Archive for the ‘The Spirit of December’ Category

2010: The Best Year Of My Life!

In The Spirit of December on January 2, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Well here it is: The beginning of 2011 and the end of 2010. Normally I am not a fan of putting years in perspective or trying to make a memory reel out of them, but it’s been a rather incredible year and so I feel like it merits some sort of conclusion, particularly considering I lived in a different continent for half of it. Lord willing my computer won’t decide that it yet again randomly hates me and decides to shut off and forget to remember everything that I have saved, so here’s to hoping technology won’t let me down.

I recall someone saying while I was in France that they year 2006 had been the best year of their life. I can’t remember why this person said so, but they very distinctly remembered 2006 being an excellent year. Interestingly enough I too recall 2006 being an excellent year for many of the same reasons that 2010 has probably been the best year of my life. In 2006 I graduated from high school, played Bach’s E-Major violin concerto with my orchestra of which I was concertmaster and began attending Hillsdale College, which would ultimately shape me into the person that I am today. I met great people many of whom I am still friends with today. 2010 had some similarities both musically and educationally to 2006. Allow me to start at the beginning of 2010 because it was also similar to the end of 2010.

I remember at the end of 2009 I celebrated New Year’s Eve, which apparently is now being shortened to NYE, with my great friends Ariel, Ben, and Brandon. We met up in Ann Arbor for a great Italian dinner and then went to the Blue Tractor for a Muddy Martini before heading back to my house to watch the ball drop, watch Monsters Inc. and crash on the couch. New Year’s Day started with a great big breakfast and anticipation and nerves for our last semesters of college. It’s amazing looking back on that moment to where we are now. All of us have graduated and started new phases of our lives in vastly different ways. Ariel started working at a school in Houston, Texas and is dating one of my best friends, Ben is also dating some one new and living in Argentina for a year doing Bible classes after he had anticipated joining the Marines, and Brandon is working in Minneapolis for a Conservative Think-Tank and engaged to a wonderful girl in anticipation of being married this coming summer.

With me, on the other hand, things have kind of gone as I have anticipated them to a certain degree. With my music degree finished in terms of class work my last semester I took three foreign language literature courses towards fulfilling my French major and German minor, which meant constantly reading in other languages and when I wasn’t doing that I was very occupied in preparing for my senior recital. I had begun preparation for my senior recital starting half way through my junior year when I decided to play a junior recital to help give me a taste of what the Senior would be like. I remember Sunday, March 14 2010 very clearly. I remember thinking about my older sister Sarah’s senior recital that I had attending many years earlier and felt like I know knew what she had gone through in preparing for the culmination of her musical career.

In comparison to some of the other recitals at Hillsdale I always felt like my recital wasn’t really about me but about my friends and family that had helped me get to that point. The programming was very specific and each piece reflected a different piece of my personality and the people who have been most important to me during my four years at Hillsdale.  All in all the recital was almost 2 hours long full of music that I had completely memorized that ranged from a Mozart sonata that I played my freshman year at Hillsdale to a Jewish show piece by Ernest Bloch to reflect my own Jewish heritage. At the end I sang a quartet with my wonderful friends Ben Parker, Elizabeth Henderson, and Monica Way who had arranged the quartet version of The Parting Glass for us to sing on my recital. The truly incredible part to me, however, was how many people came to see the recital. I had been looking forward to it for so long because I wanted many people to see it and I was so blessed and honored by the almost 200 people that showed up.

Seeing the shocked looks on my music professors faces as people were pulling in as many chairs and extra couches just to have seats is something that will always stay with me but not as much as looking out into the audience once I was on the floor of McNamara Rehearsal Hall and seeing the smiling faces of all the people throughout the years who had supported me and continue to do so even to today. Even more than my 6 months in Europe, I can truly say that my senior recital was the highlight of 2010 because of how intimate and personal the whole experience was. Even after seeing the Berlin Wall, the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, the London Bridge, and many other incredible sights in Europe, those things pale in comparison to seeing the smiling faces of Mrs. Thomas and Cynthia, Priscilla and Sarah K, Julie, Heather, and Lizzy, Brandon and his parents, my nieces and my Savta and so many others sitting in the audience all in support and testimony to our friendships.

It wasn’t so much about the music to them and it wasn’t about the music to me, it was about what the music symbolized for us. It was a means by which we all took joy in each other as Christians and as loved ones. Each piece was picked because I wanted my audience to be able to enjoy very easily each of the pieces I was playing and be able to think about whatever it was that brought them to hear it. I simply wanted to be an instrument that would enable each of these people to enjoy being with one another and find value in the time that they spent and sacrificed to come listen to me play.

Of course I wanted to play well and that being the case I was probably practicing about 5 hours a day leading up to the recital and had it not been for my little blue pill and God’s never ending grace it wouldn’t have happened the way it did. I’ll never forget the sound of people cheering for me when I first got out there and walked down the aisle down to the stage and began playing. Under normal circumstances I would have been so nervous, but because I had this little pill that calmed my heart rate down I could settle in to the pieces I had learned and play them just as I had practiced and without fear of each and every little jump or shift.

The reception afterwards I also remember very dearly not only because of the amazing work that Vivian Jago had done in preparation, but also because it was most notably one of the last experiences I ever had with Ben Parker’s brother Daniel. Every time I look at pictures of my recital I always come across the pictures I have with almost the entire Parker family and seeing Daniel there with me always stuns me. His presence there truly adds to the incredible memory of the evening and my memory of him. After my recital, looking back on it the month of May was truly mind-boggling. After a very late Spring Break that corresponded with Easter we came back to Hillsdale to three weeks of classes and concert after concert and recital after recital and exam after exam and party after party. It was for this reason that I had intentionally scheduled my senior recital for before Spring Break so I wouldn’t have to be worrying about all of these things in addition to my recital. In retrospect, that was probably one of the best decisions I have made.

