It is spring of 2001, also known as the year I lived in Europe. We are in Italy with our professor for what is essentially the world’s greatest field trip. One morning, in Rome, we wake up early to catch a bus to Vatican City. We line up outside the doors of the Vatican and await instructions from our professor. They are as follows: When the doors open, we pay our admission and make a mad dash, ignoring every sculpture or painting along the way, directly to the Sistine Chapel. If we get there fast enough, he promises, we will have a moment alone, in the chapel, all to ourselves.
Now, I don’t necessarily go in for all that religious mumbo jumbo, and I wasn’t desperate for an A on my Renaissance art essay, but I do love a healthy competition, so I take my professor’s advice to heart. Upon entrance to the museum, we race along the corridors, following signs to the Cappella Sistina. The running, mixed with the almost-intentionally confusing sign placement, blended with anticipation and a hint of absurdity, makes us laugh, somewhat ashamed of the pure joy in what we are doing. As we near the chapel entrance, I find that several of us are singing – Pink Floyd, for some reason. I don’t ask questions – it just feels right, in the same way that it feels right to stop when we enter the chapel.
Inside, we exchange our song for silence, our unity for solitude, and we wander the hushed room, our necks craned upward. Standing beneath the most perfect space between two objects, I see my entire existence in the nothingness between man’s outstretched hand and God’s… It is a memory that I can close my eyes today and see as vividly, and I am so grateful for my professor’s encouragement to go out and get ourselves that moment. In many ways, I see life as a series of such unique moments — I spend my life racing down corridors towards the next great thing, laughing and singing and struggling to catch my breath.
As I mentioned in my previous post, last weekend was spent in Los Angeles and included a trip to the Getty on a sunny afternoon (also known as “every day in LA“). During our visit, we took the garden tour, and perhaps I was particularly prone to drinking the Kool-Aid that day, but several of the tour stories stuck with me… including this one about the garden walk pictured above. The idea behind it is like so: the artist was tasked with creating a garden walk that was accessible to everyone. The walk is set on a fairly steep incline, so a straight path would have been too treacherous for many who dared traverse it. Instead, the artist designed a transecting path that softened the blow of the hill and at the same time created something special – a unique perspective and singular experience at every turning point. (Man, I hope I did my docent right with that synopsis).
I didn’t have to think long to uncover the metaphor in that. Very often I wish things were easier – I wish that life was more simple, that my direction was clear, that the secret of success was straightforward and accessible. At the same time… if you get there too fast, you done gone and missed the beauty all around you. An indirect path enables realization at every turn and forces you to slow down and take your surroundings for what they’re worth. I want very badly to trust my docent in that sacred truth, and I will myself to recall that garden walk when I sense I am lost along the way.
Apologies for the lapse in communication, but there was good reason for it. After a crazy week at work, Brendan and I packed up and headed to sunny Southern California for a long weekend… We figured it would be a timely escape from the holiday stress and the Chicago cold (As it turns out, our plan was perfect, as Chicago got snow yesterday for the first time this winter). While we’re here until tomorrow, I wanted to check in to describe our first day in L.A.
On our first day, we woke up early and drove to Hollywood with my college roommate, who works out here and does ridiculous things like meeting with network and studio executives on Friday mornings. She dropped us deadbeats at the Roosevelt Hotel, where we had a phenomenal breakfast at the Twenty-Five Degrees bar. Afterwards, we wandered up and down Hollywood Boulevard, people-watching and snapping photos and reading the names on the Walk of Fame (which for some reason reminded me vaguely of a cemetery). We indulged our tourist status, shopped in the stores at Hollywood and Highland, and killed time until my roommate had wrapped up her too-cool meetings. She picked us back up and we headed west, stopping at Pinches Tacos across from the Chateau Marmont for our second meal of the day. (One theme of this and any trip we take is that there is an exorbitant amount of eating and drinking – I write this post from the terrace of our hotel, where we are currently having brunch).
Back in the car, we drove through Beverly Hills on our way back to the west side and the Getty Center in Brentwood (by far one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve ever been to, and the subject of future posts – wait for it!). We spent the rest of the afternoon there, watched the sunset, then headed back to her place for wine and takeout Thai. All in all, it was a solid first day in L.A.
Today – brunch, a drive to Santa Monica, a boat parade in Marina del Rey, and a holiday party at my friend’s beachside apartment. Fingers crossed we make our early flight home tomorrow, preferably with enough time for In-N-Out on the way to LAX…
- On the steps of Montmartre, 2000
For my entire junior year in college, I studied abroad in Leuven, Belgium. I refer to this period elitely as My Time In Europe and start off many a story with a commanding “When I lived in Europe…”. It was and remains one of the greatest experiences of my life — I was young, surrounded by friends, and a continent away from any reality I’d ever known. I was smart enough to get by doing minimal work, attending class sparsely, which freed up my time to focus chiefly on the following activities.
- Dragging luggage across crowded platforms to catch various trains.
- Falling dramatically in and out of love.
- Losing my passport.
- Trying on shoes I had no business buying.
- Sitting in various town squares watching the well-accessorized world go by.
- Dancing on tables.
- Ambling through museums.
- Eating my weight in baguettes and gouda cheese.
One regret I do have from My Time in Europe is my failure to take advantage of resources and proximity to cultivate a basic knowledge of wine. I shudder to say that I had little to no taste for the stuff back then. Food? Clearly. Art and culture? But of course. The Belgian propensity for brooding, furrowed brows and all-black ensembles? Absolutely. But wine? Well, I literally didn’t even know what I was missing… So I suppose that gives me all the more reason to go back.