Paris: Meeting of Twins

Paris is one of the greatest cities on the planet.  You could argue that fact, but you would be wrong.   My first visit to the city was with my brother.  Now, my brothers and I look like we come from different factories.  Whether my mom cheated with the milkman is of no concern to me, as I only care about who raised me, but when the two of us travel together we look like a gay couple instead of brothers.  It is not an issue and yet does provide the impetus for some interesting conversations with people we come across.

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Every minute is memorable in Paris, as anyone who has been there will tell you.  I could write a small book of the few days I have spent there, telling about the girl in the hostel with a great body that answered her door just pouring out of the tiniest and tightest of towels.  Or meeting a Romanian model and her brother in a park and then going to a club with them that felt like it was 500 degrees with zero percent oxygen. How about sightseeing with a Kiwi, Aussie, and racist Jew? Drinking wine late into the night with Chinese and Argentinian students? Perhaps you would enjoy when I destroyed a food cart on the side of the street because the cook gave me a crepe filled with lime salt and a pepsi when I asked for a nutella crepe with lime miranda.  I mean seriously, how does someone working with tourists all day not speak a word of English?  Come on France, English has been the language of the world for a while now.  Get on board and stop hanging on to your past glory. And before you get upset, I didn’t really smash up his cart, but I really wanted to.

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No, the story I’ve settled on for today is the meeting of two twins.  It actually takes place while in line for the aforementioned crepe.  My brother and I were discussing with each other how beautiful the French women were, and using the two women in front of us as examples.  After the usual pep talk to get ready for battle we moved in, and lo and behold, they spoke in New York accents. Strange for French girls to have New York accents, but I do not judge.

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We started talking about our respective trips and all the usual first meeting subjects.  We walked for a while and then stopped to sit outside of a Parisian cafe.  These twin sisters from New York City were quite interesting and all was well with the world for those few hours.  We drank espresso and talked as the sky got darker and darker.  The subjects did and do not matter.  The words flowed smoothly and all was happy and perfect.  Pictures were taken, phone numbers were exchanged, and the two groups of siblings parted ways into the dark and quiet streets of the iconic city, never to meet again.

 

Normandy Beach

Hundreds of ships hide in the distance, invisible through the fog.  Whistling and deafening explosions are all around from bombs and shells landing nearby.  I suppress my fear as I watch the allies land on the beach in front of me  from my pillbox.

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The reality is that I am standing in a damp and cool sixty year old concrete bunker on a beautiful and sunny French day.  My imagination, with the help of books and films such as Saving Private Ryan, have taken me back to D-Day as only being on the spot can do.  I feel the fear on both sides of the battle, the wondering of how the hell I got into this mess and what I’m really fighting for.  My family at home quickly flashes through my mind.  Will they miss me?  Have a been a good person?  Why is this happening to us?  Why here?  I look at the guys around me.  Fear in all of their eyes.   Dammit.

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The power of being on the spot is fantastic and overwhelming.  Granted, it is just another piece of land with few signs of having ever being a battleground.  The naked French men strolling on the beach might distract a lesser mind or interrupt their dream sequence, but not me.  I can feel the damp of the day even though it is warm.  I smell and taste the acrid smoke of gunpowder though the sea air today is fresh and clean.  It is 06 June 1944 to me and nothing can break the spell until I am ready to leave it.

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World War II is my favorite part of history.  I love all parts of it.  Why I cannot explain, but it is so.  The only other time I have been transported to the past is when I lived in Warsaw.   I take no sides of the event.  Russia was cruel but also a horrible victim.  Ukraine and Poland were decimated. The Jews were slaughtered, though so were many other groups that get much less recognition.  Germans civilians were carpet bombed and abused.  It wasn’t all their fault either as I can see many countries today falling in the same trap of fear and blaming others for their problems. But I digress.

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Normandy Beach is a beautiful and well kept area of France.  The beach is hallow and beautiful.  Structures non-military are few and far between.  The cemetery is perfectly done.  There is really not much to be said about the area.  If World War II interests you, then spend a day here.  Touch the crosses in the cemetery and imagine where that man came from and what his thoughts were that day.  Go to the pillboxes overlooking the sea and try to put yourself in that soldiers boots, knowing that today was your last on this earth. Think of your wife, children, brothers, sisters, father and mother and know you will never see them again.  Take your shoes off, walk on the beach, and picture boys scared to death as they land where you are walking.  Look towards the hill and take in how much open, soft sand there is between you and any bit of cover.  If none of this strikes a chord with you, skip Normandy Beach.

