A Camel Ride Along the Mediterranean!

We unfurled ourselves from the bus onto a fat stretch of parking lot. Puffs of red dust clouded around my feet with every step, the sun burning itself into my neck. I could hear, beneath the cliff, the thrum of waves on the beach. Cars were clustered around the periphery of the lot, but the main attraction sat squarely in the center: five rather unamused looking camels.
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It was like going to the state fair, but with the Mediterranean sea as a backdrop instead of fried snickers bars stalls.

Our Russel-Brand-lookalike guide hollered for a volunteer to be the first to ride a camel.

Two ladder steps later, volunteer #1 grasped the reins and giggled with delight. It had been years since i’d been on a horse and only seconds since i’d made a decidedly eff-it decision and jumped in the saddle. There was no watching how it was done, no hanging back to figure out the rhythm or canter or trot, just a blazing leap and brassy sense of confidence.

Until the camel started to stand. I wasn’t ready for the weird knees, the lurching forward as the camel rose to its full, much-taller-than-a-horse height. The humps that secured the fat wad of fabric connecting me to the animal seemed considerably less stable as the sea beneath the cliffs dropped another ten feet below me.

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I think the sound i emitted would best be called a shriek-guffaw. There was a lot of shouting and laughing and swearing. I clamped my legs and promptly forget every riding lesson from third-grade horse camp i ever knew. In the grand total of the three minutes i got to spend trotting around the parking lot, i think i spent at least two and three-quarters cracking up.

Camel grins!

Camel grins!

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The camel knelt to the ground and once again i was on a rollercoaster of backwards-and-forwards bingo. I felt like the Star Wars All-Terrain Armoured Transport crashing into a pile of ton-ton ridden snow, except in a parking lot surrounded by tourists. No stepping ladder was to be found near my camel, this round. Instead, the camel guide’s hands were suddenly clamped around my waist and unceremoniously plopping me on the ground in a guffaw-shrieking heap of HOLY MARY’s.

I gave the camel an affectionate pat. Our lunch-lurching three minutes were extraordinary. They were also ridiculous. Mostly, though, our three magical minutes together were my favorite three minutes in the whole of Morocco.

I’m back now, nursing a lobster colored sunburn and swaddling myself in wool sweaters. It was an incredible trip made especially incredible by two darling flatmates, Joan and Abby.  I have so many more tales to share – a wander through the blue city of Chefchouen, a grazing over gelato and tapas and wine in Spain, a ghastly menu error that resulted in fried anchovies, to name a few.

But i also have another plane to catch in some 16 hours or so, bound across the Atlantic for Carolina skies. My grandmother is not well, so i am going home for the week to be with my family. There will be more stories soon, though! Thanks for sticking around.

current jam: ‘ho hey’ the lumineers.

best thing: camels! by the mediterranean sea!

The Original London Sightseeing Tour

We pause in our Parisian program today for a London-town themed update…

J and i were running on a strict budget and even stricter itinerary in our five days (including travel) in Paris and London. There was no possible way we could do or see everything that we wanted – particularly in London, where the touristy spots are pretty spread out. The nature of being a really old city and having a lot of history to tell, i suppose!

Since we only had two days in London and J had never been, i wanted to find a tour that would enable us to at least see the bulk of the major attractions. After an inquiry with the lovely and helpful crew at the Original London Sightseeing Tour, our seats were booked.

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The Original London Sightseeing Tour is an open-top, double-decker bus tour that offers three routes around the center of London to choose from (everything from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London is included). With the price of the ticket you also get a complimentary river cruise and walking tours, which my father and i had done when last we were in London in 2011.

Both the bus tour and the river cruise are best known for their engaging commentary, be it with a guide or through the multi-lingual commentaries you can access with (free!) headphones. It was from the commentary we learned tidbits about conventional London hotspots (like how the Magna Carta was signed in the Tower of London) and more unconventional details, like the filming location for the interior of Gringotts in Harry Potter was the Australia House!

