Category Archives: Eye Candy

London Ramblings pt 4: Lost and Stolen in Amsterdam

*This is a continuation of London Ramblings pt 1, and pt 2, on Basic England and pt 3, Edinburgh, Scotland 

The next weekend I got on a plane to Amsterdam with two people, Tatum and James, whom I had known for two weeks but had quickly become my best friends. I was originally determined to remain true to my angsty and contrived air of nomadish individualism, having gone to London knowing no fellow-students and only one of the professors. I vaguely remember Tatum asking me at one point how I had imagined my month would play out before meeting them. My answer had something to do with books and self-induced (and solitary) literary revelation. The whole group thing was an unexpected occurrence that felt equal parts new and old, as though this social being that I hadn’t known since Junior year of high school was being dusted off and, reminded of her actual age, brought back to life. Amsterdam was a wake up call, however, and reminded me of how irrevocably odd and incapable of blending in that I am. The time there can be recounted through a series of lost and stolen things, juxtaposed by deep and unexpected connections. This theme asserted itself the moment the plane landed, as we commissioned a cab to drive us to our hostile. I assured the guys that I had enough cash to get us to centrum, and they reluctantly acquiesced to the driver’s gesture to enter the vehicle. The meter quickly revealed that I did not, in fact, have the adequate funds. We communicated this fact the best we could our driver, who did not appear to understand the variety of English we were speaking

Us: “Sir, you can let us out here, we don’t have enough money”

Driver: “Ok.”

*Continues driving until I break out in nervous sweats at the thought of owing money to a Dutch man*

When he finally stopped relatively close to the hostile, we raced to find an ATM and eventually handed the crook (driver) an absurd amount of money. We walked into our hostile only slightly disheartened by the loss, still dreaming of ~adventure~. I noticed a bag they were selling at the front desk that read: “Home is in Your Head.” It was perfect, a motto, an answer to my conflicted state of being: am I a loner, homeless and orphaned, or am I just another person, looking for home and a people to share it with. This way I could be both, as soon as I bought this bag, of course. I was refused this purchase, however, because they did not accept my debit card as a form of payment and, as I mentioned, the cab driver had stolen all of my cash.

The memory of Amsterdam is one big blur, filled with fragments of horrible situations that accumulate into a beautiful regard of the city, and a desire to go back and redeem my time there. One fragment that I can extract from the blur is an image of a sportsbar we found and frequented. It served bottomless ribs and 10 shots of Jäger for 10 Euros, a steal that prevented visits to other, more historical, attractions of this city, renowned for it’s food and museums. One museum we did visit, however, was the Heineken Experience, where a tour guide teaches you about the brewing process and the high-cultural language of all things hops and malts. A group of about fifty people gathered around with an allotted glass of beer as the guide taught us, via a headset microphone, the correct way to drink it. He awarded extra pores to those who participated and answered questions correctly. James and Tatum answered the first and second questions correctly, making our small group the elite students. To maintain this status, All I had to do was answer a question correctly, or at the very least remain silent so as not to screw with the batting average. But of course, before he could ask another question, I dropped my beer and loudly broke the glass. The guide made a joke, all the people laughed, and James and Tatum looked down in embarrassment, determined to disassociate themselves from me. The guide gave me a replacement glass out of pity and we smuggled it out of the brewery to take home as a reminder of my failure to blend into the group. Any group. All groups.

Perhaps the pinnacle embarrassment and Thing-to-be-Redeemed from Amsterdam was stolen and lost on a pub-crawl. We underwent this ~adventure~ whole-heartedly and were in the life of the group from the start. We made many new friends from all around the world and one enemy from Australia, whom I wrestled for a drink coin he had stolen from me. However, this was not the worst thing that was stolen from me that evening. At the second or third bar I noticed that my phone was missing (along with a bus pass but nobody ever talks about that one). I wasn’t about to let this ruin my evening, so I opted to Stay Calm and Crawl on. When we got back to the hostile, I called my mother to let her know she should probably cancel my service. (I am, after all, responsible and foreword-thinking and coordinated). When she answered the phone she was sniffling and obviously upset: “Emma?!” she cried. Apparently, due to some crossed iCloud voodoo, my sister had received a phone call from a non English-speaking man from my number. Mother proceeded to call every phone number she could find affiliated with Belmont administration and abroad. We woke up the next morning to a phone call from one of the faculty members on the trip. James answered the phone: “Hello? … Hey Dr. Tiner … Yes Emma is alive.”

