On Holiday

May 12, 2015

Last spring break, I was lucky enough to cheer on the Billikens in the Atlantic 10 Tournament on an all-expenses-paid trip New York City with some of my best friends at SLU. I’ve written before about my first visit to the city of Jeter, Mantle, Ross, Rachel, Ted, Robin, Jerry, Kramer, Don Draper, and practically any other athlete or character I’d seen on TV, and I fell in love with it. But as I specified to some of my friends while we were there, I could never live there. Perhaps it felt too big, too far away, too stimulating for daily life. It wasn’t home; it was vacation. I recognized that feeling on the first day, and in doing so I freed myself to love it as a traveler, not a dweller.

Early on this semester, traveling offered an escape when life in Ireland felt too heavy. Every couple weeks, I’d be visiting a new place. In new places, there’s no home base for me. I throw my stuff in a hostel or apartment and don’t return for 12 hours while I go explore the destination. My lodging for the night is just that: a place to sleep, not to settle. I took this mindset to cities like Edinburgh, Barcelona, Cinque Terre, Valencia, and Lisbon, among about a dozen others, and in each new place I found something to love, something that generally hurt to leave behind on the return to Galway. As I fell in love with Barcelona this year the same way I’d fallen in love with New York last year, I couldn’t fall in love with Galway the same way I’d come to adore St. Louis, my home for 20 years.

During the hardest parts of the semester, I tried making Galway my home. I changed daily routines as often as Yadier Molina changed batting stances early in his career, hoping to find a balance that I had left behind in St. Louis. I compared everything here to everything there: maybe if I could just make my bed as comfortable in Galway as back home, find a place in the library as welcoming as Pius at SLU, discover pizza on par with Dewey’s, then I’d be happy at my new home. These strategies weren’t futile, but their effects were usually fleeting. For every couple weeks I felt at ease in Galway, I’d spend another couple weeks homesick for those St. Louis equivalents that I’d finally replaced. It took a few runs through this cycle to finally come to terms with the fact that Galway wouldn’t ever become my home, at least not when I could envision returning to my real home after four short months in a new place. And that’s perfectly okay.

I spent so much energy trying to force myself to build a new home before I understood that I needed a vacation instead. I came abroad to find a journey, not a settlement. Over the past few weeks, I finally let the journey take me along with it instead of working against the current to build a fort that could never stand against the force of the path. Whenever I left Ireland, I’d already embraced this mindset. I took it with me as I wandered around Sagrada Família in Barcelona, surfed in Lisbon, marveled at the Harry Potter studio tour, and hiked up a handful of mountains in Cinque Terre. But each time I returned to Ireland, I searched again for a home that I never occupied. It took over three months to treat Galway (and Ireland as a whole) as an extended vacation. I didn’t have to compare it to St. Louis anymore. Finally, I became free to fall in love with Galway the same way I’d fallen in love with New York City and Barcelona: as a traveler, not a dweller.

***

I woke up today and realized that my last normal day in Galway had passed some time over the weekend. I saw the beautiful Aran Islands yesterday, a week after seeing the Blarney Castle and Cork. Today, I began the packing that I’ll finish tomorrow. Thursday, I’ll take a 6:45 am bus to Dublin to catch my 12:30 flight to Toronto, and after flying back to Chicago and spending the night there, I’ll go home on Friday and eat Pappy’s at my cousin Leo’s second birthday party before rushing to Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals play the Tigers. It’s an amazing feeling to know that home is so close, especially after spending so much time chasing it before accepting that I’d have to wait until May to reach it. Yet the closer it gets, the more I know I’ll miss Galway. It never became a new home, but it did transform into one of the greatest vacation spots I’ve ever been. It will likely be a while before I have a chance to return to Ireland for an extended vacation (but closer to two weeks than 18, next time). When I do come back, I expect that I’ll fall in love with this country all over again, the same way I’ve fallen in love with New York, Barcelona, Galway, and so many other places I’ve visited as a traveler. Until then, I’ll be content at home.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” – Albus Dumbledore – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, chapter 8

