That was the last time I visited my grandparents house for several years. I was 17 when I returned and I'd forgotten all about the incident until I went into their bathroom and saw another mirror, looking just like the one I'd broken, sitting in the same place that it had been all those years ago. The memories came flooding back, accidentally dropping the mirror, hiding the evidence, geting caught and subsequently punished.
I didn't like to think about bad memories so I shoved them all into a box in my mind and locked them away.
Another year passes and I visit my grandparents again. Once again I visit the bathroom and see that mirror and again, the memories come flooding back. Instead of burying the memories back up, I pick it up with utmost care. In the last year, my life had improved substantially. I was happier than I could remember being since before that fateful day when I broke the mirror, and when I looked back at it all it occurred to me that everything had gone from bad to worse up until the previous year.
I quickly put the mirror back down and stepped away from it. It had been seven years, I realized. Seven miserable years between the time I broke that first mirror and the time that things started to get better. "Break a mirror and you get seven years of bad luck."
Holy crap, I thought. It's true!
A year after that I was having car trouble and it seemed like everywhere I went I would find a penny on the ground. "See a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck!" With that in mind I picked them all up, feeling like I needed all the luck I could get. A few hours later, however, my car broke down just outside of Santa Barbara and when I pulled over to the side of the road and popped the hood, I found that the engine was actually on fire. Luckily for me, I happened to have a pepsi in the car and I was able to use that to douse the fire but I remember thinking, "So much for the lucky penny theory."
I happened to mention that to a friend a few days later. "Were the pennies tail side up?" I couldn't remember for sure, but I was pretty sure that at least a few were so I nodded. "There's your problem...found pennies are only lucky if they're head side up."
I actually thought that made sense and to this day I only pick up a penny if it's head side up. I haven't had a break down since, so there must be something to that. Hold on a sec while I go knock on wood.
Superstition is the religion of feeble minds - Burke
As a kid I spent a considerable portion of my time trying not to step on a crack so as not to break my mother's back. I avoided stepping under ladders, sought a different route if a black cat crossed my path and never dared to open an umbrella inside the house. I spent hours looking for a four leaf clover, tossed spilt salt over my shoulder, knocked on wood, crossed my fingers and made wishes on falling stars, first-star-I-see-tonight and wishbones.
Over time I eventually grew out of most of those things, but never all of them. Staying out from under ladders just makes good sense, and I step on cracks all the time without breaking anyone's back. Though, truth be told, sometimes I find myself avoiding the cracks anyway, without even thinking about it. But I have opened an umbrella inside, and I have a black cat crossing my path just about every single day. I stopped looking for four leaf clovers after one day finding a bunch of them in one place and not getting so much as a speck of good luck.
Still, I knock on wood on a pretty regular basis. I only pick up pennies, nickles and dimes if the head side is up -- quarters are clearly exempt -- and I'm extremely careful around mirrors. Is it, as Burke suggests above, a matter of being feeble minded? Maybe, but we live in a strange world sometimes. Luck seems to exist whether I believe in it or not and knocking on wood hasn't hurt anyone yet.
My personal opinion is that superstition provides a nice flavor to life, a hope for something different, perhaps even somewhat oddball. So long as my observance of a few choice superstitions doesn't rule my life I'm not going to shy away from them.
Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational - but how much does it cost you to knock on wood? - Viorst
My primary source of exercise in the summer comes from walking. On the average weekday I tend to walk 6-8 miles a day, to and from work and another walk through town at lunch.
Along the way I see a lot of things I’d never notice if I was driving all that time. One guy sitting at a table in front of a cafe at all hours of the day, every day always eating something and talking to someone. A woman in the morning who hustles to work carrying three different bags of varying colors, wearing headphones and always looking hurried and unhappy. Another woman who rides her motorcycle to and from work each day, particularly noticeable to me because of the bright pink helmet she wears. I can always tell how early or late I am based on how far along I am when she passes me. The 9/11 conspiracy guy in front of the post office, draped in long streamers of fliers.
About once a week in the morning I see a friend of mine who works from home and travels all over the world, usually walking casually through town with a coffee in his hand, chilling out after a trip. We usually exchange brief greetings as I hurry past.
