Recently, I have made a somewhat controversial and shocking statement: I am not going to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter.
To all of those who have had at least one in depth conversation with me, whether they are my longstanding friends or newly acquired coworkers, I have somehow managed to reveal my love for the Harry Potter series without even taking a drop of veratiserum. Whether it is my use of magical vocabulary that I assume everyone understands or the explosion of facebook posts about all-things-Potter on my wall, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that I am a potter fan. However, in my best judgment, I just could not support this film wholeheartedly. This has nothing to do with its content or ability as a film (though I do wish they would stop deviating from the book). Instead, I attribute this to my disillusionment to the Magical World that I experienced in Edinburgh.
Before you judge me too harshly, put yourself in my situation for a moment and come down the pensieve with me.
One crisp March day while in between classes, I decided to try a new lunch nook about which everyone has been raving. It was a cozy little baguette shop next to campus that was so inexpensive and delicious that everyone in town frequents it at one point in their week. While I was standing at the counter trying to pick between the umpteen spreads, a group of school children flew by the door, sniffed the air, and quickly backtracked in order to come in out of the cold and have some food. But, these children were not dressed in the usual private school garb that I was used to (and believe me, I had twelve years of schooling to show that I was SICK of skirts, knee socks, and vests for a lifetime). No, these children looked exactly like Hogwarts students, complete with black robes and tie. In my Emily-ness, I quickly scanned them up and down for places where a wand could be hiding or to see if they left their brooms outside. But, alas, this proved to be false. They were just normal school children on a lunch break. For the remainder of my lunch, I sat by the window pondering this encounter and attributing it to an inspiration that JK Rowling had for her characters.
You might think, “oh Emily, this was merely a coincidence! No need to let spilled milk ruin your love of the magic!”. And I completely agree with you. I ended up brushing this experience off in denial and continued on my fanciful way. It wasn’t until it happened again that I really started thinking..
Drop the memory into the pensieve and begin to slowly sink
This time, I was sitting in the Elephant Café, the exploited “Birthplace of Harry Potter”, and marveling at the view at the Edinburgh Castle. I kept thinking that it reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Of course, if you are thinking ahead of me, it would be that this castle was an inspiration for Hogwarts. I can completely see Hagrid paddling the young first year students up to these gates or feel the Dementors spinning around them to create an atmosphere of uncertainty. However, that is when I also realized something profoundly different: that Jo really only took everyday British happenings and turned them into a magical world. I might not have been able to come to this conclusion the first time I set foot in this shop, for as a starry-eyed fan it was impossible to see correctly. However, as a true Potter reader, after I returned to that café more than once, I could see as if I were the author and the place from which she was making her inspiration.
N.B. Do not think that I believe myself to be a Trelawney-like figure; I do not suppose myself able to predict the future or read tea leaves when it comes to the birth of the Potter series. I merely am making assumptions that connect what I know to be true in the novels and what I see myself.
Again, you might think to yourself, “tsk tsk Emily, your curiosity has gotten the best of you; how are you supposed to know what the author thinks?” While I didn’t ask Jo personally, I have one final array of experiences that I can use to prove myself.
While visiting my friend Rebecca at Durham, I was lucky enough to stay around for Sunday Brunch. All of her friends were salivating on Saturday night and completely talking the meal up so high that I thought heaven would befound at the top of its delicious pile. The boys were mimicking Ron Weasley and describing every meal ever detailed at the Great Hall: they told of Cornish pasties, Yorkshire pudding, creamy porridge, and custard tart that I would find the next morning. I couldn’t have been more excited! Meanwhile, the next day, I was absolutely shocked,SHOCKED, when I walked into the dining room. It was set up exactly like the great hall! Cue pointed ceilings, wooden beams, and more Potter-esque things such as long wooden tables (six in this case). But, what struck me the most, was the long table perpendicular to all of this that seemed to stretch from wall to wall. When I nervously asked Rebecca if this was what I thought it was, she hastily replied, “oh yes, that is where the professors and headmaster sit at meals,” and went back to her breakfast. WHAT!? …WHAT!? Outraged and a little numb, I made my way through the delicious food (probably not made by house elves), and went home a tad bit tainted.