The Spring semester of 2010 appropriately ended on my birthday. After the year before where Commencement was 2 days after my 21st birthday and I had had over 200 people at my house for an amazing birthday celebration, I had been looking forward to simply celebrating a quiet birthday and more importantly celebrating the graduation of my over 300 classmates, most of whom I had come to know during my time at Hillsdale. Similarly I was looking forward to walking with them at Commencement, as they were all my 2010 classmates. However, due to the circumstances that led to the necessity of my time in Europe I was not allowed the privilege of walking at Commencement in 2010. Although I pushed and pursued and petitioned to walk on my 22nd birthday, the administration wouldn’t budge I was forced to simply idly watch as many of my closest friends shook hands with the Provost and President of Hillsdale College in recognition of their work and well earned degrees at Hillsdale College that began August 17, 2006 and ended for most May 8, 2010.

I am eternally grateful, however to Abby Ashmore Thistleton for her words of encouragement to me as she walked up to receive her diploma. As the president of our class and a friend, I appreciated that she as well as many other close friends had all agreed, if necessary to sign a petition to allow me to walk with my classmates. It was a difficult moment to watch all of my housemates, the men I wish to be my groomsmen one day, and so many of my sisters move on to the next phase of their lives knowing that I wasn’t moving on with them. Yet Abby’s few words to me in that moment made it that much easier for me to bear and helped me to be able to truly be joyful for my friends in their great moment of educational glory with the professors that taught us so well to use our minds and no longer be deceived by the lies of the world.

Although my parents had come up the night before for my last orchestra concert at Hillsdale where three very important women in my life sang and played absolutely beautifully, they did not stay for the ceremony but rather took me out to breakfast and then wished me well for the rest of the day and the celebration that was about to occur. I will admit this saddened me out of respect for my housemates. My last two years at Hillsdale were spent living with great men at our house that we called The Donnybrook. Fortunately on that day we were able to get a picture with most of us in it that I will forever hold as one of my most fond memories of my time at Hillsdale. It was the culmination in many respects for all of us because all of our families were there and we had a place where we could host them all with great food and welcome them into our house to meet and speak with the men that had become men while living with each other and learned many important life lessons together. I only wish that my parents could have been there to help me celebrate that occasion. As it was, Elyse’s family filled in quite nicely as my surrogate family for the day in celebrating with all of us the many accomplishments of the Men of The Donnybrook.

But the excitement didn’t end on that day. In fact the following week would bring much more excitement than I think any of us had anticipated. The week following graduation I had been invited to three weddings, one on Monday, another on Tuesday, and the last on Saturday May 15th. Hannah and Jason had a beautiful wedding at Countryside where Pastor Lillie married them and Peggy Evans helped coordinate a beautiful wedding reception at the church. The following day God was at work in the lives of Eric and Wendy up about an hour and a half from Hillsdale at a beautiful inn where Wendy’s father married the two in front of many close family and friends. God also worked amazingly that day as I had forgotten the music for Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, the piece that Wendy had specifically requested to walk down the aisle to. As I was the coordinator and 1st violin in the quartet that had been put together, I was the one responsible to get the music and I had totally forgotten to grab a hymnal and make 4 copies of the music for the quartet to play. With an hour before the wedding, and obviously not informing the groom or the bride of the small mistake that had occurred, I ran out desperately hoping to find a church in the area that would not only be open, but would have a hymnal with the hymn as well as someone who would enable me to be able to make copies for the quartet. Only later in that week would I be praying harder than I did at that moment and God pulled through in an incredible way for only a mile down the road did I find a church where this woman, truly an angel really, saw me pull up right as she was about to pull out asked me what I needed and not only opened up the church for me but also found the music for me and had keys to the office and made the copies for me at no charge and simply God’s blessing for the quartet and Eric and Wendy on their wedding day.

After the wedding I went home and prepared for a quick three-day trip up north with Gwen Tuma, Eric Anderson, and his lovely girlfriend Catherine Korell. We had an incredible mini weekend together eating great food, not spending a lot of money, tasting great beer, walking around Traverse City and doing wine tastings all before coming home on Friday May 14th. At the time I had largely been anticipating James and Sarah’s wedding the following day but the day took a twist no one expected.

I remember very clearly the whole day, in fact even more so than the day of my senior recital. After we drove home and my car almost got trashed by an idiot on the highway who kept hitting cones and knocking them under my car taking out the protective cover under the passenger side front tire, I dropped off my three friends and headed over to the Treehouse where Ben and Kate Olson were hanging out watching Lost. That weekend was also the weekend of the Jonesville Riverfest and Cameron Blaauw and Daniel Parker were going to be trying to claim yet again the crown of champions in the Triathlon in which one person would run (Cameron) the other bike (Daniel) and then together canoe to the end of the race. As Elyse was dating Cameron she wanted to go watch him run and therefore I went with her and told Ben I would see him there as he was going to come a little later to see Daniel and Cameron finish the race. I got into Elyse’s blue Taurus (Tuna) and we drove out to the track and ended up seeing Cameron as we pulled onto the road of the track. We ended up following him in and parking the car to wish him congratulations as he finished first, far ahead of anyone else in the race.

I had noticed as we were looking for a parking spot that there were ambulances at the check point, but there had also been a police escort for the racers and so it only made sense in my mind that the ambulances with lights on were there to symbolize the end of the 1st task and act as a check point. As Elyse and I got out of the car however we realized that the scene was not as it seemed. Someone had been hurt and people were wandering around looking for someone who knew the person who had been hurt. Wanting to wish Cameron congratulations we hardly even knew what was going on until Cameron showed up running frantically saying that it had been Daniel who was the one who had been hurt and that he needed to call Mrs. Parker to come to the scene as quickly as possible. I immediately pulled out my phone and called Mrs. Parker and within minutes she had arrived. About fifteen minutes after our arrival the ambulances took off with Daniel and rushed him to Hillsdale Hospital. Mrs. Parker had been babysitting some of kids of one of the families at church when she arrived and being in the worried state that she was asked me to drive the van to the hospital. Elyse took her car back to Hillsdale to try and find Ben because I was having trouble reaching him on my cell phone. During the drive Mrs. Parker was trying to find someone who could take the kids so they wouldn’t have to continue to worry as well as provide her a little more time to simply gain a sense of what was going on. As God’s grace would have it right in the middle of down town Hillsdale just two minutes from the hospital we saw someone from church and immediately we stopped the van and she took the kids. At the same time Ben showed up in my car and we swapped so he could drive his mom to the hospital and I followed behind them. After about 15 minutes at the hospital the doctor informed us that Daniel was being airlifted to Ann Arbor.

