Kerouac Followed Me from San Francisco to Paris

By | 2016, Europe, Uncategorized | No Comments

original-on-the-road-manuscript
Original On The Road Manuscript

The overarching (somewhat extracurricular) theme of my Europe trip was flirting with modern art; looking for meaning in the deconstructed chaos that is the abstract. Upon arriving in Paris, I saw a poster in the subway for a “Beat Generation” exhibit at the Pompidou. I was bewildered to see the names of my beatnik heroes (Ginsburg, Burroughs, Cassady, and Kerouac) in Paris. I felt the sensation of an “Oh! What a small world!” chance run-in with a good friend in a foreign city. I had spent the better part of the previous six months learning about these hedonistic hipsters and their rebellion against the status quo. My eyes drooled.

Inside the front entrance of this, the largest modern art museum in Europe, I stood at a juncture. I savored each salivating option. To my left was the Beat Generation. Straight ahead was Paul Klee. To my right was the permanent collection. My sober feet led my muddy mind lefty-Lucy. I wore the goofy grin of a giddy, grade school girl.

As I approached the entrance, I walked alongside a timeline that mapped out famous events that shaped the Beat Generation. I floated through the decades and I confidently plopped my own story down in the blank space that succeeded the sixties. The dimly lit room was plastered with rhythmic, postmodern poetry. Kerouac’s mellow-cello voice could be heard narrating ‘an evening in the beatnik life’ video that played for an audience of one, cross-legged Chinese boy not ten years old. Confusing deconstructionist paintings (that I admittedly hated) hung as an ode to insanity and irrationality. Figures lacked form to inform the norm of the golden morn yet to adorn the savage reborn.
The crème-de-la-crème, however, was the centerpiece of the exhibit. All 120 feet of Kerouac’s original On The Road scroll was stretched out in a glass case. At its boot was a crude map that Kerouac drew 60 years ago of the hitchhiking journey that birthed his most famous work. As I looked down at that map, I compared our routes and experiences. I felt more connected to my favorite dirty drunk drifter than ever before. Buddha Jack breathed a bumbling beat to me in his regular bohemian fashion. He whispered, “The empty sky is a foreign country. All of life is my witness,” and I whispered back, “I harvest my dreams from the field of stars. You taught me how.”

1947-48-drawing-by-kerouac-that-shows-his-hitchhiking-route
1947-48 drawing by Kerouac that shows his hitchhiking route

We Are The Grateful Living, pt. 2

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In my previous blog entry I wrote on how I experienced two very difficult day trips, one to Mauthausen, the other to Vimy Ridge. It has been about three months since we came back from the trip, and these moments (and other moments learning about the World Wars) still affect me. The effects are not as strong as they were, but when something comes up reminding me of those visits, I still feel both sad and angry.

In the last entry I purposely left out that, while we visited these locations, it felt like I could hear everything happening in these spots during the Wars. The whips, the gunfire, the bombs, even the cries of pain or for help. I left this out mostly because I did not want to be seen as being crazy, but also because I did not want others to know how strongly these experiences affected me. Please do not misunderstand, I did enjoy these experiences, and, in fact, I would go back to these places or to other locations about the World Wars.

One of my other favourite locations was the In Flanders Field Museum. This museum had lots on the Great War (First World War), and how it affected the local Flanders area. One of my favourite pieces in this museum was a painting. This painting originally caught me because of the colours of flames contrasted against a starry and smokey night sky. After looking at it for a bit though, I realized that the building I was watching burn down was, in fact, the same building I was standing in.

I cannot wait to go back to Europe sometime, and learn even more about the Wars from a European, and local perspective. I want to help do my part in keeping the memories of these tragic events alive, so that the potential of history repeating itself in these events can be reduced.

One dream for many

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Whether it is the dream of a continent, a nation, or a community, people are drawn together in order to work towards a greater goal which will give their life meaning. The construction of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona was the dream of the deceased Catalan man, Antoni Gaudi. It is now well over a century since the construction of the Sagrada Familia began and I questioned its very existence. Why are we chasing the dream of a deceased man? Why are we building a church of such grandeur when there are people begging for food just down the road? Who is paying for the completion of a dead man’s dream? My judgement was clouded by negative assumptions and ignorance towards the project which filled me with anger and self righteousness. It did not occur to me for a second that this dream was bigger than him, or that others shared his dream, or even that I could share his dream.