While I tend to flit in between the worlds of Hogwarts and Neverland, I nevertheless keep my head about me as well as I can. I believe in everything to a certain point and then keep myself entertained by the magic that these places and things create. However, it is always hard to see through the looking glass for the first time and cease being uneasy. After this, I started seeing things on a daily basis that began to crack the gossamer barrier to the magical world. There are really night buses that travel to and from cities, the coins in the UK are scarily similar to those used in the magical world, and places like Diagon or Knockturn Alley really do exist. Eventually, I just came to consider this one of the endless ways that Edinburgh, and Britain as a whole, continues to be duplicitous in its literature and style.
Perhaps it is because of this pseudo-magical reality that I began to notice that more people in the States were hyped up about the Potter series than the Brits themselves. Somehow, JK Rowling managed to meld travel writing, fiction, and fantasy together to make its readers feel as if they have come to a world outside that of the earth as we know it. However, it is really just Britain with a cloak of glittery invisibility draped around it. No wonder why my flatmates were not as impressed as I was! In her tricky true Medievalist sense, JKR reused the things she knew to recreate a seemingly boring, modern reality. It is because of this, readers, that I was not completely on board with the movie-hoarding process. I realized that it is easy to be entrenched in a seemingly new world and become completely obsessed; it is like all those who go on vacation to a new place and never want to leave. However, I already feel that way when it comes to both the UK and the world of Harry Potter. So forgive me for refusing to take part in the approval of an utter world-effacing action.
Let me make it clear that I still believe in the power of the Harry Potter series. Like most popular literature, it has been criticized backwards and forwards, inside and out in an attempt to be deemed “bad literature”. This is not a critique. The magic that the series has brought to me and countless others is more than innovativeness or inspiration, more than small bouts of bad writing or lulls in the plot line. However, it must be noted that, after coming home, the hype of this move is almost surreal. Sometimes I wonder if people really know why they are excited or if what they are saying truly makes sense. In the last few weeks, I have often heard, “it is the end of an era”. No, my beloveds, it has never ended.
I have been in a constant state of travel the past few weeks, packing up and leaving at least three places and more people than I can count. I have bounced from Edinburgh to a wedding to a summer job, from ocean to ocean and state line to state line, in anticipation for the next big change in my life. At this point, my feet have barely caught the ground and my head refuses to descend from the clouds, leaving my body to run on auto-pilot. Even my voice seems to have gotten lost in transit because it refuses to sing or even to speak without cracking. I guess this is what it means to be jet-lagged. How did Mary Poppins do it?
Growing up, I had always been upset with the ending of Mary Poppins. How could she leave the children after becoming so close with them?! Why did she put all of that hard work into their relationship if she was just going to leave again? How did she know where she would go next? But most importantly, how did she let herself leave? I vividly remember the look on her face in the final scene: it flickered from sadness, to understanding, to excitement all in a matter of seconds. I never could grasp how one person was able to hold all of those emotions and yet keep their feet moving forward.
The day I left Edinburgh, I suddenly understood Mary Poppins better than I thought. The beautiful, wonderful city of Edinburgh was blurring in my last week; it was not an immediate disappearance, but a slow and painstaking one that began when those extraordinary, adventurous, magical people in my life began to leave. One by one, my friends and I were saying our goodbyes- some through a crazy Risk game in the campus pub, others at lunch in a swanky New Town restaurant, and the rest at in a final romp at our favorite dive club. It may seem odd, then, that Edinburgh began to fade when it seemed like we just started to take the town by storm. Yet, as people left, it was inevitable to notice that the city changed, the wind started picking up, and it was time to move forward. We were akk dreadfully aware that time was not holding still for us, despite how hard we toiled to keep things the same. Like Mary Poppins figured out, it is really the people that make you love a place not really the buildings or attractions, and once they are gone, all is different.
At the end of all this, the hardest part about being home is putting down the traveler identity. It has been a huge part of my abroad experience and my day-to-day life in the past five months. So, adjusting to normal life again is exceedingly daunting. Maybe that’s why Mary Poppins keeps moving: it is terrifying to pick up where you left off. Yet, it is an entirely other story to explain what it feels like to be home.
A few tips from my own Mary Poppins-esque carpetbag:
♣ Always carry a scarf
Mary Poppins always looked put together, and now you know why. You never know when you will be cold, if wind will whip in your face, or if the sun is going to burn the entire top of your head. A scarf is the handiest thing. Every culture deems it a fashionable object AND you can wear it to any venue.
♣ Stash peanut butter m&ms in your purse.
They are the real spoonfuls of sugar. When riding in a plane, bus, car, or ferry for hours squished next to sweaty and sizeable people, all you want to ease your tensions is something sweet and energizing. Peanut butter M&Ms are you new best friend. They might be more calories than you’d like, but you your sanity is worth it.