At the time we didn’t know what was going on but from what we knew of the accident we thought Daniel was going to be ok. The family went up to Ann Arbor to make sure everything was going to be ok and fill out paper work and I returned home. Cameron came over that evening to watch a movie and spend the night and at about 10:30 we got a text from Ben saying that the accident was more serious than they had originally thought and Cameron and I began praying for Daniel and the family. It was late and after praying and talking for a while Cameron and I fell asleep. It was at about 2am I recall that we got the text that he had brain damage and it was looking like he would most likely be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. At this point Cameron and I prayed for an additional two hours and talked about the amazing person that Daniel was.

Cameron had eaten lunch with Daniel that day and looking back it brings a smile to my face knowing that Cameron said Daniel’s last meal was a chimichanga from El Cerrito in Hillsdale. But more than that, I saw Cameron incredibly impacted by what was going on. Elyse had lost her dad that fall and so she was prepared to help Cameron to cope with whatever the result turned out to be. In the morning we decided that we were going to drive up, Elyse, Cameron, and I, to Ann Arbor to be at the hospital with the family. I brought dress clothes with me at the time not knowing what was going to happen. At the time no one had anticipated that the doctors would tell us he wouldn’t make it and after receiving that sort of news there was no way I was going to be able to in good conscience go to the wedding so I sent a text to James Wegmann and informed him to send my regards but not say anything to James or Sarah as to what had happened.

We stayed at the hospital until very late and knowing that I would be back in the morning I realized that it was more efficient to spend the night at home rather than drive all the way back to Hillsdale. I’ll never forget the support and time that Anne Morath gave to the Parker family during that time. She was there every single second doing everything she could for the family for about a week. It was on Sunday May 16, 2010 only a week after Ben graduated and three weddings had occurred that Daniel passed away. I returned back to Hillsdale in order to support Ben whenever he might call I wanted to be ready to be there for him. I knew that the family would need some things and so I went to the store and not only bought lunch for the family but also remembering from Elyse’s dad, I brought over toilet paper and paper towels so the family wouldn’t have to worry about that while dealing with everything.

The Parker’s asked me to play for Daniel’s service and I willingly obliged and gratefully played remembering all of the times that Daniel and I had sung together for the worship team with Brandon, Rob, Pilgrim, and Jeff. After Ben flew out to California at the beginning of the year fro Emily Johnston’s Dad’s funeral, she in turn flew out for Daniel’s and I was very glad that she did because as much as I wanted to support Ben, I wanted more than that simply for Ben to be supported as best as possible and I knew Emily could do that for him and was therefore glad and praised God when she arrived. During the service, Ben got up to speak and I will never forget him standing up on the podium at church. Standing before hundreds of people offering a testimony to his brother’s life but more importantly to the sovereignty of God, I saw no longer my quirky blond haired best friend who liked to spend more time on his iPod touch than giving people attention while they are talking, but a transformed Christian man who had taken on very quickly the role of being a man and putting childish things behind him.

The following weeks would be spent in adjustment for many of us. Yet, many positive things occurred that I know the Parker family can tell you more of, but particularly for me my attitude and perspective towards Countryside and the members there changed drastically. I recall writing Pastor Lillie afterwards and informing him that it was during the times at the hospital and the preparation for the service that I finally felt like I had become part of the family at Countryside. I felt like I finally had a covenantal church family that I could identify with and belong to, and for which I am still very grateful and anticipate spending more time with when I return in a couple weeks.

But time continued to pass nonetheless. Once June hit I had left Hillsdale along with almost everyone else who had been there and realized I had to move on from Hillsdale and begin mentally preparing myself for 6 months in Europe. Looking back it’s really amazing to think that those 6 months have already passed. As I have stated previously the entire time felt so much like a dream. In many respects I wish I could go back and actually live there for an extended period of time. As much as it became life and the feeling of immigration had occurred, looking back even though it’s only been two weeks it almost felt like camp and hence the feeling of a dream.

I am not going to relive every detail of the six months simply because my blog has already served that purpose. I left June 30th in the morning out of Detroit with no idea what was in store for me but with all of my senses heightened in anticipation for a new world of which I would know almost nothing. July was spent in an intensive course learning as much German as I could and by the end of the month of August where I had traveled to different parts of Germany and spent a week in Austria, I felt like not only did I want to spend more time in Germany and Austria, but that I had truly fallen in love with Germany and the people there. I am sure I am not the only one who can say that there is truly something incredibly wonderful about summer time experiences. There is simply a large distinction that I think almost everyone can identify with between time spent in the winter together and time spent in the summer. It can be described in so many ways but for me, it is always means joy and peace and contentment. Even once I had arrived in France the month of September when I met Claire and Nicolas and became friends with the English students from Birmingham, the weather was still incredible and we had so many fun evenings out together simply enjoying one another’s company knowing that the smiles on our faces came from good friendship and good weather.

The trimester by comparison offered a very different environment to the first three months I had spent in Europe. Where the sun and warmth had created marvelous experiences and fantastic friendships, the fall brought change as it always does and a new environment that would only become dear as I left it. My friendships with Claire and Nicolas grew and I wish both of them the absolute best as they both now enter into their own experiences at University, for Claire in Vermont and Nicolas in Bogotá, Colombia.

