnel is so small that I was at first uncertain as to if it was some kind of 'tourist trap' en route to the actual tunnel, but no! It was not. The exhibit inside was compiled with great thought and precision. Sarajevo has proven to be replete with historical gems such as this.

The interviews that I have conducted for my field research for the European and Eurasian Studies Institute at GW thus far have been fascinating, and I will tell you why:

A) The passion that the employees of the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) show for their work in advocating protection of the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups is quite inspiring.
B) It is accompanied by this poignant, completely devastating, and honest sense of frustration and hopelessness in all aspects of the pursuit.

I have never received such frank assessments of [lack of] systematic change from any other group of people (let alone diplomats) in my entire life. I am hoping that it is because I am coming off as particularly approachable in how I conduct my interviews, and that the beneficiaries of these programs do not have this level of negativity constantly present. The OSCE has facilitated some truly remarkable change here, but it is obvious how dysfunctional many of the social systems in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina remain. To see the tensions associated with the issue of social inclusion unfold before me this intricately, with this level of gravity and complexity, has been amazing. I probably have enough interview material here to write a book, and enough experiential material to write an epic.

If only I spoke the language! That is my predominant regret. My Russian has gotten me around a little bit, and my pronunciation is great. Most people--especially in Serbia since I appear Serbian--continue to attempt to speak to me in the relevant language after basic exchanges due to the (inaccurate) assumption that I know exactly what they are saying. Sometimes I do, but only when a respectable dose of cognates are involved. Italian and French, unfortunately, have been utterly useless thus far. I may make a mad dash to Trieste next Friday to validate my language skills.

I like it here in Sarajevo better than I did in Belgrade, but that is for another blog post. Tomorrow, I visit the National, Historical, and City museums of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sarajevo respectively, and continue working through this sizable collection of Bosnian sonnets that I have purchased (yes, it is a dual-language version.) Ciao, or as they say in Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian, ćao! I promise to instigate something fascinating or utterly exhilarating within the next several days so that I can recount it publicly!