“Elias” – Dispatch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEw7xPPHj1A&spfreload=10

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The Waiting Game

May 6, 2015

At some point in the past five or ten years, I graduated from the Waiting Game. Well, it was never much of a game; the eight-year-old version of me remembers it as a cruel trick. I’d get news from my parents in September about a sleepover in November with the LoPiccolo cousins at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and my mind would pop out of my skull, race forward in time about two months, and wait for me as it anchored my thoughts to that pending occasion. I still had plenty of reasons to be excited for September and October: the Rams were still a good team, the Cardinals were beginning their decade-and-a-half-and-counting reign of dominance into October, and I’m sure Bently, Brendan, and I had two or three “B’s Nights Out” in that time. But I was in second or third grade, and my brain didn’t understand that plenty of good things could happen along the way during those two months that it was trying to skip.

My original first sentence credited our culture with eradicating the Waiting Game. But as I wrote, I realized that while our culture has remained (generally) unchanged this century, I have not. I’ve experienced plenty of trials and high points alike that have molded and matured me into a different person than I was ten, five, even two years ago. These changes came in a fairly stable environment, though, with the only real difference being an increasingly strong bond with an ever-evolving group of amazing friends—one that I’ve been so extraordinarily lucky to have grow in both size and strength. Growing up in such a wonderful community, I naturally learned that the journey is almost always as memorable as the endpoint. If forced to begrudgingly wait through that journey, not only does it seem doubly long, but it also appears half as rewarding.

Four months ago today, I left that community back home so that I could grow in an entirely new way on my own in Ireland for a semester. I knew that I’d be in for a major adjustment, but as anyone who has kept up with my blog knows, I completely underestimated how hard I would have to work to find my balance in a foreign land that my ancestors left 150 years ago. It didn’t take long to find friends here, but these new friendships couldn’t possibly match the depth of my friendships back home in such a short period of time. I’m so grateful to have met the people that I have in Europe and specifically in Ireland, but four months isn’t enough time to totally recreate that depth of friendships back home. And without that sort of depth, I found myself again in January playing the Waiting Game. Each night I fell asleep marked one day closer to going home.

Along the way, I’ve traveled to 18 cities in 10 countries, doing everything in those destinations from surfing to riding a camel in the Sahara to seeing Pope Francis’s Easter Mass at the Vatican to touring the magical wizarding world of the Harry Potter film sets. I’ve loved each of these opportunities and experienced some of the highest points of my life during these adventures. But throughout much of the past four months, my mind has been on my return to America on May 14. I found myself playing the Waiting Game as I worked to build friendships here like those back home. I’ve been looking forward to Grandma and Grandpa’s cousin sleepover while I’ve had B’s Nights Out again. But this time, the sleepovers were America and Europe.

When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll review my notes before taking my last final and completing the academic part of my sophomore year. Afterward, I’ll have a seven-day vacation in Ireland. Maybe I’ll take a day trip or two to places in Ireland I haven’t yet seen. I’ll definitely spend a few nights hanging out in my favorite Irish pubs. While I’m here, I’ve got some souvenirs to by as well. But most of all, I’ll stop playing the Waiting Game. I still am as excited to go home as I was to travel anywhere else this semester, but that excitement doesn’t have to interfere with the vacation that represents the journey to that destination. America and my friends back home will be there next Thursday when I return. But my time in Ireland is limited. Once again, I’ve graduated the Waiting Game.