Occasionally there are things that stand out from the routine. The old man who’d parked too close to the curb so that his passenger door had scraped the parking meter. A pair of shoes abandoned in front of the furniture shop, giving the impression that someone had been knocked out of them. The woman sleeping on a stoop in front of her apartment door, wearing a set of oversized sweat clothes, with a cigarette hanging from her bottom lip. The police talking to a group of people on the other side of the street, sorting out a fight or a shoplifting.
All these fragments of a New England town that I see pieces of each day.
What has been striking me the most lately, however, is the rudeness of the drivers. As a driver I’ve certainly experienced it: being honked at for no apparent reason, having someone cut in front of me or tailgate me, people who don’t use their turn-signals or are driving absurdly slow or dangerously fast.
As a pedestrian, it's far more obvious. People stopping in the middle of the street to drop someone off or pick someone up, heedless of the people behind them who are forced to slam on their brakes and wait for them. Drivers honking at each other for perceived slights or offenses. Cutting each other off, rushing past people trying to cross the street, shouting out the window, making obscene gestures, repeated acts of cruelty and no consideration.
I don’t typically think much of people in general as it is, and I’ve certainly been annoyed by people as a driver myself but I’m kind of astonished at seeing how rude people are when they're isolated in their cars. Almost every time one driver honks at another it's without real cause, just an expression of anger and impatience.
Drivers can be real bastards.
I’ve been to Iceland once before, in December of 2012 for just a little under 24 hours. At the time of my arrival I was coming down with a cold, which had settled in so severely by the next morning that I wasn’t up to doing much sight seeing.
Despite all that, I liked what little I saw very much. It was the most unusual looking place I’d ever seen, and that’s saying a lot for someone who has been to Utah, Nevada and Death Valley. I’ve wanted to go back ever since that first brief visit.
A trip in September will give me the opportunity to see the country at a very different time of year. I suspect there will still be greenery and there’s certain to be a lot more sunlight than there was on my first trip. This time I would rent a car and drive the Golden Circle, which is essentially a road that circles the majority of the accessible island. It wouldn’t take a lot of time to do it, so a week in Iceland would allow me to see quite a lot.
And the things to see and experience are considerable. Whale watching, geysers, continental plates, mountains, volcanos, puffins, horseback riding…it’s a virtual cornucopia of possibilities.
There are a few things that concern me, however, which is why this is ranking so low on my list. The biggest issue is that a trip to Iceland is essentially a trip to Iceland only. I wouldn’t get to see anything else of Europe and generally speaking, it’s so much closer that I feel a little as though it wouldn’t be taking full advantage of the opportunity to travel.
I’m also bummed about the time of year a little. I’ve heard some reasonably good things about traveling to Iceland in September: it’s quieter and cheaper than in the summer, the daylight hours wouldn’t be all that unusual for me, and though it’d be getting colder than I had in mind for this trip, it wouldn’t be too cold yet. But those are largely disadvantages too. I liked seeing Iceland in December because experiencing a day without much sunlight was so unusual to my experience. I’d rather see Iceland when it’s either light all day and night or dark the whole time, solely for the experience.
I also badly want to see the Aurora Borealis, and Iceland is one of the best places on earth to experience it, if you go the right time of year. It’s possible in September but not so likely. So that’d be pretty disappointing. I also think I’d have to pack more cold weather clothing than I’d prefer to do for this trip, since the average temperatures would be 15-20 degrees F colder than all the other places I’m looking at going.
Of course, there is another option. I could squeeze another brief visit to Iceland out of the overall trip by doing what I did last time and using Icelandair to travel to Europe. All flights on Icelandair require a stop in Reykjavik, and to boost tourism, the airline allows for free long stops before taking the connecting flight. So I could put an extra day or two before or after the trip (likely after) and see more of the island then. If I did this, I’d probably plan to spend extra time on the way back, so I could luxuriate in the hot springs in my final hours, which was one of my favorite parts of the last trip. Definitely a possibility, if Icelandair has any affordable flights and schedules at the time I’m looking to travel.
On the other hand, time spent in Iceland would subtract from time spent in the other countries I’ve got my eye on, and I don’t have nearly as much time available to me for this trip as I’d like as it is. So it’s a tricky proposition either way.