The aforementioned Australia House!

The aforementioned Australia House!

J & i atop the bus!

J & i atop the bus! We elected the open-air part in spite of the cold!

But the best part, for our compressed itinerary purposes, was the hop-on, hop-off nature of our tickets. Good for 24 hours, we were able to utilize the bus to actually see London (a luxury not afforded on the Tube) and hop off at the sights we took time to explore: Saint Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, and Trafalgar Square.

The view of Saint Paul's from the top of our bus!

The view of Saint Paul’s from the top of our bus!

The view of the Tower Bridge from across the Thames!

The view of the Tower Bridge from across the Thames!

In case it wasn’t already apparent, i’m a big fan of The Original London Sightseeing Tour (long name and all!). Their staff were tremendously friendly and there’s no better way to see London than by the famous double-decker bus. I’d recommend this for any combination of travelers: families, couples, friends, groups.

It is thus with great delight i have something to offer all of you – a 20% off discount code! This code is only good from March 22nd – April 22nd, but you can book your tour up to six months in advance!

So if you (or anyone you know!) want to book an excellent bus tour and river cruise for an excursion to London anytime in the next six months, use the following code for 20% your ticket price: wanderingwrites.

You can make your bookings online (www.theoriginaltour.com) or over the phone at +44 (0)20 8877 2120.

Bon voyage! And be sure to let me know what you think of your tour of London!

**Edit: please note, as of now (23 April 2013) this code is no longer valid! Thanks! xo

current jam: ‘london calling’ the clash.

best thing: adventuring!

Whirlwind.

J left for the States early this morning. I’m on my second box of cookies and third cup of tea. Don’t even ask about the state of my hair, or the depletion of tissues in the box.

We had the most enchanting time together and, while i’ll spare you the Nicholas Sparks commentary, i just have to say how grateful i am he had the opportunity to visit. Not all couples have that chance. Long distance is for the birds. Or for the foolishly and deeply committed.

We certainly had a whirlwind of a visit; in the span of his twelve days here we touted about Edinburgh, Paris, London, and even (thanks to a disaster-turned-adventure) had a Scottish fry-up in Glasgow. RyainAir oh-so-kindly cancelled their only Wednesday flight to Paris less than twelve hours prior to its intended 7 am takeoff. Thanks to J’s genius, though, we re-routed with FlyBe through Glasgow – losing a day in Paris but gaining a gorgeous train ride through Scotland’s countryside.

The view of Arthur's Seat some twenty miles away from Edinburgh!

The view of Arthur’s Seat some twenty miles away from Edinburgh!

A true Scottish Loch (or, well, a petite one...)

A true Scottish Loch (or, well, a petite one…)

Our propeller plane from Glasgow to Paris!

Our propeller plane from Glasgow to Paris!

It’s in the midst of the crisis – when i’m trying not to cry over how my color-coded itinerary has been thrown out the window by the forces of Air Traffic Control (or whatever) – that my patient, flexible, and creative J reminds me of why we balance one another. Sure, we may both be Religion majors and equally geek out over cathedrals (we visited nine in total) but when it comes to personality types, my INFJ meets its opposite in his ENFP. He pulls me out of my cat-sulking shyness and teaches me why going with the flow can bring unprecedented adventure. Two people who were never meant to meet fell in love. Two hemispheres collided and my whole world has been reshaped. A day in Paris may have been lost, but a serendipitous adventure now stands in that day’s stead.

And for that, i am evermore grateful.

current jam: ‘skinny love’ birdy.

best thing: tagalongs from my father.

Top 5 Things to Do in Amsterdam.

I’ve written about all of the things below in greater detail, but if you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam in the near future, these are the condensed top 5 things i would recommend doing! (See all my writing on Amsterdam here.)

