washington – part two

We didn’t get much time to settling into Washington – the first night we were there, our whole group headed back into the city to do a walking tour of the monuments by moonlight. Unfortunately for me, this is the part of the trip where I crashed. Part of being me is having ups and downs, but this was a big down. I found it hard to talk to people, I felt disoriented and sick, I wanted to cry for no reason, I sorted of drifted around with the group feeling disconnected from everything. I tried taking selfies in front of the monuments and even though I thought I was smiling at the time, it’s pretty clear how low I was feeling. Luckily, it passed. I had big reservations going into the trip about whether I could cope emotionally, so I felt pretty proud of the fact I could recognize what was happening, still participate, and get past it. Anyway, on to the monuments.

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Not feeling great.
Not feeling great.

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It was an amazing walk, even though I barely had the energy to get myself home afterwards. We don’t really have anything like this in Australia, with so many huge monuments grouped together – they seem to be scattered throughout different cities, in various parks and squares and things. The monument that affected me the most was the Vietnam War memorial. Glenn, our professor, had warned us before we walked through that it was a very emotional experience, but it still didn’t prepare me for how many names were on those slabs.

Death seemed to be a bit of theme in Washington, because we visited Arlington Cemetery a few days later which was even more heart wrenching. It’s such cognitive dissonance to be in such peaceful surroundings – lush green lawns, graceful sloping vistas and shady trees – and know that every one of those little white markers stands for a violent, horrible death.

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It was a sobering experience, and honestly, I was glad to get out of there. The whole place just made me so sad.

washington – part one

After leaving magical Boston, I thought it would be hell to be stuck on a bus for nine hours with nothing but a truck stop to look forward to. But I was wrong. The landscape was so evocative. Huge trees, mighty rivers, wildflowers everywhere, bridges across valleys and rivers that were so wide, I was sure we were going to fall in. I listened to Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash all the way and imagined myself into Dr Quinn, fighting bears and trying to build a cabin sturdy enough to last out the winter. Incredibly nerdy.

When we finally made it to American University, we were getting our luggage out from under the bus when the sky burst, spectacularly. We got absolutely pelted with rain and had to lug all our suitcases up a hill while torrents of water sloshed around our ankles, then stand dripping wet in a queue for the longest time to get our security passes. It reminded me of the mini-monsoons we used to get in Taipei.

The subway station near the university.
The subway station near the university.

The dorms were interesting. It was fine for the time that we were there, but I can’t imagine spending whole semesters there. Especially sharing a bathroom with so many other people. There were about fifty girls to three shower cubicles. I came up with what I thought was a great solution, and started sneaking off to another floor of the building for my shower. Which was great – I had all the time in the world to shave my legs – except for two little encounters. I was showering, minding my own business in my own cubicle, when I heard the door to the main bathroom open. Somebody came in and I started hearing these horrible noises. Like a mix of the worst kind of phlegm-snarfling raspy choke and something out of The Grudge. It went on and on, and seriously sounded like a demon. I was utterly frozen, unable to get out of the shower, terrified that some slimy undead hand would reach under the door and grab my ankle. After a few minutes, the person left. This happened twice while I was staying at the university, and I still have no idea what it was. My only hypothesis on the whole thing is that there was a group staying in the dorms that were undertaking a ballet intensive, so maybe those horrible sounds were from somebody trying to make themselves throw up. Awful, and I hope not, but that is really the only reasonable explanation I can possibly think of for what I heard.

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Anyway, back to Washington! It was so balmy and there were magnolias everywhere. I will always be a tropical girl at heart, so I loved the weather, but some others didn’t cope so well with the heat. We had walked a lot in Boston, but that was nothing compared to how much we did in Washington. One of the girls had a pedometer that estimated we walked 25km in one day. I had plans of looking smart for some of our official visits, but ended up too blistered and sweaty to manage much more than flip flops and jeans shorts.

 

dogs of boston

As much as I loved Boston, I really, really, really missed Nathan and the puppies. Somehow, especially the puppies. I could call Nathan and talk to him every day, but although the puppies could sort of hear my voice, they didn’t really understand skype. So of course, I had to pat and photograph every dog I met.

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beautiful boston – part two

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Now I can casually say, “Oh Harvard? I went there…”. Unfortunately, it was also the day that my camera took one shot, then promptly ran out of battery. Boo.

