Saturday, March 14, 2009

Moments from my European trip

Originally, I came up with about 30-40 great moments I had in Greece, Rome (plus the Milan airport) and Barcelona. I was in an incredibly nostalgic mood and was evaluating my trip. However, in an attempt to keep with traditional "best of" lists, I have trimmed it down to ten. I submit them for your pleasure. They are in no particular order.

1. My adventure to Pompeii was an epic one. But before I got there, I had to take a train from Rome to Naples. I left Rome around 5 AM, by myself and a little worried. Once I got onto a train, I slept for perhaps and hour and woke up to the rolling countryside of Italy. It was a beautiful site, one that filled me with extreme happiness and joy that I was actually in Italy, one of my life long dreams.

2. After the train ride, the rest of the journey to Pompeii was not great. But, since this is a "happy" list, I wont go into that. Rather, once I arrived in Pompeii, I was in heaven. I had my audio guide, my map and my historical perspective. I was set! I proceeded to walk along the fully intact roads, enter homes, baths, stadiums, temples, etc. I saw everything I could in four hours. And since I was alone, I proceeded to let my imagination take me and pretend that I was a citizen in this ghost town. It may be weird, but I enjoyed myself! And I talked to myself.

3. Keeping with the Italian theme, my entire trip to Rome was wonderful. However, there was a specific moment when I was walking along the Via Appia that I suddenly became incredibly happy. As with my train ride to Naples, I was surrounded by absolute beauty and was walking on an ancient road which I had known about from numerous sources. My destination was the catacombs, but I took the road slowly, taking in the wonderful sights, smells and feel of Italy. It was wonderful!

4. Greece, as many of you know, erupted into violence and riots my last few weeks there over the death of a teenage boy at the hands of a corrupt and incompetent police officer. I could go on about the implications, the history of civil violence in Greece, and the other motives about these riots in great detail, but thats not the point. Since I am an overly curious person, I wanted to see these riots first hand rather than hear "booms" or yelling at a distance. I went with Ryan downtown to a scheduled demonstration, ignoring the warnings of my teachers. At first it was peaceful, but violence soon erupted and a fight between students and riot police broke out. At first it was safely in front of me at a distance. But before long it was all around me. I saw kids throw stones at police, people break down a stage set for a Christmas celebration for more ammunition, tear gas, smoke bombs, and everywhere angry people. I saw what I wanted, but got tear gassed myself before I could get out. Ryan got it worse than me, but a small amount is more than enough. Most people would think this a bad memory, but not me!

5. In Athens, Psyiri is a wonderful neighborhood full of hipster bars and clubs. At first glance it is dirty and probably looks unsafe with the huge graffiti and seemingly broken down buildings. But thats just the scene they like. One night, after having too much to drink and successfully hopped at least 10 bars, Allison and I ran into a friend of ours from the American embassy. He was our age, drunk and with a girl from the other American school in Athens. Allison and I (mainly Allison) proceeded to be large cock blocks the entire night as we stuck with them wherever they went and even got a cab back with them. The greatest moment, (Allison)"Hey, do you guys want to go get some hookah?" The reply was a simultaneous "Yeah!" from the guy and a "No," from the girl. Our work there was done.

6. As our departure back to the States was getting closer, Allison and I wanted to have one last trip up to the Acropolis for sentimental reasons and I had never actually taken any pictures! As we left, we were slightly getting on each others nerves, but once we got to the top we had a blast. Since the riots were still going on, hardly any tourists were there. We snapped some pictures of the buildings but then turned to have a photo shoot of ourselves on the Acropolis. We even found a stray cat who I kept trying to put up on the wall so I could take a picture of it, but it got scared once it saw the steep fall and kept trying to get away from me. Our laughter could be heard all over the Acropolis.