I deduced that my phone was indeed stolen when I found a photo of an unknown woman at the Schiphiol airport, which was obtained through the aforementioned iCloud voodoo. This was further confirmed by a notification on my computer that read: “iPhone Last Found in: Iran.” Some people  firmly believe that I first lost my phone and then someone found and took it. I stand by my telling of the story, which is adamant in clearly relaying the fact that my phone was first stolen and, therefore, lost. But, truth be told, taking an inventory of Amsterdam illustrates my inability to lay low and find a home in a group: 1) no cash 2) no tote bag 3) broken beer glass 4) stolen beer glass 5) Lost pub crawl Tshirt 6) Stolen flannel in lieu of lost pub crawl tshirt 7) lost and stolen cell phone. Whether it was lost then stolen, or stolen then lost, I was successfully disconnected from everything. I was lost and stolen, stolen and lost, in and by various countries, and into the journey to and from them, fragmented and scattered into America, England, Scotland, and, apparently, Iran. Amsterdam did a very good job of taking things from me and of reminding me that I cannot own anything without the risk of losing it or having it stolen. Home is in your head, and must be kept there for safekeeping, because the stolen glass was still dropped and broken five months later in America and the bag itself could not have carried every remnant of Amsterdam, alive and gleaming, back to America.

 

London Ramblings pt 3: A little Scottish boy, Arthur’s Seat, and Italian Backpackers

The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain

BY WALLACE STEVENS

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:

The exact rock where his inexactnesses
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.

*This is a continuation of London Ramblings pt 1, and pt 2, on Basic England 

While in London, other abroads were accessible via a Eurorail pass, and the movement became addictive. One weekend it took us to Scotland. When we arrived in Edinburgh, it was late and we were famished, so we roamed the streets in search of Haggis and Scotch. Edinburgh is windy, literary, and old. And maybe this is my subconscious euro-centrism talking, but something about its oldness made it beautiful, made it art. I don’t know much about laws of aesthetics, but it didn’t seem to matter: the oldness of the place overrides the clutter and the decay sanctifies the bad weather. We finally found a place that was open called the Greenmantle and the joint was teeming with bodies and beards. We nestled in the corner and watched in amazement at the cliché of the moment: of course there is a band with a banjo and fiddle, of course the entire joint is joining in song and clinging glasses in the air, of course everybody here is in a flannel and has red hair. It felt like a place that I was destined to return and make my home. We left the bar, high on the authenticity of the experience, and trekked the streets towards our dorm. A friend and I tripped over each other and a fault in the ancient road, and laid pitifully engulfed in laughter for at least an entire minute in the middle of the street.

I, of course, continued to have trouble orienting myself to this city—my “home”—and its bus routes. It really shouldn’t be that difficult because the route pretty much only goes in two directions: If you just make sure you aren’t driving further away from your destination, you’ll get there eventually. But the artful massiveness of everything was intimidating, and we, of course, managed to find ourselves on the wrong bus, with the destination on our map apps floating further and further away from us. We became the classic huddle of young Americans, loudly arguing about where we were headed and what our next move needed to be. I noticed, in seats to our right, a little boy and his little sister, both no older than 9, intently observing us. I could tell he was worried for us. He had that protective air about him that adultless meanderings will give a big brother. It is safe to assume that he was much more intelligent and capable than the combination of the group of us, and he was obviously—while humbly—aware of this. Out of exasperation one of us exclaimed, “which way to London!” We all laughed, but the joke indicated to the young boy that he was now absolutely obligated to interject. “Excuse me, mam…” piped a darling Scottish accent, as he stood up and politely addressed me: “I’m sorry, but this bus is certainly not going to London… Are you lost?” Yes, young boy, I am very lost in your land, and I would very much so like to be your mother.