D.C. Golfing

Golfing itself is ridiculous, as well described by the brilliant comedy of Robin Williams, so I need not decribe that aspect of the game.  Golf courses though are even more absurd, especially when placed in the middle of a desert or city.  I hate Palm Springs for hogging water to turn their ugly desert into a fake oasis, and there are hundreds of more examples.  Then there are the cities where they take up large tracts of land and unlike parks are not beautiful nor free.  Golf courses should only exist in remote, wet areas of the planet, such as Scotland.

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Me Trying to Figure Out How to Keep Score

I have gone golfing a few times in my 34 years on this planet.  Mostly with my grandfather but once with a friend in Washington D.C.  For being near the middle of the heavily built up and expensive capitol the fees were very reasonable.  The course itself is on an island between the Potomac River and Washington Channel in South-West D.C.

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Cruising in Front of the Washington Monument

The golf carried on much as golf always carries on with amateurs.  Lumps of green and brown grass flying, white rocks hooking and slicing through the air in all directions but that which is intended.  Looking through trees and ponds for lost balls and finding multiple other balls but never your own.  The awkward stares from the business men stuck behind you because they are always on the course playing instead of doing any actual business.

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A Huey Checking to Make Sure of Nicks Putt

Our day was a cloudless beautiful day.  Warm weather, the birds singing, the grass a fine green hue, and old white people as far as the eye could see.  I was the darkest person on the course because of my tan, but that is another story altogether.

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Posing as we go

The most enjoyable aspect of golfing, as everyone knows, is the golf cart.  Why they are so much fun to drive is one of the mysteries of the world.  It may be because the game itself is so boring that driving a slow top heavy cart feels exhilarating.  But no, that cannot be.  They are also a hoot to drive at resorts.  I recommend government financing to find out why golf carts are so enjoyable.

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This Washington D.C. golf course does have an inch up on most other courses, and that is the view.  From certain areas you can see the capitol, which is nice, though you get a much better view from the Mall and that is free and also much nicer.  Another benefit is the government helicopters always flying over.  They add a relaxing respite from the monotony of golfing.

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Helicopters Were the Best Part of Golfing

My friend, Nick, and I played our game all day and enjoyed ourself.  Once Nick even managed to get within a few inches of the hole from a long ways away.  I would guess maybe 500 meters.  That moment was the highlight of our day.  We even took a picture to capture the moment as it is probably rarely accomplished, even by professionals.

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Nicks World Famous Chip(or Whatever it is Called)

So there we are.  One day of my life I spent golfing in Washington D.C.  It left no imprint on my mind and the only way I remember any of it is through the pictures I have left.

The Quietest Spot on Earth

Jenny:  “Hey David, do you want to take a ride up to the top of the glacier?”

David:  “I don’t know, it sounds dangerous.  How much does it cost?”

Jenny:  “Since you work here it is free………..Hey, where are you going?”

David:  “That glacier isn’t going to climb itself and we’re burning daylight.  Come on!”

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On top of a glacier in only a T-shirt

Mt.Cook is one of the most beautiful places I have had the privilege to live and work.  It is a National Park and no one is allowed to live there except for the workers of the hotel, hostel, and few restaurants.  The nearest town is Twizel, a 35 minute drive along beautiful Lake Pukaki, which is an amazing shade of blue.  Actually it is more of a teal color.

 

 

So a remote location, yes, yet it is possible to get more remote.  One option is to climb the mountains, but I lacked any mountaineering experience and do not overestimate my abilites, explaining why nobody has found me as a popsicle on the side of a mountain.  Another and much easier way is to pay for a plane to take you to the top of a glacier.  I elected to go this route.

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Mountains, Mountains, Everywhere

There is an airport and airline that do a few daily flights.  I say airline but I mean a plane that takes passengers in a loop.  It takes less than an hour and costs quite a bit, but my experience on this planet has shown me that the best experiences are either free or very expensive.  However, one of my perks for being a chef at the restaurant was that I got to participate in this experience for free.