1. Albert Cuyp Market. If you want to see a local side of town, this – the oldest street market in the Netherlands – is it. The market is exploding in stalls of things to try – everything from frites stands (mmm!) to lingerie shops. We took a full morning to peruse the selection and mostly ate our way through, devouring a powder-sugar-covered waffle at Wally’s Wafels and gorging ourselves on local olives. The prices are unparalleled for such gourmet food! (The market runs Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm).

top 5 - market

2. A Bike Tour. Really, i’m sure any company will do you just fine; Mike’s Bikes was great for the youthful, edgy side of Amsterdam (if a little heavy on the information about weed and prostitution for people not looking for that sort of entertainment) but if you want to get the lay of the land hop on a bike and go. It is the local way of getting around, after all!

shop cats make for the best bikes!

shop cats make for the best bikes!

3. The Van Gogh Museum. While the actual Van Gogh museum was undergoing renovations whilst we were in Amsterdam, the Hermitage Museum displayed the bulk of the collection in a special exhibit. Regardless of their housing, Van Gogh’s paintings come alive off the walls and force you to pay attention to their kinetic, vibrant energy. Though this is on the pricier end of Amsterdam museums, it is worth every cent!

vincent

4. Dam Square. Though this is certainly the touristy center, there are so many great little shops to peak in (and wonderful people-watching!).  As a connoisseur of cheesy souvenirs, i loved shopping in Dam Square Souvenirs which is full of beautiful – if pricey – wooden shoes and other lovely Holland-themed merchandise. The best part, though, is the enormous yellow wooden shoe outside. Free mega-tourist-photo-op!

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5. Eat. Anything, really, but especially the bread, cheese, sausage, and frites! The Albert Cuyp Market is definitely the place to eat your way through, but don’t let your gastronomical exploits end there. Our favorite restaurant was van Kerkwijk, in Amsterdam Centruum. The menu is recited by the wait staff, who are warm and friendly folk, and it’s a selection abrim in quirky combinations (like steak slathered in strawberry sauce and goat cheese – shockingly good!). Another great place was right next to our hotel, the Café Onder de Ooievaar – the cheese and sausage plate made for a sumptuous late-night snack!

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Bon voyage!

Highly Honorable Mentions:

The Anne Frank House (it was a wee bit crowded for this claustrophobic, but still very powerful – book tickets online & try to go first thing in the morning, rather than in the afternoon!)

if you like my condensed travel reviews, you’d probably like my tripadvisor profile!

current jam: ‘shake it out’ florence + the machine.

best thing: magna carterrrrr!

 

Aimless in Amsterdam: An Arrival Gone Astray (And Other Alliterations)

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It was nearing 11 pm, the Amsterdam air was bitingly frigid, and we were hopelessly lost.

Having taken the advice of a tourist information man upon our arrival in the city, Abby and i had elected to take the Metro instead of the tram. We’d arrived, some five blocks away from our hotel, at a station i could only assume is pronounced “Wheee-sper Plain!”

We should have taken the tram.

I’d carefully traced my fingers around the contours of the map before we left. Studied the route from the main train station to our hotel. Yet somehow, in the darkness, all the streets didn’t seem to line up with our disoriented departure from the metro station. A lot of asking people on their bikes for directions ensued. The streets of Amsterdam are all well-lit, because everyone rides bikes until, you know, the wee hours of the morning. But lamps do little for the cold.

So while we were grateful for the lamps, our toes were going numb and our patience was wearing thin.

Resigned, we hailed a cab. Four euros and two blocks later, we were deposited at the elusive Hotel Prinsenhof.

Oh.

As frustrating as it was that we’d been so close and yet so lost, i definitely do not regret those four euros being spent on the security of being dropped off precisely where we needed to be!

A note tacked to the door of the small bed-and-breakfast style hotel told us to ask the bartender at the café adjacent to the hotel for our keys. From over the bar counter, he produced an envelope enclosing both our keys and vouchers for complimentary wine from the bar (score!). Eager to defrost from the sub-freezing temperatures, we made our way up the three most narrow flights of stairs i’d ever beheld before beholding our room.

A re-creation of Rembrant's "Night Watch" in the hotel's dining room!