Apart from the heavy schedule of activities and field trips, in each city we had a designated day off. Because we were required to keep a journal of our reflections (and we were being marked on it), there was no real time for boozy lunches and leisurely shopping. On my free day in Boston, a couple of us took a train out to the JFK Memorial Library.

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I love museums, and my inner Kennedy nerd was blissing out with all the personal artifacts and memorabilia. Towards the end of the museum, we walked into a dark room with television monitors embedded in the wall, playing a vintage news broadcast about his murder. The stark presentation was so eerie. Somehow, being in Boston and knowing that he had lived there made him real, instead of just a character in a history book.

 

i heart salem

It has been a long held wish of mine to visit Salem. Mostly because of the 90s movie Hocus Pocus. Before I was old enough to know about the witch trials, it was still unbelievably cool to think that there was a place that was spooky and almost Halloween-themed all year round.

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As part of our field trip, we visited the real House of the Seven Gables and saw a witch trial re-enactment. Walking through those old houses, I couldn’t believe they were still intact. The floor beams creaked with every step we took, and the hidden staircase in one of the houses was so narrow that you had to turn sideways to get up. It was very claustrophobic and one of the girls in our group even fainted.

We also made a stop at the oldest candy store in New England, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, where I bought lobster lollipops and half a ton of saltwater taffy. Afterwards, we had some free time, so we caught the end of a gay pride parade, drank fresh lemonade and I paid a visit to a fortune teller.

Firstly, a caveat – I am the last person on earth to believe in this kind of thing. When some friends tried to drag me along to a medium show a couple of years ago, I actually laughed at them and told them I thought it was stupid. But when you’re in Salem, you kind of have to go to a fortune teller! She told me that I had a good, strong relationship that was on track to very good things. She picked a couple of cards that said I had a lifelong love of travel and I would be doing a lot more of it next year. She said that uni had been a bit of a struggle and I was starting to lose my love of literature, but not to worry, because it would come back. She said I’d had a run of bad luck over the last few years, but things would be looking up for me by the end of the year. Apparently I’m also destined to have an amazing career, but it will be a bumpy road in getting there. Of course, it was all very vague and generalized. But it was an experience!

When we got back to Boston, we kept with the spooky theme by visiting some Puritan graveyards:

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It was particularly creepy because so many of those graves were for children, sometimes 4 or 5 from the same family. So many of the tombstones had things like skulls and hourglasses on them. Apparently the Puritans had a very matter-of-fact view of death, I suppose because it was such a common and almost ever-present occurrence for them. In Australia, our (non-Indigenous) graveyards only date back 2o0 years or so, so it was amazing to see graves from the 1600s.

We were only there for half a day, but I loved Salem so much – I can’t wait to take Nathan back there someday!

beautiful boston – part one

I managed to get over my fear of flying just in time. Well, not really. I was grey-faced and gripping the armrest like crazy as we took off, secretly clutching the Saint Christopher medallion that Mum had lent to me to “keep me safe”. It didn’t help that halfway over the Pacific, we encountered some pretty rough turbulence. People fell over in the aisles, some of the overhead compartments burst open, some people screamed, and I ended up wearing my orange juice. It was scary, but I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been for the few people in our group who had never flown before – not an easy introduction to air travel, at all.

Once we got to LA, we missed our connection and had to sleep on the airport floor for hours waiting for another flight, then again at Newark before we could fly to Boston. Do not recommend. It was absolutely awful. And I didn’t even have the forethought to pack so much as a toothbrush in my carry on luggage, so things were getting pretty grimy. One redeeming factor was getting to experience American McDonalds. I got a bacon habanero burger and a strawberry lemonade slushie type thing – so much more exciting than the McOz or whatever we have here.

After we finally made it to Boston, I’d been in transit for more than 36 hours but there was no time to have a nap, as activities had already started without us. I managed to find some time to have a little walk around Boston Common though.

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Everything was so green and summery, and I loved the squirrels! We have possums that live in parks around Melbourne, but they’re much bigger and nocturnal. While I was wandering through the Common, I met a man who was shelling peanuts and feeding them to the squirrels. Some of them were so tame, they would eat right out of his hand.

irrationality and fear of flying

I’m not sure how this has happened. Eight year old me couldn’t wait to get an a plane. I laughed through turbulence, asked Dad endless questions about aerofoils, and I loved taking off and landing most of all. I even enjoyed the food! But I grew up, and all my worries grew bigger along with me. Now, the thought of flying fills me with dread.