I could talk about the evenings spent at La Cabanne in Tours, the trip to London where I saw my dear friend Sarah Hall for the first time in 6 years, the weekend in Rome with Nicolas, going to the club until 6am with 5 guys from Aachen, Germany, the conversations with Ana and Hector, learning Spanish because I never spoke English because the group I spent time with was almost entirely Spanish speaking, and great food consistently throughout the entire thing, but those things are only the details. In many respects I feel like I need another 6 months to truly be able to address the impact of leaving America for 6 months. I know just from being back for two weeks that I am simply a little bitter to be back and therefore can’t speak objectively about how it’s impacted me. It’s simply too deep within the emotional spectrum and not enough within the contemplative to actually say anything critical and fruitful about it. I see that now having just recapped my last semester at college. It will simply require time to be able to do the same about Europe.

So there’s 2010. So many people have truly made the experiences that I have had memorable and as I write cause me to reflect back in gratitude for what they have taught me and how they have helped me to become the man that I am today. It really has been an incredible year and I can fairly say that amidst the plethora of emotions and experiences that I have had, it has been the greatest year of my life. Full of highs and lows the best part has been the fact that I can say with full assurance that God has lead me through it all. It is His grace and love that have brought me here and will continue to lead me. Amidst my failures, successes, worries, and victories, it is all nothing and utter vanity if it is not done for Christ.

I would say the greatest lesson I have learned this year I have learned from Daniel Parker. He was the first one to encourage me to read the book Living In The Light Of Eternity by K.P. Yohanan and that book’s message has never left me through my entire experience in Europe and even now looking back and seeking to identify where some of my insecurities come from. Where my life perspective has truly changed is in knowing that the difference between us as Christians and the rest of the world that desperately needs Christ, is that we live each day working towards a higher purpose. Not a higher purpose in that it makes man out to be something almost mythical in his capacity to create and build, but a purpose that places God and His Will as the ultimate authority by which we lead and live our lives. Each of our actions has an eternal consequence. We can choose to live for an eternity of hell by following our own desires and living our lives under the misconception of “only got one life to live” or we can choose to fix our eyes on Jesus and His Kingdom and His Glory for His Name sake, that we might hear the greatest words ever spoken, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”


I’m Back!

In The Spirit of December on December 26, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Dear readers, I am back! I had actually written a huge lengthy beautiful, poetic response to my first four days back in America on Christmas Eve and of course my computer decided, even after I had saved it, that it would just shut off momentarily and come back on and not remember anything that I had done and therefore deleted everything. Needless to say I was too frustrated to go back and rewrite it all and therefore have been avoiding the computer for the past couple days. Although being busy has made that a lot easier. But here I am, once again, and I going to try and give a brief update as to my final days in Germany and Europe. If I recall correctly the last update left us up through seeing awesome German Christmas markets, drinking Gluewein, and seeing an amazing performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Franziscanerkirche in Wurzburg.

The following day was my official last day in Europe and I thought perhaps something epic was in order. I posed the question on Facebook as to what I should do and among the numerous responses I got back the one I had actually considered even independently from Facebook had been streaking. I thought, “Why not go run around naked on the streets of Germany in the snow before I leave? What’s the worst that could happen?” Well, I am here to inform you, I didn’t do it. I chickened out. Not only because it was really cold but also because I got the feeling Philip and Barbara might not let me back into the apartment.

Philip and Barbara were so generous to me and I would like to publicly thank them for the generous hospitality in allowing me to stay with them for my last three days in Europe. I had an absolute blast and my last few days in Europe would have been probably spent alone in a hotel without them, so thank you so much for having me. It was wonderful to see you both and I hope your holidays with family are well spent.

They fed me and put up with me, and even allowed me to practice my violin in their apartment on my last day in Europe. So for my last day we had a big German breakfast and then Barbara had some work to do but I wanted to take them both out for dinner as a thank you. So Philip spent the afternoon reading and wrapping presents and I listened to a sermon and practiced my violin and intermittently we would talk about numerous different things. We went and had a very nice dinner at one of the student restaurants in town so the food was quite reasonably priced. I ordered Schinkennuedeln and then, of course, had Apfel Struedel for dessert because I couldn’t leave Germany without having one more piece of Apfel Struedel. Please, I have standards.

Afterwards we came back to the apartment and had a drink and watched Tat Ort one of the most famous German TV shows about detectives trying to figure out “who dun it.” It was a really interesting show and I can imagine if I lived in Germany that I would probably watch it regularly to help my German comprehension. That was the other nice thing about being back in Germany. Although it was only three days, I found myself being able to understand and function again back in Germany which honestly surprised me. Of course my French is now stronger than my German, but I would love to go back to Europe again to continue studying both languages. I think it would be weird to go back now, though. After being gone a week and only speaking in English for a week, it’s amazing how difficult it can be to retain a language when you aren’t using it every day. Although I am still waking up thinking in French, so that’s a good sign.

The following day I got on the ICE for Frankfurt and picked up my bags and headed towards the airport to try and get myself situated. I arrived at the airport a little over three hours in advance and it’s a good thing I did because I had no idea that there had been so many delays that were causing people to have to wait in lines and recheck their baggage from flights the previous day. Fortunately there was a really nice Greek man I met who teaches in Australia and we talked for about 45 minutes as we were standing in line which made the time pass by very quickly. Another fortunate occurrence because of the delays was that the airline didn’t charge me what would have probably been a 100-euro charge for the extra 15 kilograms that my suitcase weighed. This enabled me to very quickly and happily get through and get to my gate without almost any problems.

When I tried to get to my gate I had to pass through customs again and the guy at the gate was giving me a hard time because I came into Germany July 1 and was leaving Germany December 20. I didn’t consider this to be a problem because I had spent four months in France and knew that I was not over the limit for being in the country illegally. So he starts talking to me in German and I am doing my best to understand but the fact was that he was using a set of vocabulary that I had never heard before and he didn’t speak any English. Why they put someone at the International passports section that doesn’t speak any English, I have no idea. I assured him that I had been in France for the past 4 months and had the visa to prove it. However, this was not a satisfactory response for him because although this had been the reality of the situation, I was never actually stamped for being in France. The bureau never gave me a stamp for France even though I flew in and out of France twice during my time there. I could understand the guy’s frustration but the fact that I couldn’t really understand him wasn’t helping the situation either. Fortunately he let me pass, which was very generous and after that I had no problems whatsoever.