Regardless, I loved my first Iceland experience and am dying to do it again. If this turns out to be my second trip to the exotic island nation, I am certain it would be a spectacular trip worthy of my birthday celebration.
As it happens, in September when I’m planning to travel, Munich will be hosting the world famous Oktoberfest. Which would be really convenient if I had known for sure I was going to Munich this September several months ago (like, last year) and had made arrangements already to stay there. At this late date, there are no places to stay left.
So Munich is not an option for this trip unless I’m there for just a few hours. That’s okay, though. In December, Germany is cold and dark and leafless, filled with Christmas Markets and opportunities for Glühwein (mulled wine). It was pretty amazing, but it left me wondering what the towns and villages would be like in warmer weather when things are still green and colorful.
A trip to Germany this year would provide me such an opportunity. I have several options for getting there: I could fly directly to Frankfurt, or I could fly to Zurich in Switzerland. Either way, I could rent a car and then travel through southern Germany by auto, exploring the Black Forest, wine trail, Bavarian Alps and the various castles that can be found in that area. Short trips to Switzerland (especially if I’m flying into Zurich), France or even southwestern Austria would be possible.
I’d be inclined, actually, to make sure I visit Switzerland during such a trip at least for a day or two so that I get to add a new country to my list. Come to think of it, I could even make a point of seeing a little bit of the Czech Republic.
Another option would be to fly into Amsterdam and either rent a car there so that I drive through The Netherlands and Belgium, or just take the train. Either way a day and night in Amsterdam would be a decent way to overcome jet lag before doing any serious traveling.
The area of Germany I have in mind is relatively small but it’s got a great deal to see. The wine route I alluded to earlier, a scenic drive known as the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, commemorating the first automobile road trip, castles such as Neuschwanstein Castle, and various fall festivals. It would make a great return trip.
It's also true that I would be happy going just about anywhere. Whenever I look into a country, I find myself distracted by the neighbors, or advice about a train that swiftly takes travelers to neighboring countries and cities. It's particularly difficult to balance the desire to see as many new countries as I can and experience different parts of some of the countries I've already seen. After all, I've only seen a small part of both Austria and Germany in a totally different season. There's still so much to see...yet how do I choose a place I've already visited, even if only briefly, when there are so many others I've not seen or experienced at all?
Another issue that is never far from my mind is the language. I've been working, very slowly, on learning a little bit of German for the last couple of years. I've not put nearly as much time into it as I'd like because it's very time consuming and also incredibly hard. There are times when I feel such despair at ever making solid progress beyond the basics I've already learned that I have to take a break.
And German is only used in one area of Europe. There's also French, Dutch, Czech, Slovakian, Spanish, Turkish and Greek to contend with. I know a handful of words in French, most of which I always forget whenever I'm with a French-speaking person. I've forgotten most of what little Spanish I used to have, and the others are pretty much indistinguishable for me. I'm not afraid of going to places where I don't speak the language and I do make a solid effort to at least get the bare minimum whenever I visit a particular place but it's one of the greatest stresses and frustrations. Particularly so because I desperately want to be able to learn the languages.
I've always said that if I could have any one super power I'd choose teleportation. If I could have any one psychic power it'd be psychometry (divining information and the history about an object by touching it). If I could have any one typical modern human ability, it'd be polyglotism. I love language and I love listening to other languages, learning what I can of them. I envy people who can learn them easily and if there's one regret I have about the way I was raised it's that my parents didn't expose me to language all that much. I can't really blame them...I had a hard enough time learning English with my hearing disability. And my mom did let me take a Spanish class when I was ten, even though I forgot it all pretty rapidly without someone to practice with.
So even though I've been to the UK so many times it's kind of ridiculous, a part of me wants to include a part of it in my trip somehow just so I can relax a little. I'm not going to do it (though Northern Ireland is calling, as is a train trip through England) but the temptation is definitely there.
Despite those things, however, I love having an excuse to pour over google maps, read wikis and travel blogs and all the other ways I have of getting insight into a foreign place. There's so much to discover and it almost eases my ache to travel just to read about these places. It's fascinating to get little glimpses into the completely different lives people are living. The history, the geography, the cultures...all these things that make travel so wonderful are available to explore from my living room. That it makes me want to travel to those places even more is undeniable but I still find joy in the process of learning about them.
