So, here’s the situation. I’ve been in Europe for about 6 weeks (minus a week and a half in the middle) and imagined that I would have already updated everyone on the ghost tour in Prague, or the train strike in Paris, or the much anticipated reunion with my great-uncle-in-law, who I haven’t seen in 8 years and only speaks as much English as I speak French, which is to say we were able to count to each other, greet each other, and name various kitchen appliances.
But it turns out, I am a terrible vacationer. And because I can’t vacation, I can’t write enthusiastically about vacationing.
My name is Brooke, and I am addicted to projects.
It finally dawned on me in Rome (Rome!) five weeks into the trip, four days before I was supposed to come home, that there is a time to be still. A time to relax, to wait, to be satisfied in the moment, to trust that the world is spinning flawlessly outside my hotel room and that some other perfectly capable person is helping cyclone victims in Bangladesh or teaching Health & Life skills to kids at the B&G Club or driving my old clients to food banks. This verse runs through my mind all the time: Be still and know that I am God, which I usually take to mean: hurry up and figure everything out and when all else fails, start another project.
This entire trip has been a struggle to be still. To me, it sounded like this:
Be broke, and know that I am God
Be unemployed, and know that I am God
Be 6000 miles away, and know that I am God
Be out of touch, and know that I am God
Be at a crossroads, and know that I am God
And I was like: but God, seriously. I need to go home right now and work. I have to save up some more money, figure out what to do about grad school. I’ve got this major project in Belize to plan for, and I have to fundraise $3000. Three thousand dollars, God, do you even know how much money that is? And, also, I miss my friends and I miss my coworkers and I need to figure out how to get to Bangladesh this week. I could do it, because I am not working. I’m just hanging out here in Europe and there are CRISES going on…
And God was like: B, I’ve got the whole world in my hands. Sit tight, I’ve got something really amazing to show you, something I created. Oh, and Mr. Gay needs some salt and light in his life, and he could use some hugs and company and you’ll remind him of Candy, and he’ll remind you of her, and you’ll both be blessed.
Of course, when I stopped flipping out long enough to experience where I was and what I was doing, I found myself staring at the most spectacular views of the world I’d ever seen.
I learned how to tell Mr. Gay in French that my family loves him very much. I read though entire stacks of letters my Aunt Candy had written while she lived there and touched the map of Florida in Mr. Gay’s hallway where she had circled K & JL to show him where Destin was. We walked through olive groves the family had been keeping and pressing for over 300 years and sampled the olives.
We brought happiness to a man who had lost his entire family—I mean, everyone. He does not have one single living relative. We looked at his pictures and filled his home with smiles, warmth, blow-dryers, ipods, and chocolate cereal. He kissed my head about 50 times each night and each morning (before he banged on our doors, rang a bell and threw open our windows at 8am) and he paused sometimes when he looked at me because he said my expressions reminded him so much of Candy, which made me cry. He took us to the cemetery, and we watered the flowers. His joy and kindness in the midst of so much tragedy broke my heart, and I am convinced God has protected his life for a reason.
In Rome, we stood in the epicenter of historic Christianity—stared at the actual Coliseum, Peter’s tomb, the wall where Peter and Paul were chained, the oblique marking the center of Nero’s circus, the Sistine chapel which sequenced the history of the world (according to Michelangelo) before the birth of Jesus: God dividing light from darkness, creating the sun, moon and vegetation, separating land and water, the creation of Adam, the creation of Eve, the fall of man, Noah’s sacrifice, the flood, and (funny) Noah’s drunkenness. It was unreal. Plus the hotel had MTV, so I caught up on all my music news and watched Scrubs and Roswell in Italian. Below is a picture of the Coliseum and my own personal interpretations of the Vatican.
Tomorrow morning I fly home. For the record, Elaine has been the most flexible, gracious host a girl could ask for. I came here mostly despondent: sad about leaving my job, totally culture-shocked from Belize and re-entry to America, homesick and Europe-wary, depressed over the loss of a good friend, and (annoyingly, I’m sure) unable to identify or verbalize any of those things. She got it anyway and accommodated perfectly. Thanks Elaine…
I’d like to end with a monologue. Just kidding. But, really, with Highs & Lows. (My friends and I used to do this at dinner when we all lived in the same city…)
Highs: St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle, Wenceslas Square, The walking ghost tour, Astronomical clock, St. Charles bridge, Golden Lane, Basilica of St. George, Jewish quarter, huge fire burned Pizza which I did not have to share, and a heavenly slice of chocolate mousse cake.
Lows: Giant, life-sized human spiders crawling on me at the Black Light Theater
Highs: WINE & CHEESE, COFFEE and SORBET every day with every meal! The view of Marseille—the mountains and the sea—outside my bedroom window every morning, communicating despite being unable to talk with our teeny little translation book, Claire and Fernande’s tea party in Forcalquie, Notre Dame de la Guard and seeing the real prison from The Count of Monte Cristo, a delicious pizza at Chez Jean-Louis, the first snow of the season in Cassis, dinner with The Berger Family, lunch on the terrace with crepes and pear sorbet, driving to the top of the cliffs and looking down on Marseille, Cassis and Ciotot, and over at the Alps and the Italian border.
Lows: Mr. Gay finding out my nickname was Brookie and calling me Bwooo-kie the entire trip so as not to confuse me with my dad, Brooks. He thought they sounded the same and said that Bwooo-kie was more feminine, anyway. The weird food, the pate and the “meat” balls Mr. Gay ordered us in Pierrerue, which my grandma said she hid in her lap, dropped on the floor on and kicked across the room. (I’m not supposed to tell.) The train strike and trying to get back to Paris was the ultimate low and very stressful.
Highs: The Eiffel tower, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Moulin Rouge, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Montmatre, Crepe stands, The Louvre, watching a statue take a smoke break, chocolate croissants, and the perfume museum!
Lows: The train strike. It was crazy, and by the end, even the air traffic controllers at the airport were striking. We were lucky to make it home…
Highs: Elaine! We had a fantastic time with lazy days, the Lancôme counter, Thanksgiving on post, shopping, The Me lounge, Elaine’s friends, beer, beer, liquor, wine, beer, barbeque chicken pizza, and curry farfel chicken.
Lows: Seriously can’t think of one. Maybe the weather?
Highs: everything. Rome was the center of the WORLD! The Coliseum, Spanish steps, Forum, Pantheon, Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, the capitol building, the Vestal virgins, Nero’s oblique, Caesar’s Palace, Circus Maximus. All the little piazzas and the cute nuns and monks walking around, the Roman soldier who took pics with us outside the Coliseum. And the food! Pizza, ravioli, penne, pizza, spaghetti, pizza, cappuccino, pizza, cappuccino, wine. Delish.
Lows: a weird eye infection