Posts Tagged With: Travel

Looking Forward to Visiting Home

In about a week, I will be heading back home to Berkeley, California, to visit my family and friends back home. I can’t wait. I’ve been thinking about the trip a lot lately. Planning what I want to do while I’m home, figuring out what I want to bring with me, that sort of thing, yes, but also thinking about all the things I miss about Berkeley. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent living in New York, but there are some things that I find myself wistfully reminiscing about when I think about going back home. Here are some of the top contenders for “things I miss the most about Berkeley.”

1) Being able to see the sky…. After my first year in New York, I flew home to the San Francisco airport, fortunately avoiding Asiana airlines. When I first came out of the airport, and was on my way home, I found myself marveling at how much of the sky I could see just by looking out the window of the BART. (BART is short for Bay Area Rapid Transit, for folks who aren’t familiar with it. It’s the subway system for the whole Bay Area, and it costs about ten times as much as the NYC subway; I don’t miss that part.) I felt like I had flown to Montana by accident. Here in Manhattan, in the course of a normal day, you only really see little patches of sky, never the whole sweep from horizon to horizon. You never get the “inverted bowl” effect here. Instead, you’re always just catching glimpses of these fragmented slivers of sky between the skyscrapers. I miss being able to look up and see nothing but sky.

2) …Especially the stars. During the day, since work and classes often keep me indoors a lot of the time, the absence of the sky isn’t quite so bad. But at night, when the city is all lit up, blazing and blaring and bright, you can barely even see a single star. It’s not as though there isn’t light pollution in Berkeley, too, but on a clear night, you can clearly and distinctly see whole constellations, even walking down a brightly lit street. From the hills up above the city, you can look out and see the whole sweep of stars across the sky, It’s not as clear and pure and bright as the view of the Milky Way from Deep Springs (a tiny little self-sufficient college/farm in the middle of nowhere along the California-Nevada border), which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but compared to the featureless blackness above New York, it might as well be.

3) The smell of the sea. Even though Manhattan is technically a lot closer to the sea proper (as opposed to the Bay) than Berkeley is, you’d never know that from the air. In Berkeley, there is pretty much always a sea breeze, and it actually smells like a sea breeze. It’s cool on your face and salty on your tongue. In New York, it’s often windy, but the wind just doesn’t smell like anything. (If you’re lucky.) Of course, the fact that the summers here are so much hotter and wetter doesn’t help; right when you need a refreshing sea breeze, you instead get a blast of garbage-scented wind, as hot and humid as can be.

4) Radical philosophy and politics. New York is way too staid and conservative for me. Yeah, I said it.

5) Random piles of free stuff everywhere. Yes, really. See, people in Berkeley have this thing about leaving stuff at the curb. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. I mean, yes, I’ve seen (and occasionally even claimed) things left on the curbs in New York, and in other places, but Berkeley folks are just on a whole different plane of existence when it comes to free curbside scrounging. You can literally find anything on the curb in Berkeley. Each year, NYU organizes this “Green Apple Move-Out” program where students leave their stuff in big bins to be donated. Anything in the bins is fair game until the bins are taken away for donation, however, so anyone who stays for the summer (e.g. me) can just go down to the basement of their residence hall and find basically anything they could possibly want. In Berkeley, that’s just what walking down the street is like. Every day. Anything and everything that people don’t need or want, they just give away, for free, to random anonymous strangers. Now that’s what you’d call “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” right?

You can find furniture, clothes, shoes, bags, appliances, lamps, antiques, bicycles, sports equipment, vast collections of books and films…even expensive electronics, from cameras to computers, if the weather is good. (Watch out for anything with a piece of paper taped to it that just says “WORKS,” though. It probably doesn’t.) And, on the flipside, anything of yours that you want to get rid of can simply be left on the curb, no disposal necessary. No matter how useless, broken, gross, or otherwise defective an item might be, it will be gone within an hour. You may not be able to imagine how there could actually be a single person on Earth who would find your item useful, but trust me, that person exists, and they live in Berkeley. One of my father’s colleagues, a longtime Berkeley resident, once joked that in Berkeley, you could leave a dead body by the curb in front of your house…and it would be gone before you got back to your porch. I’ve personally never tried that one, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

So, there you have it. That’s a little tribute to the spirit of Berkeley. There is so much more, of course, but these are some of the most significant things I miss about Berkeley itself. Naturally, I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family, but it isn’t just the individual people I miss, but the place itself. The feel of it. If I could get a full refund on my plane ticket now, and magically have all my family and friends come visit me here in New York instead, I wouldn’t do it. I miss Berkeley itself, and I can’t wait to be headed back there, even if it’s just for a couple weeks before the schoolyear starts up again. Goin’ ‘ome!