Prague is one of those cities that people who travel to Europe love to talk about. For years I’ve heard about how beautiful it is, filled with bridges and cathedrals, towers and domes. As one of the few old European cities that survived the World Wars relatively unscathed, a lot of its original history remains intact. Hell, it has a castle that was built in the 9th century. It’s also reputed to be relatively cheap to visit, as compared to London, Paris, or Rome. All strong points in its favor.
I’ve been meaning to visit Prague for years but just haven’t had the opportunity to do so. When I was in Austria a couple of years back it was much on my mind. If I’d had more time and money I would have made sure to spend a day or two there.
So naturally, Prague is high on my list of potential places to visit. But Prague is just one city in a country that I’ve never seen. The Czech Republic is actually a pretty interesting country all around. As compared to Slovakia (which not so long ago was a part of the country, known as Czechoslovakia) the country is known for its atheism, which intrigues me. It’s also still using it’s own currency, the koruna. Following World War II, it was pretty much forced into a Communist party system, heavily influenced by the Soviets until 1989 when they managed to peacefully depose the government. Four years later it split with Slovakia and formed the republic that’s still in place today. I find all that rather impressive.
The Czech Republic is also the location of Bohemia, which is where bohemian originates. I’d had no idea. Of course, it turns out that “bohemian” is just a broad stereotype that doesn’t particularly apply but the whole thing is fascinating to me.
The country is filled with historic towns and cities that seem to have a lot to see and experience. And it turns out that there are a tremendous number of castles and other remnants of ancient architecture waiting to be experienced. It’s also well known to have an excellent hiking trail system, considered to be one of the best in Europe.
The rail system seems to be a decent way to visit other cities from Prague itself, though I think I might be more inclined to see about renting a car so I could explore the country and parts of Slovakia. The only concern about that is that the toll roads in those countries are managed not by booths or toll areas but by stickers. Presumably the car I rented in the Czech Republic would have the toll sticker already (and roll the cost into the rental fee) but then I'd have to get another one when driving into Slovakia. It's not expensive, just something I'd have to be aware of.
On a totally separate note, I’ve seen several references to the beer being the cheapest drink you can order. Even cheaper than water.
So it has a lot to commend to it. It’s proximity to Slovakia is also a draw for me. I got to spend one brief afternoon in Slovakia in 2012 but I got completely lost and didn’t see any of the things I’d hoped to see. A trip to the Czech Republic would be a second opportunity to get it right.
In my research for this particular upcoming trip I discovered that there is a lot that I would love to see. Belgium is a small country, only about 186 miles at it's maximum distance. Travel by rail is fairly easy and cheap, and renting a car would be pretty practical as well to explore the countryside and neighboring countries...The Netherlands, Germany and France would all be within easy reach.
From a historical perspective, Belgium has a lot to offer. It was occupied by Germany during both World Wars but it didn't suffer a lot of the heavy damage and bombardments that France did and there are a number of cities and towns that have much of their medieval centers intact. The country is known for its art and architecture as I experienced myself in the few short hours I spent in Brussels. I'm also excited about the culinary opportunities: waffles and chocolate, cheeses and beers.
If I end up deciding to go to Belgium, my initial thinking is to fly into Amsterdam or Paris and take the train from either city to one of the major Belgian urban centers such as Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp or Brussels. Then I could use the rail to reach the other cities in that list, and toward the end of the trip rent a car and visit other, smaller towns like Tongeren (the oldest town in the country) or Dinant, where the inventor of the saxophone lived. I'd also make an effort to visit Luxembourg and Strasbourg France while I'm at it.
Like Switzerland, I'm inclined to think that Belgium would be one of the easier countries to visit and efficiently use the short period of time I'd likely have available to me. The only real potential problem with it is that it's known to be fairly rainy and it's one of the few countries on my list that isn't included in ideal locations to travel to in September. But rain is easy to deal with and I think the temperatures would be pleasant enough to allow me to pack and dress relatively lightly. So I'm definitely excited about the possibility of traveling to Belgium and seeing a lot more of it.
