Month: July 2012

This Could Save Your Life.

Being from a place like the unnamed mountain range that is Northwest Jersey, you come to get pretty familiar with things like private schools and BMWs  (wish I was a little more familiar with this stuff). Luckily for me, I leave my dwelling under a rock from time to time, so I have a basic idea of how the world operates. My mother, however, is not so lucky, which led her to this remark,

“God, there’s a lot of homeless people here in New Orleans.” 

Well mom, hate to be the one to break it to you, but there are homeless people effing everywhere. Actually, there were approximately 636,000 in 2011, which is about 21 homeless to every 10,000 people who are… not homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Because of where we live (i.e. the Edge of Nowhere), we don’t come across too many in our day-to-day lives. That doesn’t make them any less alive.

All this brought me to thinking about an article I read recently that basically theorized that Americans were afraid of the homeless because they represent the opposite of the American Dream; the population and economy’s own failures and our inability to help one another. The article told me to basically stop being such a grouch and hey, throw a nickel in their jar and make some friends!

Um, negatory. I’m not afraid of the homeless for any of those aforementioned reasons. If you want me to be honest, I’m effing scared of the homeless because 1/3 of them have untreated psychiactric illnesses, according to mentalillnesspolicy.org. Also, I still get carded for R rated movies, I weigh less than some dogs, and I know damn well that if one of those 1/3 got pissed at me I would be up the creek without a paddle. I think this is fair reason to be a little nervous.

I have a pretty good game face. I tend to not be nervous and put my best foot forward. But like any good traveler, you too probably get a little nervous from time to time when you’re in a not so great area. So here’s a few tips that hopefully aren’t common sense. I’m not gonna lie to you and tell you how I am safe all of the time. But just try to follow a few of these, okay?

1. Wear a money belt. They’re these dopey fanny packs that (thank God) you wear under your clothes,where you keep your passport, majority of your money, credit cards, license, etc. This is so that if you get mugged and have to hand over your wallet, you’ll still make it home.

2. Look alive. Don’t look nervous or lost or be peering around like an idiot. Look like you have a plan and a destination. This won’t help you get invited on a seedy pub crawl (as I have unfortunately found) but it could save your life. And your money.

3. Keep a free hand. Always have one free hand while walking, carrying bags, etc. This is literally one way that people search for victims to mug or assault. If you don’t have a free hand, you look a little more jumbled and not in control.

4. Leave your backpack at home. Does it fit a ton of shit? Yes. Is it easy to carry? Yes. But is it easy to rob? YES. People will cut them open in large crowds and before you even realize, the jerks have taken off with your dough.

5. Don’t let yourself be easily distracted. Pickpocketers and other wonderful people have been known to work in pairs, even kids, by throwing fake babies at you, newspapers, basically anything to make you lose control and drop your bags or lose a good handle on them. DON’T FALL FOR THIS.

Where are We, Anyway?

Today, my mother’s usual (and chronic) lateness led me to stomp off to the hotel breakfast alone, which, although I’m sure appeared pathetic to the average person, seemed perfectly fine to me as I was still half asleep (at 11:00 am).

Anyway, I think that this one waiter felt kind of bad for me, so he came out to chat since there was no one else who needed to be seated anyway. We got to chatting, and the 21 years old double major in Drama and Business turned out to be a New Orleans native.

My annoying self: “Wow! That’s so cool! Man, it must be so fun to live here. Do you go out on Bourbon a lot?”

Him (names have been forgotten): “Na, not really. It was fun when I was younger, when I had to pay a 20 to get into one of the clubs. But now it’s just like… I’ve already done it. It’s boring.”

WHAT? NEW ORLEANS BORING? was my first thought. But, when I thought about it, we all feel this way, like where we are has become too stale, whether we live in Paris or Sydney or a small tow in New Jersey.

When I moved to my current town, it actually wasn’t so bad. We drove around the dark streets at night, standing in fields and stargazing. We built forts in the backyard next to our bonfires. We swam in the neighbor’s pool till we pruned, then crept home in a spook. Then, we did it all again the next day.

But it seems to me like no matter where you live, you reach a point that, for many reasons, the romanticism fades away and cabin fever takes over from the outside in. Who knows, maybe one day that kid will come back to NOLA and I’ll go back to my mountain town. Or maybe, he will move far away and never even call. Who knows.