♣ Put Advil in every backpack, pocket, and handbag possible.
I might sound like the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but like Windex, Advil cures everything. Literally everything. You have a fever? Advil. You have cramps? Advil. You got bitten by a million mosquitoes while romping through the Scottish Highlands? Advil. Really.
♣ Buy a jacket with as many pockets as you can fine.
In order to get by the one-piece-of -luggage rule that most discount airlines have (read: RYANAIR and more leniently Easyjet), stuff all of your personal belongings, i.e. cell phone/passport/wallet, into your pockets. If you’re like me, you might look a little suspicious with a few unnatural angles protruding from your coat, but at least you don’t have to pay 30 pounds/euros extra. The new and improved magic carpetbag.
♣ Keep a book on you…the more popular fiction you read while traveling, the more friends you’ll make.
Think of it like singing “Chim Chim Cheree” and getting good luck; the more people who can relate to you, the more help you’ll get along the way. Everyone and their mother is reading “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” or (in Scotland) an Ian Rankin novel. Pick one up and give it a try. Plus, then you’ll have something to take your mind off the restless layovers and prolonged travel.
I have to admit that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to make my way to one of the highest points in Edinburgh. It had been a slow week- everyone was restless from the holiday break and were attempting to put off revising for as long as possible. Any distraction was more than welcome. So, when one of my friends offered to buy me a ticket to “the Beltane Festival”, I jumped at it. However, after my cabin fever subsided a little bit, I asked the simple question of “what exactly IS the Beltane festival?”. Surprisingly, it seemed that no one had a concrete answer. One friend thought it was “fireworks”, another was sure that it was “a parade on Calton Hill”, and even a third thought it was a sort of concert. After some perusing, I found the official ad for the event, describing it as a ‘fire festival’, whatever that meant. The ad was excruciatingly limited in its description, and it left the reader to confusingly gaze at the half painted, bush-wearing men holding torches in the front picture in order to extract some meaning at all. Perhaps because its elusiveness, the festival became the most anticipated event of the evening.
For those of you who have read the Da Vinci Code, I want you to picture the iconic scene in the basement of the curator’s house. Remember the white and black masks, the gyrating, and the symbolic nakedness? Export that onto a Scottish landscape, outside in the open air, with 12000 people watching and you have Beltane. Well, kind of. As I later discovered, the Beltane festival is a pagan ritual symbolizing the welcoming of summer, celebrated on May 1st. Mind you, the two ceremonies have more than their fair share of differences, however I can now completely empathize with the breathless panic that Sophie Neveu felt at first seeing a ritual like this. I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of my eyes. Did I just walk into an orgy?
The crowd was vibrating with energy; they were attracted like moths to a fire, literally, in their attempts to push their way closer to the stage. I was being rocked back and forth by an undercurrent of anxiousness; no one was quite sure what was going to happen on stage. Slowly, a line of grim reaper-like figures appeared out of the black darkness and began passing a flame from torch to torch. Then, out of thin air, a woman clad in white set the entire scene ablaze, lighting a 20 foot high symbolic shrubs on fire. This was the entrance of the May Queen. She was closely followed by four other regal maids-in-waiting clad in white who humbly waded through the crowd. At this point, the crowd was silent and still, as if put in a trance by these angelic figures. However, the loud screams and banging from the rest of the processors snapped everyone back to this fantastical reality. What we saw next was a sensory overload: there were painted people with masks of animals, half naked red men and women with devil tails, and black and gold drummers who kept the atmosphere as mysterious as possible with their suspenseful beats. This train moved form platform to platform on a spiritual journey that I did not understand. I was one of many who kept popping my face through holes in the crowd and craning my neck just to see all the dancing that was going on.
What I saw was even more confusing. A Blue Man was protectively holding back the May Queen while a Green Man was seductively dancing around her. Then, the Green Man fell dramatically backwards as if dead, and was lifted up into the air by the maids in waiting, with the whole action looking like a pseudo-resurrection scene. At the end of this dance, the Green Man finished his dance and kissed the May Queen, setting the crowd wild and the fire dancers alight. The Red Men and Women circled the stage like they were stalking prey, juggling fire with sensual pleasure and entertaining the crowd with their folly in order to dethrone the new couple. However, this never happened, as far as I saw. The whole thing lasted until the wee hours of the morning with long bouts of storytelling and drumming.