“Mad-Eye’s heard intruders a bit too often. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still spot the real thing.” – Sirius Black – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, chapter 19, page 433

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – IZ Kamakawiwo’ole https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1bFr2SWP1I&spfreload=10

Wainwright’s Heel

April 28, 2015

From Rogers Hornsby to Dizzy Dean to Stan Musial to Bob Gibson to Lou Brock to Ozzie Smith to Mark McGwire to Albert Pujols to Chris Carpenter to Yadier Molina to Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals have been graced with over a century of baseball greats passing through the gates of baseball heaven at Busch Stadium. I’ve been lucky enough to see two World Series victories and at least two surefire Hall of Famers (Albert and Yadi) in addition to handfuls of other fantastic players that include Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Larry Walker, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Matt Carpenter, and so many others. But among all of these greats over so many decades, Adam Wainwright is my favorite player of all-time, and it’s not particularly close.

That’s why it’s so incredibly disheartening to hear about Wainwright’s latest injury, a tear in his Achilles tendon that will cause him to miss the 2015 season, the second time in five years that an injury has kept him on the bench.

I became excited about Wainwright’s potential as a 12-year-old watching him freeze Carlos Beltran to end the 2006 NLCS with that devastating curveball. He was just a rookie then, a late-season replacement for closer Jason Isringhausen. But I was pitching about every other game for the Wildcats, and as someone who was 6’ 1” but only 145 pounds before I got to high school, it was pretty awesome to cheer for a 6’ 7” beanpole, even if it did cost us Eli Marrero to swipe him from the Braves. By 2009, he joined Chris Carpenter at the top of the rotation and was egregiously denied the NL Cy Young because he and Carpenter were both so dominant that voters couldn’t settle on which Cardinal ace to pick and Tim Lincecum consequently snuck ahead of them both. He pitched well again in 2010 for a Cards team that missed the playoffs for the third time in four years, but he missed all of the 2011 World Series run after needing the dreaded Tommy John Surgery. In 2013 he led us back to the World Series and just last year he was the best pitcher in baseball until Clayton Kershaw entered legendary mode in June.

This year, I was concerned about being away from the Cardinals for the first five weeks of the season. How the hell would I watch the games from Ireland? Who would I talk to about baseball in a country that considers baseball a boring version of cricket? Well, I got a monthly subscription to MLB.TV and have stayed up until 4:00 am most nights to watch each game that I can. I watched the Cards get off to an 11-4 start behind a dominant starting rotation anchored by Wainwright’s 1.44 ERA. When I went out in Amsterdam on Saturday night with Waino on the mound against the Brewers, I was pretty sure I’d come back to the apartment to find the Cardinals comfortably ahead.

Well, the Cards were up 5-0. But Waino had been lifted, and judging by the texts I’d gotten from Connor, it looked to be a pretty serious ankle injury. By the time I came back to Ireland on Sunday night, it had been ruled that Waino likely had torn his Achilles and would miss the rest of the season. I wanted to cry for him, but I held out the tiniest bit of hope until his MRI revealed yesterday that he’d be sidelined for 9-12 months. I couldn’t believe his shitty luck. Yes, it’s only three weeks into the season, but the Cardinals looked like the National League’s most complete team until Wainwright went down. It could’ve been the year that he channeled Chris Carpenter’s 2011 performance en route to a World Series victory that he’d actually pitched in. Instead, the cruel baseball gods shat on his dreams. Each time I still think about it, I feel terrible for my favorite player of all-time.

He’s been through it before, so I’m sure that he has the mental strength to push through this injury and return next year with a well-rested arm ready to lead the Cardinals for the final three years of his current contract and hopefully beyond. But it still can’t be easy to stomach such terrible luck as a torn Achilles tendon. That’s not a pitching injury. And it was only four years ago that Waino had to watch from the bench all season. Now, he’s back to the waiting game. One more year until he’s back on the mound.

In many ways, though, we’re always waiting for something in life. The next vacation, the next paycheck, the next night out with friends. As much as it sucks, we don’t have a choice but to trudge through the unfortunate circumstances that block the road to those things that we wait for. In most cases, it’s not bad luck that puts these trials in our lives, but rather a part of the process that we signed up for in order to receive the award at the end. In my case, this process is especially true. I have loved the places I’ve visited this semester and the people I’ve met along the way, but I’m at the point where I’m ready to return home to America to my family and my best friends. However, I have to write another paper, take another final, and keep myself busy while on a tight budget for the next 16 days. But coming into this experience, I knew that these things were part of the process before I could return home. Compared to Wainwright’s year of work that he must tackle before his return to his home on the mound, I have a breeze of a journey.