The flight was about 8 ½ hours and they just added Internet, which I didn’t discover until 45 minutes until we landed, otherwise I probably would have updated my blog then. I arrived and was very glad to hear the words, “Welcome home” from the Customs officer when I arrived. I think the best part of being back was just knowing that all I had to do was say the words, “Student” or “Education” and they let me pass without thinking twice. My parents came and picked me up and welcomed me home with a nice lasagna dinner and after trying to stay awake as long as possible, I finally crashed at about 10:30pm which was 4:30am my time.

The day was stressful as all traveling days are, but this long time traveler is not done quite yet with this blog simply because he is back in America and his European escapade is over. There are still some travels to be had and experiences to relate in relation to this blog and my experiences in Europe and I hope to continue using it for other purposes as well so if you will stay faithful to me, I will do my best to continue writing faithfully as well. Next time I’ll be sure to talk about the frustrations of reverse culture shock in conjunction with the holidays. Thanks for reading. That’s all for now. Ciao!


Letzte Urlaub im Deutschland!!!

In The Spirit of December on December 18, 2010 at 11:36 PM

After taking the train from Karlsruhe to Frankfurt I seemed to have multiple frustrations but fortunately resolutions to all of them. When I was last writing I had dumped my 75-pound suitcase in what I didn’t know was 1st class. After the conductor came by and told me to “go on and git” to 2nd class I decided rather than lug the giant thing with me I would simply leave it there and get it back when I got to Frankfurt when they announced that we would be arriving in a few minutes. What I didn’t realize was when this time occurred everyone in the train cars who were also getting off at Frankfurt would be standing in the narrow hallway with all of their bags preventing me from getting to my suitcase. Well, what choice did I have right? I had to get my suitcase. So after explaining my situation to the 5 closest Germans that I would be climbing over I slowly trekked my way through and managed to make it through the hallway, through the dining car, and into 1st class just in time before the train left.

Once in Frankfurt I was welcomed by the delicious smells of Ditsch and Bretzels and everything else that is good and wonderful about Germany. I immediately sought out a place where I could store my suitcases and after information told me where I could find them I made my way over to platform 23 and the large storage lockers they provide for passengers. The little suitcase was not a problem, that I could simply throw in a medium-size locker without difficulty, it was the 75-pound suitcase that was going to cause me grief as usual. Only to make things worse, the suitcase gave me the impression that it was going to fit. At first I wasn’t sure and then I tried sliding it in and it fit perfectly. My heart leaped with excitement knowing that I could leave this lug of a log in Frankfurt for three days and not have to drag it with me to Wurzburg. Yet the problem arrived as I tried closing the door to the locker. It simply wouldn’t close. No matter what I tried to do, I couldn’t make it actually fit in the locker.

There I am on the opposite side of platform 23 in front of a huge row of lockers shoving with all of my energy trying to get this suitcase to fit. I am praying asking, “Lord, please offer me a solution.” Indeed the Lord did provide me a solution but that was not before I tried turning the suitcase upside down on both of it’s sides inside and out and finally asking information and paying 26 euro that the solution finally came. However, a solution is better than no solution and considering how I got to Wurzburg I am indeed very grateful that I didn’t have my suitcases with me and I could simply travel with just my backpack and my violin.

I bought my tickets for Wurzburg for that evening and then a return ticket for Monday morning so I could come back to the station to get my bags and then off to the airport in order to make my flight home. What I didn’t realize was that every single train coming into Frankfurt at that time was delayed ranging anywhere from 10 to 120 minutes. People were going mad trying to find a solution on how to get to their homes and other necessary places of business. I personally was so relieved even having been on a train already for 8 hours simply to have a spot on a train and be able to get to Wurzburg. But this was not the biggest thing I was grateful for. As soon as I sat down on the train I immediately recognized something unmistakable that I hadn’t seen in four months. The woman sitting down across from me set up her small suitcase next to her but as the large handle coming from it accidentally toppled over onto her neighbor she said “Entshuldigung” and her neighbor responded, “Kein Problem.” What might simply look like your run of the mill “Excuse Me” and “It’s quite alright” was in my mind something much more than that. They were gestures of consideration one for another. They were signs of kindness and not that of suffering and having to put up with the other person’s existence. In other words, it wasn’t French, it was German and it was friendly. I immediately recognized it and a huge smile spilled across my face and I laughed out loud much to the shock of the woman sitting across from me.

Mind you I hadn’t spoken German in four months, but I felt compelled to give it my best effort and so I summed up my courage and told her, “I have to tell you, I just spent four months in France and the Germans are so much more friendly than the French.” She smiled rather shocked that I was very clearly a foreigner who could speak German and then responded very kindly, “And how is that?” We ended up talking for about twenty minutes and then when the loudspeaker announced that another train would be coming that could get us to Wurzburg faster she helped me with my luggage and find a spot on the next train. We ended up talking for over an hour and then she wished me “alles gute” for the future and we said goodbye. Never did I have an experience like that in Germany and not even 3 hours after my arrival in Germany had I already encountered multiple people that were friendly and willing to help me all with a smile on their face.

The difference is stunning and shocking really. I felt a little bad today bad mouthing France, but the fact of the matter is, I was really settling. In so many respects I feel like I just got out of a bad relationship and my eyes have finally been opened to life outside of the perspective of the relationship. It was amazing really. Don’t get me wrong, I loved aspects of my time in France. But as a whole, the people that I encountered on a daily basis were horrible! They were mean and simply inconsiderate at all times. They brush up against you, they don’t apologize, they look at you with an evil eye and they are so preoccupied with themselves that they can’t help but stare at you and judge you as you walk by. I never experience that here in Germany.

