Back to Base

I’ve been back in the U.S. for over a month now, and it’s hard to believe that I spent that same amount of time in constant motion. I met fellow travelers in Europe who had been trekking for as long as two years at a time, which sounded less and less enviable every time I strapped on my 13 kg backpack.

Southern Italy provided a slow-paced ending to our hectic journey, as well as the opportunity to see (more or less) my ancestral lands. Part of my mother’s family came to America from Terranova di Pollino, a small, poor village in the middle of a national park. As such, this Basilicatan town is difficult to reach without a car, so we compromised and set our sights on Matera (also in Basilicata) and Bari (in Puglia).

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Wacky exploits

I’m back. After a nine hour flight from Rome, plus a quick jump from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, last Tuesday, I touched down in America. I never thought I would miss it so much, but I also never thought it would be so easy to hop from country to country in Europe, sometimes without even speaking the language. I’d call it a success, and I think Josh would too, as our “well done” final handshakes can attest. I should clarify that our trip was not without its rocky moments. In that vein, allow me to quote myself (with minor revisions), from an e-mail I sent to some friends on June 9.

Josh and I just arrived in Rome, via airplane and ahead of schedule, which should probably be explained before I launch into tales of our wacky exploits.

You know what’s the wackiest exploit of all? Getting all your things stolen in the Brussels train station. Being avid fans of humor, Josh and I naturally chose this route, though I should clarify that when I say “all” my “things,” I mean, my passport, wallet, camera, and both of our rail passes. So, there we were, circa one week ago, stuck in Brussels, all our travel plans dashed. I was assured that my loss was in fact the third robbery in that particular section of the train station in two hours; reassured, we went to the American Embassy in Brussels (which was surprisingly efficient) to replace my passport. I’ll say this for America: as long as you have money (approximately $107 in this case), the government will take care of all your problems in approximately one business day.

Travel plans derailed, after the break… Continue reading

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So far

I saw the Sex and the City movie, in Paris, with a packed house, on (almost) opening night. Dear readers, I know that this is perhaps not the most lucrative piece of information I could offer, particularly after about two weeks of travel, with little communication home. Still, it was in trying to see this movie — which started as a joke and ended, of course, in actually seeing it — that Josh and I tore through the Metro, perspiration forming on our foreheads as we navigated unknown streets with more urgency than we had shown in the rest of our travels.

I cite this incident to stress that Josh and I are an organizational powerhouse, and not until we were confronted with the possibility of being late for a movie whose major plot point involves a walk-in closet did we find ourselves feeling unprepared. Though I’d like to catalogue everything we’ve done (and we’ve done it all well, as Josh’s very short ”money wasted” list can attest), I hope these highlights will suffice. Continue reading

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Le futur simple

This weekend in Rabat saw a lovely visit from my parents, who are now making their way through the Middle Atlas (i.e. Fez, Meknes, etc). I’m busy wrapping up classes and preparing for finals next week. Moreso, I have to start focusing on my summer travels in Europe with my friend Josh, who also recently made a guest appearance in Morocco.

From mid-May through mid-June, we’ll be traveling throughout western Europe by train, staying in hostels and with friends. I guess you could call it the stereotypical European backpacking adventure, but better dressed (Josh bought an entire suit in Morocco, after all), with a reading list (I just started Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ectasy, in preparation for some great museums and in recognition of my childhood appreciation for historical fiction), and with a stop in Monaco (god willing; we might have to forego Monte Carlo if we want to visit my long-lost family in southern Italy. Thoughts, Josh?)

That said, our tentative itinerary includes stops in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, somewhere in Switzerland (suggestions, please), Monte Carlo/Nice, Rome, and southern Italy (specifically Basilicata, if possible). We may try to work in more stops in France.

Anyway, what I’m really getting at is, I need your help: any advice or contacts would be appreciated. I’ll even send you a postcard.

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Al hamdu lillaa

I’ve always been skeptical of people who say things like, “I can’t speak Spanish, but my parents do, so I understand it.” They’re clearly lying, right? Wrong. I finally know what all these pseudo-Hispanophones are getting at, as I recently realized I understand an extraordinary amount of Arabic, though I am barely competent at counting.

By some miracle – probably Allah-related – I occasionally follow interchanges, if not entire conversations, in Arabic. Maybe my newfound auditory proficiency is due to the fact that Moroccan Arabic borrows so much from French, but I’d like to think that it’s because my subconscious sorely misses eavesdropping.

Either way, Arabic is beginning to make sense. (I will surely regret making this statement. An oft-quoted fact by members of my abroad group is that native English speakers can master three Romance languages in the time it takes for them to master Arabic.) Maybe I’ll be able to speak it one day.

Cultural lessons, after the break. Continue reading

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He’s so raven

So maybe I missed something not living in Pittsburgh proper, but this exemplary article from the Washington Post informs me that Pittsburgh’s incumbent mayor was, at 26 years old in 2006, the youngest person to ever be elected as mayor in a major U.S. city. Pretty cool, right? Oh, he gets cooler — so much so that I couldn’t really be bothered to pay attention to the main point of this article.

It says of Ravenstahl’s renegade history:

In October, Ravenstahl borrowed an SUV that had been purchased by a federal Homeland Security Department grant and used it to drive friends to a Toby Keith concert. When confronted, he paid the city for use of the car and apologized. But Ravenstahl also said he planned to keep going to concerts and bars, because “that’s what 27-year-olds do, and I shouldn’t be any different.”

Is Pittsburgh the new Party City, USA? Also, the article takes a great turn when it makes this offensive (though probably accurate, I’m embarrassed to say) statement about Pittsburghers’ priorities:

His youthful good looks have helped make him a sort of crossover celebrity — the Britney Spears of Pittsburgh, his spokeswoman says — who faces incessant demands for interviews and appearances unprecedented for a Steel City mayor. Seeking privacy last year, he made what this city considers the ultimate sacrifice: Ravenstahl temporarily stopped attending Steelers games and watched from home instead.

Well, I’m glad to know America’s still America. See you in June.

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Go Big or Go Home

Last week was spring break, which I spent recovering from some vague but persistent illness and celebrating the Prophet’s birthday (both involved partying).

To kick things off, I had my hands hennaed in perhaps the most leisurely manner possible. The ladies of my host family gathered in an apartment for what may have been nine hours. We took tea twice, nibbled on cakes and cookies from the family bakery, ate a three-course dinner at approximately 11 p.m., and at some point, each of us spent about ten minutes getting our hands hennaed. I sometimes lose patience with the pageantry that surrounds so many Moroccan activities; nothing is hurried, and everything is accompanied with food.

And maybe I’ve been too hurried lately (I realized recently – despite my best intentions to be leisurely – that I accidentally walk an extraordinary amount in this city.) because I was alternately sick and not sick for days leading up to break. My symptoms were too vague for my quirky French doctor, who suggested that I’m just one of those people who “ne supportent pas” changes in barometric pressure. Still, she prescribed me some allergy medication and strong Ibuprofen (because we were both convinced Americans hardly use aspirin. Maybe not true.). They seemed to do the trick.

But whether it was the meds or more hospitable barometric pressure, thanks to god I got better because spring break is certainly no time to be sick. After realizing that airfare to Tunisia is not cheap and that Marrakech, conversely, is only a train ride away and home to the largest disco in Africa, my friends and I knew where we had to go.

Marrakech clubbing, after the break. Continue reading

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