I never got around to reading any of his novels and only took the time to read a couple of his short stories but I always enjoyed his blogging. He had a pretty regular regime of posting links to interesting, infuriating and important stories, as well as posting interesting thoughts about religion, politics, writing, and memories of his experiences as the son of a U.S. ambassador. His posts were often fascinating and at times highly amusing and I enjoyed reading his thoughts very much.
Not very long after I began reading his LJ, Jay was diagnosed with cancer. His struggle with it became a regular blogging point and was both heartbreaking and inspiring. For more than 6 long years he struggled against the disease, only to succumb to it today after undergoing an agonizing and debilitating treatment in the name of science.
I never had the opportunity to meet Jay and all I know of him was gleaned from his thoughts and experiences as conveyed here on Livejournal and more recently on his own blog when LJ started proving unreliable for his posts. Nevertheless, he made his struggles, fears, anger and overall experience with cancer come to life so well with his words that I now feel as though I shared in every success and failure as deeply as I might have with a relative. I knew for a long time that this day would come, especially as his condition worsened these last few days and weeks.
Still, it is heartbreaking. For all his bravery in telling his story, his fear and depression at his shortened lifespan were quite evident and made as real as a secondhand observer can know it. To see all that was taken from him in the course of his battle against the disease, only to succumb in the end without some miraculous recovery was both sobering and painful. His struggles now are over and its left to his family to go on without his presence from this point forward. But that doesn't bring me any sort of solace. I feel a deep sense of compassion and heartache for his daughter, who is just on the cusp of adulthood. I ache for his partner, who was at his side all these months and had to witness the decline so much more closely than anyone else.
Most of all, though, I feel a tremendous sense of sorrow for Jay. He wrote with such appreciation for his gift and the rewards of his hard work and expressed such anger over its loss. Through his entries I experienced his despair at the loss of his fiction writing, the increasing failures of his body and mind. His last entry, as written presumably by himself alone, was on April 24th. For a man who spent so much of his time putting words and thoughts to the computer to share throughout the internet, it seems a particular cruelty for his voice to be silenced for so long.
His death today is just a scant few days short of his 50th year. It's too soon. Both his parents have outlived him. There are so many words that will forever remain unwritten. So many experiences he will never have and his daughter and partner will never share.
Life can be so cruel and cancer is such a fucking bastard of a disease. How terrible a betrayal, to have your own body conspire against you. It just isn't right.
So in the end, I can only add these final words, spoken and written so often by Jay himself. There's no way the written word can fully convey my disgust and hatred and loathing but as I type the words I assure my readers that such are most definitely my intent.
France pretty much goes without saying. I’ve already been to France four times. Not a single one of those experiences was enough time to see and do all there is to see and do. So I can easily go back. There are huge areas of the country that I’ve yet to see and experience.
Paris, of course, is one of my favorite places on Earth. I wouldn’t go to Paris to stay there but it’s a likely place to land and start the trip off in. From there I could take a train to anywhere. And what better place to overcome jet lag than the city of cafes, sidewalks and delightful pastries?
Normandy is supposed to be beautiful and haunting. Its history is profound, even if there might not be a lot of it remaining. I suspect most of the history that can be experienced there is related to WWII, which would still be worth seeing. It would also allow me the opportunity to see Mont Saint Michel, which would be an incredible experience of its own.
Northern France could also lead back into Belgium, which I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing again. Perhaps I would rent a car for that.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in parts of Southwestern France (Bordeaux, Carcassonne, Toulouse, to name just a few locations) and I’ve traveled in Southeastern France as far as Marseille. Montpelier is one of my favorite places, and Nimes was incredible both times I got to visit there, but I probably wouldn’t go to either on this particular trip. Continuing east there’s the French Riviera and cities such as Nice and Cannes for the ritzy beaches or Lyon and Avignon for the history. A week in this part of France would not be nearly enough but I could certainly see a lot of sights and perhaps even take a day trip into Italy for a meal.
Then there’s Central France, a huge region of wine country, river valleys and historic little towns that I’ve never seen. I fantasize about renting a bike somewhere and just riding through the countryside, visiting villages and vineyards and burning off calories so that I can eat and drink to my heart’s content.
