Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

The Weight of Lives I am not Living

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

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One reason I have decided to resurrect my blog is to document my cross country solo road trip. Today I hit the road and won’t find myself back on the West Coast until I have climbed the mountains of Colorado, rolled in the fall leaves of Northern Michigan, put my feet to the pavement of New York City, driven nearly the entire length of the East Coast, let the Atlantic Ocean wash the dirt from my tired feet, sipped a cup of coffee at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, and driven all the way back home. In total, I should be gone for about three months. Just me, my Prius (nicknamed PriPri), vast open expanses of road, and any adventure that finds me along the way.

The main question I have received upon telling people this (after clarifying that yes, I do actually plan on doing this and no, I am not crazy) is WHY?

And this question is not unjustified either, I have asked myself the same thing over and over again as the date of departure creeps closer and closer. I will be the first to admit it, I am terrified. I can make this trip sound so romantic, dreamy, courageous, and many other enviable traits, but the reality is that this is scary; this is going to be extremely hard. There are going to be days I will wish that I had never left home, never gotten out of my bed, never said goodbye to my parents, and never abandoned everything that made me comfortable in life. There is one thing that I know even though the trip has not yet begun: I will never regret this decision.

I could have stayed at my job in the Bay and lived comfortably, but this is the path I have chosen. So to answer the ubiquitous question, which follows me like a shadow wherever I go, I have four things to say.

  1. I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I am not living. This quote from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has resonated in my heart like the rattle of little Oskar’s tambourine since I first read this magnificent book my first year at UC Berkeley. My bones, my body, my mind, and my spirit ache with the weight of not knowing the many paths that my life could lead me down. I plan to go to graduate school and get a doctorate and after that seek a professorship for the rest of my days. While a majority of the people I know are now desperately pursuing a lifelong career, I have found myself unwilling to tie myself to one thing. There are so many things in life I want to do and be that after graduate school I may never get to experience. So I have decided to put real life on hold and go adventure for a while. I do not want to be one thing, I want to be many and I hope to never cease changing in my life. As an English major (aka major book nerd) I have always felt that the most amazing result of reading is that the reader is able to live a thousand different lives through the novels they immerse themselves in throughout their own finite life. I have lived the lives of others both real and imaginary, some more than once, but I have yet to live my own.
  2. Desperately seeking self. Perhaps it is cliche to seek yourself on the open road, or perhaps there is a wisdom in this repetition that proves success. I never feel so inspired than when my wheels are spinning on the pavement and my mind is whirling with thoughts heavily lined with the experiences of yesterday. A solo road trip is obviously a lot of alone time, which both terrifies me and intrigues me with the possibilities of unformed experiences. I have to communicate with me; there is no way around it, no where to run or hide. I am an introspective and introverted person, so this isn’t exactly new to me, but lately I have found myself wrapped around the fingers of others. As time has passed and I have dedicated less time to writing and creating, I have found myself throwing all of my time into others. This is not to say I should not have done this, or that I regret doing this, but I have lost the confidence in being alone that I once had. I have shelved my purpose, my pursuits, and my identity for far too long and traveling alone allows me to be selfish in a way I have not been able to be in a long time. I want to recover the entirety of who I once was and learn how to live a life that is fully mine.
  3. I am a strong young women building my inner independence from the ground (or road) up. Let’s be honest, the main reason people ask me why in the world I would do this is the same reason I have to do this: I am a woman, alone, and the world isn’t always nice to solo women trying to find their place in the world. People ask me, aren’t your parents scared for you? and I can see the real question in their eyes and implied in their words, there is a lot of danger that I am courting just because I am a young woman with no one to watch my back, no one to protect me, no one to stave off the danger of cat calls, rude and greedy eyes, lecherous thoughts of strangers, and the unknown/unpredictable mishaps that could occur on the road. This, however, is the very reason I must go. Yes, I am a woman, yes I can do this on my own. I am capable, strong, independent, cautious, wise, and fear will not hold me back. I am a part of this world and I am going to take part in it. Hiding at home will never change the way the world perceives women. To think that my blog in any way will affect this though is naive and not what I am getting at. What I want this blog to do over the next couple of months is serve as an example that women can do anything. I am just one of many women who has chosen to take to the road alone and just as those women who have served as an example for me, I hope that I can help at least one other woman see that they can do it too. To help show just one person, even if that one person is myself, that it is totally worth it is all I want to achieve.
  4. I am an adventurer and nothing is going to stop me, not even myself. A lot of people see me as someone who is unafraid, outgoing, adventurous, and motivated. In truth, I struggle with all of these things greatly. But still, I must go. Crippled by anxiety, scared, small, often sick, and indecisive, I am horrified by things that are unknown and uncontrollable. But still, I must go. Unable to let go of control and filled to the brim with nervousness, I am unsure about everything I am about to embark on over the next few months. But still, I must go. Why? Why. why. No matter how scared, nervous, chronically in pain, or unsure I am, I am only sure that I must go. Because I am an adventurer; because the road has been calling my name since my mother first introduced me to it six years ago; because I am my own worst enemy and adversaries exist to bring out the best in us; because I am not living my life if I let my fear, anxiety, or illness win. These are the things I know. For some reason my heart picked adventure and I cannot say no, even if the rest of my being is against it.

In some ways, this post is more for me than for you. I am my harshest critic, the one with the most to lose in this, but also the one with the most to gain. I guess you can say this is my manifesto, or simply a reminder for those dark days when all I want to do is give up or cry in a corner. This is my reminder that I can do this, that this is exactly what I want and need, and that no matter where I find myself, I am still me, I am still strong, and I will keep moving.