The plane is little and powerful.  Actually a lot more powerful than I expected.  Now I have flown for my whole life on many types of planes and helicopters, in the Air Force and beyond, plus my father and brother are pilots, but this experience blew them all away.  That little plane took off in about 5 meters.  It felt so strange and unnatural.  I loved it.  So right from the start I was having a hoot.  This feeling would continue for the whole 40 minutes.

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Poor Melting Glacier

We took a zig zag path over a glacier, which sadly was melting and looking quite ugly.  It looked dirty and not at all powerful like we see in the National Geographic films.  However, I did enjoy the sheer size of the thing and especially flying below the level of the mountains rising on both sides of us.  Having a mountain fill your window from bottom to top gets the blood flowing.

When we reached the top of the mountain we circled a few times and then landed on the snow.  One of the smoothest and most fun landings of my life.  Sliding along the snow and then doing a 180 degree spin at the end(The plane, not me).  The stars aligned that day and the weather was perfect.  Not a cloud in a sky nor a touch of wind.  It was so nice that I left my sweater in the plane and walked around in a T-shirt.  How many people can say they have walked on a glacier in their T-shirt?  I mean, really.

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The view got better the higher we went

One one side of the mountain lay the valley where we came from.  This view was uninteresting to me.  The other side is what captured my full attention.  Here I was overlooking the Tasman Sea, from the top of a freaking mountain!  I sat down and stared into the distance until what would become my greatest memory hit me.  The silence.  There was not a sound, not even a hint of sound.  I was in a vacuum.  It is impossible for me to explain and for you to understand unless you experience the same.  You will never know true silence unless you go to this spot in the exact same conditions I went. This moment is where my mind returns when I seek peace, and it probably always will.

 

 

Torun, Poland

Torun is a beautiful town near the middle of Poland.  I enjoyed the few months I got to spend there, even though most of it was Winter.  Let me begin with why I went there.  The truth is, I have no idea.  I guess I got bored in Poznan and wanted to try somewhere new.  Maybe I threw a dart at a map or perhaps somebody told me about Torun, but no matter.  Somehow I ended up living in this lovely place.

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I rented a very small flat one street from the rynek(mainsquare).  My neighbor was supposedly Copernicus but I walked a lot every day and never saw him, so it is probably a lie to get tourists, similar to every church having a piece of the true cross.  I should let it be known here that Copernicus was from Torun. And there is your fact of the day.

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I did not work while I was living here so spent most of my time walking the streets looking around, investigating the quality of the cafes and pubs once the cold had chilled me to my bones.  The river was a fantastic place for a walk.  The view on one side of the walk was a white sheet of ice while on the other was the brown and red of the old city walls.  It is a majestic sight and I highly recommend trying it once.

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Most of the stories I would tell would be quite boring for a reader.  Trying different restaurants and cafes, walking to Auchen or the mall(Which are a long way from the rynek), hanging out in the rynek and shopping streets, seeing the old buildings, walking in the non-tourist areas, having my Russian girlfriend come visit me.  But there are two stories that I believe will be interesting enough to tell, or at the very least they are interesting enough for me to write and conjur up the memories once again.

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On one of my early days in the town I went to a small cellar pub just a few doors down from my flat.  I have never been a shy or uncomfortable person and therefore have never been ill at ease going out by myself.  I actually prefer it as it is a great way to meet people as this story will demonstate.  I was enjoying a beer and people watching in the pub when a group of five people came and sat down with me.  One girl, Dominika, told me that the bartender said she should sit with me and make me comfortable since I was a foreigner.  I guess the bartender and her were friends.  So we started chatting and became friends(I’m a very likeable person and not just a looker).  We weren’t attracted to each other but that made going out and sightseeing together much easier.  We talked, drank tea and coffee, and just had a jolly good time.  I guess I was a sort of attraction in Torun as she enjoyed showing me off, which was fun.

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Later I also had another wonderful experience resulting from my going out alone.  This time was New Years Eve.  I was walking around trying to find somewhere to have a few drinks before watching the fireworks.  I settled on a pub in the rynek.  Again it was a cellar pub and I was the first guest.  Not another soul apart from the bartender.  I was offered a menu with two choices, which were in Polish so I didn’t understand and the bartender didn’t speak English.  At this point I should have noticed something was not right as pubs do not usually offer menus with only two choices.  But I was oblivious and just smiled and asked for a beer(which I could say in Polish) .