When I tried to explain the night’s events to my family and friends, they were flabbergasted. They couldn’t believe that A.) pagan rituals were still being performed today B.) that I would ever be interested in a ritual like this C.) that I managed to get home in one piece. If you look at the history, these rituals are not uncommon, and many of them have just been renamed into the more prevalent religions. While I don’t know exactly how everything fits together, I can be sure that this is something I will never experience again in my life. Moreover, it is something that has reminded how old and mysterious the city of Edinburgh really is, under all of its touristy layers.
Mio Caro,Has someone stretched out time for you and I? These millions of seconds seem to have gloriously enveloped us, cocooning us so softly in our own moments that we barely noticed how time passed us by. Magic, that is the only way I can describe it. If only you can see how you have changed me! Even my eyes see the world differently, brighter somehow. How did I never notice the bright bright colors of the buildings or smell the delicious scents of this city? “Love, as textbook as it gets”, people might say. Yet, it feels like no definition of the word I’ve ever read. This is an infatuation that might never be satisfied. You have given me a taste of pure happiness so strong that I feel it in my stomach- an ambrosia from the gods that makes me inconceivably happy. How can I leave you? How can I walk out of here without you? How can I live my life knowing that you might never be in it again? Damn that time for speeding up. I hope this means it will bring me back to you sooner.
My love,It has been a week since I left you, and I can barely stop myself from going crazy. I miss you. Every part of my body misses you. My skin still remembers the imprint with which you left me, and I cannot seem to fill it no matter how hard I try. I am in withdrawal. I now know what it is to be an addict- the only thing I can think about is this utter feeling of loss, this absence that you have created that is slowly consuming me. I feel as though I will forever search the world with a raging hunger just to find something that will rival your sweetness. While, all that time, I know that nothing will ever come close. Please, tell me, will these overwhelming cravings ever stop? This is how much I miss you.
Love,I can’t help but see you everywhere I look. I know it hasn’t been very long, but every piece of fruit reminds me of your scent and every sunny day transports me back to the bench in front of of that extraordinary shop where we met. I find myself looking for even the smallest detail that will remind me of you. Perhaps this is why I am distracted by Italian admirers. They seem to be the only ones who are able to turn my head or catch my glance and actually keep it. I would love to say that it is because of their charm and skill, but really it is because they remind me of you. When I look at them, I am reminded of the terracotta flower pots, flickering candle light, and open squares that we saw together. You are the thing that connects me to those places, and these people are my only thread that will connect me to you. Maybe my eyes are looking through rose colored glasses, but my lenses seem to be only focused on only one thing. You. I wished everything tasted and looked as sweet.
5/12/2011I have been walking around a lot recently and happened to catch a glance of myself in a mirror. I looked like a ghost. I was so full and glowing when I met you, but now I looked pale and wanting for something, like The Sweetness has completely disappeared from my life. It’s true, I guess- I haven’t been filling myself up with those delights to which you introduced me. I have kept my head down and stuck to a strict diet. But, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t become skin and bones because I haven’t found something like you. I had to move on and go for things that might be second best. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t still good or satisfying in a different way. I had to love the one I’m with, not the one I might never have. It kills me to know I might never taste something as sweet ever again in my life, but I have to try. I have to move, to travel to more incredible countries and towns and cities, to sample other delicious things that these new places have to offer.
Oh gelato, I’ll always miss you, and I will always remember what you brought to my life.
A decade ago on one boring Holy Thursday evening, my mom dropped off an 11-year old Emily at her grandma’s house. I can tell you that it was not one of my greatest moments- I was in a peach of a mood and throwing a tween fit because “moms always seem to ruin the world”. I loved my Nanny, but the last thing I wanted to do was be cooped up in her musty house on my first day off of school because my mom wouldn’t leave me home alone. To add insult to injury, I had to go to MASS, too. It wasn’t even Sunday! I was already subjected to a dreadfully long school service before vacation started, the punishment for going to Catholic school my entire life. So, you can imagine my contempt for this further subjection. However, as every good story goes, the joke was on me.
This day became that one ritual that my grandma and I shared just between the two of us. Okay, okay… food might have been involved, but I have since moved past satiating my appetite to relishing the time we got to spend together. Let me explain.