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Cities of the Dead

It is 7:00 pm and I am wasted with my mother.

Sound pathetic? Maybe it would be if I was anywhere else other than Pat O’ Brien’s, the famous origin of the Hurricane drink, located on St. Louis Street, perpendicular only by a few to Bourbon. From here, it’s easy to stumble back home to Dauphine.

It’s weird to think that only a few hours ago I was hanging out in a completely different offspring of NOLA, the Garden District. Here is where the Americans settled way back when the Creoles shunned them and built their big Southern mansions which line the streets, shielded only slightly by iron fences.

Quiet, romantic, and dignified, these old plantation homes are often raised from the ground since New Orleans holds no bedrock and simply sits on a puddle of mud. Most of them are conservative colors today of beige and white, but once featured bright tropic colors. Their vastness often remains hidden by piles of trees and shrubbery.

Strolling past homes like the former place of Anne Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire, as well as current celebrity homes of Sandra Bullock, Peyton Manning, and John Goodman, it’s easy to see how this place is a muse and celebrity hotspot. Quiet fountains in front of pink plantations, iron fences with tiny horse heads, and dotted Catholic statues, the place is understated and elegant at once. But to overlook the Lafayette Cemetery…

This above ground cemetery, one of the oldest in the city, is entirely composed of above ground tombs since the frequent rain and lack of solid ground continued to bring bodies to service until tombs enacted. After a family purchased a tomb, one body’s casket would be placed until the next member died, when the bones would be pushed to the bottom and the casket would be used again. Now, the tombs sit like buildings in a small (abandoned) city, with little streets for onlookers to walk past the mass gravesides. Most of the graves have a fair amount of wear and tear, as the first bodies placed date back to the 1800’s. Tiles are cracked, names are missing, some entire tombs have shifted in the ground.

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Look… and Listen.

“Music is everywhere, if you know where to look.”

I once read this in some book or magazine. Whoever wrote this, however, was not speaking about New Orleans, because much looking is not necessary. It doesn’t matter where you are. I don’t care if you’re strolling the Mississippi, out on Bourbon on a Friday night (or any night, really), or outside the St. Louis Cathedral in 100 degree weather. It will sing to your ears, pulling you into this direction and that, leaving you yearning for this thing called jazz, something we don’t really hear much of within our bustling in the Northeast.

The music, which sifts about, can obviously be mostly found within the French Quarter. I really didn’t know much about New Orleans before my visit, but I (most ignorantly) thought of long-stemmed roses and elegant architecture. AHA. No. Don’t get me wrong, it is no less wonderful. But wandering the streets are a little more fitted to the Knight Bus in Harry Potter, which flits noisily throughout tiny streets. The brick, age-worn cafes, shops, bars, psychic lairs, and even home are cradled upon one another like old friends. Within this little homey square you will find dive bars next to art shops, voodoo dolls next to coffeeshops.

Jackson Square is a pretty little garden that overlooks St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest active cathedral in the United States and looks like it is straight out of Disneyland. It marks the spot where the Quarter sprang and behind it lies a usually locked garden that onlookers can peer through, where a statue of Jesus sits with a missing thumb, the only part of Him damaged by Katrina.

Cruising along the streets, which like many Southern places, gets hit by a torrential downpour in the afternoon (wish I knew that the first day), it’s easy to find hidden gems hiding in nooks of NOLA. After visiting an especially lame Mardi Gras museum on the upstairs of Antoine’s, a swanky restaurant on St. Louis Street, my mother and I found ourselves on the abandoned upper decks, overlooking Bourbon as the sun went down and people began (okay, already were) flooding the streets.

And then, the animal becomes unleashed. In the summer, I find it hard to drag myself out of my cozy room, get all dressed up, then drive to some lame bar in the middle of nowhere to sit on a barstool and get drunk in the dark for six bucks a drink. Nobody in New Orleans has this problem. Before the sun is even down, people are pouring out of wherever the hell they were all day and spilling onto Bourbon. The homey bars, like the Cat’s Meow, the Famous Door, and the Funky Pirate, all have their own live music seemingly fighting for air, the music pouring out of the absent doors and walls and into the party that already exists on the street. Grandparents, 21ers, kids, hookers, moms, businessmen, artists- no one is left without a drink.