7. The breast cancer event will live in infamy. A few of us had volunteered for the event at the request of our teacher. It began with a lot of talking, which we understood nothing since it was all in Greek. After that, a short theatrical piece was put on with some singing. Again, we had no comprehension of what was going though I thought it was corny and weird to include it at a breast cancer event. However, I noticed a guy in the group who was noticeably cute and gay for that matter. But I forgot it as our duty came up. We were instructed to carry appetizers for the recession like servants. It was crazy. Greeks love their food and the moment they saw us carry it, and they knew it was free, people were swarming us. We tried our best to distribute the food as evenly as possible, but it was hard when four elderly ladies hoarded all the food in a corner and yelled at you if you didn't bring them more. Once the clamor died down a bit, we sat back and rested. We noticed that guy from the stage before sitting with his friends. All of my friends urged me to go talk to him, so I concocted a way to. I kept bringing him food to which he claimed I was trying to make him fat. Later, as I was standing alone with some food and all my friends watching, he came up to me and asked me out on a date, to which I happily said yes. We drank all the rest of the wine that night and went back home. Oh what a night!

8. Perhaps I should have put these in chronological order... Anyway, on our first weekend in Greece, our school brought us to an island called Kea. It was remote and barren, but we were determined to have fun. The first night, there was an arranged beach party. The night consisted of many different antics, dancing, and school sponsored drinking. The night for me was spent with Allison and Rachel, who I had not known for long. The three of us got along very well that night and had a wonderful time. We ended up sleeping together in the same bed, though the girls said I was horrible since I talked and stole all the blankets. It is funny, but by the end of the semester, it ended up being just Allison and I, since Rachel slowly got on our nerves after awhile. I feel bad for kind of ditching her, but we will always have that night.

9. Again, the first week of being in Athens my apartment and the other apartment in our building with students from our school had dinner every night and ended with some wine on the roof as we watched the stars, the Acropolis and got to know each other. That first week was so wonderful since it was drama free, and we all loved each other. As you can tell by the past tense, it didn't stay that way for long, but thats another story. One night in particular, I had finally told them I was gay. We were discussing relevant topics, and I had had too much wine for my own good. When describing my distaste for vaginas, I mentioned that they reminded me of sarlacc pits. Everyone was confused since no one knew what those were. I explained that they were the huge pits in Star Wars in the desert that eat people up, especially in the scene when Jaba the Hutt tries to kill Luke Skywalker by throwing him in one. They have horned looking teeth and are vicious looking. Everyone bursted into laughter and sarlacc became an instant inside joke and was frequently invoked.

10. As I looked down the Corinthian Canal, which happens to be 206 feet deep, I wondered why I was here. I remembered that I had almost missed this opportunity by being too exhausted from my partying the night before, but thinking that I may never have the chance again I decided to tough it up. Everyone began to countdown and I knew I had no other choice. I could feel my heart beating in my chest and I contemplated crying, but decided against that too. The bungee was weighing down on my feet, almost dragging me before I chose to jump. When it came to zero, I leapt as far out as I could and instantly thought, "What the fuck did I just do?" Everything else was a blur.

Photo by Michael Wood! The entrance of the catacombs from the Via Appia

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Oh, Illinoise!

Being that I cannot study for history anymore, I thought I would instead update my blog about the happenings of my life and the random thoughts going on in my head these days. By the way, has anyone noticed that this semester is going horribly fast? The closer I get to graduation and the "real world," the faster things go. I am a bit worried about leaving school and being crushed with debt and a horrible job market. Egh.

Anyway, life is good otherwise. I would never have believed it, but I have defined pectorals, biceps, triceps, various leg muscles, and a wonderful gluteus maximus. Working out consistently has been one of the best life decisions I have made in awhile. It makes me feel better, forces me to prioritize my life, improves my heath and my image! If I may be so cocky, "Good job Michael!"