A re-creation of Rembrant’s “Night Watch” in the hotel’s dining room!

For all the strife of finding the place, the Hotel Prinsenhof was worth all the wait. Our room overlooked the canal, the reflections of lamps and house-lights glittering in the water between docked boats. We’d learn the next day that the breakfast served was delicious and simple, made all the better by the cappuccino machine (accessible all day!).

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But for the night, there was a much-needed drink to be had and food to be found. The café, Onder de Ooivaar, turned out to have the most incredible cheese-and-sausage platter i have ever had. After what had been such a stressful night getting into the city, my first real bite of Holland was this incredible Gouda.

And just like that, i was in love with Amsterdam. The infamous “they” say the way to a girl’s heart is through her stomach (or whatever). I say it’s through cheese. Or wine. Or, you know, both in a picturesque European city glistening with stars in bike-lane lined canals.

The next day was going to be a packed one – a bike tour, the Van Gogh exhibit at the hermitage, and more eating (naturally) – but after our second glass of Spanish red and second platter of cheese, we were ready for much-needed sleep.

We awoke the next day to sounds of dinging bike bells and shopkeepers opening their tulip stalls, ready to see the splendor in a new, and warmer, light.

current jam: ‘same love’ macklemore + ryan lewis.

best thing: bagels and cream cheese.

The Only Way to See Amsterdam is from the Seat of a Bicycle.

Amsterdam boasts of being the only city in the world that houses more bikes than people. The bicycles clutter the canal sidewalks, over-run the cars in the streets, and nowhere can one be found in the City Centrum where there isn’t some whizzing ding of a bell making music. (Especially if you’re a tourist walking in the bike lane). There are even special traffic lights just for the cyclists!

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bike lane from inside a tram!

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Naturally, then, the best way to see the city is like a local. At the advice of one of my flatmates, on day 1 of our Amsterdam Adventure, Abby and i took a gander with Mike’s Bike Tours. The ride spanned 2.5 hours and the major circumference of the city – seeing everything from the Anne Frank House to a Picasso statue in Vondel Park. The bike shop even had two shop cats!

CATS AND BIKES

The tour definitely does not shy away from talking about the naughtier sides of Amsterdam (as in, prostitution and drugs) so i wouldn’t recommend it for anyone wanting to stick to pretty canals and old churches.

But Abby and i had a blast wheeling around Jordaan, the Museumplein, and sweet little streets lining the canals. Our fingers and toes were frozen solid in the sub-freezing weather, but there was a pit stop for a much-need hot cocoa and the most delicious apple turnover i’ve ever had in my life at the Bertram & Brood. And, since you asked: yes the Red Light District felt safe, and yes: going about it during the daytime is certainly less seedy than at night. The women who work there are, after all, human beings engaging in a legal and heavily guarded profession.

Right: best place for apple turnovers i've yet found; Left: the church next to the Anne Frank house.

Right: best place for apple turnovers i’ve yet found; Left: the church next to the Anne Frank house.

I have to admit, though, i sort of pictured the Red Light District to be like a scene from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. You know, 19th-century can-can dresses and simpering red lips. I fear to say my imagination did not match the reality at all!

Riding a bike in Amsterdam, though, is no joke. Sure, the whole city is as flat as Kansas, but being on a bike here is kind of like driving a car in New York City. You have to constantly be aware, assertive, and unafraid to stick to your decisions (even in the face of an oncoming tram!). At one point, a father and his toddler son whizzed past me so fast i – literally – backpedaled. The most embarrassing part? The kid had one glasses like me and looked ridiculously cool for someone who couldn’t have been older than four.

Europeans, ya’ll. I am constantly being out-fahsion-ed. Even by the babies.

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It doesn’t get more quintessentially Dutch than a windmill and bikes!