At least at Bourbon, and probably all of NOLA, maybe you don’t have to look for music because it already found you.

Steal This Blog

In the exact spot I am sitting, there are an endless amount of free resources, ones that are at your disposal as well as mine, and I’m quite sure you don’t even realize it.

As you may or may not know, this summer I have taken a liking to living out of my car. Don’t get me wrong, my home is a perfectly nice place. A perfectly nice place IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. So when I get bored (i.e. every week) I head off to wherever I am invited.

When you live out of your car, you often find yourself needing things, such as showers, gyms, food, bathrooms, beds, etc. Now what kind of magical place exists where you can get all these things FOR FREE? You may be thinking, “Well, nowhere! Everything costs money?” I’m here to tell you otherwise. As a matter of fact, it is a University that so elegantly provides all of these services.

Nor am I the first person to recognize this noble place. According to Abbie Hoffman in his 1970 how-to-get-everything-fo’-free Steal This Book, universities provide a ton of free services, and even if you’re not a student, you can get away with snagging them. Although security seems to have gotten a little bit tighter since 1970 (who knew?) don’t be afraid to use your own university (um, you pay tuition, don’t you?).

Got friends who are taking summer classes in the dorms? Ask them if you can crash and don’t be shy about it. But always be appreciative and do some favors for them; buy them dinner, clean their rooms, the works. You want a place to sleep, right?

Gotta stop and use a bathroom? Obviously there are 8 million at a university. Don’t be shy about brushing your teeth in here too.

Need a quick workout? Go to the gym and use the track, the pool, the weightroom. And it’s kind of gross, but use the shower while you’re there. Changing in the car is okay too.

And always remember…

The only reason you should ever be in college is to destroy it. -Abbie Hoffman

You Better Make a To-Do List.

As soon as July hit, I made a pact with myself- it was time to kick my studying abroad planning into first gear and stop being such a baby and actually accomplish something besides playing with the cat all day and making late night visits to Friendly’s ice cream window. Being that I was supposed to be on vacation July 22-27 and again from August 3-13 but I would be leaving for Italy the 28th, I figured this would make the sense.

(Me: “Dad, PLEASE let’s go on vacation earlier. I can’t only have two weeks and some to get ready to live in another country for four months.”

Dad: “No way. Life is hard.”) End of conversation.

Anyway, point is that I figured I would start getting ready in July. First off, I made a to-do list of all the things that I had to do (there were like thirty things. frick). and then I just very slowly yet steadily ebbing away at them until now I only have the super hard stuff left (what a surprise). Here is a condensed version of a few things that you may forget (and should definitely do) while venturing across the pond.

1. Make a list of places you want to go. It’s a little scary at first to go through the endless lists of things to do and places to see, but this is’t a concrete list. It’s just nice to get you thinking and get planning (just a little) of what you want to do. All childhood dreams are welcomed. Example: I have always wanted to go to Transylvania. No one I know has ever been there and I don’t even know of any cool sites. But I want to go there. So it made the list. After naming a few other general sites and cities, I felt a little more settled in my own adventure. This also makes it easier for step two (see below).

2. Call the damn bank. I WANTED to go in and speak to them myself about the places I would be visiting (kind of like what grandparents do) but apparently Bank of America doesn’t do that, although Wells Fargo does. Whatevs. I called the bank and told them the countries and dates I would be visiting. WRITE THIS DOWN. Because if you end up going to a country you didn’t name (which you probably will) you’ll be up the creek without a paddle once the ATM takes your card because it thinks you’re a thief. When you call, they’ll also give you an international number and a collect call number for once you’re away in case you run into problems. This is a beautiful thing.

3. Buy a guidebook. I love Amazon– I live 30 minutes from civilization and buying online is almost always cheaper, plus you can sell it back later. Utilize the “look inside this book” feature to make sure the book is what you thought it would be- are the maps comprehensive? Does it cover the countries and cities you want to hit? Is there detailed information about the sites (so you can give tours to yourself)? Are there nifty traveling tips that aren’t common sense? Getting the book early will also give you something to do when you get bored on the plane (i.e. read). Highlight and make some notes of the must-see sights.