Adam Wainwright won’t be on the field for the Cardinals until 2016, but even in his absence I have a feeling that his status as my favorite player of all-time will only grow stronger. I have no doubt that he’ll put in the work he has to in order to come back as strong as ever. Nine years ago, he was merely an inspiration to me on the field. Now, he’s an inspiration to me as a man dealing with a tough break. The Cardinals are rich in history, and Adam Wainwright is cemented deep within that lore.

“If you accept that fact straightaway, Fudge, and take necessary measures, we may still be able to save the situation.” – Dumbledore – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, chapter 36, page 707

Wainwright’s killer curve – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWNe6cMsdsI&spfreload=10

Wong’s 2014 NLCS Game 2 walk-off homer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvTOmGSR97M&spfreload=10

Future Dreams of Present Joys

April 23, 2015

No matter how often we end up getting there, the future is always abstract. Its promise and potential are real, but its eventual occurrence seems of another life. But every once in a while, there’s a part of the journey toward the future that reminds us of the imminent reality fast approaching. In these moments, the dream becomes concrete.

My initial plan had me going abroad the first semester of my junior year rather than now, as I round out my sophomore year. When I was pre-med, Fall 2015 was my only option, and after I realized that maybe I couldn’t overcome my distaste for chemistry, cellular biology, and doing research for the next 40 years of my life, I didn’t deviate from my plan to go to Ireland my junior year. But after a talk with Mr. Keefe some time in May or June last summer, I reconsidered. With a new major, maybe it would make sense to bring the future a bit closer to the present and study abroad for the Spring 2015 semester. I committed to this change, and over the next few months I got everything ready to make sure I’d actually be in Ireland come January. No matter how many items I checked off as I prepared to leave, though, it always felt like studying abroad was just an idea of the future, far removed from my real and stable life. Even as I hung out in the Dojo during Christmas break after a SLU basketball game and listened to Jack Mac reminisce on his time in Europe, it seemed impossible that I’d soon be in Ireland.

Finally, after my flight to Ireland, I felt the reality of the future-turned-present as I rode the bus from Dublin to Galway. As I got acclimated to life in Ireland (which took a bit longer than I’d have liked, but I guess that’s all a part of the process), I’d look forward to the day that I return home to the USA. But even then, even when I longed more than ever to be home, home had become the future. It existed in my mind, but as I spent each successive day in Galway, the present clouded the future until it became completely a dream separate from reality.

I have only three weeks until I return home, but I still have a while before I can totally accept that reality. While excited for the day, I’ve come to love Galway and can’t wait to continue exploring the city and its neighboring Irish counties (once I finish my papers and exams, at least). But with May 14 fast approaching, I’ve begun experiencing the first of my ‘lasts.’ Last week, it was my last class of the semester. Right now, it’s my last 1:45 am bus ride to the Dublin Airport for my second-last RyanAir flight (the last will be when I return from Brussels on Sunday). In two weeks, it’ll be last exam. At some point, it’ll be my last night on Shop Street. My last Guinness.

For now, it’s kind of nice that the future is an abstraction. It gives me something to dream about while still knowing reality only as the present. And as long as my reality is my present, I can remain aware of the things that I’ll be experience for the last time. More importantly, I can focus on making the final three weeks of my time in Europe memorable. Because like always, the future will become reality, no matter what I think of it now. Until the future comes, I will embrace the present. And when it does come, it’ll be a pretty awesome present.