 Our noses falling off from the cold, our legs sore from out-pumping oncoming traffic, and our ears stuffed with fun tidbits about Nieuwmarket and the vivacity of Dutch life all made for a great afternoon in Amsterdam. Should you ever get the chance to voyage to this once-quaint-seaside-villa, be sure to include a bike tour into your stay!

current jam: ‘lovely ladies’ from les misérables. (i can’t help it! stuck in my head after all that!)

best thing: apple turnovers.

I Skipped The Presidential Debate to Watch an Interview with JK Rowling.

Though i don’t think most of you don’t live under large geological hunks of stone, it bears reminding that JK Rowling recently released her eighth publish volume and first book for adults, The Casual Vacancy. (I’ve been anticipating this release for some time). I finished the book a week ago and, in an action so deviant from my normal behavior of plastering my literary opinions across all social media feeds within keyboard-tapping distance, i’ve kept the book between my teeth. Which, considering the novel’s grisly content and deeply grim characters, is probably the safest place to tuck it away. Where it’s always under threat of being bitten in two, but somehow permeating its savory and sour taste down your throat. Hard to swallow. Impossible not to.

I’ve a fuller review coming to you soon (it first shall be published in this week’s edition of The Mount Holyoke News, so after Thursday i can share it here) but for tonight, i’ll say this: i’m really, really glad to have read this book. Rowling’s mastercraft as a storyteller remains unparalleled: her characters are frighteningly real and her capacity for complexity in narration and plot is phenomenal. But this book left a rotting feeling in my sternum and bones, for the very power with which Rowling can tell a dark, dark story.

But for tonight! Rather than suffering through another presidential candidate debate, i chose to go to a livestreaming event sponsored by the Odyssey Bookshop and Verbosity, MHC’s literary magazine, with my own Padfoot. The event was a conversation between JK Rowling and Ann Patchett about the new book. It was hysterical (Jo Rowling, please be my friend), moving (Jo Rowling, please by my best friend), and a fantastic insight into her writing process and creative genuis (Jo Rowling, please, please, PLEASE be my best friend!).

Plus, there were delectable snitch-painted sugar cookies for sale.

Jo’s insistence on humility without retracting from the work she has done is especially moving for me, as a feminist who works with an organization centered on women claiming their voices for change. She’s unafraid to be human and humorous and weird in front of an audience, but she doesn’t try and write off the effort she has poured into her craft.

To see the love with which she had crafted the characters of Pagford, though, was easily the most moving component of the whole evening. These characters are not, universally, likeable. Most are downright despicable. But her attention to them and their wholeness is what makes her such a wickedly good writer – the woman knows and loves the people she creates. And because of that, i couldn’t put down the book that made my stomach churn and tumble into fretful bubbles of anguish.

current jam: ‘one more night’ maroon 5. judging pants are off!

best thing: the study abroad application was sent off this morning!

Hometown Tourist Night Out: Wine & Design

So while i was internally wrangling with the metaphorical implications of turning twenty, i actually spent the day doing less-than-tortured festivities. Namely: painting an acrylic tree with a Van-Gogh-inspired backdrop with my new social event obsession, Wine & Design Chapel Hill.

(they gave me a free koozie (for my soda!) for my birthday!)

Wine & Design is, as i understand it, a quickly growing corporate art-making franchise wherein you can take a night out to “get your art buzz on.” You bring your own beverage (thus, the wine!) and an artist teaches you step-by-step how to paint the chosen work for the evening. We went for their “funky landscape” workshop and had a total blast!

the supplies provided for art-making!

Our artist, Arlie, was hilarious & a really wonderful teacher!

the painting progress over the evening…

(photo courtesy of the wine & design chapel hill/durham facebook page!)

It was such a treat to get back into painting. I haven’t really made any art since going to school, other than the semesterly tradition of découpaging the hell out of my notebooks and plastering my walls with postcard collages. There is something incredibly soothing about the physical motion of painting, the satisfaction of seeing a piece completed to its end. It’s also fun to make a less serious piece – like a tree – rather than always getting caught up in making something that matters. To me, what mattered was this cherished time with loved ones and having a blast swirling paint on a canvas.

my finished piece!