By the time you read this, I am already gone. Another white streak across the sky, tumbleweed rolling down the road, a stranger in a car window disappearing in the opposite direction. I will see you all again, some sooner rather than later, and hope that you will embark on this journey with me in one form or another.

Ultimately, there are a thousand reasons why I should not go and only one that underlies all of the reasons of why I should: I must. I have told myself a thousand times that I would and now it is hear and there is no backing down. So here I go, down the rabbit hole. Unsure of where it will lead me, this road is the path I have chosen; through all of the exciting loops and digressions, through all the wrong ways and misadventures, through all the new friends and unfriendly strangers, through all the beautiful sights I will see and the empty expanses of nothing, I have chosen this path and now I must follow it to its end.

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Back to the Beginning

Monday, September 14th, 2015

 I want to begin again.

I know I have been gone a long time now but I miss this. I miss the feeling of my fingertips pressed against keys or pushing my pencil to the barren page. I miss having a place to put my words, a place to rest my weary head stirring with mercilessly jumbled thoughts. I miss knowing that I am doing exactly what I was put on this world to do. I have found myself purposeless these last few months, maybe even the last few years of my life and I am the only one to blame.

Thousands of excuses, busy days, hectic life, reorganized priorities, and a ceaselessly transforming sense of self have created a convoluted conundrum that I have self-titled ME. Here I stand six years after I began this blog and I am ashamed of how little I have written. Over the last four years I have found many new titles for myself: UC Berkeley Student, English Major, Jew, Christian, Proud Nerd, Tutor, Employee, World Traveler, Rome Resident, Slackliner, Rugby Player, Slam Poet, Academic Honoree, and finally, UC Berkeley Graduate.

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There are two titles that once meant the world to me that seem to have dropped from this list: Writer and Photographer. While yes, I have done both of these things over the past four years, I set them aside to see what other molds I could occupy, other worlds I could be a part of and inhabit for even a short amount of time. Those two words, writer and photographer, were my entire world and I never thought I could do or be anything else.I have found out two things over these last four years: I was both very wrong and incredibly correct. I have been a so many different things, but I don’t want to be anything else.

My friends who also graduated have been asking themselves and people have been asking me How have I changed in the last four years in college? I have heard a variety of responses; most respond that they have changed radically in unbelievable and unpredictable ways.   Others mildly agree that they have changed, but not necessarily in a world shattering manner that leaves them aghast at how incredibly different they are now than the young freshmen walking under Sather Gate for the first time. I have pitted myself against this question several times and battled with the memories of who I was and who I am now. I have come up with a response that surprised myself: I have not changed at all.

This is not to say that I have not tried new things or had experiences that altered the way I view the world. What I mean by this is that I started at point A of myself, entered college and departed from point A into a million different directions and digressions that led me to very strange and unfamiliar places, which have radically affected me. However, in all of these different circles and loops off of the trajectory I had envisioned when I graduated high school, I have found that the root, the core of what made me me never changed. So, in saying that I have not changed at all, I am not declaring this a negative lack of progression or growth in character. Instead, in discovering this, I have also relearned how much those two titles meant to me because they were absent from my life for so long. I would never take back the things I tried, the hobbies I took up, and the adventures I had into the vast unknown world full of different opportunities, but I did lose an important part of myself as a result.

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I was lost in the craze of a thousand possibilities and the path that had always been so clear to me before was obscured. Like Dante, “Midway upon the journey of our life/ I found myself in a dark wood,/ For the straightforward pathway had been lost” (Canto 1, Inferno). Except I, unlike Dante, had no Virgil to guide me through the perils. But if there is one thing that I have discovered in my wanderings, it is that being lost is the best way to find yourself. Being lost is not necessarily a bad thing; for me, it did mean losing sight of the things that were most important to me, but if I had not put those pursuits on the shelf for as long as I did, I never would have known just how much I needed and loved them. It was only when I found myself lost and without my purpose that I was able to understand just how essential writing was to my entire existence. Writing and digital storytelling through my photography truly is my purpose above all else in the world, without it I am not really me. This is what I have found.

So here I stand, wholly changed, yet exactly the same and ready to begin again.

Welcome back to my strange little world; walk with me, talk with me, cry with me, and learn how to live again with me on this unexpected journey. I am ready to claw my way back to the roots of my being and strip away the atrophied muscles of my mind in order to find the words that have been buzzing in my brain, dormant but living, for the last four years. Join me.

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Awake and Walk

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

My third day in Berlin I was flying solo the whole day and decided to just walk my heart out. So from early in the morning I awoke and set out on foot to walk Berlin, guided by some great recommendations from Maiya.

I began by walking from Kreuzberg where I was staying and wandering back to where I had the tour the previous day in Mitte. I passed many people commuting to work, sitting on park benches drinking at 9am, kids playing in parks, and lots of people of bikes. Everyone seemed to be in some great state of motion, going somewhere, talking with someone, and always moving.IMG_1985 IMG_1986

I went by Check Point Charlie again as I passed from old West to old East.IMG_1989

I even found a fun chocolate store that had massively impressive sculptures made entirely from chocolate including the Brandenburg Gate and several other famous Berlin monuments.IMG_1992

Also one of my favorite things about Berlin is the little street crossing sign guy called Ampelmännchen. They are the traditional and somewhat quirky street crossing signs that always make me smile every time I would see them.