Upon my arrival at Philipp and Barbara’s Philipp greeted me and welcomed me with a warm bed, a big bottle of water and a nice towel for a hot shower. We went out and had a beer and I tasted my first Hefeweise in four months and was thrilled to be back in Germany! We came back and I got a good night sleep and had a hot shower before seeing Barbara and having a great breakfast of lochs, salmon caviar, broetchen, and tea and coffee. Philipp and Barbara then invited me to go with them to Sommerhausen to see the Weihnachtsmarkt that is supposedly one of the most beautiful in Bavaria. Well indeed it was beautiful and we had a lovely day and I had gluwein and roasted chestnuts and almonds while we walked around this beautiful little German village where you could actually walk inside the houses to see everything that was being sold, much of which included artwork. Although we didn’t buy anything, there were a lot of different funny and interesting things to see and we had a really nice afternoon together.

I came back and rested for a few minutes and then got back on my feet because I was spending the evening hanging out with Marci, Heiko, and Flo. Well what I didn’t know was that Heiko and Flo had a birthday party to go to and so they weren’t going to be joining Marci and I for “the surprise.” Although I was a little saddened by this, I was simply grateful that they came out to see me and wish me well and offer a formal goodbye, which means a lot to me. What came next was simply awesome! Marci told me that the surprise was tickets to go see Handel’s Messiah!!!!! Considering I have been doing nothing but listening to Handel’s Messiah for the past two weeks I was stoked beyond logical belief and comprehension.

We walked to the Franziskanerkirche and picked up our tickets and sat down to an absolutely beautiful rendition of Handel’s Messiah. Although they didn’t do all of the movements, can’t say I blame them, they did the major ones and with the exception of the tenor the other three soloists were stunning. The alto soloist had a beautiful clear tone that came through above the orchestra, the bass’s strong vibrato and yet rich tone came through as well and the soprano sang the most beautiful version of “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” that I have ever heard. At the concert Marci and I met up with some of her friends from her choir that she is singing in who also wanted to see the concert and afterwards we all went out for a drink. At this point as like the rest of the day I had been avoiding talking and just trying to get by listening and trying to remember my German considering I had spent the last four months only speaking in French. Well that was no longer going to be the case as I started speaking and hoping for the best in my attempts to pick up the pieces of my German. It turned out better than I expected and a lot of things came back that I hadn’t expected which is proof that they never left in the first place.

We went to a bar and fortunately they were still serving food and so I very gratefully ordered a plate of Kaesespaetzle and a salad and starting chowing down. Have I mentioned how much I missed German noodles and cabbage. It is so delicious. I challenge anyone to not love German cuisine because it is amazing. Of course earlier in the evening I also had a Fraenkenwurst to fulfill the obligatory Christmas market sausage so all things edible here in Germany are in good order and couldn’t make this Long time traveler any happier. We had a really nice time and then I managed to find my way back from the Wurzburg Residenz back to Philipp and Barbara’s place. Germany had treated me so well and I have met such wonderful people even in the past couple days who have been generous and interested in me and willing to be patient with me in my attempts to speak German with them and encouraging me to keep trying. I have to say I do really prefer Germany to France. As nice as France was in many aspects, the fact still remains it’s the people that make the country and although the German’s give off a sometimes-tough impression they are willing to make an effort with people. Tomorrow will be last full day in Europe. It’s really scary to think about actually. We’ll see what happens. I’m sure I will have more to report then but for right now I don’t want to dwell on it too much. I’ll be seeing you all my dear faithful readers very soon. That’s all for now. Ciao!

Last Day in France! Quel Dommage…

In The Spirit of December on December 18, 2010 at 10:46 PM

Au revoir, France! After a stay of over 100 days this morning I left the Meunier house for the train station and the beginnings of my voyage home. Unlike most of the other students from the Institute who are going home for the holidays after classes, my trip is taking a small delay in Germany for three days before I fly home on Monday. Honestly I am glad for the return because it will be a great opportunity to have to think in German again before coming home and after spending almost four months focusing only on French it will be good to get a fresh take of Germany again before I come home.

Leaving this morning was particularly difficult though for more reasons than one. Packing yesterday was probably the most difficult thing I have done in a long time considering I feel like I have moved to a new country and brought all my stuff with me from America and now I am taking back with me all of my new acquisitions from across Europe and trying to keep them all together in one suitcase, a traveling bag, and my backpack. Naturally the first solution was to roll all of my shirts up in an effort to maximize space. Fortunately this worked and it enabled me to proceed without further difficulty in the packing of everything else I bought. I had a plan for how I wanted to pack, I just wasn’t sure if it was going to work. I had tried to limit my purchases for people to very small things so that I could fit all of my souvenirs in the small bag that I brought with me back in July. Generally, I succeeded in this effort. However a couple of the bigger ones posed a problem and therefore had to go into the big suitcase with everything else. However, thanks to the genius of modern suitcase technology I could probably shove a horse into this suitcase and it would all fit assuming you could carry it.

The problem after packing wasn’t actually getting the suitcase down the stairs but having to see the faces of my host family as I struggled to not kill myself walking down the narrow steps with a 75-pound suitcase. Yes, I do believe it might weigh 75 pounds and that’s even after throwing away some books that I didn’t need or want. Books always cause a problem, why do I buy them? Oh wait that’s right, because I like learning…dur! In some ways I feel like carrying these books with me throughout all my travels is not only a sign of how valuable they are, simply as books, but how much they mean to me. If I could just buy a book and carry it around and it was as light as air, well there would be no fun in that. Sometimes the book carries its educational value in how much it weighs physically and in that sense, I am glad to be carrying them around.

But getting back to the difficulties of the morning, because as I type the morning isn’t even over yet. I woke up at 6am and showered and washed my face and made my bed for the last time in France. It was honestly very sad for me to say goodbye to the house and room that has done so much for me in the past 4 months as hard as it is to believe that it’s been that long already. I got everything downstairs and then I saw Camille my little host sister of 14 say hello with her usual “Coo-Coo” and I noticed she was wearing the scarf that I gave her the night before at dinner. Claire and I had each arranged to give them a present and so I bought the movie Rush Hour 3 for the boys and she bought Camille a nice shirt from H&M. In addition both of us had each bought a nice gift for Madame. I had found these really nice Italian salad and cooking dressings in Rome when I was there and knew that Madame would love them considering how often she cooks. Claire found the great book, 1000 places to see in the USA and Canada before you die in English and found a necklace for Madame as well that looked really nice on her. After the formal gifts I had two other small ones that were rather unintentional. After playing secret Santa with the Colombians and Mexicans from the Institute I had received a great sweater and scarf from my friend Laura from Colombia. The only problem was that the scarf didn’t match anything I own and the sweater fit kind of funny. We had tried to arrange to take it back together but we both got to busy and then after she left she accidentally took the receipt with her so I couldn’t return them to H&M as I had originally intended. But it all worked out quite well as Camille loved the scarf and the sweater fit Madame’s father perfectly cause he’s a bigger guy like me.