In Scranton, there is a tradition that happens only on Holy Thursday night. After the mass of foot washing and parading around, each celebrant is encouraged to church hop. Kind of like a pub crawl or bar tour, but with churches. (Do not take that as a blasphemous or sacrilegious statement, but there had to be some fun way to get people to go to mass during the week!) So, my Nanny, Aunt Mona, and Uncle Mike pile back into the car and drive off to as many nearby churches as we can hit. Each church we visit is silent, still smoking with excess incense swirling to the ceiling, and low-lit in a mystifying way; after all, it is the time of the Pascal mystery. We kneel, say a few prayers, and reflect. On what? Usually Lent, or the day, or what is to come for the rest of the weekend. To an easily-distracted eleven-year old girl, this was fun for a while, but slowly elevated to torture.
Seeing the different churches was cool and interesting, but there was only so much time I could sit still and be quiet. However, there was a huge redeeming quality in this expedition: bread and wine. Or, for me, grape juice. Too much Catholic punning? Well, this is for real. On the way out of each church, a basket of bread and a pitcher of wine are placed on a table near the door, so that we can literally take part in the Last Supper (or, in my case, stuff my face). Perhaps because of this, or the idea that Mass can be interactive, I grew to love this tradition. Yes, I eventually grew out of going solely for the food and appreciated the time with my grandma. But, the fact that my Nanny was in it for the food too, and maybe a few prayers, was the best feeling in the world.
This is the bad part about being abroad: missing out on important events at home. Maybe it is just my ever-present thought that I have a limited number of Holy Thursdays left with my Nanny or the fact that I am missing so much incredible food, but this has been my first big bout of homesickness in the past four months. I have always been close with the fam; yes, we facebook-stalk each others photos more than calling on the phone, but holidays with them are the biggest highlights of my year. With all the marriages and babies going on, getting everyone in the same place at the same time is nearly impossible these days. So, it is a huge con on my abroad list.
Yet, at the same time, I needed this opportunity to create, or recreate, my own rituals. Mass in Scotland is… well, different; they sit at odd times & kneel at others, teasing out the Americans in the bunch who are left standing like idiots. This is just another example of being pushed out of my comfort zone. But, making the most of this holiday in another country is a big step to growing up. Barf, I know. But, maybe it’s not as bad as I first thought it was going to be; I just have be a little bit better with change. Oh, the irony: how the cycle seems to repeat itself. If only it was with my Nan.
Yes, I am not naïve enough to trust every person that I meet. Yet, I am constantly humbled and surprised by the goodness that has come my way every single day that I spent in a country other than my own. People didn’t need to help me; they didn’t need to give me directions or point me to someone who knows the answer, especially when I am clearly a foreigner. But they took a minute to care for me, and it made all the difference. Yes, I did meet those few humans who were disgruntled, annoyed, angry, and callous. However, they were few and far between; the kind, generous, and inspiring ones were more far more numerous and truly made me remember their kindness.
I believe that travel teaches tolerance.
No one is perfect, not even the conductors of trains or the pilots of trains. Nothing is always on time, and tickets don’t always give you the right to overrule the old lady who took your seat next to the window. At one point or another, you will be sardined in a subway or stuck next to that annoying guy who yells into the phone for 20 minutes straight. You learn to put your ipod in and read a book. You also learn to let go of the little things. If you travel with a partner, you aren’t always going to agree on how to get back to the hostel the fastest, what your favorite city is, or if it is worth it to buy yet another leather purse. But, you compromise and become more open-minded because throwing a fit or crawling in a corner to cry will not make this trip any better. You even learn to laugh- at yourself and the entire ridiculous situation- which makes everything more tolerable anyway. And if none of that works, try your hardest to break through the wall to get what you want.
Traveling is exhausting. The grime builds up, your shoes fall apart, and your body hates you for waking up at all different times. Why is it worth it to see a million art pieces and sift through streets full of strangers if there is no friendly face at the end of the tunnel? I couldn’t tell you the name of half of the fountains in Rome or recap the number of artists I saw in the Louvre. But, I could tell you about a boy from Brown who showed us the best apertivo in Bologna and a friend in Rome who explained all the buildings in the forum Those people changed my vision; they made me see the city from a viewpoint that was much deeper than surface level, and made me appreciate the effects of people who live there which were not deemed great enough to be housed in a museum.
I believe in food.