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And what is Germany without a man selling pretzels from his bike?IMG_2015

I revisited Museum Island with hopes to go into the Pergamon Museum but after some confusion and a lot of time lost waiting, I gave up on the idea and continued on with my walking.IMG_2019 IMG_2033 IMG_2037

The area with all the Museums on the island is pretty impressive and quite fun to walk around.IMG_2046 After museum island I headed over towards the TV tower in central Mitte ad then continued on to an old market area.

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From there I wandered up the fun street called Rosenthaler Platz which was lined with adorable parks and shops.

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I took a break in a quirky little coffee shop to dodge the rain and sat in the window for quite some time just enjoying the peaceful atmosphere despite an incident with a dropped cup and a resulting scream from the man who dropped it that was possibly the most German shout I have ever heard. I got another chai latte, keeping with my new found love of Chai Lattes that Berlin has made me addicted to alongside a homemade blueberry scone.IMG_2097 IMG_2100

From there I made a long U-Bahn and S-Bahn trip over to the East Side Gallery where the most famous stretch of the Berlin Wall is, covered in art from contributing painters. It was a little odd honestly. This wall, such an intense piece of history carries such weight, but a majority of the art seemed somewhat foolish and more than a little crude with tourists scribbling their names on every inch they can find. Even the beautiful symbolic artwork was covered over with this ugly scriblles of marked territory that screamed disrespect behind my eyes. It made me sad. There is so much room on these walls for political voicing, room to air out the past and discuss matters of oppression, but in many you cannot see that in what the wall has become.

There really is a lot of beautiful art though, these are a few panels that are my favorites.IMG_2115 IMG_2117 IMG_2129 IMG_2132

This panel was by far my favorite, the intricate detail and the vivid colors interwoven in the black and white. Faces stand out around images if you step back and look at the bigger images, but the small images hold their own beauty and magnificence. IMG_2148 IMG_2155

The way color and the human image are lost but also displayed in this impressive piece really caught the eye and made you look closer to see what there really was to see. IMG_2159 IMG_2181

These couple panels with political statements where also some of my favorites and the thumbs up chained into place was a good example of a piece that held up to its symbolic potential. IMG_2202 IMG_2205

I took a quick break from the wall to hang my feet over the Spree and admire the bridge near by and watch the yellow U-Bahn snake across its upper terrace crossing from one side of Berlin to another as if there had never been a wall at all. IMG_2211

The inscription on one of the last panels of the wall did make me really happy though, despite having been graffitied over mostly by tourists that read

I painted over the wall of shame so freedom is ashamed no more. Inferno ruled too many years until the people chose the light. I put my faith in you Berlin, and give to you my colors bright.

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After the wall I wandered into a nearby area that seems to be home of the alternative scene in Berlin. It was pretty interesting, I wandered past the wall, past the graffiti and along the U-Bahn tracks up into the new area I hadn’t seen before.IMG_2233IMG_2235

A gritty but intriguing place full of people with long colored hair gelled up into spikes, or any other sort of interesting look. I really enjoyed wandering through the rain up and down the streets taking in the local color, feeling the trendiness and alternative atmosphere of the area. IMG_2239

Then after my long day of walking I returned to meet Maiya and we decided to go to a rooftop bar above a huge shopping mall that had the most amazing view of the city and the setting sun. IMG_2250IMG_2259

Over the rooftops of Berlin, we sat in the little garden with benches looking out across Berlin. It was a pretty magical place despite the cold. IMG_2261IMG_2272IMG_2281

The flowers in the garden were really amazing to watch the colors of the setting sun play off of as the light slowly diminished.IMG_2285IMG_2288

Drinks in hand we watched the sun go down in a fantastic array of color. IMG_2297IMG_2300IMG_2308

It was such a fun place to explore and definitely one of my favorite things that I did in Berlin.IMG_2340IMG_2346

 

The way the fast moving clouds blurred over the lights of the city as Berlin became the center of night life that it is so well known for made for some beautiful photos. IMG_2347

The moon was out, shining bright and full above the garden and we left sadly because we never wanted to leave it had been such a magical place at such a magical time of day. It is things like this that make me so unbelievably thankful for being able to have this opportunity to sit on rooftops above Berlin, drinking beer with friends, and watching a city transition between day and night, one life to the next.

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I travel to see cities come alive in a way that photographs or postcards cannot quite capture. There is such a beauty in the cities of the world, each is endlessly different and I cannot wait to see more.

 

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Berlin City Tour and Days of Döner

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

After a lazy morning at Cuccuma getting more cake and chai lattes and a brief freak out in a Pretzel Bar wherein I thought something was wrong with my passport, I headed into Mitte, the center of the city for a free tour. With the Sandeman’s free tour of Berlin, we started at the Brandenburg Gate right in the heart of Berlin. IMG_1760

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We wandered through Mitte in the rain, caught somewhere between sunshine and downpour at all times. After the Gate we went to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews that is a somewhat eerie monumentalization of that the tragedy the Jews of Germany and Europe experienced during World War Two. What at first looks like gravestones of differing height and sizes reveals itself to be the embodiment of the feelings Jews went through in Europe during the Holocaust. You stand amidst the rows of high reaching walls, oppressed by the sheer uniformity and immensity of their structures, each wall reduced to a blank slate, like tombs with no names, that despite their orderliness retain individuality despite the conditions in which they find themselves. It is an interesting memorial, very abstract and left widely open to interpretation, which I think makes for an interesting memorial because whether one likes it or not, it gets people thinking about those who were murdered, remembering, feeling, and trying to understand what happened in that dark time.

