Sunday, July 11, 2010
Today I want to talk to you guys about one of my biggest frustrations in my life. This thing has represented itself in many different ways and its presence and its impact have become increasingly more and more evident as I have grown as a man. It encompasses my weaknesses, my faults, my inconsistencies, my ignorance and my shortcomings. The best word to describe it is my “limitedness” I understand that this is something elementary. The concept that we as human beings are limited is not something that is new to me. As I stated before it is rather the increased awareness of how many limitations I have and how they manifest themselves in my everyday life. I, Benjamin Adam Scott Gillens, am limited. And I am continuously learning just how much. Let me explain.
The first area that this stood out was in the area of my abilities. One particular event in my life comes to mind. It was the very last basketball game of the regular season my senior year in high school. At that point I had lived and breathed the sport of basketball for about 5 years and my passion bucket for basketball was still quite abundantly overflowing. This younger and even skinnier Geeze (if you can imagine) was very excited about this game. Not only was it our last regular season game, it was also our last home game, senior night and our homecoming game. On top of all of this, we were playing the best team in the conference (honestly, we didn’t really have a shot at winning this game and I knew it but if you know anything about how competitive I am you know that that pumped me up even more). I ended up playing decent but we got destroyed and every member of their team let us know just how much better they were than us. I was defeated, disgraced, about as frustrated as it gets…and there was nothing I could do about it. They were better. It had nothing to do with my effort or desire. I just didn’t have the ability to succeed. I was limited.
The second area is my limited knowledge. The fact that my knowledge is limited I’m sure is no big surprise to you. This is not headline news for me either but it is frustrating nonetheless. You know, for me a lot of the time I’m ok with not having the answer even when it’s embarrassing. Geography, science, estimating measurements, cars, politics, American history: these are all things I should know a lot about but just don’t. I can live with embarrassing myself every so often over things like this. What really hurts is when my friend comes to me with a problem and I have no clue how to help them find a solution. Or even in the area of Christianity, the thing I care about most. Time after time someone will come to me with an objection or a question and I will be stumped. This is no good. No good at all.
Lastly, is the heavy hitter: Time. This one has been gettin at me a lot recently…in a few ways.
In the short run, I feel the limitations of living in a 24 hour box: friends, family, sleep, exercise, reading, eating a balanced diet, work, church. Many of the things I’m told are vital are squeezed out: I skip dinner or church with my parents, I tell a friend I can’t hang out with them (again), I only get 6 (or 5…or 4) hours of sleep, I pass up going to the gym for the day. I understand prioritization is a part of life, it’s just difficult when it involves people and my health.
In the long run, my inability to “control” time has also been painful to get accustomed to. I think the fact that I lived in the same house my whole life and went to the same school from kindergarten through graduation caused me to overlook this part of life and dwell in my naïve state. It wasn’t until college that I really understood the fact that some people I loved wouldn’t be in my life forever. Even then I held on as tightly as I could to my false reality and clung to denial as long as possible. The past few years, however, I’ve been forced to release my grip; friends have moved away, gotten married, started families, gotten “real” jobs. Ready or not, life continues and I have to move along with it. And a lot of the time I’m not ready. I’m not ready at all.
So what’s the next step? Like I said, life doesn’t stop and wait for me to catch up. Despite my inabilities and subsequent frustration, I am still placed with the responsibility as a man and a Christian to work, to serve and to take action. How, though, can I avoid frustration in these situations? And even more importantly, how can I be affective and useful in spite of my faults and weaknesses? So far, I have found two things that have helped me answer these questions: remembering how to swim and remembering that I just don’t need to be perfect. These can more clearly be states as Perseverance and Reliance Upon God’s Grace. I was reminded of the first one funny enough by two Disney movies: “Finding Nemo” and “Meet the Robinsons” (both highly recommended). With the phrases “Just keep swimming” and “Keep moving forward” I was reminded of the importance, power and beauty of always moving forward. I don’t have to sprint all of the time. But I DO need to move. To go. When life pushes you, push back. Who cares if you fall over? I guarantee you will. Friggin get up. Surprise people. Be the reason people get puzzled looks on their faces. Dig deeper when they tell you they don’t understand why you think you can continue. I know some of this is cliché and sappy but sometimes there’s wisdom in the sap. Even something a cartoon fish says can be profound. Just keep swimming.
And last but (words cannot describe how much) not least, is the realization that the being that runs the show is ok with me being a screw-up. There is an abundance of freedom in the knowledge that I am not only forgiven but also strengthened by God Himself. I stand by my stance that we must always move forward, but what a beautiful thing it is to know that when I am too tired and weak to swim I can lean back and be carried by the tide of God’s power and grace.
So, as a limited and weak man I will do my best to push past my frustrations and tackle…well...tackle life. Come on. Let’s go swimmin.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I’ll get you guys caught up later on what’s been a happenin in Cincy since I’ve been back, but first I wanted to fill you in on a few things that went down pre-Nati.