There is a reason why books like Chicken Soup for the Soul and Eat, Pray, Love are best seller for all ages: they are centered around food. Everyone eats it, everyone talks about it, everyone integrates it into their day. Whether you have a vendetta with it or not, you can’t go very long without begrudgingly giving into your food cravings. It is the one thing that can transport you back to your grandmas kitchen or make you want to share it with a new friend. It holds passion, memories, new inventions, and creativity all in one bite. It is always in fashion. Perhaps this is why there is not one other single thing on the planet that embodies culture better than food. The smell, look, touch, and taste of it tells you so much about the people, the land, the philosophy, and the art so much so that going to museums seems irrelevant after eating something so miraculous. And after you’ve eaten it, you feel like you are embodying the culture. What more could a traveler want?
I believe in being thankful.
The most useful words that I learned throughout my travels has been please and thank you. Sil vous plait, merci, per favore, grazie, prego. Even the French, who are notoriously known for being snooty and only helping those who speak French, are unbelievably nice as soon as you use those words. There is something about being polite that humbles us, and makes us worthy of help.
So, hail travelers, full of grace, may friends be with you. Blessed are you among good company, and blessed is the food that you eat, salute! I pray for your awesome experiences and your safe journeys now and at all hours. Amen.
Once upon a time, on a blustery and quite rainy day, two fastidious girls decided to venture out of their cozy flat in search of adventure. Of course, if they were wise, they would have stayed put, drinking tea and chatting by the fire for the entire day, instead of getting their socks and shoes completely soaked in the rain. However, these two were determined to break free from their house and explore new lands, so much so that not even the weather could stop them. Well, it never has before.
You see, the girls began their friendship in the same small town nestled within the calm mountainside, where everyone knew each other and change rarely occurred. Despite this, they were very opposite people: one was decidedly sensible, insisting on planning each day, while the other was easy going and spontaneous, walking in whatever direction that the wind happened to blow her. However, they had one important thing in common: their love of words. In order to leave that small town for a while, the girls used books and storytelling as portals into magical, uncharted lands where adventures always took place. But, not today. This time they could find their way with their own two feet.
The story begins in a terrible rush, with the girls trekking to the train station to make their train. As with every story, the journey is never easy. While the girls ran onto their train just in the nick of time, they could see the weather get worse and worse. The wind was blowing the train so hard that the girls thought it would fall off the tracks. However, it reached their sought after destination, Ayr, in one piece. Barely as the train stopped, the girls jumped off, so wrought with excitement that they could not stay sitting any longer. They gazed at the beautiful beach town in awe- the ruins of a castle could be seen in the distance, a mysterious island was floating before them in the sea, and the relaxing scent of salt water was before them. Even as they stood among the picturesque streets, they could hear the waves thundering onto the beach.
However, the weather continued to get wose. The wind picked up, blowing sand into the girls eyes and whipping their hair into their faces. The wind was so angry that it refused to let the girls walk normally, and forcefully pushed at their legs. After five minutes, the two realized that it was impossible for them to explore this beautiful isle if they couldn’t even walk one foot, so they decided to take a bus to the closest shelter.
A bit disheveled, the girls scrambled into the bus station, damp and shivering and cold. All they wanted to do was see the crumbling castle and explore its ruins. As they turned around to wait for their bus, they heard a soft old voice of a woman speak up behind them.
“Girls, you know that the Castle is closed until April, right?”
“Oh,” the girls said with downcast faces, “no we didn’t. Do you know what else there is to explore in Ayr?” It looks as if their silly adventure would be cut short…
The old woman stared back at them gently and said, “Well, the Burn’s cottage is open right now. If you would like, I can give you a ride there. My car is only a few minutes away.”
Now, reader, Hansel and Gretel should immediately flash into your mind, just as it did for the sensible girl, along with the foreboding caveat that parents universally drill into their young children: one should never get into the car with strangers. But, how dangerous could this sweet old woman be, especially with two girls? Perhaps this is what Little Red Riding Hood said as well. But, throwing all fairytales aside, the two friends looked at each other, nodded, graciously thanked the woman for her offer, and began to walk to her car.
The three talked about many things, from the reason for their travels to the stories and books they were studying in school. The woman had much in common with the young lasses; her own children were interested in the same things, despite being from such a different place. Moreover, she began to tell them the old stories of the town, the history behind the Burns’ cottage, and the places that they should make sure to visit. The minds and hearts of the girls began to soften, and they began to think that it was a blessing that they met this old woman.
When they arrived at the cottage, the old woman got out of the car and went round to where the girls were standing. She said,
“I have been to your town, once, a very long time ago. Your people treated me with so much hospitality and care that I would now like to return the favor.”