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Our tour guide was smart to point out that he thought it was really great how the German people do not try to hide what happened during the Holocaust. What they could have tried to ignore or sweep under the rug as a dark past, they choose instead to monumentalize, to memorialize as an expression of their regret, their grief, and ultimately their humility and displaying past wrong actions. Many countries easily chose to hid or at least not bring to the attention of the world the atrocities they were at least in small part responsible for, so monuments such as this one in Berlin are a great show of regret and humility that makes someone such as myself who is Jewish, grateful for this memorial regardless of what I think it stands for.

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In great contrast, we then went to the place that now stands above the Fuhrer bunker, the place where Hitler and Ava Brown killed themselves at the end of the war when utter defeat was upon them. Now just a simple parking lot, no signs of what once was is made note of, only a little billboard on the street lets you know what once was. The contrast between the memorial to the Murder Jews and the utter lack of note of the Fuhrer bunker is greatly symbolic and interesting to experience.

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After that we continued on our walk around Berlin visiting various sights that once had Nazi buildings on them that do or do not stand any longer, learning about the history of Berlin.

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We saw a small section of the Berlin Wall within the city and heard some incredible stories about the wall and some escape attempts that either succeeded or failed. One of my favorites was a woman who sewed herself into a car seat and then had a person with proper credentials drive her over the border. The saddest attempt we were told about was when two young men attempted to cross the wall midday by jumping from their work building into the Death Strip (the space between the two walls that was left abandoned and open) but when trying to get over the final wall became tangled in the barbed wire and one was shot there while people in the west desperately tried to save him as he slowly bled to death and slid down onto the East side again to be left to die without aid for trying to escape as people in the West listened to his screams just on the other side of the wall. It was a heartbreaking story and crazy to listen to this while looking at the ruined façade of the wall that held so much history, misery, and pain.

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After that we passed Checkpoint Charlie, one of the major crossing points of the wall from East to West that is a clear example of the Capitalist tendencies on one side and the communist side on the other.

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We then wandered into a square with two really amazing churches and a concert hall that made for an impressive space with beautiful architecture.

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Humboldt University was next with the memorial to the book burning done in front of the university in World War Two. This is the university where Maiya is studying in Berlin and it was a beautiful structure right in the center of Berlin.

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After that our last stop on the tour, which when we finished, some friends that I made on the tour and I decided to continue on to Museum Island. I made some really fun Canadian friends who brought a wine skin along on the tour, which was fun because it meant getting to have wine during the tour. We went to Museum Island where we sat out in the grass enjoying the sun and the view of the Berliner Dom. It was a beautiful space I much enjoyed, sandwiched between museums and beautiful buildings and the Spree running on either side of us.

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I went up into the Berliner Dom and enjoyed a view of Berlin right from the center of the city, which was pretty fun. It wasn’t too high up but we got to hear the bells ring and afterwards I laid out in the grass for a long time just listening to them ringIMG_1915 IMG_1916 IMG_1920 IMG_1922 IMG_1928 IMG_1939 IMG_1943 IMG_1947IMG_1952

 

After my inner city adventure I returned to Kreuzberg, my favorite little neighborhood and we decided to go get Doner at the famous Mustafa’s, which had some really incredible food.

 

 

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We ate our doner while walking around, eventually finding ourselves at Viktoriapark which has an amazing waterfall looking up at the spire like monument in the center of the park.

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We sat there until the sun went down, got some ice cream and returned home after a long successful day of adventuring.

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Berlin Life: Markets and Cafes

Friday, May 16th, 2014

I went to bed to the sound of rain and woke up to the sound of church bells ringing. Sunday morning, Mother’s day, my first full day in Berlin.

The two elderly women that Maiya lives with had their families over when we woke up since it was Mother’s Day. It was pretty sad not being able to be with my family on Mother’s Day and just one more reminder of how much I miss home. We all sat together at the kitchen table eating breakfast rolls and drinking coffee. I sat attentively listening to everyone speak German as I sat back and watched, trying to gleam anything from the conversation to no avail. It was still nice to see everyone interacting so happily even if I was outside of it all. I just missed my own family.

After breakfast Maiya and I decided to go to Mauerpark, which is a huge park that on Sundays has an even bigger flea market. After a somewhat disorienting U-Bahn ride for me we arrived in a new cute neighborhood that we wandered through to get to the Park. Once we reached the outside we saw a young woman performing on the sidewalk. Her name was Alice Phoebe Lou and she was fantastic. We sat and listened to her soulful singing for a long time just marveling at how such an amazing voice came from such a tiny person. We were hypnotized by her music, her originally songs, and her cover of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang. We bought her CD, which I honestly didn’t like nearly as much as her live singing but still am pretty obsessed with and haven’t stopped listening to yet. After tearing ourselves away form the entrancing voice of Alice Phoebe Lou, we wandered on past other street performers like some really cool break-dancers until we finally entered the market itself. Stall after stall after stall of all sorts of things to mounted antlers, musical instruments, pipes, clothing, antique kitchen wares, to shoes and knick knacks, it was endless. Oh and also some pretty amazing food. IMG_1600 IMG_1603 IMG_1605 IMG_1613IMG_1607IMG_1616IMG_1617IMG_160910321563_829638643717647_7243128432826486201_oIMG_1620

I am a sucker for markets and it instantly made me love Berlin. Between intermittent down pours of rain we dodged through lake like puddles crossed over with planks of wood from stand to stand taking in the sights.

After a brief but horrifying scare in which I thought I had lost my camera only to realize I had just forgotten that I had put it in my bag already, we decided to get some food. We stopped at a food stall that had potatoes that they put through a ringer making one long spiral cut in the potato so it was all one piece still and then skewering it on a stick to then deep fry it. I got one and it was really and truly amazing. It was so nice to eat it on a cold rainy day while wandering through the market. After that little snack we decided to stop for lunch in the market and got Turkish food, which we ate under the smoky awnings of the food tent. It was colorful, full of spices, and delicious. So incredibly different than all of the food I had gotten so accustomed to eating in Italy.