First up is my trip to the land of togas and towers that lean. After reading about some scary traveling experiences with people that had expired visas, I was a bit nervous myself about my first flying experience within the walls of Europe after my own visa had expired. Apparently the penalties if caught are fairly severe. You can get deported,fined 200 Euros for every day that you’ve lived in Europe past your visas expiration date, or even thrown in the slammer for a few days. I was told by my friends though that I shouldn’t worry one bit. The border control, they said, between countries was very lax to put it lightly (besides Switzerland and Germany…we’ll get to that later). They were right. The only person that looked at my passport was a flight attendant who wanted to see if my name matched up with my ticket (it did). I even had my passport ready for a cop at one point but he smiled and told me to put it away.
So eventually I made it to Florence and more importantly to my friends. It was gorgeous. My first day there we walked uphill to a site that overlooked the area and man was it worth it. In front of us was a beautiful view of the busy but peaceful city behind the river and to our left and right were an abundance of rolling hills with trees and classic looking Italian homes scattered in between. We soaked all this up with some wine, bread and cheese on the hillside over a blanket. We did, however, manage to squeeze in a little bit of conversation in between the eating and gawking at our surroundings. We spent the rest of that day and the next walking around the city, visiting churches and museums and (this one was mostly me) eating as much pizza, gelato and pasta that we could stomach.
Pretty soon it was time to get on our train to Roma. Rome was also amazing but in a different way. The city was literally jam packed with history. It was unreal walking around and witnessing things that were witnessed by men I have read about in history books and the Bible. The Vatican, The Trevi Fountain, The Coliseum, The Forum, The Spanish Steps, things that are not only historical but also breathtaking. It was too cool.
We lost each member of our group at least once, got lost as a group when we took the wrong bus an hour and a half in the wrong direction, ate some more Italian food, found (probably) the only Spanish dance club in Rome, and still managed to make it back to Florence in one piece.
Eventually I said my goodbyes and after almost getting lost again (This time I was alone, only had 5 Euros left, no credit cards and no minutes on my phone. This walk to the airport from the train station in Bologna at 12:00 a.m. that I thought was only going to take me 45 minutes definitely took me 2 hours) I made it back to Spain. I spent my last day in Spain relaxing, packing and saying a few more goodbyes.
And then I was off. Now this was the real test. I had spent the last few weeks fretting about how me and my expired passport were going to make it through Zee Swiss unscathed. Here’s how it went: As soon as I handed my passport to the lady at border control and she looked at me with that “I really wish I didn’t have to do this” look, I knew I was busted. A few minutes later I was escorted by a police officer to a hallway where I had to fill out some paperwork that was half in broken English and half in German. Long story short, I made it back to the States but you won’t see a certain mulatto paying Switzerland a visit for oh…the next 5-10 years. Man, I’ll miss their chocolate…
I spent the last portion of my travels with some friends in Boston. Besides a jalapeño filled hamburger that gave me a serious case of food poisoning and made me feel like I was going to die (I’m not kidding), the clam chowder, smell of the ocean, Arrested Development episodes and time spent with two VERY beautiful people made it a great way to end my journey.
So, now you’re all caught up. I’m back in the land of the free, home of the Geeze and I’m getting into trouble in my own country for a change. I’ll update you soon on the happenings of the Nasty Nati. Till next time gumshoes.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Six months have past and my brief stay in Madrid has suddenly ended about abruptly as it began. A few random (all positive) circumstances caused me to end my stint a bit earlier than I had planned but it actually worked out for the best. I sought adventure and newness in Madrid and I found it. Coupled with these two things, however, was a lifestyle defined by transition and inconsistency, and for good reason, don’t get me wrong. Europe is a place filled with a plethora (I can never pass up an opportunity to use that word) of cultures, languages, and people. It would be a waste not to try and soak up as much as possible while you have the chance. This does, however, inevitably lead to friendships being short lived, money being scarce, and stability in itself being nearly absent. Even as I type these words, I am lying on an air mattress in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I have been living out of a suitcase for the past month and have been living on however much cash I have in my pocket for the past six. “Wait, wait, wait…hold on a sec”, you say to yourself as you read these words. “Has young Geezy lost his sense of adventure, his passion for the unknown? Has he become…old?” Sadly, I think this is (partially) true. I have come to a point in my life where the things I value most are found in relationships, in community, and in simplicity. But in my defense there’s plenty of newness and adventure to be found in the things I’ve mentioned.