“Time will not slow down when something unpleasant anything lies ahead.” – JK Rowling (the change is mine) – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 37, Page 732

“It’s All Been Done” – Barenaked Ladies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zs3xXlXSOKk&spfreload=10

Maurice and Moos-Moos the Camels Present: The Ultimate bdoogs Spring Break Power Rankings

April 14, 2015

It’s been a while since I posted anything, so I’m sorry for the delay. I’ve been busy traveling and now have homework to do (didn’t know Ireland believed in homework…), but now I’m back to recap my spring break. I spent 16 days away from Galway, and by the time I came back last night, I was so happy to be able to collapse on my own bed in what’s beginning to feel more and more like a home (until I go to my real home in one month!). Anyway, I traveled to 10 different cities in 5 countries over the cross of my two-plus weeks away, so I figured I’d need a concise way to present my experiences, one not as deep but hopefully at least more comprehensive than what my blogs have been so far. So, in the spirit of the start of the MLB regular season, the NBA and NHL playoffs, and Mark Lisanti’s Mad Men recaps on Grantland, here are my power rankings of my 10 destinations.

***

 10) Pisa, Italy (Stop #4; April 2)

As a general rule of thumb, if a city is known only for a tower that looks like it’s about collapse, don’t spend the night there. Don’t even spend three hours there. Please just be on your way. Justin and I overstayed our welcome, and I’d like our hours spent there to be redeemed as overtime hours for 150% of their real value that I can spend instead of Spain.

9) Milan, Italy (Stop #2; March 30)

Okay, so I didn’t really spend much time here. I only spent a couple hours at the airport, got pizza downtown, and wandered around the train station until our train to Cinque Terre arrived. But the weather was great, the train station reminded me more of a mall than a transportation hub, and my first couple slices of Italian pizza lived up to expectations. But I wasn’t there long enough to get a feel for it distinct from any other big city.

8) Dublin, Ireland (Stop #1; March 29)

I love Dublin, but after my fourth time visiting, it loses its luster in comparison to the new stops. Maybe if I could afford the Guinness tour and a few extra pints each time, it wouldn’t have slipped due to mere familiarity.

7) Rome, Italy (Stop #5; April 3-5)

I had incredibly high expectations for Rome, seeing as I was going there for Holy Week and staying for free at the family apartment of one of Justin’s friends, and I certainly enjoyed my visit. I went to Pope Francis’s Easter Mass at St. Peter’s Square, visited the Vatican (which, in my opinion, was not quite as wonderful as Barcelona’s La Sagrada Família, but astounding nonetheless), witnessed Pope Francis say the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum, ate pounds of pizza, pasta, and gelato, and saw tons of friends who had also trekked to Rome for the pinnacle Christian celebration.

But of the big cities I’ve been to, Rome had the least charm. Perhaps it was due to the influx of tourists, the annoying quasi-entrepreneurs heckling the throngs of visitors to buy their selfie sticks and Roman souvenirs, or the pouring rain throughout Easter Mass. Whatever it was, I just didn’t feel a connection to the city. I’m glad I experienced what I did, but it wasn’t enough to crack the top half of these power rankings.

6) Madrid, Spain (Stop #8; April 8)

Other than the mass amounts of food fed to me by Spanish host families, this visit to Madrid was much different than my last one, to say the least. No Kapital, no 4 am buses, no sleeping until 1 pm. I stopped by solely because the cheapest flight to Morocco flew out of Madrid, but it turned into a good day of preparation and catching up with friends at SLU’s Madrid campus. I dropped my laptop off with Amanda so she could get it to Kristy to give to me in Lisbon, and Dewie, Blake, and I came up with some big plans for the future of JMD Lawn Care (you’re welcome, Dad) and the inaugural summer Chili’s Committee while we sat beneath the Spanish sun. It wasn’t an extravagant or adventurous stop, but it was the time I needed to relax before a couple days in Morocco.

5) Morocco (Stop #9; April 9-10)

I initially hadn’t planned to leave Europe at all during my abroad travels, but as I talked to friends who studied abroad last year, I kept hearing that Morocco was one of their favorite trips. So when Annie and Rachel wanted to plan a trip there during spring break, I jumped at the opportunity to ride a camel and sleep in the desert. And while those experiences certainly made my first trip to Africa memorable, they alone didn’t make it worthwhile.

