The Ultimate Tourist Trap

I think all of us who travel have done this at some point during our adventures. It’s a 21st century thing, really, and with so much of our generation traveling, it’s an easy thing to fall into. I know I’ve done it more than once.

It’s easy for us to go somewhere new and exciting and see all the unique differences that that culture offers and marvel in those unique tendencies that are so distinct from our own. We tend to pride ourselves in our ability to value those cultures for their individuality and experience that difference rather than be the “stereotypical tourist”, taking extra care to keep a safe distance from giant colorful tour buses, the corner McDonald’s, and the pestering salesman waving neon selfie sticks at anyone who breathes in his direction.

This is great, don’t get me wrong. Understanding cultural differences and learning from those is and will always be a good thing, there’s no doubt about that.

But I challenge you this: is it possible to focus to much on those exciting differences that we neglect to see how all of us, our culture and theirs, when it comes down to it, are all simply members of one single humanity?

We put so much effort into recognizing the worth of these cultures because the generations immediately before us have had some problems with this, yes? The internal dialogue is so predictable: Italians drink wine at almost every meal. I don’t do this in the States, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I appreciate Italy for it being so different! But after doing this too many times, our goal of appreciating those cultures for what they are ultimately does a 180-degree flip: they become a place so unique and so separate from our own that we ultimately isolate them. The conversation quickly becomes something else: They can believe what they want; I’ll admire it, but it’s not relevant to me.

How are we supposed to really learn anything from that culture if we’re so busy admiring and separating it from our own? And, if we truly believe there is nothing to learn from it, is that not devaluing to that culture as well?

Obviously the situation I just described is not as intense as I made it seem, but I won’t deny that it does happen in some level for all of us travelers. The solution is easy- Admire the uniqueness of other cultures, yes, but instead of focusing only on how those differences make them separate from us, search for how they bring out our similarities on a deeper level.

After all, we all are simply human.

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Thoughts of a semester.

Enjoy the Little Things

Part of the challenge about being in another country is that it becomes very easy to get so caught up in the most marvelous of things that the little happenings seem to simply pass by.

Ancient Roman architecture is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. The intense and meticulous paintings that line church walls are indeed something to see. But I don’t want to overlook the small things.

The city of Rome is riddled with these simple old fountains that are contentiously flowing with a light stream of water. There is a hole on top of the faucet so that if you block the initial opening that the water normally directly flows down from, you can create a water-fountain effect.

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These fountains are all over Rome.

Helen and I thought this was REALLY COOL. Turns out the jug under the fountain was being filled by the man in the background… woops. If you zoom in on the picture you can see he is laughing at our over-the-top enjoyment of what is actually a very normal appliance in Rome.

But, what can I say? Sometimes it is the tiny things that leave an impression on you.

When in Rome, drink do as the Romans do.

Don’t Eat the Oranges

There is a spattering of orange trees that speckle the edges of the roads that line all of Rome. They’re kinda cute, really, and the oranges dangle just within arm’s reach.

This isn’t normal where I come from. This isn’t normal where Matt and Helen come from either. It is no surprise that we were a little more than excited to come face-to-face with a couple of trees rather than simply viewing them through the glass of some kind of moving vehicle.

Picking oranges on what appears to be a public tree somehow felt wrong, and as we peered in and out of the various business on the corner that the trees grew on, no one seemed to care that we were very obviously about to pick the oranges.

I reached up. Plucked one off. Looked around. Nobody cared.

Matt reached up. Plucked one off. Looked around. Nobody cared. He reached up and picked one for Helen, too. The long, green leaves shook with the release of each piece of fruit.

I dug my thumb into the eye of the orange and pushed back the peal into a few falling chunks. The others did the same. The yellow juice ran down the length of my arm and it felt particularly sticky.

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Before the enlightenment.

Low and behold the golden sphere. We pealed off a slice and put the entire things in our mouth.

Don’t ever do that.

These oranges are like lemons soaking in baking soda, extremely sour and strangely bitter at the same time. No wonder no body cared if the meddling Americans ate the free oranges that lined the edges of the street.