So why go back to Cincy? An excellent question my friends. Can’t these things be found anywhere? I believe that they can. But including the fact that I have already started some beautiful relationships back home, there are a few other reasons that Cincy won first prize for my next place of residence: Firstly, I know it. Take all the shots at the Nati you want, but it’s my home. If I want a shirt I know where I can buy the exact one I want for the lowest price. If I need a friend to chill out with on a Friday night I have several to call. If I need to get my car fixed, I know exactly where to take it (where they won’t charge me double for labor). I’m not done with the rest of the world, I just need Cincy to give me a little boost before I’m ready to jump up on the ledge and get back out there. I can also, in the midst of our booming economy, find a job a lot easier in Cincy. I’ll be teaching English (You already know I put that 1200 euro TEFL certificate on my resume…) for the next few months at an academy in the heart of Cincinnati and in the fall (fingers crossed) I’ll be working at another elementary school spending my time once again playing Frankenstein and kick ball with 7 year olds and talking to parents on the phone in my garbled Spanish…it’ll be great.
Moving forward. I’ve tried to pinpoint just how I feel about those two words. So far, it’s caused a few emotions to occur. I am excited. The future is synonymous with opportunity and I intend to take advantage of all the time and blessings that God has given me. I am anxious. Having this feeling has become a habit and not a very good one. I have a tendency to be overly nostalgic about the past and to romanticize my future leaving almost no room for me to appreciate the present. This anxiousness comes all too naturally after my excitement but the older I get, the better I am becoming at realizing that if I focus too much on my future (or my past), I will miss out on the good (which should always be soaked up as much as possible) and the bad (which almost always provides an opportunity to learn and grow) that’s right in front of me. I am afraid. Heck, I’ll even throw doubtful in there too. These two are hard because I know better. I am told that if I follow Jesus I will only find joy and contentment and I know in my heart I truly believe that. Gosh…I really do. But I still doubt. I have many friends and family that continuously stand by my side. But I am afraid of being alone. Every time I am in need, my needs have been met. But still I look around and think about what I am lacking. With God’s grace I have been successful in many things. But still I fear failure. And so it goes. Illogical, irrational and impractical: Doubt and Fear. Doubt and Fear. So I stop. I close my eyes. I take a deep breath. And I open them. Time to live.
So here I am. I am sitting in downtown Cincinnati (this is how long I’ve taken to write this blog…definitely started it in Madrid. So sorry guys) near an empty pavilion. It’s nine a.m. Opening day for the Red Legs. Soon the city will be filled with streamers and candy left over from the parade, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn, and the sound of fireworks and cheering fans. For right now I’m home. Who knows what the future holds. I can guess that it will be filled with things that are difficult, things that will make me laugh, things that will hurt, and things that I’ll love. But I think I’m ok with that. Like I said…time to live.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I realized that over the course of my blogging time here in Madrid, I have neglected to give you a sufficient description of what this city is actually like and what the heck it is I do here. I offer my sincerest apologies and will immediately attempt to remedy this travesty and in detail describe my first hand account of what it’s like to teach English in the city of Madrid, Spain. Ok. Let’s begin.
The city of Madrid is big…very very big. However, it doesn’t overwhelm you with its size. You almost don’t even notice that you’re surrounded by over 3 million people because the city like feel is masked by an abundance of parks, fountains, and a relatively small number of skyscrapers. The favorite past times of the people of Madrid are walking, eating, making out in public (I’m really not joking) dancing and drinking; all of which are done in abundance. When walking down the streets of Madrid it seems that the people have the general cold indifference that you find within a city, but once approached and addressed I have found most people here very kind and forgiving of ones (uhum) less than perfect Spanish. Mullets, cigarettes, tight jeans, boots, chuck taylors, and scarves are a plenty and are all equally as popular among men and women. Common things to see on the street are the homeless, dog poop (lots and lots and lots of dog poop), and people selling their product, talent or trade. The latter is the one seen most abundantly and is just as diverse as it is abundant. There are singers, shoe shiners, musicians, comedians, people dressed up in various costumes, people selling flowers, hats, wallets, toys and light up necklaces. And these fellars don’t stick strictly to the streets. Oh no. They boldly go to any place in Madrid that seems opportune whether that be a metro station, a metro car, a restaurant, or a bar. And then there’s the prostitutes. How could I forget the prostitutes? To my knowledge they stick mainly to one street which connects the main street of Madrid to the main plaza of Madrid. Unless you’re feeling particularly lonely you’d best be on your toes when walking on this street because they WILL come and get you. Unfortunately I can say this from experience…several accounts actually.