Mindlessly strolling down the busy streets of Barcelona I caught a glimpse of a mountain peaking over the buildings. As we got closer trees began to form on the mountain. Then all of a sudden, we were standing in front of the most beautifully carved mountain, located in the heart of Barcelona. Each rock face told a story and each tree was illuminated by the light reflecting off of hundreds of stained glass flowers. After walking into the mouth of the cave tears filled my eyes. Beauty of this kind was a myth to me until that second. The trees above me reflected every color, the birds were singing, and light was breaking through the leaves and shining down on me. This was the moment that I knew why the dream of a deceased Catalan man was so important. Our world needs this kind of beauty and this kind of beauty would never exist if it were not for the dreams of individuals who decide to share them with us. The Sagrada Familia was the dream of one man, today it is the dream of millions, and tomorrow the world will celebrate in its completion. We have to take back our dreams and share them with the world.

Finding Love at the D’Orsay

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Today I fell in love, not with a person or even a place but a painting. As soon as I walked into the room I was in love. I still can’t quite pinpoint what it was about this piece that attracted me to it but I couldn’t take my eyes off it the whole time I was in that room. “The Floor Scrapers” was the name of the piece. It is by Gustave Caillebotte. When you walk in the room it is the centerpiece and is just so beautiful and powerful but it is also simple. I think this is part of why I like it so much. There is nothing in the painting to make it stand out. No bright colours or anything crazy happening in the painting. It is just three men scraping the floor of a dance studio. Caillebotte liked to portray reality. While so many other artists were busy distracting people from reality and the hardships of life, Caillebotte was pushing it in their faces. He depicts the working class, the hard work and strain that these people felt on a daily basis. He shows that life is not easy. You can see the exhaustion in the muscles of the men and the way they are bent over. The light is just barely peeking in the room and reflecting off the floor boards. I don’t think it was any one aspect of the painting that made me love it so much but rather the detail and the emotion that this artist was able to portray.

Holding On

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While in London the girls and I were walking through the city and stumbled upon this graveyard. At first glance it was just locks entangled in ribbons linked onto a fence, we had no idea what we were looking at really. Then this lady showed up and I tried to ask her what it was all about, she told me to follow her, so we did. We ended up getting an exclusive tour around this graveyard that seldom gives tours. This graveyard ended up being a place of burial for those who would not have had any other place to go, it was mainly prostitutes and the poor. The site went uncharted for years, until they started digging for the Tube, when they unearthed the bodies; they were unsure what to do. Then an organization bloomed and saved the graveyard and is now kept up by a man and his wife, who named the place Crossbones Graveyard. They have decorated the graveyard quite nicely, and the aforementioned ribbons are for people who come to visit in the present and they leave behind mementos of lost loved ones. I was really able to connect with my buddy Carter there, which was nice. They had a two by four at the back of the garden labeled, FOR ALL SUICIDES, Carter’s life was taken by depression a year after we had graduated and on this two by four in London Carter’s name will forever be. It is really beautiful that this man has held on to this area and fought for it so strongly. He didn’t know anyone who was buried there, but he still saw the importance of holding on to this place.

Cultural Cafés

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We could not contain excitement during our first night in Paris. The city of love beckoned us to explore Parisian culture and nightlife. Our first thoughts: wine, cheese, and the Eiffel tower. After realizing that we had forgotten a corkscrew, we postponed our venture and instead wandered the streets for a café.

The Europe trip is full of the café lifestyle. Of course it is inevitable to encounter multiple cafés while on the trip as they are a prominent feature of European culture. However, visiting cafés is even more desirable when travelling due to the busy nature of the Europe itinerary. Cafés helped us embrace moments of intrapersonal reflection, and of relaxation.

Our waiter contradicted the French stereotypes of rudeness and of pretending not to understand English. He was very friendly yet blunt in his reactions and opinions. He made our experience completely ludicrous! He made jokes we couldn’t understand and was extremely distracted. After clearing a table for us he said he would be back with some menus. So far everything seemed normal to us. It wasn’t until we waited a verrrry long time for him to return that we started to question our ability to interact within this cultural experience. He came back with salt and pepper shakers, which left us confused. He kept running back and forth between tables continually moving the salt and pepper shakers, and he had still not taken our orders. When we did finally order he scoffed at our selection of wine. He suggested we order a more expensive brand. We laughed and took his suggestion. We felt foreign not knowing what to do at this café. Surely this odd interaction was not our ignorance or inability to engage properly. Perhaps it could have been us, but after experiencing more Parisian cafés later on in the trip, we realized that this night it was simply our quirky waiter.