When we arrived to the Marrakech airport, we were on our guard and made absolutely sure that we had safe directions to our hostel. When our bus dropped us off at the vast city square where the market was still lively near midnight, we met a worker from our hostel who chauffeured us to our place for the night. He and the other hostel worker were extremely hospitable and helped us settle into a completely unfamiliar country with its lower economic standing and heavy Islamic influence. The next morning, we met our tour group: a young Argentinian couple, and older Chinese couple, and two Canadian girls. We spent much time with them and our Moroccan tour guide over the next 36 hours and heard stories from diverse cultures. At night, after riding our camels to our campsite on the desert, we watched the stars with Yousef and Moustafa, both employees of the tour company. Moustafa grew up as a nomad, knows 5 languages, and jokingly offered Annie the entire herd of camels, including Maurice, the one I rode both times.

Morocco turned out to be one of the most eye-opening and exciting adventures of my break. But by the end of the trip, I was exhausted and excited to be heading back to Europe.

4) Cinque Terre, Italy (Stop #3; March 30 – April 1)

I’d seen the colorful mountainside homes and the tree-covered mountains that overlooked the empty and blue Mediterranean Sea. But the pictures on Facebook completely fail to grasp the breathtaking beauty of a landscape that refuses to be defined by a single feature.

Justin and I began our Cinque Terre retreat in Corniglia, the central of the five small, coastal towns. With easy access to the hiking trails, we trekked north to Vernazza and Monterosso on first day there and south on the more treacherous path to Manarola and Riomaggiore on the second day. When we reached the peak of each climb, we stopped to catch our breath and take in the wonderful panoramas of green mountainsides, blue waters, and speckled pastel towns.

I’m a city person, but I enjoy opportunities to retreat away from the ever-stimulating concrete jungles. Two and a half days in Cinque Terre proved to be the perfect retreat I needed. But even this magical place is just number 4 in these power rankings, as three other cities I visited proved to be of even more value to me during my long vacation.

3) Bologna, Italy (Stop #6; April 6)

I have a feeling that Justin, who hosted me in Bologna, will likely disagree with what I’m about to say. But I loved Bologna most of all the Italian cities I visited mainly because it reminded me more of St. Louis than any other place I’ve been to in Europe. After a busy and exhausting weekend in Rome, Bologna offered me a place to relax while still exploring a culturally rich town (with the best food in Italy, to boot).

When we arrived in Bologna the night of Easter, Justin’s dorm was closed and we didn’t have a place to stay. But Justin found us a B&B near the city center. After searching for it for about half an hour, we found it inside a forgotten building and waited outside the door as an Italian shouting match conspired on the other side of the wall. Our expectations sank, but we stayed in a room with an American and two Brits who were very friendly, and I got to watch the Cardinals season opening win against the Cubs.

I didn’t do anything super noteworthy in Bologna, but I did feel as comfortable there as anywhere else in Europe. It’s that elusive feature of comfort that bumps this city over its Italian counterparts and at number 3 overall in these power rankings.

2) Lisbon, Portugal (Stop #10; April 11-12)

I’ve always has some desire to surf, but it was never on my bucket list. But in Lisbon, on my last day of spring break, I had the chance to surf on the tame waves of the Atlantic. I managed to get up a couple times on my own after a couple hours with an instructor and a cramp calf that bullied me as I struggled to escape the water. But when I made it up on the board, I felt free. Free to relax on the beach, to enjoy not just the rest of my spring break but also the rest of my entire time abroad.

In Lisbon I also had a gelato-filled and chocolate-covered crepe, got a strange sunburn on my back as a result of falling asleep on the beach after poorly self-applying sunscreen, ditched a shitty walking tour, and stayed in a hostel that overlooked the river. I needed a relaxing finish to spring break, and the Portuguese capital gave it to me. It could certainly have been number 1 in these power rankings, but number 2 isn’t a bad finish.