I can’t talk too much about the food as much as I’d like to. You see my funds haven’t been too abundant here in this fine city and as much I love spending money on food (there was no sarcasm in that statement in case you were wondering), I have had to practice self control. However, I have been fortunate enough to spend a little here and there and on occasion been treated to some Spanish cuisine by a friend. Here are a few of the “Spanish” things I’ve tried: Firstly I have to mention the paella. I’ve been ordered by a few Spaniards that I cannot assume that ALL that encompasses Spanish food involves paella. I promise that I do not, but if I had to pick a favorite it would have to be this. Paella is a huge piping hot skillet filled with rice, an assortment of seafood, spices, and a bit of lemon sprinkled on top. There are quite a few different combinations of different seafood but the two kinds that I’ve had were both wonderful (and the ones I haven’t didn’t look like I’d be too disappointed with them either). My second favorite food here would have to be the tapas. By stating tapas itself I’m being a little vague because tapas by definition do not refer to a specific thing but rather to a small appetizer like portion of a dish. Usually you can get a tapa served with your caña (beer) in a bar or you can order a bunch of them to eat for dinner (my preference). They can be things like potatoes with red sauce, fish, Spanish ham, calamari, sausage and my favorite: tortilla. Tortilla is a mix of eggs, potatoes and sometimes a tiny bit of onions. It’s very simple but very delicious.
When I first arrived here in Madrid I attended an academy to receive a certificate I believed that I needed in order to teach English. Turns out a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate isn’t as vital as I was told. For me and my $1800 sake I wish I would’ve been told differently but I’ve lived and I’ve learned. Now, about my job specifically: My job involves traveling by foot or more commonly by metro throughout the city to teach individuals or small groups in their home or at an academy. I have students from age 3 to 56 and all of them have been wonderful. A typical class may involve pronunciation exercises, grammar worksheets, conversations about politics, watching sesame street, reading a novel, or the “Try and figure out what animal Ben’s acting out” game (in English of course). I will spare you the details, but for various reasons I haven’t worked that much during my short Madrid stay. In fact, I’ve averaged a (brace yourself) very strenuous nine hours a week. I know. I know. Financially it’s not as bad as you think. A few of my classes pay decent money and I don’t really spend money on anything except for food, rent, the metro and a toiletry here or there.
So “what does a Geeze do with all of that free time?” you may ask. Good question. Usually he would do as he’s done in the past and spend an unhealthy amount of time playing basketball. But sadly, I’ve had a random and annoying injury in both of my shoulders that won’t go away. I would go to the doctors here if it didn’t scare the heck out of me. My Spanish is good enough to ask Carlos (I really have a student named Carlos) how his English exam went but not quite up to snuff when it comes to asking el doctor if I did in fact tear something in my shoulders and now need cirugía (sheesh…espero que no). Sooo since the b-ball wasn’t happening and I realized I didn’t have enough money to spend on a weight room to at least work out, I dedicated all of my time to: chipping away at a novel I’m never going to finish, reading, watching movies, thinking about what I’m doing with my life (I’ve spent more time on this one than you think), and hangin out (although with my lack of funds and my allergy to going outside when it’s cold and rainy, even hanging out got put on the back burner).
One may look at this trip as me not accomplishing a whole lot of anything. I will be lucky to break even financially when all’s said and done, I didn’t do a crazy amount of traveling, and I’m still a bit lost when thinking about my “career”.
BUT (praise the Lord for the but :) ) in the short time that I have been here I have received and learned much. I have grown as a man and have learned quite a bit about myself by being here: things I like, things I don’t like, things I value, things that aren’t as important or as desired as I may have thought. I have met some beautiful people. I have eaten some good food. I have become more dependant upon the Lord. I have had the chance to hang out and grow closer with my best friend, AND although I may still be a bit lost career wise I have made some progress and am even leaning in a certain direction…
So, I thank Madrid for letting me be a part of it and subsequently allowing itself to through a short amount of time and a few mini trials...become a part of me.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
The holidays have come and gone and I may not have even noticed their passing were it not for a brief appearance by some family, a few Christmas lights in the street and a random snow fight at 4:00 a.m. Soon enough it’ll be back to the “grind” although you will hear no complaining from this man. I enjoy a break as much as the next person but recently when my landlord has come a’knockin and askin for rent I have had to shrug my shoulders and ask him for patience. The holidays in Spain are more abundant than the amount of students that I have these days and with each day off my trust in God’s provision is tested to its fullest.
Along with spending time with loved ones, this holiday break has given me some time to think about some things that have been at the forefront of my mind throughout my time here. I am not usually one to put things on the internet that need to be spoken face to face. However, I am making an exception here for two reasons. Firstly, it is my belief that the people that read this blog care about me and I care about them as well. The words I have to speak in this blog are for loved ones and I am hoping that the ones who read this are exactly that. If not, I hope my words speak enough truth that they can at least be used to touch on some things that are on my heart and will subsequently touch on a few issues that are on someone else’s heart as well. Secondly, I seem to be a bit better at expressing what’s on my mind through writing. Instead of my bumbling and a squeak here or there because of my body’s reluctance to remember that I’m not in puberty anymore, I have this good ol’ backspace button to help me along the way.