Arthur the oldest of the three informed me that he wouldn’t be sacrificing his “grasse matinee” or sleeping in to see me off and gave me a solid handshake and wished me well. Camille and Alexis on the other hand were a little bit more willing to show off their attachment. Camille had wrapped up and written on my favorite mug from their house and written on it with a marker some kind words in English as well as put a little note inside and a Christmas chocolate. Alexis had used his creative side and written a nice note and wrapped it around a pop can and taped it together. It was one of the nicest gifts I have ever received because he wanted to give me something but he didn’t know what and what he did was wonderful. Even this morning he had cut out a small heart out of paper and written on it, “Betty aime Benj.” Betty would be the cat that doesn’t like me and vice versa. It was so sweet and the two younger ones were having such a hard time I felt so bad. It was really an amazing and yet hard position to be in. Here I am a 22-year old American student living in a French house and these three kids just came to love me so much during my time there. After dinner Alexis started crying and I felt so bad because all I could do was smile sympathetically. Normally they don’t get students to stay for four months, let alone students that take such an interest in them and take the time to get along with them.

Madame kept telling me it will be hard for them when you leave and then this morning we dropped Alexis off at school he gave me the French bisoux and walked off to school silently not able to say anything. Camille was just as difficult to say goodbye too. She couldn’t say anything and she just gave me a big hug and walked off sobbing. I thought that was going to be the end of it but when we got to the train station Madame broke down a little bit as well and then Claire did too. Had I not been in so much pain from the over 100 pounds of luggage I was carrying on my back I probably would have been crying to and as a result once I finally got on the train I simply sat in silence reminiscing about the past four months and wishing that we had more time. Seeing the snow on the ground and finally smelling winter for the first time as well wasn’t helping my sentimentalist nature as well. Hopefully Camille will come visit in the States sometime in the next couple years and maybe Arthur will as well. Honestly though, I really need to go back and visit some day and I hope to take my mom with me because I know her and Madame would get along very well.

It’s really sad actually because I do love these kids and Madame and I will miss them so much. I always wanted to have younger siblings and have them look up to me as a cool older brother who took the time to be interested in them and now I have had that opportunity. With my own younger siblings it was never like that because we were all too close in age and we were always grouped together and so any sort of possible relationship of being looked up to was eliminated pretty early in the game. But I have always been jealous of my friends from Hillsdale who love to go home and see their younger siblings and take such a strong interest in their lives and supporting them. I feel like I never really had that much growing up and I hope to correct that with my own kids one day.

After making it to Paris I knew there was no way I was going to make it up and down the steps of the Metro in downtown Paris with all of my crap and still be alive to tell the tale and therefore opted for the taxi. I couldn’t find an ATM and so I asked him how much it would cost to take me to la gare a Paris est. He said between 12 and 15 euro and I thought, ok I’ve got just under 18 euro on me that should be fine. Well as it turned out it was a little tight but I got away with it. The total price was 17.80 and I had 17.90. Lucky me, n’est pas? Although I felt really bad about not being able to give him a tip but whatever, that’s life sometimes.

After sitting in the cold for about an hour waiting for my train to Karlsruhe I finally got on board the train managed to grab a seat. Finding seats, even when they are assigned in France and Germany can oftentimes be difficult, particularly during times of holiday season. It doesn’t help either that they have almost no space whatsoever on the trains for large suitcases and when I first walked on I almost resigned myself to having to simply stand the whole time like I did from Cologne to Paris back at the end of August. Well, as it turns out I was able to find a seat and a relatively decent spot for my luggage. The only reassuring thing about carrying around a suitcase that’s 75 pounds is that I know no one is gonna try and steal it because it just ain’t worth the effort. But it’s a little stressful honestly trying to keep an eye out on four different bags each of which contain objects of much value. I guess I just try and look at it positively as something that is very temporary and if I can just make it through today, I can get back home and hopefully never travel this way again. Even in coming back to Europe one day, I just won’t bring as many clothes next time because I know I’ll end up buying some. Either that or I will just continue getting rid of them. I left about 4 or 5 shirts in France as donations to the Red Cross and threw out another three or four ugly T-shirts and old socks. I’ve still got about another 5 hours of traveling left I think so we’ll see what happens in the next five hours. Hopefully Lord willing I won’t run into any problems. He has already been so gracious to me this morning, I simply pray that His grace will continue to follow me through the rest of this day and the weekend leading up to my flight.

In other slightly different news, I am hoping to continue learning languages when I come home. It’s been one of my life goals to speak 5 languages and I am well on my way right now. I can speak and understand English, French, and German pretty well when I am in practice and my Spanish is getting stronger as well simply from picking things up through context. However I would really love to take Spanish formally if possible as well as Italian. I kind of fell in love with Italian while I was here and feel like as useless as it might be, if it helps me nab an Italian woman as a wife who can cook amazing pasta and loves opera, it will be worth it. As well I would love to learn Hebrew and Armenian. Considering I am Armenian and Jewish it only makes sense. I don’t know how difficult Hebrew is, but since I have already studied Armenian in high school I feel like if I had a year of formal training in it at University some how and then went there, I would be able to use it for the rest of my life. I really think that learning other languages is very important for an accurate perspective of the world. I guess we’ll just have to see how that develops in the coming years. That’s all for now, Ciao!