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Our collective purchases at the end of the day: Alice Phoebe Lou’s CD, Maiya’s Ukulele, earrings for me, a ring made from a fork for Maiya, ad lots of yummy food. We left eh market to enter into the park area again where we climbed the hillside to find a huge expanse of the Berlin wall that overlooked the city of Berlin.

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We sat swinging on some swings with the brief moments of sun shining on our faces. Each pump of my legs bringing me one inch closer t the sun, if you close your eyes it feels like you’re flying. I loved those swings dearly. It was quite a contrast, swinging upward my feet stretched out towards the city and the sun, behind with my legs tucked in and going backwards was the Wall shadowed by rainclouds. It felt like swinging between two worlds, one old one new, one bright one dark.. It was an interesting experience and my first time being near the Berlin Wall.

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After sadly leaving behind our swings, ukulele in hand, we wandered out of the park and down the street to a Tea Bar that is known for its Matcha Green Tea where we sat on a balcony above the shop on little Japanese style seating mats overlooking a courtyard full of armchairs. It was a magical little shop and I really enjoyed sitting there watching people come and go.

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After leaving the shop we returned back to the apartment for a quick break and then went to a nearby coffee shop to do some work. I really love all the cafes in Berlin, they are all so cute and hipster and I just love being able to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee again while working on my laptop. I really dearly missed that. I got a wonderful Chai Latte and a piece of carrot cake and was wonderfully content.

We finished the night by just lying in bed, drinking tea and hot chocolate while watching a movie as it rained outside. It was a good first day, slow, simple, and full of fun discovery of neighborhood life and things that Berliners, like Maiya, get to do every week. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to experience these things, and as different as they are from Rome there is a beauty in the differences that I am so glad I get to experience.

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Being in Berlin

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Leaving a city where the very ground I walked upon was over two thousand years old and every corner I turned held a new ancient wonder to behold for a city built from rubble with sky reaching buildings and a modern sheen. This is a clash of two very different worlds that I have suddenly found myself inhabiting in the span of a few short days. Rome to Berlin, the first leg of my journey. Ancient to Modern, where no longer do I feel the touch of tufa under my fingertips, instead it is the sleek and shiny veneer of glass and a skyscraper’s concrete. Only a few short hours by plane apart, but a world of a difference.

My time in Rome is done. I still cannot quite get over those words, my tongue stumbles and my heart breaks. It is a strange time of transition in which I am done in Rome, but still not going home. I am finding new homes with friends along the way on a mini tour of Europe for a month: Berlin, London, Amsterdam (Utrecht). One month, four countries including Italy, a slow paced exploration of things beyond the boot shaped peninsula I called home for a semester. When I decided to stay in Europe I wanted to do things right. Dedicate a fair amount of time to each place I went to, to try to get a feel of what these places are like beyond the monuments and the famous sights. I hope I can achieve that, but honestly what I feel right now is tired. Tired from the emotional and physically draining experience of saying goodbye to a huge part of my life. This will be a grand adventure of that I am sure, but what it holds I really cannot know.

Berlin: A city that has taught me how to love Chai Lattes, listen to the rain, seek out church bells, and find life in every neighborhood tucked into this great city. Berlin is complicated and in my short time here I by no means whatsoever lay claim to know it, but I have come to enjoy it. I honestly wasn’t sure how I would feel coming to Berlin right after Rome. I wasn’t sure I would like it just by virtue of the fact that it wasn’t Rome, but I am glad to say that is not so. It is so wildly different, I cannot even begin to bring myself to compare them or equate them even though it is interesting to discover their differences.

My first night in Berlin my old college roommate met me in the airport and it felt like we had never left Berkeley in a strange way. Just the two of us in Germany, together. It was disorienting but great, I loved getting to see her as I set foot outside of the airport. I would be staying with her the duration of my stay in Berlin, almost a whole week. Without thinking much of it, because we were so enwrapped in conversation, we took a bus and the U-Bahn to her apartment in Kreuzberg, a lovely neighborhood in Berlin. We went into the U-Bahn with fading light and came out into darkness, my first night in Berlin.

After showing me her adorable apartment, which she shares with two elderly German ladies who do not speak a word of English and another student named Ti. I collected myself from a long day of stressful travel and we went out for a little dinner at a Thai food place where we sat and talked for hours. We talked about cultural differences, our respective study abroad experiences, and just life in general. The Thai food was a huge marvel to me because Italy really only has one type of food offered and it is Italian food, so seeing my favorite type of food and getting to eat it was quite a treat. After finishing we wandered down the adorable streets of her neighborhood lined with colorful restaurants, cafes, and bars all decorated cutely, and settled on an adorably hipster little bar where, like the real adults that we are, got non-alcoholic fruity beverages that were really fantastic. Sitting in a warm corner of the bar on couches and leather armchairs we continued talking well after our drinks were gone.

It was a great first night in Berlin and since I was exhausted from not really having slept in the last two weeks because of finals and then leaving Rome, I went to sleep around midnight. I went to bed with the sound of raining falling just outside our window, wondering what Berlin had to show me next.

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Saying Goodbye Part 2: Farewell Dinner

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

For the official end of the program we all had a big dinner together that was so fun but also so sad because we had to say goodbye to everyone. Luckily I will be able to see some of the people I have become friends with back in the United States but it was sad to have to say goodbye to a period in my life that was so full of adventure and new things.