I hope the words I write are taken in love. Again, they come from my heart and reflect things that I firmly believe. I am still learning in life. I am still falling and getting back up. I ask for your patience and understanding as I do so. Alright…here we go:
I want to approach this subject tenderly because I know that when you care about someone, their well being is something that is closely associated with your love for that person. I think though that it is actually because of this point that I need to say something. Let me start by giving an example: About a year ago my sister and I were having a conversation about her doing ministry in another country. The point came up that she may end up someday in a country that is hostile and potentially life threatening. My initial thought on the matter which I then verbalized to her was “I think if that happened you should look for somewhere safer to go”. There was no way that I wanted to picture my baby sister being killed or tortured or some other awful thing. Ok. So again, this isn’t the easiest point to make but I’m going to attempt to make it. A while after that conversation I started thinking about the actual point of my sister going to these countries. Her intention was to share something she considered to be truth and life saving in Jesus Christ and also to help the people of these countries through medicine; two beautiful things. She would have the opportunity in helping these people eternally and here in this life, loving on these people, healing these people of their diseases or illnesses. If the cost was my sister’s life…my sister’s “happiness”…then I should be ok with that, especially if she was. So, why am I talking about this? One of the first questions that many of my friends and family ask me about me being here in Madrid is “Are you happy?” and many times honestly the answer hasn’t been yes. But my point is that I think that’s ok. I have been growing so much here. I have learned so much about myself and about life. Even in my singleness which is something that doesn’t always bring me a lot of happiness I am becoming stronger as a man. I think it can get us into a lot of trouble…it has certainly gotten me into some…when our primary focus is happiness. I know that my “sufferings” here are not necessarily comparable to the hardships I described in my sister’s situation but my point is that there are things that are greater and fuller and more meaningful than happiness. And while I do believe we should enjoy it when it happens, we should keep it in perspective in relation to the other things in life that have more value.
On Being Conventional
I have been “lost” for the past 6 years it seems like and coming to Madrid although I have “found” a few things it seems that I have discovered that I am even more in the dark than I had originally thought. Direction appears to have eluded me and as much as I seek it, it continues to remain hidden. So you see, finding my career path and working towards it and building my résumé isn’t necessarily that simple. I can’t bring myself to pick something if my heart isn’t in it…and unfortunately I haven’t found that thing. So, a traveling flame was ignited in me this past year. I think for me it’s just a way to have something to hold on to. The thing is, I have found my purpose already in glorifying God and serving and loving others. I just don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to do with it. I have the paint, if you will, and even the paper. I just can’t find my friggin paint brush. I have been thinking lately though that maybe there’s a reason for this. It may not be God’s plan for me to be a lone vagabond for the rest of my life but I’m beginning to think that maybe for right now that’s what my direction…my “paintbrush” is. I have quite a bit of flexibility in my life right now. I can move wherever I want. I can work wherever I want. And although some part of me yearns for stability and completion…maybe that’s just not the way it’s supposed to be yet. So I’ve decided that until I find that “thing” that seems to be eluding me, I will just let my thing for the moment be living life wherever God takes me and loving people along the way. I will try to keep somewhat of a consistent “career path” and will also try to trust…sigh…the hardest part…I will trust that God knows what He’s doing and that everything is going to be fine.
This one I don’t really talk about much. It is no secret for those of you who know me well that romance has eluded me (haha). This may not be the way that many of you would put it. I haven’t taken the most direct approach when it comes to relationships but I haven’t abstained willingly necessarily. In my opinion it’s just worked out that way. But can I say please that this is something that I actually do think about and want? I know kinda stupid to say right? Pretty obvious? But the number of times I am asked about why I am not dating or married or the father of Geezer Jr. says otherwise. I want love. I want it. But I don’t…I can’t make it happen if it isn’t there. And even more so, I’m not sure I even want it yet. There are things about it that I certainly desire but I’m (judging by my former paragraph) not really ready for a steady relationship…certainly not a family. When it happens it happens. I will be patient and trust that God will provide this for me when it’s right…and if I can do it so can you friends and family. Benjamin Adam Scott Gillens is single (and has been for a while I know) but someday God may bless him with a beautiful wife and a few little G men. Maybe this won’t happen for a while. Maybe it won’t happen ever… The point is though that my objective in life isn’t necessarily to start a family. I want to serve God. That’s why I believe I’m here. So me being happy and having a family are only an added bonus. Please help me to treat it as such.
On Friends and Family
It came to my attention that because of my travels many of you may be hurt. I know that we learn as we grow older that life is always changing and moving but that doesn’t seem to make it any easier. I want all of you guys to know that I love you. I mean that. Ensuring that the people in my life that I love KNOW that I love them is something that I have placed very high importance on. I think many people don’t do this and I don’t want to be one of those people. My moving around is not a reflection of how much I care about you. As I continue to travel around and live wherever I’m living at the time, please know that I will always listen. I will always respond. I won’t always be as accessible as either of us may wish, but I will always be a friend. I will always be a brother. I will always be a son. Always. Even as I write these words today in this blog, I write them hoping that with them we will only grow closer together as friends. Keep me close. Keep me informed. I love you guys so much.