With that, she sneakily gave the girls enough money so that their adventure would cost them nothing. The girls were shocked; they couldn’t move from the spots where they stood, and could only hastily thank this old woman for her unnecessary generosity. When the girls began to walk away, they spun around after a few steps to thank the old woman again, for her gift to them finally started to sink in. But, when they looked round, the old woman had magically disappeared. It was as if her car had burst into tiny particles of thin ayr.
If, like a children’s story, you are expecting a moral, there are many to be found in this one tale. Yet, the best I can think of, is that kindness and generosity are the most magical of cures, much like a smile.
There are just some times when I can’t explain how things happen or even how they came to be. I don’t believe in coincidences and I rarely believe in luck; I like to think that everything happened for a reason and all we need is a little bit of pixie dust to connect the dots. How else could I explain how my Peter Pan journey in Edinburgh began?
I do believe in an everyday sort of magic – the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of syncronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.” – Charles De Lint
While researching some articles about JM Barrie for a paper, I haphazardly came across a Peter Pan academic convention in Madrid, Spain in March. Wait…
WHAT!? An … academic… Peter Pan adventure? IN SPAIN? So this means…
- E.T. Phoned? There are others out there like me?
- Who would actually put on an academic convention? Who, other than me and a few stodgy professors, really care that much about Peter Pan and JM Barrie?
- How much is a ticket, get me on this plane RIGHT NOW.
In an excited haze, I hastily flitted from page to page until I reached the itinerary, searching to see if any topic specifically relatedto my thesis. While that endeaver turnedup empty, I stumbled upon something better- the keynote speaker for the convention is professor at Edinburgh in the Department of Literature. Ah, fortune smiles upon me! As it happened, I e-mailed him immediately, and he kindly met me for a wee spot of tea at the National Library of Scotland. An obvious choice for our meeting place, this library houses the Fairy Notes, the original manuscript to the play Peter Pan and Wendy, the entire reason I came to Scotland. After some chatting, he even more kindly invited me to come along to his newest Peter Pan book opening in Kirriemuir, JM Barrie’s hometown.
Is this how things happen? Do people just meet, find some exciting thing that they have in common, and then get up and actually put their discussions in motion? Surely they do not do this back home. These Scottish people are a wonderfully different type of human being.
The trip to Kerriemuir was a dream. It was incredibly hard for me to concentrate and stay in the moment while not looking too star struck. In normal reality, the place was only a bite-sized town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods and dwarfed bythe nearby city of Dundee. It’s claim to fame was JM Barrie (and Bon Scott, the lead vocalist in ACDC… go figure), so all of the street names and shops were titled after his major works. But behind myrose colored glasses, this was the very start of Neverland. And like any land, it was the people, not the place, that gave the experience so much meaning for me.
The academics, the Barrie enthusiasts, and even some of his descendents that I met at this book premiere were some of the most caring and genuinely interesting people I have ever met. They came for the pure sake of keeping this incredible author’s inspiration alive. It is awe-fully amazing to me that one person can bring so many different people together, from backgrounds and disciplines across the board, because they are connected to one idea and passion.
On the way home, the sky was so bright with stars that it seemed like the whole Milky Way was in full view. I couldn’t help but think that the last time I saw this way was at home, in my own hometown. Funny how small towns don’t really lose their feeling, no matter in what country or culture you are. I couldn’t help but feel how close home seemed at that moment.
If James Brown isn’t your cuppa tea, take a listen to the Sister Act 2 version. If you aren’t dancing/bobbing your head/singing along like a fool, you might want to why your life has become so miserable and glum. Why not take an unexpected trip, per say?
If the US was half as accessible as Europe, Americans would be much happier with their lives. If you could get on a train, travel to a major city or wished-for site in a mere hour or so, there would be less of a need to “escape” on vacation or tour abroad. Yes, most people have cars to get them from place to place; and yes, there are buses that travel to each city. However, the tickets are quite pricey on a low budget, with a round trip costing at least $50, if not more; on the other side, gas (petrol, in Europe) is constantly rising, forcing college kids to choose between filling up on food or fuel. Granted, neither Ithaca nor Scranton are large cities, so I have never had the luxury of using the Metro, Subway, or T that run along the East Coast. However, in Edinburgh, I have discovered the magical trains system that beats out all of these options. I wish I could bring them back with me.