Here’s What Happened…

In The Spirit of December on December 11, 2010 at 8:36 PM

Ok, I am sorry that I haven’t posted in a couple weeks. I am not really sure where the time has gone, but sadly it has. If I am honest, I was actually avoiding writing on my blog for a little while. I was feeling rather down for quite a while and I was a little worried I would write one of those blog posts that I would regret and decided that it was better to just not blog at all. It’s been strange actually for the past couple weeks. I feel like in some respects I have experienced the entire spectrum of human emotion in the last two weeks. After Thanksgiving, my sentiments of attachment to my host family really grew and all of us have grown so much closer over the past two weeks. I think part of it has to do with that the Meuniers have in many respects become like my family during my time here. During those times at school when I didn’t want to be there and considered skipping class, it was because I wanted to come home and see them and eat with them and laugh at the dinner table talking about Harry Potter or the tendencies of the French in comparison with Americans.

My classes have honestly been dreadful for the past two weeks as well. I have learned almost nothing although I have received my best grades during that period of time so I don’t really know what’s going on. Allow me to clarify as well that when I say that the classes have been dreadful I don’t mean that I have been doing dreadfully, but simply that the material has been awful. Honestly, I haven’t learned a thing from the book we are using and yesterday I finally asked my professor if she liked the book and she said that she hated it and it was only because she is forced by the administration that she is using the book that we do. Also because I am not being challenged I have been so tempted to respond to questions that she asks in English blatantly just to see how she would respond. Considering constructions such as “There is” (Il y a) and anything using the verb “to do” (faire) have been thrown in la poubelle (trash) I don’t think she would respond well to me saying anything in English. Although the other day I had a brilliant moment in class. Earlier in the semester my professor informed me that she doesn’t drink wine. I was shocked considering typically all French people drink wine and so to encounter someone who doesn’t drink wine and is French is truly a rarity. However, the other day after informing us that she loves eating blood sausage, snails, frog legs, and horse, I was a little disgusted. So I asked, “Do you cook all of these things your self?” She responded sarcastically, “No, I buy them from the grocery store!” What do you think? I am French of course I cook it myself. What kind of French woman doesn’t cook?” To which I retorted, “What kind of French woman doesn’t drink wine?” At which her usual quick wit was completely stumped and she couldn’t help but laugh and say, “Well I guess there’s nothing I can say to that now is there.” I felt a little proud of myself.

The last couple weeks have also been occupied by finishing up Christmas shopping. The Christmas spirit is definitely alive and well here in Tours and it is quite visible in the city with everything covered in lights and the opening of the Christmas market. I have found some really great gifts although today I realized I might not actually have enough room in my suitcase and the bag that I brought with me for everything that I have bought. Also, I am in high anticipation for Christmas because unconsciously I have been thinking about it for the last 5 months. Knowing that I would be coming home just before Christmas I have been trying to find Christmas presents for people since my arrival here in Europe so I can’t really wait to come home and give the presents to people that I have been holding onto some for almost 5 months.

Honestly part of the problem with not blogging is that you forget what actually has happened in the last few days. However, if it were really important, I suppose I would have remembered it. When looking back at the last 11 days or so however, much of the time has been spent simply trying to keep my head above water and not becoming depressed. I’ve honestly had a couple small breakdowns upon hearing news of things and thinking about coming home and coming back to my life in the States. The funny thing about it is that I truly feel like I have emigrated and that I know belong in the EU. Of course I don’t know everything there is to know, but in trying to think about my life back in the States it all seems so very far away and long ago. It’s definitely going to be strange coming back to the States and only speaking English again. I definitely know what Aubrie was talking about when she said that she came back to the States and she couldn’t speak French or English. As it is people ask me what the word is for certain things in English and I can never remember what the name is because I have been so occupied with learning French, German, and Spanish. I have become so adapted to answering and asking questions in French that it will be weird for a while not having to say anything in those languages that I have forced myself to focus on so hard for the last 5 months. It’s kind of like when I finished my music major. I didn’t really know what to do afterwards because it had been such a large part of my focus and my life until that time. The nice thing is that as a result of those experiences my music is always with me and it enables me to enjoy things that much more. I hope that my experience here in Europe will have the same effect on me when I return and put my life back together in the States.

I was honestly getting a little worried about my German the other day because I have been conjugating sentences in French for so long now I wasn’t sure if I would still remember my German but I have watched a couple movie previews in German and a couple interviews have had things in German and I have actually understood pretty easily which was really encouraging. It will just be a little different when I go back to Germany and actually have to speak again. Retraining my mind, yet again as well. Dur!

Honestly though I am really looking forward to it and to coming home. It’s weird to think that in just nine short days I will be back in the good ole U S of A. My whole mind is sort of pre-occupied with the notion of “What’s it going to be like when I get back?” In many respects for me coming to Europe symbolized a new period in my life and my future, going back to the States almost feels like going backwards. I’ve developed so many different habits and ideas and my understanding of life is so different. It’s just going to be so weird not living an international lifestyle after having done it for so long. In many respects the tension that I was consistently feeling from having to be in a different country other than my own and speaking in a different language has left and I have adjusted to simply being bilingual when I need to. For example whenever I hang out with Ana, Hector, and Nicolas in the cafeteria or for lunch, we go between three languages simultaneously without thinking twice about it. It’s just part of our experience and what we do. You don’t think about it, you just laugh when you can’t remember a word in one language and so you say it in the other that you know everyone will understand. It’s really great actually.

The following few days will be interesting. I have two exams one on Tuesday that is written and then an oral on Wednesday afternoon with the professor that really made me hate the French for a while and love being an American, so we will see how that goes. This weekend is also the last weekend and so we are going out and saying goodbye to everyone tonight considering it’s the last Saturday night it’s kind of necessary. I turned in a paper on Thursday as well on a novel called La Place, don’t think any translation is necessary there, and it might have been one of the worst papers I have ever written, but honestly I felt that way about my homework assignments that I just got back and the grades were really good, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll try and be more consistent in my blogging in the next few days leading up to my departure the Monday following the coming one. I will be back in Germany for a few days with Philipp and Barbara and that will be excellent so Germany will be a nice little vacation just before coming home. I guess that’s all for now. Ciao!