So the plan was to write one entry every month but the events of this New Years celebration need to be documented in their entirety and I believe it’ll take its own blog entry to do so. Let me preface this entry with saying that everyone in our party made it through the night’s events, and I actually ended up having (for the most part) a pretty good time. But the day and night of the 2009/2010 New Year is certainly one I’ll remember for a long long time. Alright, let’s start from the beginning…
We (Me and three other guys [Kevin, Stephen, and Matt]) decided that Paris would be the sweetest place to spend time bringing in the New Year. We would welcome the new decade by shouting and drinking champagne at the stroke of midnight at the foot of the infamous Eiffel Tower. There would be fireworks and a spectacle of lights and people from all over the world would be celebrating in unison as the new decade began. So we made our decision and set out to make it happen. Plane tickets were a bit out of our price range so we decided to look into taking a train. Surprisingly, however, we found that train tickets were even more expensive than plane tickets. We went back to look at plane tickets after hearing some more recommendations from a few friends but they were still a bit too pricy for us. We then turned to the dreaded bus. This was certainly the cheapest option but the duration of the trip was about 17 hours. We decided to bite the bullet and after failing several times to purchase tickets with our American credit cards we sealed the deal with Matt’s European credit card and were finally bound for a few days of crepes, monuments, a Mona Lisa here or there, and lots (and lots) of pictures of the Eiffel Tower.
So, on December 30th, after a bit of a scare racing on the metro to the bus station to make our 4 o’clock tee time, we made it to the bus and set sail for Paris. The bus trip started out fine, but the long 17 hours stretched to an even longer 19 and a half hours after several stops to pick people up, switch buses and take a coffee break. We eventually made it though and even the long bus ride did not deflate our high spirits in anticipation of the adventure ahead of us. We exited the bus station and got our first impression of the Paris metro system (we would become very familiar with this metro system over the course of our trip). It was definitely not what I expected. The nice clean metro that I was used to in Madrid was replaced with a Paris metro that highlighted itself with paint chipped walls and a smell that reminded me of my freshman dorm room’s bathroom. Nevertheless, we used the metro and continued on our voyage in search of our hostel but first detoured for a short break at McDonalds for “breakfast” (You see, Samuel L. Jackson left an impression on Kevin after his speech about Royals with cheese and Kevin could not pass up the opportunity to get one…so he did). After our snack, we made it to our hostel and dropped our stuff off. We couldn’t check in just quite yet because we didn’t book our first night until the night of the 1st. You see, our master plan was to stay up all night and go to any bar or café that would let us in or find some fellow American’s to hang out with till our 7 a.m. check-in time. At the time it didn’t seem like that bad of a plan; however, we would each have a different opinion concerning the situation come Friday morning.
We grabbed our cameras, some extra batteries and the little bit of cash that we had and set out to see all that Paris had to show us. We saw Notre Dame, Pont Neuf, The Louvre, The Royal Palace, Hotel de Ville, and a bunch of churches and cathedrals making sure to take dozens of pictures of each. When we entered the Louvre we made sure to see the biggies (Venus and Mona) and then did our usual “make fun of or imitate the priceless art to see who can get the funniest picture” game. After the Louvre, which was our last stop of the early afternoon we were pretty beat so we plopped ourselves down on the floor and took a short break on the museum floor in the lobby. A half an hour and several strange looks from onlookers later, we were back on our feet and ready to see us some more Paris. We decided that we would go back to the hostel to get some more clothes to fight off the approaching cold of the night. After reloading we headed off to see the Arc de Triomphe and then on to the Eiffel Tower. After the long walk down Champs-Elysees to marvel at the Arc and take some photos we made our way to our spot to welcome in 2010. On our way though a few cops that spoke pretty much no English stopped us and questioned us about the champagne bottle that was jutting out of Matt’s coat pocket covered ever so slightly by a glove. Apparently this hiding place was not good enough to fool the Paris police and after 2 or 3 minutes of us playing charades and telling them we had no idea that you couldn’t carry an unopened bottle of champagne on the street, they eventually let us go. Apparently no alcohol is permitted on this day out in public. We became a bit suspicious though after passing Frenchman after Frenchman chugging down their own bottles of bubbly in full view of every police officer in town. After a few grumbles we shrugged it off and eventually made it to the Eiffel Tower. I tell you what, there aren’t a lot of things in my life that I’ve considered surreal but this was definitely one of them. I’ve always seen it in pictures and movies but to be standing underneath it was something very different. There were people everywhere shouting and waiting for the countdown into the New Year. Every so often there would be a light show on the Tower set to some music mix. It was pretty awesome to see. There was about one cop for every two individuals out that night and they were all decked out. Every cop had on shoulder AND knee pads and had either a night stick, a gun, a shield or all of the above. They all arrived in these ginormous vans that fit at least 12 cops per van. It was a little intimidating and a lot unnecessary. French police are crazy. We would have plenty of evidence of this fact by the end of the night.