But let’s be honest, it was totally worth it.
 

 

Serj Books

Dallas, Texas

Well, it is quite a feat to say that I have finally arrived here. I took the DART for the first time in a long time and while that in itself wasn’t an issue, the wind that made me victim of unnecessary hair torment. That is okay, though. There are more important things to worry about.

The barista at the counter has a crazy weird Chicago accent and wears bright red glasses that somehow fit his assertive  yet caring personality. He goes in and out of the wide black door with the magician’s purple curtain to go to and from the inside of the counter/kitchen to the rest of the restaurant. Conversations are blunt:

“How’s your Americano?”

“Good, it’s delicious.”

“Good, I’m glad you like it. Hey you, over there, how are you?”

“Huh?”

“I’m checkin’ on you. How you doing?”

“Oh, good.”

I can hear the rhhhuuummmmm of the DART just outside the widows as it takes off and goes every so often once again.

The music here is much more upbeat than your typical quaint coffee shop; distinct 50’s and 80’s sounds fall out of the speakers. Serj Books does nothing less than make a statement. But, what else can you do in the middle of Downtown Dallas? The walls are crafted with wooden brick and the tables have a royal purple cloths draped over the surface. Books on display are scattered on shelves along the walls, and all bear strange names and unusual covers. They make me want to both pick them up and flip through the pages and shout out to all those in the small shop, “WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS MEANS?!”

I could have a lot of fun here. That’s the thing about Serj, though: It is not exactly what one would call a good study space. Instead, it’s a place for being with people, philosophizing, discussing all things good and bad about your day while doing an occasional jig to the music that floats in the air. It’s a place for listening, for speaking, and for telling jokes. Laughing is encouraged. Using WiFi to isolate yourself from the rest of the world is not. The barista smugly tells his very lame and wonderful joke as you order. I’ve been sitting here for  healthy chunk of time and let me tell you, he tells it with the same gusto for every single customer.

Where do animals go when their tails fall off?
The retail store. 

 

Java Me Up

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Irving, Texas

I picked up a little collection of writings on display as I waited for my Something With Cream at Java Me Up, the coffee shop I had searched so long for.  Grub Street Grackle, it read. The Grackle is Dead. Long Live the Grackle! There was a light coffee stain on the front of the paper cover on the small, handcrafted booklet. I opened it up and flipped to a page about miniature black holes- according to the entry, a patent was filed in Japan on a “Personal-Sized-Black-Hole-Powered Light Reduction Apparatus.” Drawn into the passage, I didn’t even hear the barista come up behind me and set my Something With Cream on the table beside the book.

“Are you ready for this?” She smiled as she took the paper wrapper off the tip of the green straw in my Something. “It’s pretty unique…”

“What is it?” I laughed and took a sip of the mystery drink. Ha! It was spectacular.

“It’s French Toast.”

This place knew how to please me, that’s for sure. “It actually tastes like french toast!”

“Yup,” the barista smiled, clearly proud of her creation, as she went to attend to other customers. “It sure does.”

So now there’s a week until finals and I’ve managed to find myself lounging on a worn, greenish-yellow chair surrounded by magazines, tea, and local artwork in the corner of a little coffee shop right next to the neighborhood library as I’m drinking the one-and-only French Toast Cappuccino. I’m an hour and 16 minutes (give or take) away from the school and $14 shorter (couldn’t leave the Grub Street Grackle behind). My essay remains unwritten, my math problems uncalculated, and my laundry unwashed. But sometimes you just gotta get out and explore, you know? Take chances, even if all that chance is is finding your way to that coffee shop you’ve been thinking about for days and leaving your drink in the hands of the barista who would love nothing more than to create something “interesting” and “new”. Sometimes a little spice to your day is all you really need to keep going.

I went out with no plan and took 3 hours on bike, bus, and train to end up at a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop to order a Something With Cream and be presented with a French Toast frappuccino and immerse myself in some of the most bizarre literary pieces I’ve ever read.

Welcome to the first of my coffee shop adventures. Brace yourself, this is gonna be good.

Until the next time,

Peace.

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