We had so much fun together at the farewell dinner, we all took funny pictures and ate great Italian food in an underground restaurant.

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We took a couple of pictures of our Advanced/Intermediate Italian class minus Alanna. This group of people stuck out the whole semester together in Rita’s class learning Italian together and becoming really good friends.

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So many new friends, so many smiles.

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One last night of wine and fun with all of these wonderful people.

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I will probably miss Gabriele the most who was one of the Italian Interns from La Sapienza, the main Roman university. He helped us through many an Italian conversation class, took us out to Aperitivos and laughed with us (or at us) throughout the whole semester. He honestly made it such a special semester and I will miss him dearly. 10293668_10152326903682891_8050487323436207639_o 10295277_10152326893372891_603603694900085051_o

We even had little tiny tiramisu in cups 🙂

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And our last couple of nights as Romies (Rome Roomies)

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And then just some good old fun goofing off together and being strange. IMG_1508 10272511_10152326896942891_6119580309194827332_o 10015118_10152326895842891_872058088323024539_o 1941618_10152326894242891_4569875708876084071_o 887149_10152326897257891_6962843838114961902_o

The whole program all together for one last time.

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After the dinner ended, anyone who wanted to come went out for a night tour of Rome where we wandered the streets until 4am drinking, laughing, reminiscing, and exploring together one last time.

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We stopped by the Colosseum.

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The Trevi Fountain for one last wish.

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The Pantheon.

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And we all said goodbye at Piazza Navona and at 4am parted ways one last time to return to wherever we were going next. It was pretty heartbreaking, especially waking up the next morning and realizing a majority of the people in our program where gone and headed back to America.

I on the other hand am headed off to travel around Europe for a month, going to Germany, England and the Netherlands before returning back to Rome to fly back to the United States of America.

Ciao a Tutti!

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Saying Goodbye Part 1: My Last Average Day

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Everyone knows saying goodbye is the hardest part of anything we ever do. It is the end, the point in which what seemed infinite becomes suddenly finite in the most horribly tangible way. This week was the end of my study abroad program and it was heart breaking to say good bye to so many things. Saying goodbye to the people I have come to know and interact on a daily basis, the sights that I see every morning on my way to school, the incredible monuments that I walk by on a usual basis, the places I frequent and all the things that have become essential components of my everyday life.

Saying goodbye began the day I finished my horribly difficult finals and decided to walk the route I take every morning and take pictures of everything and everyone I normally see so I could always remember it the way everything was. The sights that had become so normal that I would very soon no longer have access to except through the shining veneer of a photograph.

My average day starts with walking out of my front door of my top floor apartment building in Prati, the area near the Vatican. Looking down the winding staircase, I wait for the antique elevator to arrive.

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The tiny old elevator that I have come to love so dearly, creaks with the wait of my being and the shutters close with a rattling as the ascensiore comes to life bringing me closer to leaving the apartment.

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To leave the apartment building I pass through our communal courtyard that feels like something out of some tropical city on the Mediterranean. A circular fern fountain in the center surrounded by palm trees where a pigeon with two lame feet always sits on the lip of the fountain under the cool shady space of the ferns.Feeling each cobblestone beneath my feet I pass by the fountain out the other door out on to the streets of Prati to begin my walk to the Study Center.

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On my walk to class I pass by the old Borges road which is a wide avenue leading to the Vatican lined with cute shops and my favorite ivy covered building above a gelateria.IMG_1024 IMG_1030

Then I cross one of two bridges, one takes me by the Vatican, the other on the bridge below Castel Sant’Angelo which either way leaves me marveling at the towering beauty of the castle and the bridge that stretches below it lined with Bernini sculptures of angels each carrying an aspect of the Passion of Jesus Christ. IMG_1040

Crossing over the Tiber I find myself on a back alley street that leads me to my study center. My first stop on the alley way is a beautiful little passageway that has a starry blue ceiling and a little altar to the Virgin Mary. It is like standing under a night sky when you are beneath it’s arches.

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Right after the passageway of stars there is a Forno, or a sort of all purpose bakery that sells meats, cheeses, fast foods like pizza and panini as well as wonderful pastries. This place, Forno di Castel Sant’Angelo is my favorite forno in Rome and I love the people who work there, both the loud (semi-scary) woman who works behind the counter constantly yelling at the other workers and the cashier girl who is quiet yet very sweet.  I always get pizza and then go eat on the Castel Sant’Agnelo bridge overlooking the Vatican or I get a Romanello which is a sort of chocolate croissant.

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You can even see the Castle from the Forno standing in the street.

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The stretch of street from the Forno until you reach my study center is one of my favorite walks because as you slowly progress between the towering, colorfully shuttered buildings along the cobblestone streets, moving past weaving vespa riders, you have your eyes fixed the entire time on the Boromini clock tower that gives the piazza that the study center is located in its name, Piazza Dell’Orologio or the Piazza of the Clock.

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As the clock tower looms closer and closer, with school only a few short blocks away, we reach my next and probably favorite place in Roma that has made a home in my heart very appropriately and that is Bar Amore, the cafe I go to every day for my caffeine fix and a little dose of amazing authentic Italian experience. This little bar has been handling with students from our study center for years and they are so extremely friendly, welcoming, and helpful that they instantly become very popular to the study abroad students because who can say no to a cappuccino with a chocolate powder heart on it?