So after two hours of waiting, talking to Australians and hippies, doing a little bit of dancing to keep warm, and making fun of the other Americans on the other side of the bridge that were trying to hide their abundance of alcoholic beverages by making a fort composed of Christmas trees from nearby holiday decorations, we got our spectacle! The clock struck midnight and we popped our champagne and shouted out in celebration. The tower lit up beautifully and people set off their own fireworks all over the place. I had anticipated there being some big fireworks around the tower but they didn’t make an appearance. It was still a sight to see and was one danged good time.
After the festivities had completed we set off towards our hostel. Not because we could get in but because there were some cafes and bars around that area that we thought we might be able to sneak into. We decided to take the metro after somehow figuring out that it was free all day on the 1st. This seemed to be everyone else’s idea as well and the metro tunnel showed it. It was stuffed with people but it was slowly moving along so we thought we’d wait it out. We didn’t really have anywhere we had to be. All of a sudden two guys behind Stephen started shouting at each other. Two guys turned into four guys and shouting turned into pushing. Pushing quickly transitioned into punching in the face and at that point people were starting to get nervous and tense. Many of the people tried to get out of these guys way and let them beat the crap out of each other. While I’m peaking over heads to see what happened I start to smell this very strong pungent smell. I had thought at the time that I thought the phrase “What is that smell?” to myself, but apparently I had said it out loud because to answer my question Kevin replied “Yeah…that’s definitely tear gas”. He was right. Almost as soon as he said that my eyes start to feel like someone took a handful of chlorine and shoved it into each eye ball. Through tear filled eyes I squint and look around me and again…something surreal that I have never seen before; the crowd of people in the metro starts to scream bloody murder and push and run as fast as they can to get outside. It was horrifying. I have never seen anything like it. My instinct was to get as close to the wall as possible. All I could think about were the stories I’d heard of people getting trampled at concerts or riots. I decided I had three priorities in this situation: 1. Don’t get trampled, 2. Find all of your friends. It would be awful to get separated at a time and in a place like this, and 3. Get the heck outta dodge. So I did all three. I had to wait a bit for Kevin and Matt to catch up. I panicked a little cause I didn’t see Steve but he was outside waiting for us when we got there. Steve-o got the worst of it since he was the closest to the fight. He was rubbing his eyes like crazy and telling us exactly what he thought of how the police handled the situation.
Let’s analyze it shall we: There were 3 maybe 4 guys fighting in the metro. It was jam packed with people NOT involved in the situation at all including quite a few children. So instead of the cops actually coming down and getting their shoulder pads dirty they decide to chuck a bunch of tear gas into a metro tunnel mortifying some kids, sending a few people into shock (which actually happened) and maybe getting some people trampled along the way. Well done Paris police force. Well done. Now perhaps the police were only thinking about stopping the situation before it escalated but there had to have been a better way to handle it. Goodness.
We waited a while for the tear gas to wear off a little and we again started trudging our way towards the hostel. Eventually we made it and found a café that was open that we thought we might hang out at for a while. Apparently in Paris they have bouncers at bars and at small coffee shops. A big guy with folded arms stepped in front of us as we entered and said something in French. I of course responded with “I don’t speak French”. He looked down at me and said in English “You don’t speak French?” and then shrugged his shoulders like the conversation had now been completed. I gave him another look and then decided I was too tired to try to continue the amazing conversation we were having. So we left and tried another place. We found another bar that was open. This guy seemed to be a bit nicer but he said his place was closing in an hour so there would be no point. We saw another café across the street with another big guy with arms crossed standing by the door. Out of the corner of my eye I catch what looks like another brawl. Some guy starts beating this girl in the face until another guy comes to the rescue. The two guys then start to go at it for a while till the first decides it’s not worth it and leaves. In an attempt to get away from the crazies on the street and get somewhere warm, we decided (surprisingly) that our best bet was to head back to the only warm place that we were sure was open and would definitely let us in…the metro.
After encountering some more crazies in the metro (including one that took his shirt off, started pounding the doors of the metro car from the inside, and then upon exiting threw a fire extinguisher at the window of the car we were still in) we FINALLY found an empty metro car to chill out in. This was our place of solitude. It wasn’t the Marriott but it was quiet, warm and ours. We tried our best to take a nap and rode around in the same metro car for about two hours.