1) Valencia, Spain (Stop #7; April 7)

In contrast to Milan, despite spending only about five hours in Valencia, I fell in love with the city.

In How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby supposes that the lead up to something wonderful is always better than the actual execution of this thing. He verbalizes this theory the night he meets Victoria at a wedding and nearly hooks up with her but agrees to withhold because they agreed that the hook up couldn’t possibly be as great to the build up. So, they settled for the perfect build up (well, for a bit, and then they started dating because, well, sitcoms). I think that perhaps my experience in Valencia might have been of a similar nature.

I had less than six hours to explore the city (which is roughly the size of St. Louis), so I ordered lunch at a restaurant run by a man and his wife who spoke no English. It took about five minutes of humorous hand gestures and Google translations to finally order what I could’ve gotten by merely pointing at the menu, but it turned out to be an amazing interaction of cultures. Afterwards, I spent the rest of my time at the beach and walking along the mile-long stretch of palm trees that run adjacent to it. Spain was already my favorite country, but my third stop there reinforced even further how wonderful it is.

So maybe I didn’t spend much time in Valencia. But based on the time I did spend, it was nearly perfect. I didn’t do much, but I had my first day alone in at least two weeks, and it was the midway point of my trip. As became a trend, I found this day of quiet, rather than frantic adventure, to be among my greatest during my two-week endeavor. And with that, this Spanish city claims the top spot in my Spring Break 2015 Power Rankings.

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” – Albus Dumbledore – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“If I Had a Million Dollars” – Barenaked Ladies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCImrmR63JE

A Different Kind of Opening Day

April 7, 2015

Exactly one year ago today, I went to my third Cardinals home opener in a row. In 2012 and 2013, I went with Connor. For anyone who knows the two of us, this won’t be the least bit surprising. We each go to at least 20 games a year, the majority of them with each other. But last year, Connor couldn’t come home from Mizzou for the Monday afternoon game. As the saying goes, life happened (in this case, college) and I had to do something new. I figured that if I still made it to my third straight home opener, I’d be bound to go to the rest of them for the rest of my life (not a bad scenario). But I ended up going with Betty, Parker, and Allie.

Obviously, I won’t be going to this year’s home opener. Once again, life happened. It worked out better for me to study abroad this spring semester than next fall semester, and I was separated from the Cardinals for the first time to my life. That’s not to say that I’m disconnected from them. In fact, watching Opening Night between the Cardinals and Cubs on Easter Sunday was as much a priority for me as attending Pope Francis’s Easter Mass at the Vatican in the pouring rain. I had a 2 am alarm set so I wouldn’t miss any of the game, and I watched it on my laptop in bed at a Bologna B&B.

As anyone from St. Louis can tell you (even if they’re possessed and for some reason don’t like or care about the Cardinals), Opening Day is a pretty huge deal. It’s expected that students skip school and adults ditch work to either attend or watch the game. Last year, Ozzie Smith even led a petition to have the day recognized as a national holiday (unfortunately, politicians don’t have baseball at the top of their to-do lists). This town bleeds Cardinal red, and Opening Day supplies the oxygen for the blood that turns Blue during hockey season. But it’s only the first game of 162, a stretch that in mid-summer can seem impossibly long.

Each season is a marathon. I distinctly remember looking at the back Reggie Sanders’s 2005 Topps baseball card when I was 10 years old and wondering how it was possible that he had played in the MLB since I was a baby. A single season, even ones in which the Cardinals won 100 and 105 games in back-to-back seasons in 2004 and 2005, spans on for what seems like ages. There’s a reason that baseball announcers monotonously the dog days of August after the trade deadline. 162 games is a long time. So is 128 days abroad.