There was a gentleman next to us smoking a cigar and drinking a beer. He and the waiter kept making jokes throughout the evening. He was an 80 year old widower, whose wife had died of cancer. He was extremely lonely. He spoke to us about his life and his beliefs. His English was fairly good and we learned he was half Quebecois, and half Swiss. He was a bit senile so the conversation was hard to follow at times but we laughed along when we couldn’t understand.

That night we intended to experience Parisian culture which we assumed would be best found by sitting beneath the Eiffel tower with a bottle of wine. Although I must say that venture was also exciting and culturally rewarding in other ways, this night at the café was one to remember.

 

Flowers and Weeds, Cities and Trees

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Every morning at 5 am my alarm goes off and I get to watch the sunrise as I water our vegetables on the farm. Every morning I think back to that morning in Barcelona where I watched the sunrise over the water. It felt like a breath of fresh air; I was grounded in a place where the ground was constantly changing, week by week. I thought that coming home to work on a farm, one of my all time dreams would have felt like that morning in Barcelona. It turns out that feeling grounded in where I am at and who I am was not in the Creator’s agenda for me. Why is it that I felt grounded sleeping in cities with few trees and not here in Canada, where I am surrounded by nature. Today I am hovering over the land, floating into a sea of nothingness.

August in New Brunswick

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This week I’m remembering being in Paris. It had such symmetry to it that I wouldn’t usually be attracted to but found very appealing. At Le Jardin des Tuileries the trees and shrubs were pruned to perfection and aligned so meticulously around the grass. This order was contrasted by the stark wildness of the flowers in the gardens that seemed chaotically scattered and whose intricate beauty was accentuated by the relative emptiness that surrounded them.

Paris was romantic and I found myself infatuated by its calculated aesthetic. But now I am home surrounded by the reckless abundance of August in New Brunswick. Summer here is becoming overripe. It is thick and sweet with the wild growth of July that is starting to fade into the enchanted rust of autumn. It is magical and bursting and free. I crave no order, no sparseness and no emptiness. I am happy for my home to be filling in the space around me and for becoming lost in it and carried by it. It can be overwhelming going back to the place that holds you closest but I am comforted by the clovers and the wild roses and the evergreens that ground me here.

NEVER

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Not once could my feet fall flat on the uneven stones. Not once could I ease the tension in my knees and legs. Not once could I lose focus to make the next step.

Never will I be able to imagine what it was like.

The ‘Stairs of Death’ at Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria are appropriately titled for their history, as well as the sense of demise that comes to those who visit. Most prisoners of Mauthausen Concentration Camp were forced to work as slave labour in the quarry. Prisoners, who weighed an average of about 110lbs, went up and down the stairs 16 times in one day, carrying stones anywhere from 80 -120lbs.

With nothing but a half empty 24oz bottle of water in hand, I made my way down the path. After six steps I became frustrated. The stones were so unevenly placed that my ankles were rolling and my feet began to get sore (I was wearing Nike runners). I soon approached the steep decline of the stairs and my frustration quickly became a jumble of emotions from deep sadness to infuriating anger. Each step was a struggle. The steps were tilted up or down, crooked, lopsided, anything but straight and flat. There I was, a 150 lb, relatively healthy woman, not deprived of food, water, sleep, or hygiene, frustrated by the stairs. Trying to imagine what it would have been like in the conditions of the prisoners in the 1930’s/40’s? Impossible.

NEVER will I be able to imagine what it was really like.

How Many Others have Written of Their Time at the Belvedere?

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How many of our homes will eventually become museums to the passage of style, culture and time? I have no idea. I would try to organise bets of some form, but I can think of no ways to formulate odds based on general populations, sizes of structures, how often people move, or how well a structure will weather the passage of time and the ravages therein. The Belvedere Summer Palace is certainly a good place for the displaying of art though, and no, that was not a weird way to get an essay-like document started. That is the way of the train of thought.
See, none among our numbers are connected to big dynastic families, generational politic-influencing cabals, or shadowy organisations bent on organising the world in our own order. If any among us are, well then shame on you for not telling us sooner. We could have made a lot more unusual adventures. As no one has admitted to such connections at this point, the only way a place we have called home would become a gallery of material possessions would involve someone growing in cultural influence over extended periods of time. After such personal developments have reached their prime, an individual would have to be filthily wealthy. And possibly started some kind of generationally growing familial thingamajig.
After all of that, you would only really need one thing. A climate controlled place you and your family have called home with tall rooms. High ceilings are very important. So, who among us is now arching their fingers together and plotting how to take over the world, own a home the size of the Belvedere or bigger, just so they can have their house turned into an art gallery long after their passing?