Exhausted, frustrated, cold and defeated we headed to “check-in” to our hostel at 7:00 a.m. and finally sleep in something that looked like a bed. Upon reaching the hostel, however, they informed us that each room closed between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and even though it was only 7:00 we couldn’t actually get into our room until the rooms opened back up at 4:00. So it was back to the metro or walk around in the cold for oh nine more hours. The guys and I decided that due to Kevin’s foot (Kevin’s foot randomly started giving him severe pain earlier in the night. He had been limping for several hours clearly in quite a bit of pain.) and our frustration with the night’s events and the entire city of Paris, we would head over to the bus station and see if we could skip out on our next two days and catch the earliest bus ride home.
And so we did. We checked out of our hostel, conked out on the bus station floor for a while and then took another 19 hour long bus ride home taking with us a few post cards and a lot of memories both good and bad. I wouldn’t deter anyone from going to Paris for New Years…just make sure you have a good game plan…oh and avoid the metro if at all possible.
Monday, December 14, 2009
The holidays are upon us! I feel like Madrid kind of cheats. It gets you all caught up in the nice warm weather so much that you forget just how awesome the cool breeze of fall is; how nice it is to have a steaming cup of hot apple cider while you sit on a porch swing watching the auburn and hazel leaves fall slowly to the ground. We’ve gotten a bit of that, but as soon as we start to enjoy it “winter” is here and the little bit of fall that we had is jumping out of the way. So, Christmas in Madrid has begun. Millions of lights are scattered all over the city and despite the warmer weather and lack of snow you are reminded that the time for Christmas songs and candy canes is here.
The little bit of working that I have been doing has been postponed several times already for one holiday after the other (and we haven’t even got to Christmas or New Years yet). Normally I’d be doin a fist pump in the air but after looking at the empty bank account and the coinciding empty refrigerator I (gulp) want to work. Oy, what is this city doing to me? I’ve even started reading books again to pass the time along. Goodness gracious.
In January I’ll be starting some new work which will be nice. Like I said, I need the money and it’ll keep me busy. So far I have another adult and two kids but this time the kids are a little older (9 and 12 I think). I decided that teaching young kids in this profession, at least with my cash flow, should be avoided. Please believe I LOVE little kids, it’s just that it’s so difficult to find resources, then finding the money and place to pay for or print these resources, then lugging these resources around the city to each individual home. I’ve had such a time thinking of stuff to do with my 3 year old. The past two weeks we’ve just been playing with crayons (no not coloring, literally playing with them) practicing counting and of course our colors. It’s so tough though when you don’t have a bunch of things to do that are hands on with children that age when writing, conversation, and reading are all off the table. So, it’s much easier to have an adult that you can practice grammar or pronunciation with or just have a conversation with. Some of my colleagues disagree but for me adults are where it’s at in this game. Sorry kiddos.
So the plan for the holidays is to hang out with my sis and mom for about a week (Poppa Gillens was a little bit too nervous to fly over the great pond and hang out with his son. You should scold him if you get a chance.) and then skeedadle up to Paris to celebrate the New Years. I’m pretty stoked for both. I’ve already got a list of stuff that me and my two ladies are going to do here. It’ll be great to see them and will be fun to show em around my city. Can’t wait. New Years has been a task. Finding an affordable way to travel is very complicated last minute, especially if you’re rookies like us. We’ve finally (maybe) found a cheap way to get there (bus) but it’s a 17 hour trip and the website so far refuses to take any of our credit cards. We’ll see what happens. I’d really like to see that big tower lit up with fire works behind it at the stroke of midnight.
So, I was told by several friends that I sounded very somber in my last post. I need to clarify that I’m not at all depressed or sad. I promise. That said, these past two months haven’t been the easiest two months to get through. I could write you a lengthy list of the issues that I’ve been dealing with since I’ve been here or the things that have been weighing on my heart but I think I’ll spare you. The list is pretty extensive, but through these things I have learned quite a bit about myself as a man, as a Christian and as a friend. We’ve been going through 1 Peter with my Bible study group which talks about rejoicing in our tough times and being “refined” through hardships. This has become evident here. I feel stronger and more independent every day and I am learning more and more all the time. Last year I was so blessed. I was surrounded by friends and family, was involved with a great Bible study, I had a perfect job that I loved, I lived in the city I grew up in and I went to a phenomenal church. Here, things aren’t so easy or comfortable. Oftentimes familiarity and accessibility are replaced with confusion and inconvenience. Friendships aren’t absent but they are in the beginning stages verses the solid old friendships that I had back home. My identity is thrown out into the open here and I am forced to analyze what it really is…who I really am. Despite this being a challenge though I believe I am here for a reason. I know that if I return home to Cincinnati or if I move to another place that is again unknown and unfamiliar to me, I will be stronger and will be at peace. I will know that no matter what happens I am in God’s hands. I am not lost. I am not loneliness. I am not uncertainty. I am not doubt. I am not frustration. I am Benjamin Adam Scott Gillens. I am here. And I’m gonna be just fine. I guarantee it.