Now, I know about things like bird strikes and clear air turbulence. I read about the September 11 hijackings. I saw that video of the cargo Boeing in Afghanistan that seemed to climb too steeply and stalled, falling out of the sky and exploding on contact with the ground. It doesn’t help that there are some god awful television shows here, all about crashes and terrorists and malfunctions. I’ve looked up the statistics, in some crazy attempt to reassure myself. I remind myself that I have more chance of being in a car accident, yet I get into the car without a second thought. I try to tell myself that Nathan manages to get himself into a plane (sometimes, even the scary kind with propellers) twice a week, every single week.

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This is my ‘quietly alarmed’ face.

The biggest thing that I try to keep in mind is that I don’t know anybody who has died in a plane crash – I don’t even know anybody who knows anybody who died in a plane crash, on a regular commercial airline. But the annoying thing about an irrational anxiety is that, well, it’s irrational – no amount of logic, statistics or common sense is going to make it go away.

However, practice will make it go away. When I fly to the States in 12 days, that first flight will be unbearable. Every shudder of the plane as it gains altitude – every barely perceptible tilt of the wings – every bump on that runway as the brakes strain to slow us down – it will be torturous. But by the time we land in Los Angeles, getting on that second flight will be so much easier. By the time I have to come home, the prospect of another round of long-haul flights will be a piece of cake, because I will have already done it.

a plague in my house

On Friday night, everything was fine and dandy. By Saturday morning, things were decidedly less rosy. “Are you okay?” Nathan asked, and I could only croak in reply. I had a cold, I’d get over it, right?

Wrong.

The cold morphed in a horrible sinus, throat and chest infection, with fevers and aching joints and never-ending piles of used handkerchiefs. The whole thing has spanned five days (so far), but for a consummate drama queen, five days is long enough. I’m so glad it’s happening now and not in two weeks time, when all my germs would be trapped on a plane (I think my classmates are probably also glad of the timing!).

Another lucky thing: Nathan emerged from this whole ordeal unscathed. He even managed to look after me, in between killing orcs (Orcs Must Die 2) and conquering Northern Europe (Crusader Kings 2). Oh, and post lovely photos of me on facebook:

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Nathan likes to call this one “the saddest girl in the world”. Even though the photo was taken before things got really bad! Luckily, everything seems to be subsiding. I can get back to concentrating on fun things, like packing, looking up maps of cities I’ll be staying in, and trying to contain my excitement about the whole thing.

part-time single

This long weekend can’t come fast enough. Normally, I’m fine with Nathan working interstate Monday to Friday. There are lots of benefits to the situation – his commute to work only happens twice a week, rather than twice a day. If he worked in Melbourne, he would actually spend more time on trains than he currently does on planes. It’s also a good thing for his career, to be able to travel anywhere, any time.

But sometimes… two days at the end of every week just aren’t enough. In both of our families, birthdays and anniversaries tend to be clumped together, which can mean that we’re trying to squeeze multiple obligations into each weekend, for months. At times like those, alone time is hard to come by.

In his downtime, all he wants to do is sleep anyway.
In his downtime, all he wants to do is sleep anyway.

A while ago, somebody tried to commiserate with me – “I know how you feel, it’s the same with us – I barely see my husband during the week either!”

Same thing? Not quite.

I kind of had to restrain myself with this one. Smile and nod. Yes, they work long hours; yes, they probably don’t spend much quality time during the week. But she gets to eat dinner with her husband and sleep in the same bed every night. If she needs a hug, she gets a hug. There is so much to be said for the physical closeness of simply existing in the same space, and I miss it. I’m surrounded by this home for two, yet I’m knocking around in here by myself most of the time. I don’t even know how people cope if their partner is deployed or something, for months at a time. When Nathan’s gone during the week, it’s not as though I’m suddenly living as a single person – in this house, the lack of him is tangible.

mixtape: who

Nath and I saw David Byrne and St Vincent perform at MONA FOMA in January. It was amazing. Both of them are so fiercely individual, yet their musical styles somehow just mesh together perfectly. Highlight of the gig: David Byrne’s dancing. Oh, and Annie Clarke really does look (and sing) like a little angel in real life.