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Bar Amore is owned by the most amazing Italian family who instantly made me feel welcomed, like a family member with their warm smiles, and welcoming gestures. Always ready for a conversation and ready with my favorite foods along with my coffee order when I come in frustrated after class or early in the morning to get my caffeine fix for the day. I cannot express my love for them all, they were such an important and heart warming part of my study abroad experience and I am so grateful for all of their smiles, wise italian words, and for always giving me an extra heart in my coffee on the days when I was sad or having a hard time. This family really showed me how important it is to interact with people who are not a part of the program, because they truly made everything special and showed me so many things about Italy and being Italian I never would have known without them.IMG_1080

Saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things I did, Elena and I both started crying and it was so sad to say goodbye. Fabio was so funny because he kept saying, Why cry? Why say goodbye? You will be back soon, it will be like you never left. But it made us cry more because we will both miss our daily cappuccinos and Ciambelle so much in the United States. 10177391_10203017216902774_5471348076645998325_n

after our tearful goodbye I continued on past my other usual places like the Tabacchi store with the woman who always sits out in front with her dog for a smoke. She always waved and smiled, yelling out a hello when I waved in the morning.

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The tabacchi store is the last stop before the Piazza where my school is with the tower clock tower above the State Archives and Library of Rome. IMG_1091 IMG_1092

The study center itself is housed in this building below and is simply a floor in an apartment building dedicated to a university of sorts. IMG_1090 IMG_1094 IMG_1102

I said goodbye to the lovely ladies at the front desk who are always there to help and make me laugh whenever I need to smile. The two Chiaras and Elizabetta, the figure heads of the Accent center who I will miss dearly!

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Also Bruno was a particularly hard goodbye. Bruno stands in front of the University everyday and says goodbye and hello every time I go in and out of the center, always smiling and waving. The one Ciao Bella I deeply loved hearing when I walked into the building every morning. His kind smile and happy eyes.

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After going through my typical morning to say goodbye to everything I continued on to everything I see in the area around the study center.

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This is the beginning of the street I take almost everyday after school to either go to my second favorite coffee shop, Piazza Navona, or anywhere else I feel like going. It is probably my favorite little street to wander down.

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It is full of little vintage shops packed to the brim with old clothing and leather bags.IMG_1117IMG_1119

The street ends at Pasquino, the famous talking statue of Rome that back in the early 1500’s people would anonymously post poetry that critiqued everything from the Pope, economic, political, and social problems to denouncing a fellow neighbor. A long standing monument to uncensored poetry and the dissenting voice of the people trying to be heard, it still has poetry attached to it today much in the same way it once did over 500 years ago. Even though he isn’t very pretty to look at, essentially unrecognizably as a statue, I still love checking every day to see if Pasquino has anything to say.

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Then on to Piazza Navona and the three fountains that span the huge Piazza. IMG_1134 IMG_1137

Back around the corner is my favorite ivy covered building, right near my second favorite coffee shop that I can actually sit in and work at like a cafe in the United States. IMG_1141

I would always sit right at the very front table and watch everyone coming and going to Piazza Navona.

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Then one of my other favorite little streets, Via Coronari, a cute little street lined with artisan shops and good food. It is a beautiful place to wander.IMG_1154

Behind the study center are more streets to wander down with buildings covered in fragrant honey suckles.

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Also my favorite little tiny car that is always covered in hats and baskets. Please note the size of the car compared to the bike next to it. Yes it is that small. And yes it does drive around like that, I have witnessed it myself. Italy is full of these tiny cars, a majority of which I am taller than which is saying something because I am pretty dang short. IMG_1163 IMG_1165

The alley ways leading up to Campo Di Fiori are a beautiful mix of dark alley ways with artisan shops and graffiti nooks with fruit vendors. It is always nice to walk down it on any given day. IMG_1182

Campo di Fiori flower stands.

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And lastly one of my other favorite locations I frequent often, the Jewish ghetto which is known for its fried artichokes. I always go for the Israeli fast food and the delicious Schwarma in Lafa. IMG_1207

My last average day, left to wander the streets of Rome that I will not see again for quite some time. Hopefully sooner rather than later I will return.

 

 

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The Colossus that is Rome

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

For my Ancient Roman Civilization class we had a couple of days where we did for our site visits some of the biggest and best of Rome, the things everyone from around the world comes to Rome to see. We saw the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum. IMG_0562 IMG_0623 IMG_0620

The doors of ancient temples, the archways of triumphant emperors, the fallen columns of once grand corridors, lie all around us in the Forum Valley.

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Moving up from the Roman Forum, we climbed to the Palatine Hill where back in 753 B.C. Rome was founded on the place where the twins Romulus and Remus were washed ashore after escaping near death to be nursed back to health by a wolf who saved their lives. This hilltop, riddled with the remains of Royal Imperial Palaces and the luxurious buildings that the biggest people of Roman history once lounged in and walked around.IMG_0660

It also had a fantastic view overlooking the Roman Forum and the rest of Rome, the buildings the color of the dawn rising and falling like the rolls of the tide.IMG_0663

Ivy covered buildings, plant covered terraces, and monuments of the Colossus that is Rome rising from the ground in every direction you can turn.

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Even the Vatican sits far in the distance, the dome of St. Peters visible from its perch far away from the Forum.

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The entire class sat and listen to the lecture about the places we had seen, were seeing, and were about to see. Sitting basically in the shade of Colosseum we were looking back and forth between the Colosseum and one of the biggest temples of ancient Rome dedicated to Roma and Venus.

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It was super strange finally going into the Colosseum, I had waited all semester for this site visit, knowing that we would see it eventually for class, but finally here I was, standing under the barrel vaulted roofs of the corridors of the Colosseum with the hoards of tourists bustling about.