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Daily Prompt: Stranger in a Strange Land

Yes, I know I blog about Polyamory kind of a lot. And yes, I know that a lot of the modern polyamory movement in America can trace its roots back to Robert Heinlein‘s depictions in his books, and very specifically to his novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Tim Zell, now called Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, was an avid reader and fan of Heinlein’s, exchanging letters with him and even going so far as to found a real-lifeChurch of All Worlds,” a Neopagan organization openly espousing Polyamory. His wife and fellow Neopagan, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, was the author of the Green Egg article “A Bouquet of Lovers,” which is commonly—and incorrectly—called the origin of the word “Polyamory.” While the word Polyamory is nowhere to be found in her article, the article is certainly about Polyamory, and it is one of the most well-known and influential discussions of Polyamorous relationships in modern times.

However, despite all this, and despite its title, this post has nothing to do with any of that. It is a response to today’s Daily Prompt, which asks bloggers to describe their “favorite part” of visiting a new place.

And here’s my answer: the sidewalks of Buenos Aires.

No, seriously. During my sophomore year, as I’ve mentioned before, I visited Buenos Aires during my spring break with a group of fellow students from my university. From the moment I arrived there, the thing that immediately caught my attention was the sidewalks. They looked as though they were made of bathroom tile! I thought that was the coolest, most random thing I’d ever seen. I thought it was so fascinating that, while everyone else on the trip was taking photos of the buildings, or the monuments, or (mostly) themselves in front of the buildings and the monuments, I was going around taking photos of the sidewalk. (Note: I have not included my own photos here, because they’re pretty crappy and there are much, much better ones available here.) Here’s where it got interesting: pretty much right away, I started noticing that the pattern changed as you walked down the block. The bathroom tile gave way to long, elegant slabs of marbled concrete, dotted with tiny little dark swirls.

As my fellow students and I walked around the city, all I would talk about was the sidewalks. They fascinated me. I couldn’t stop looking at them, noticing all the different variations, looking at where one ended and the other began. That was when it hit me: the different sidewalk patterns lined up with the property lines! Each building had a different pattern of sidewalk in front of it. I was ecstatic; I had figured it out! The sidewalk patterns were different because each property owner was responsible for maintaining the sidewalk in front of their own building! Having convinced myself of this, I insisted on explaining it to everyone else in the group, and feeling pretty chuffed about myself as a result. Sure enough, when we got back to our hotel and had access to the internet, I looked it up, and it turns out that I had it right: Buenos Aires does not have its sidewalks maintained by the government (except, of course, in front of government-owned buildings), but by individual citizens who own the properties adjacent to the sidewalk.

That, to me, is what travel is all about. You go somewhere you’ve never been, and you notice what they’re doing differently. Yes, you notice the large, obvious differences (“Durrr…they speak more Spanish!”), but what I find far more interesting are the little things. Like the sidewalk. You would never think twice about the sidewalk in your hometown. It’s such an everyday part of life, so familiar and unchanging, that you come to take it for granted. But then you go to somewhere like Buenos Aires, and suddenly you see that there is a different way of doing things. You see that the way sidewalks are in your hometown and the way in Buenos Aires are vastly different answers to a question you hadn’t even thought about before.

And it gets you thinking about that question. It gets you asking yourself, “Hang on, is my culture’s answer to this question the right one? Why do we do things this way? Are there downsides to the way we’re living that never occurred to us before?” I’m not saying Buenos Aires has it all figured out when it comes to sidewalks, and I know I would have had a hell of a time just getting from point A to point B if I were in a wheelchair, but the nonchalant beauty of the sidewalks, reminding us that diversity is just more satisfying than homogeneity, is something I’ve really come to miss ever since leaving that eclectic city. (And I was only there for a week!)

Traveling to new places, if you’re paying attention, gives you the chance to take something strange and make it familiar to you, but much more importantly, it gives you the chance to take something familiar and make it strange to you. And that’s why travel is so important, so exciting, for me: it gives me opportunities to think like an anthropologist. (Which is not just fun, but also kind of necessary, since Anthropology is one half of my double major. Fifty points to anyone who doesn’t know me personally and correctly guesses the other half.) It gives me a chance to see the culture I was raised in with new eyes, as though seeing it from the outside.

Which, strangely enough (everyone go ahead and groan in unison at the pun), brings me back to the title of today’s daily prompt. The title whose history I said had nothing to do with this post. Well, turns out I lied! It has everything to do with this post. Because if the best part of traveling to new places is thinking like an anthropologist…isn’t that just the same thing as being a Fair Witness?

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