The train station can be a daunting thing: people are positively sprinting to their connecting trains and the board is spinning madly with changing times. However, getting tickets are a piece of kidney pie. Plus, train tickets can be as cheap as seven pounds one way! While this is not first class, it doesn’t need to be. The standard seating is perfectly clean with enough space to stretch your legs and write on the computer. You can even pick the window or aisle seat, if you want internet access, and if you need a plug! Absolute heaven for a person who constantly reads novels online. If that wasn’t enough, the train basically lulls even the tensest person to sleep, performing a miracle in its own right.
But most of all, I love the fact that I can hop on a train and be in a new city within 50 minutes. Today, while eating lunch with no specific plan in mind, my housemate Carolyn and I decided that we wanted to go out on the town. We were both finished with class for the day, and the weather outside was 60 degrees and sunny – hardly the normal weather for Scotland- so we had to take advantage of it. As we were walking out the door to go to a museum, Carolyn’s friend phoned her to say he would be in Glasgow for dinner. She looked at me, and in that one glance, we decided… why not? Glasgow is only a train stop away! We would be there by 6PM, just in time for tea.
By the time Carolyn and I finished talk about her friends, the train ride was over and Glasgow awaited us. If you don’t know anything about the city, it has some of the best music and shopping in Scotland. Definitely a place you will want to hit up when in Britain! However, it was the fact that we were there in so short of a time that amazed me, even more than the industrial skyscrapers and beautifully lit streets. Maybe it is the small town girl in me, but I don’t think I will quite ever get used to traveling like this. I think this is as close to apparating as I can get.
Did you ever realize how obsessed we are with taking the perfect photograph? We change our smiles, perfect our stances, and mediate backgrounds in order to give off the right vibe or coolest view. Yet, in reality, all we are doing is trying too hard to present ourselves in a “better light”. It is the stark opposite of the pictures we see from the 1920s and older, in a time when no one is brilliantly gawking out of the frame, but just staring at the camera lens unsure of what they should be doing.
As I pose for one of the many touristy pictures on my travels, I realize that I am constantly putting on my biggest smile. Granted, I am naturally a pretty smiley person, but I have to wonder if this is what I would like if someone captured the scene without my awareness. This seems to be a new trend in photography; one strives to catch a person in mid motion or during those moments when one is staring off into space or interacting with nature. Perhaps this is to show the world a “truthfulness” that is rarely seen in photography. However, even that is sometimes the most staged. How do you really catch the essence of a person in one second?
The impressionists tried- Cezanne painted the same mountain, Sainte Victoire, over 60 times but never produced two copies that were the same; even Vermeer attempted to catch women in a perfunctory, natural task in the series that contains his famous Girl With A Pearl Earring. If these great painters were struggling to capture the essence of humanity on canvas, how was I supposed to show myself through my inapt pictures?
All of this came out of an observation from my friend here in Edinburgh. She is the woman behind the precious Canon camera that constantly sneak attacks her companions in the fruitless attempt to get live shots. While in the Louvre, she was pondering the question of naturalness in art, comparing her photos of us to the greats. Yes, this was an unrealistic judgment from the start, however, it made us realize how complex it is to capture naturalness and pleasure at the same time. Perhaps this is what struck me most when looking at the most talked about painting in the Louvre- the Mona Lisa.
Before you rush through the hallways and past all of other Da Vinci works and countless other famous painters, you must know that Mona is not a large, looming figure. No, instead she is demure to a tee: her petiteness does not protrude from the inside her frame and her smile is one of perfect calmness. If you think that you are going to see a glittering, six-foot-tall portrait of the most beautiful woman on the planet, you are sorely mistaken. If that is what you are looking for, make your way over to Venus of Urbino or Botticelli. As Rita Hayworth used to say, “They go to bed with Gilda; they wake up with me”; don’t give into the preconceived notion of her greatness. Yet, feast your eyes on that painting which will undoubtedly make you smile.
Seeing Mona Lisa was like staring at a celebrity. Not only does she appear as if she is posing on the Red Carpet (merely behind a wall so we cannot see the lower part of her body), but she also holds herself to the standard of her fame. It is as if her admirers are the paparazzi screaming, “Mona, look here! Smile for me over this way! Show us those big beautiful eyes!” I would like to see how you would present yourself when being gawked at by thousands of people each day. The smile that the Mona Lisa gives to the audience is both knowing and pleasant; it says that she is content with the mystical landscape within which she has been placed and yet she has mastered her space so that she pops out of it just slightly. I can truly see why so many people rush to see her.