4. Make copies of all your stuff. Your plane tickets. Credit cards. Student IDs. License. Passport. EVERYTHING. Make two copies- one to leave at home with fam or friends and another to keep with you in case something gets stolen.

5. Buy a money belt. They look super lame (like a small fanny pack) and they hide under your clothes where you can keep some money and your passport in case you get pickpocketed. They also have ones that are like a cross body bag (but als0 go under your clothes). Cheap and worth it.

6. Get some ear plugs. You’ll be glad you did once you’re on that 12 hour bus ride.

7. Exchange your money at the bank. Don’t you dare count on those exchange stations unless you HAVE TO. You’ll get the best rates at your own bank and you’re better off arriving with cash, since many European destinations aren’t huge on debit and credit cards.

8. Get an iPod converter. I love my Mac and my iPhone dearly, plus they’re the only things I own of value. So I’ll be damned if I waited this long to get this stuff (thanks Dad!) and then it blew out when I got there. Do yourself a favor and get the real Apple converters. Apple makes a World Travel Kit with all the adapters for all the continents, but it’s $40 and you don’t need them all. Just get what you need on eBay and save some dollars.

9. Send out a mass text and gather everyone’s addresses. Write them down or put them in your phone so you can send out postcards (way better than receiving or having to carry a magnet all day).

10. Credit card. Boom. If you’re like me, no one will give you a credit card. And even if they do (God bless) the limit is probably like $300. Get a co-signed one with your parents if you’re a young’n so if you need an emergency plan ticket or something, you can buy it and pay them back later (like over five years throughout the course of your life). You’ll be glad you did when you don’t have to spend Christmas in an airport because your flight got delayed.

There. That’s it. I think I have carpal tunnel now. THANKS. Anyway, please comment if you have any questions or suggestions to add to this list!

…Bye?

There has rarely been a summer where, at this point in time, I didn’t feel the same as I do now. Midway through, I’m a little bored and antsy, I’m sick of working and being cooped up in my house and I am ready to move on out and go back to the water and go to class and live with my best friends. I go on Facebook and talk to my friends and I know that I’m not alone in this– most feel the same and are ready to go back to the place that we now consider home, even if it is in a dorm room. Only this time, I won’t be returning.

On August 28, instead of heading back to the Jersey Shore, I’ll be getting on a plane to Italy with a bunch of people I don’t know, only a few of which I have ever spoken with, and I will be living with them for the next four months. I will be on another continent with not one person I really know, and I can count the ones on one hand that can speak English. I will not see my best friends, my mother, my father, my cat. Even a simple phone call will be a project.

From this perspective, I couldn’t be more nervous. It makes me so scared sometimes that I have trouble making the preparations, trouble talking about it, trouble leaving my house.

On another hand, it makes me kind of sad. I know that I planned this. I know that I made the arrangements. I have high hopes for what I will find, and hope that it is what I am looking for. But even still, I am jealous of those who will be returning to my home the first week of September, who will jump in the ocean in their clothes late at night, who will stumble into class the next morning, who will drink cheap beers at happy hour at Jack’s and will sit in their rented king beds and do homework with their own best friends. It saddens me that even upon my return, I will only share a short four months more of this life before college will throw me out of its nest and shove me into the real world (because, as God knows, I won’t go willingly).

However, there is one more perspective that exists here. When I get really bored (as I am most days here) I think of what I could be doing in Florence right now, at this moment. I think of how newfound friends will invite me for a walk alongside the river, how we will order beautiful meals in Italian, how we will explore the Tuscan countryside on a whim. I think of the cheap planes we will take, of the dreamlike Amalfi Coast, of Oktoberfest, Sicily, Naples, Rome, of my already planned trip to visit my family in Bergen, Norway. I like to consider the prospect of feeling alive again and feeling like I am doing something important, instead of rotting away in the same room I slept in when I was fourteen years old and had braces.

When I signed up for this, I was scared then, too. But when I get an idea in my head, it doesn’t just fade away. I have to finish what I started. I have to do it all.

All it takes is twenty seconds of courage, and good will come. 

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Soon, there will be pictures of me on these pages, instead of photos of Italy I find on the Internet.