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The sights you see in movies, the images of postcards of Rome was standing before me suddenly and it did not seem real whatsoever. Walking around and around the Flavian Amphitheater taking in the view from every angle. Knowing that people travel from all over the world to see this place makes it feel very strange to be there, to look down at your feet and wonder how many stood there before you and would stand there after you had gone. This structure has stood for almost 2,000 years and people have walked these corridors for almost that entire time, how many feet, how many people have stood here before me. Thinking of the people sitting in these sloping stadium seats, watching the gladiatorial games, watching humans kill each other for sport, watching animals fight to the death, or watching mock battles to entertain the masses of a once massive empire. To stand at the feet of history and wander what your part in it might be is a strange and humbling experience.IMG_0733 IMG_0731 IMG_0729 IMG_0721 IMG_0714 IMG_0710 IMG_0706

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This day was also just very strange because for so long I have looked at these monuments from the outside, never knowing what it looked like from the inside was something I had gotten really used to. I had become so accustomed to my one view point of things and to finally go inside these places, to see the Forum from within the pathways that are still lined with Basalt rocks that paved the ancient roman roadways. To walk the Via Sacra, the triumphal procession route that emperors and generals returning home successful campaigns stood where I stood. To see Rome from the Palatine Hill, where possibly Romulus once stood long before Rome became the wonder that it is today. Did he know? Did Romulus, the father of Rome, stand over his future empire and have any idea of what he little hut town would become? Could I stand there, where he once dwelled, and understand what it was that I was looking at?

Tomorrow I have my last final here in Rome which means I am done with my semester and standing on that Hill, standing on the Forum roads, standing in the Colosseum I still do not understand what it is I am seeing. I have been here for a whole semester and am still baffled every day by the wonders that are around every street corner. My time is going on and it is strange to be here in this eternal city, knowing, this city will continue on long after I leave as it has always continued on, eternal, changing but always the same. I will miss this deeply; Rome will remain the same, despite its decay, but I will never be the same.

 

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What the Window Frames

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Some of my favorite things about my apartment in Rome are the windows that open wide to look down on the bustling street of Cola di Rienzo below. Windows, shuttered, unshuttered, glass or iron grated, dominate the facades of most buildings in Rome. Tourists photograph them, sometimes not even knowing why. I count myself among this lot. Windows in Italy in general are beautiful, and there is something magical about them in an ineffable way. I feel compelled to take pictures of beautiful windows in the same way I feel compelled to take pictures of sunsets; it isn’t just for the beauty, there is something else I am trying to capture that I simply cannot explain. A mystery surrounds it, maybe it is what lies behind the shuttered windows, maybe it is the fact that behind every closed window lies a home, a world’s center, in which countless memories, experiences, and tiny everyday moments occur that I may never know about.

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But now I find myself in the curious position of being on the other side of the window frame. I am lucky enough to be one of the lives that exist unseen from the looker-ons below on the top layer of windows that speckle the Roman façade of this apartment building. I am the one within the window looking out, the one hidden from those looking on from outside. What I have discovered from my perch above the streets of Rome is that even on the inside, you never stop looking. Just as those down below crane their necks to look to the windows above, those behind the windows are still looking out, either up or back down below.

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I am not alone in this either, I see my neighbors, and the people across the street in the apartment buildings all around my own, and they are always looking. There is something unique about the look of a watcher, something that speaks of a desire that comes from an unknown place in your soul. A searching soul. They know not what they are searching for, but they are endlessly driven to look, never knowing the origin or the destination, only knowing the face of what they seek when it is right before them. Then and only then is it clear where or what our seeking eyes were wandering towards.

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People will come to their windows, some will throw them open with grace of arms opened wide, others stand behind the glass with their nose only centimeters from the glass. Others emerge onto flower covered balconies, resting their elbows on the wrought iron fences that mark the outer limits of their personal world, turning their head this way and that endlessly. But the most important moment of looking isn’t the approach, or the slow wandering of eyes over what there is to survey above or below, it is the moment that person turns away. There is a strange pain in that lingering moment, the desire to never stop looking, but pulled by the weight of other everyday necessities, the seeker slowly turns, the body twisted, but the eyes remain looking over their shoulders. Seemingly unwilling to stop the never-ending search, hoping that in that last moment of looking the object of desire will be made know. But often, nothing illuminates itself, and the seeker sadly turns and walks back into their home to return to the normal everyday actions that beckon back inside.

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What intrigues me even more than watching the other seekers from within their window frames, are the windows that remain shut. The windows that, even if the window shade is not drawn, no seeker ever comes to peer through the glass onto the world below. There are so many seekers, and over my months here I have come to know many of them as they come forth from their homes out into the light to look, but there are still more yet, that even though I see movement in their occupied homes, they never come to the window. These people are the ones that make me wonder. Do they have nothing to seek? Did they not hear the call of their soul to search? Or did they already find what their soul was endlessly searching for? Those windows interest me, the ones who seem to have no need to seek.

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What the window frames will always be a mystery to me, the common thread that ties my life to all of those in the buildings around me. We are always searching together, maybe for different things, or maybe we are all searching for the same thing, maybe we seek each other, or maybe we seek to be seen. I do not have the answer only the ability to recognize the yearning in almost every window that surrounds me. A community of strangers, linked in this tiny habit, but unknown to each other in our independent worlds that just keep spinning even in those small moments where the seeker takes a moment to poke their heads out of their world in search of something other.

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If every window holds a world, then every building is its own universe, and I have found myself an explorer of worlds, desiring nothing more than to know the contents of what lies beyond the window just as an astronaut strives to discover new planets while drifting in the dark empty cold of space, knowing that there is more to life than your own little world.

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