Okay, truth be told, riding a bike through any of France sounds like a sublime experience. I’m not sure how easy it would be, however, without using one of the many very expensive but convenient tour companies for just that sort of thing. And, of course, I haven’t actually ridden on a bike outdoors in years so that might be a pretty ill-conceived notion. But it’s long been a dream of mine to cycle from village to village and experience all the intervening miles between.
Finally, there’s the French Alps, which I’ve also always longed to see, though I suspect I would have to drive most of it to properly enjoy it. All the photos I’ve seen of that region are just heartbreakingly beautiful, and such a trip would certainly include Switzerland at some point as well. Two birds with one stone. Going there would also be convenient in that I don’t have altitude problems, whereas Jade often does. It’s easier to take a solitary trip to somewhere that’s not easy for her to go, at least on my guilty conscience.
So a trip to France has tremendous possibilities, especially in fall when the harvest is in full swing. The wine would flow and I'd sample much in the way of bread and cheese and meat. Which would be just fine if I figured out how to spend a fair amount of the trip traveling by bike. Or if that doesn't work out, walking between train trips would serve almost as well.
Either way, there's so much yet to see and do in France that it automatically becomes an enchanting option.
Switzerland is largely known for being a country nestled right smack in the middle of the Alps. Naturally, this is the main reason I want to go there. I love mountainous country and though I’ve seen the Alps briefly from the air when flying past them, I’ve never had the chance to actually visit in them.
If you look at any picture of Switzerland you’ll likely be amazed by beautiful skies, lakes and mountain peaks. It’s obviously a stunningly beautiful country. On top of that, while most of Europe was being destroyed in the World Wars, Switzerland’s policy of careful neutrality kept it perfectly intact. So what history is to be found there is going to be quite well intact as well. It’s weathered the financial crises of the last few years better than almost anywhere else in Europe, has very low unemployment and an extremely well organized society. In my research on this potential trip, Switzerland is the only place where I’ve read about the importance of obeying the road laws when driving.
It is, however, one of the most expensive places to visit. The exchange rate isn’t too bad but the goods and services are all pretty pricy, which could be problematic.
Of course, I want to visit the main cities: Bern, Geneva, and Zurich. Sort of coincidentally, this year’s Grey’s Anatomy included a few “scenes” from Zurich which were, though likely completely fake, nevertheless so beautiful it made me want to get on a plane and go there immediately. Unlike Spain, I’d easily be able to drive through the entire country and visit all the cities without any difficulty, as well as a number of other scenic hot spots. It takes very little time to travel from the southwestern end to opposite corner. I might even have the time to check out Liechtenstein.
As appealing as all that sounds, there’s actually one more thing that intrigues me more than anything else. Switzerland’s orderly efficiency also extends to its hiking trails, a system that from all accounts is pretty much unrivaled in all the world. I love to walk and I quite enjoy hiking, at least on a light level of difficulty, and the notion of exploring the Swiss countryside by foot is incredibly appealing, not just because it’s beautiful but because it’s so nicely organized.
I freely admit that I’m not a particularly rough character. Sure I can and do walk for miles. I’ve climbed a few local New Hampshire peaks and I am not afraid to tackle challenging environments from time to time. But I also like my comforts. Hiking the Appalachian Trail sounds like an incredible experience but the truth is I’d never actually do it because A: The idea of hauling a heavy, cumbersome pack for weeks sounds remarkably unpleasant and B: I like to sleep in real beds with a real roof over me.
This is where Switzerland’s clockwork organizational style works tremendously in my favor. It’s actually possible to hike for days through the countryside and mountains ending each day in an inn or hotel. Even better than that, there’s a system in place that allows the hiker to transport their baggage from one destination to the next, leaving me free to carry only the bare essentials.
That sounds absolutely wonderful.
It’s not ideal, as organizing and planning such an event would be a challenge of its own. There are services that’ll take care of everything for you, booking hotels and providing maps and travel arrangements. But they’re incredibly expensive.
If Switzerland turns out to be my destination this year, however, I’ll probably do a little bit of everything. I probably won’t hike for days at a time but I expect I’d rent a car to drive across country and do some short hikes along the way. I might even figure out a way to do one full day hike from one town or village to another. No matter what I ended up doing it’d make for an incredible trip.