By the time my spring break trip ends, I’ll have 31 days left until I fly back home. In baseball terms, I’m past the trade deadline but not quite in the midst of a September pennant race. In other words, it’s the dog days. Regardless, I still love being abroad. As I type, I’m sitting on a Valencia beach listening to my summer playlist. Over the past week, I visited Milan, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Rome, and Bologna. Tonight I’ll be in Madrid watching Lance Lynn pitch Game 2 of 162 for the Cardinals. Then I’ll fly to Morocco before finishing my trip in Portugal. Then I’ll have one more month in the wonderful country Ireland (with a weekend in Brussels and Amsterdam). It’s a pretty incredible set up, and I’ll fully enjoy these final five weeks in Europe (and Northern Africa) while I still have the opportunity. But when May 14 rolls around, it’ll feel like October baseball again. And on May 15, just two hours after returning to St. Louis, I’ll be on my way to Busch Stadium with Connor and Blake for my Home Opener.

“We will see you tomorrow night!” – Joe Buck (October 27, 2011) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1vDF0hSfoA

“Go That Road” – Iration https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AJjFovaM9o

Time Caught Up

April 2, 2015

Sometimes, it can seem an eternal truth that as time goes on, it always gets faster. Looking back all the way to grade school, each year of my life progressively seems about a month shorter than the one before it. This phenomenon never seemed more real than this past December when I looked over my shoulder expecting to find orange Oriflamme shirts still surrounding me but instead saw piles of papers I had to write. It had been the best semester of my life. Consequently, it had been the fastest four months I’d ever lived. But come a certain point, even the most obvious truths come under scrutiny.

In January and February, the oil apparently dried up in my experiential clock. Time still felt fast, sure, but my life had returned to the speed of sophomore year of high school from sophomore year of college. In a comfortable setting, I’d have welcomed this change of pace. But I don’t think it would have been possible in a comfortable setting. It had to happen in a challenging place, one that wouldn’t readily provide the experiences that comfort spoils us with and instead forces us either to make our own experiences or break down alongside the usually accelerating clock.

For a while, I failed at making my own experiences. I think I tried too hard to do so, inhibiting myself from the freedom of ceding control while desperately clinging to my warped ideas of what I should do abroad. But recently, I’ve come to understand the unique freedom and opportunity for self-discovery that studying and living abroad allows for. I’ve noticed that in welcoming the inevitable challenges that necessarily accompany the unexpected and intense joy of new and free adventures my clock has sped up again as my experiences have grown ever richer.

***

From Monday until Wednesday, I stayed in the cozy Italian town Corniglia at Cinque Terre National Park, a cluster of five towns connected by hiking trails and a rail system in the mountains on the coast of northern Italy. I’m a city person, but I actually welcomed this retreat away from the big cities. It would be a great time to catch up with Justin and to reflect on my development abroad. In fact, as we watched the sun set over the Mediterranean and framed in a valley, I felt as intimately connected with nature as I did my junior year of high school at the White House retreat center with about 50 of my classmates from SLUH. It’s been over three years since that retreat, but it suddenly felt so recent. In Cinque Terre, I felt my experiential clock using the momentum it had built over the past few weeks in Galway to catch back up to an extreme speed.

We spent our two full days in Cinque Terre hiking from town to town, climbing up and down thousands of stairs and a handful of mountain facades in the process. We met up with some friends staying in Corniglia for dinner and a beach visit, and we saw violent waves rise from the deep blue sea and crash into rocks at the base of the mountains. To be honest, the whole experience is still surreal. Even after a day in Pisa and as I ride this train to Rome, I’m only beginning to realize how necessary my personal retreat in Cinque Terre was in catching my experiential clock up to speed and completing the transformation of my time abroad. In a few hours I’ll be arriving in Rome for Holy Week. And by the time I’m back home in 6 weeks, hopefully it will feel as recent as a couple days.

“If you accept that fact straightaway, Fudge, and take necessary measures, we may still be able to save the situation.” – Dumbledore – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 36, page 707

“5 Years Time” – Noah and the Whale https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8YCSJpF4g4