Last weekend was an adventure, one that I needed. Isaac and I went down to the U of I for Unofficial St. Patrick's Day with his friend Chris Johns, who incidentally got ahold of my UIC name and password last year and proceeded to get me banned from the internet for a week due to massive downloading, but I forgave him. Anyway, the trip was fun and incredibly decadent. Champaign was filled with thousands of drunk college kids roaming around, looking for a cool party or food. Needless to say, Chipotle was packed the entire weekend. Gabby's party was fun, and a bit interesting with the two exs being so close together for the first time in awhile. They behaved, but hardly. I had to put my iron foot down a few times. After excessive amounts of drinking, the three of us (minus Chris Johns who went to his friends) passed out in Gabby's bed. When I say passed out I really mean continually fought for a good position and blanket coverage the entire night only to get neither and wake up unrested and aching.

The next morning/day was spent with Isaac and I roaming around, doing odd things here and there. We managed to get a bit of studying done as well to make up for the guilty feeling of procrastination. I feel like Isaac and I are getting much closer as friends, something that I like a lot. We hang out a lot, eat together, work out together and I like it. We joke that we are considered a gay couple on campus, and doubtless some people think it.

Anyway, after Gabby got off of work at Jamba Juice, we hung out for awhile, but informed her that we would be leaving. Gabby was noticeably upset, and I knew why and though I warned her, I still sympathized. I understand how she feels, to be next to the one she loves and not being able to have him. But, we said our goodbyes and went on a random adventure to Eastern Illinois University where they were having their unoffical that night. We met up with their friend Elliot who happens to be gay, but the most confusing gay person ever. I met him the night before at U of I where I studied him closely. I just could not make sense of him, and I think he may have avoided me at some level. I can't be sure, but I wonder just how comfortable he is with his sexuality. Anyway, the four of us got to a party and were a bit shocked. At least Isaac and I were. He turned to me and said, "We aren't in Chicago anymore." The party was full of hicks. Some dirty, some whores, some inbred. Granted, we made the best of it and had a really fun time for awhile. I told myself that tonight was a night where I kept my inhibitions and didn't act flaming, for lack of a better word. I ended up dancing for a total of two minutes, but that was enough. Two brothers went to Isaac and began flipping out that there was a gay man at the party. "We don't do that here," were the exact words spoken. Isaac told me, and I was bothered, but not overly so. But then, Isaac continued to socialize with the ones who didn't like me, and Elliot and Chris both disappeared due to girl drama. So I left and wandered around campus for awhile. Honestly, I don't remember any of it, just that I did. I came back to find Elliot very distressed where he proceeded to tell me his boy problems. The one time we had a conversation and he mentioned men. I was more in awe than actually contributing to the conversation. Eventually we all fell asleep with no more mishaps the rest of the night. We awoke at 7AM to screeching sounds of unknown animals. Once we realized where we were, we got up and out. Instantly. Our drive home consisted of Isaac's broken windshield wipers and rain. I will let you conjecture to what happened.

There was a moment going down to EIU when we stopped at a gas station. It was the only thing for miles, and you could only see small dots that were the houses in the far distance. Other than that, there was a black wall of nothingness. It was quiet, and nothing moved other than us. I looked around and realized that I was back home. Strange to think about so late, but I had oddly missed my Illinois., the flat fields of corn and soybeans, the odd assortment of people ranging from Chicago to Decatur and everything in between, and not to mention the horribly paved roads! As I returned to the car, I turned to Isaac and said, "We are in the middle of fucking nowhere!"

I also would like to get to know Elliot more. He is a really funny guy, and his sexuality greatly interests me. Yes, he is gay. I understand that. But it is something different to him than to me, something that I have never actually ever seen before. Don't get me wrong, I am not at all condemning him. Everyone acts differently, and though stereotypes are true sometimes, they don't hold up uniformly, especially with gay men! I have seen so many dirty, unkempt gay men in this world to prove it to me. I myself am hardly organized or clean. But I love to study people, watch their habits, listen to them and understand their point-of-view in this life. Elliot has proved to stump me, something that only entices me more! It sounds like I am treating him as my experiment, and maybe at some level I am?

That was my strange, wonderful weekend. If you made it this far, Kudos to you my friend.

Photo by Frank Hebicht