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The hours passed on and the pub got quite busy.  Finally a gentleman came up to me and tried to ask me something.  When I said that I don’t speak Polish he responded in very good English, asking how I could work for(some company that I don’t remember) without speaking Polish.  It turned out that I had crashed a companies New Years party.  In that wonderfully receptive Polish style I was welcomed not as an intruder, but as a guest of honor.  I started to get drinks for free and everybody wanted to talk to me.  I was a god among men.  The night finished off with the watching of a spectacular fireworks show and receiving many invitations out in future.

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My few short months in Torun will be forever imprinted in my mind as some of the best in my life.  I have nothing bad to say about the town.  Even the biting cold is a warm and cherished memory.

A Russian and American

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I had very few positive experiences in Russia but one of them I got to enjoy long after leaving the border.  Her name was Anastasia and we met on a moonlit shore…no wait, that was a movie I once saw.  This Anastasia worked at the front desk of the hotel where I was a guest in St.Petersburg.  There were no fireworks, no love at first sight, none of that standard movie garbage.  I found her attractive and so one night I just sat with her and we talked for hours.  The next day I left for Moscow with her phone number.

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We talked maybe once a week and enjoyed each other conversations.  After a couple of months I asked her to meet me.  She agreed but there were issues.  She being Russian and me American meant that we neededvisas to visit each others countries.  Luckily this didn’t matter as I was living in Poland at the time.  But then a bigger issue popped up.  She was afraid of flying.  So me being the nice guy that I am offered to meet her in Helsinki, since it is only a bus ride from St.Petersburg.  So there we met, on Valentines Day.  I remember nothing of the city except for the unbelieveable cold.  Nothing in my life has ever come close to that feeling.  Not even standing in a freezer.  So we spent all our time in the hotel.  It was a wonderful few days.

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We decided to meet again a few weeks later but in a warmer location.  Barcelona was chosen.  How she got over her fear of flying I will never know.  Again it was a wonderful few days.  Barcelona is a beautiful city in Winter and I was with a beautiful girl.  My life was complete.  It was but an illusion though and disappeared after a few days.

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Life continued on for a few months until she decided to come to Poland to see me.  She rode the train for an ungodly amount of time and we spent a few days together in Warsaw and Torun.  These would be our final few days together.  We would continue talking for years but our beliefs were too different to make a relationship work.

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Not a storybook romance, though our meeting was a lot more interesting than most modern stories of internet romance.  I got to see two cities that I might not have seen otherwise, though it doesn’t really count for much as my attention was somewhere else.  Overall it was an enjoyable experience that taught me a lot about love and how the cultures and circumstances we are raised in affect our beliefs.  I find roses, chocolates, champagne, and saying I love you so boring and Hollywood but she loved such things. C’est la vie

San Bernardino

And yet another mass killing by a married couple. When will the USA wake up and realize the danger of these terrorists? We need to start monitoring churchs and courthouses where they congregate and hatch their evil plans. Donald Trump, use that huge mouth of yours and back me up by calling for the registration of all these evil couples. Ben Carson and Jeb Bush, help me in requiring that all married couples be same sex since these man and woman couples are so dangerous. Am I the only one able to see that our way of life and freedoms are at risk!!!!!!

Is this absurd? Of course it is, but no less absurd than blaming all Muslims for the terror attack in Paris.  I have a huge issue with the knee jerk reaction that most people have to incidents like these.  Yes, it is sad that a dozen or more innocent people died while out enjoying themselves and not hurting anybody.  But what worries me more is in the pictures of the aftermath.  The militaristic looking police officers and military vehicles on scene.  San Bernardino is not a war zone.  It is a community that has crime like everywhere else but that can be fought with normal police cars and bulletproof vests.  Belgium was the same last week.  Locking down an entire city is absurd.  Let the people go and enjoy a coffee at a cafe and watch a film.  If we keep taking away rights and being scared we lose.  The secret to terrorism is in the name, Terror!  If is frightens people it works.  If we aren’t scared and continue our daily lives as normal then it fails.

Paris and San Bernadino make no difference.  They are incidents that affect those involved greatly, but should not affect the rest of us.  Carry on enjoying your life, spend time with your loved ones, and take advantage of what your city has to offer. You may get hit by a bus tonight or be involved in a terrorist attack.  Life is full of surprises so enjoy it while you can and take what may come. But never give up your freedom for security.  There is no such thing as security.