The next morning we woke up mangled and unrested, but determined to pretend otherwise. After eating what breakfast we could sustain, we set out to hike Arthur’s Seat. The art of the place came to be about the compatibility of environment and construction; nature and society. Someone decided to build the Scottish Parliament Building right next to Arthur’s Seat, and both seem to agree to be where they are. They each rest, settled and thankful. But parliament decays, while the mountain does not. The mountain exhales its acknowledgement of this temporary sufficiency, exclaiming in praise: “You belong here. You belong next to me. For now, you belong to me.” Unlike every other attraction we had visited (Greenwich, Cliffs of Dover, The River Thames, etc), Arthur’s seat was unaccompanied by gift shops or tour guides. It was steep and unpaved, and the wind made the peak seem exhilaratingly dangerous. From here we marveled at Edinburgh in its entirety: in all its history, beauty, and decay.

Late that last evening a group of us went bar hopping in the attempts to claim as much of the city as we could in the short time we had left. I was stopped by a couple of delightfully lost, backpacking Italians. They insisted I show them “where to go for a good time.” I debated for about .2 seconds whether I would play the “who, me? I am just a confused and fragile American who doesn’t know this city or understand maps” card, but instead responded, “Follow me, boys!” As we left one place in pursuit of another, I took an Italian in each arm and one situated in behind me (one can only assume this was for protection). Finally an entourage, I thought. They insisted I teach them more English, which somehow resulted in their chanting my name and referring to me as their “American Dominant.” Any and all present during this brief brigade would agree that this was the moment that I peaked. I can almost promise my foreign night life tales will never surpass this encounter with my Italian entourage, who nestled me tight into their attentive flattery. However, the high was as fleeting as one might expect and my Italians abandoned me for a club that looked like a better time than I could offer them. I suppose my concierge services were sub-par, and they were quickly disillusioned with me on account of this.

I knew better than to believe in the providence of the notion that Edinburgh is my home. Just as I had become disillusioned with Nashville the moment I called it my home, so would I become disillusioned with Edinburgh or London the second I dared to consider myself as rooted in it as its decaying buildings. It seems that the traveler’s lofty destination is never really met, the longing is never satisfied, and no rest will finally bless the weary trek. There will always be a little Scottish boy in the back of my mind, reminding that I will never get to what I believe to be London, via a public transportation system. The best one can do for art and for the places one visits and longs for, is respect them as moving reference points and be willing to articulate our lost and floating failure to reach the destination and find the center of rest. The best we can do is concede to the little boy’s directions, for he is the local and he knows best. The sojourning nature of finding solace in buildings one yearns to call home renders the attempt to participate in the institutions they represent the actual antithesis of their allure. I talk a big game about being a nomad and in finding sadistic rapture in homelessness and orphanhood, but there is something deep in me that finds comfort in the fact that Arthur’s Seat will almost certainly be the same, offering the view while the view itself fluctuates, falls, and rises. Art longs for the sojourning individual to be above it, observing it, moving along it. In short, there is something good, something that evades interpretation, to be a human with legs that scale mountains and eyes that appreciate the smallness of otherwise dwarfing constructions. But then one must leave before the solace abandons like a group of backpacking Italians.

sky fire

 

SKyfire

“The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” 

-Annie Dillard, Pilgram at Tinker Creak

The College Station sunset has been the consistent and enduring reminder of the Lord’s goodness. His ability to transform and set fire to things. To bring darkness and light again. To paint the sky and His people with unknown colors & strokes.

The time has finally come that I  say goodbye to College Station. My last weekend there the sun graced us with a few incredible sunsets. As I looked up at the sky-fire I was able to mutter a thank you. Thank you, Lord for trials & people & sunsets. Thank you for setting the College Station sky on fire.