Though Wine & Design can be a little pricey, it is totally worth it. You’re not just paying for the painting instruction, materials, or work itself – you’re really treating yourself to a night out!

(For more of my hometown tourist series, click here!)

current jam: ‘she walks right through me’ alex day

best thing: chai tea & legal pads full of inked notes.

The 74th Annual Hunger Games Have Begun!

Coming as a surprise to no one (except for, perhaps, new friend who found this blog by googling “tatoo pic for sane untamed spirit“) i am freaking beside myself right now. My nails are nibbled down with nervous anticipation, there are dark circles permanently under my eyes from lack of sleep, and i find myself twitching at even the slightest sounds – most especially, phrases containing “snow” or “roses” in them.

These are all totally natural, 100% sane side effects of re-reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Right? Perfectly normal.

For those friends who have, with considerable befuddlement, found their way here via intergalactic wifi: The Hunger Games are firstly torture devices in bound-page form used simultaneously to keep unapologetic nerds like myself up into the wee hours of the morning reading, and as a tool by which totalitarian states can manipulate large populations to bend to their will. Secondarily, the Games serve as the driving force in the plot behind the upcoming film of the same name, released this Friday.

I first fell under Collins’ literary spell in January of 2011, wherein similar side effects took over and i turned into nothing less than a catatonic word-eating shell for a period of four days. The books are brilliant; while the writing is merely prosaic, the plot propels the reader into forward-thrust the whole way through with unrelenting twists and carefully constructed character developments. Crafted with careful consideration of the devastation and havoc war wrecks upon all people, Collins has rendered a masterpiece trilogy for the Young Adult (and not-so-young-adult) reader.

If it is not yet glaringly obvious, i freaking love these books. They manage to execute what every SciFi* writer and reader dreams of: a thought experiment that possesses enough grounding in reality to potentially come true (logos), characters who are so riveting and realistic and feel pain and joy with excruciating attention to details (pathos), and they paint a world where ethical dilemmas are visceral and applicable to our own present-day situation (ethos). The social commentary made present with keen subtlety in the reality-TV-show aspect to the brutality that are the Games themselves (twenty-four children fighting to the death on live television for national entertainment) forces the reader to take a hard look at what we perceive to be entertainment and how desensitized the Global North has become to violence.

Katniss Everdeen, the narrator and protagonist of the series, is one of my all-time favorite literary characters. She’s fierce, determined, clever, and unapologetic for her strength – and yet so utterly human it is painful. When compared with the ever-present and ever-puke-inducing Bella Swan (who is also strung up in an otherworldly love triangle similar only in name to Katniss) she is a total master of her own agency, humanity, and willpower. She freely acknowledges that there are forces beyond her control that seek to manipulate her, and yet she fights back in unconventional ways to undermine and subvert the power of the unjust world she has inherited. Put simply, the woman kicks ass.

For all the above reasons, i am stoked for the film. Collins writes like she is filming; the cinematic view Katniss has on her reality, the ever-present “insects” and cameras that track Panem’s citizens every move, and the action-packed pages will translate to a movie quite naturally (in my humble opinion). And unlike Potter, where there were more subplots that hours in a day, The Hunger Games in its narration and style has a real one-track focus in terms of plot and character development. Katniss is the sole narrator, and so if the film does it right they’ll follow her story to a T and everything will fall into place. Having seen the trailer and the cast list, i feel like the director and crew (who have had a ton of input from Collins, which gladdens me) have made some wise and trustworthy decisions to make a film worthy of the books.

And because i’m so excited for this film to FINALLY come out (and, let’s be real, because i’ve finished re-reading the series in less than 48 hours and can’t stand not hyping up when the release is so tantalizingly close) this is only the first in a Hunger Games blog series this week. Tomorrow, pending my afternoon-o-crafting goes according to plan, there should be Wandering Writes’ first ever how-to post. And it involves spray paint.

But for now, i’ll leave you with my official District 12 Identification (you can make your own here!):

So that’s all for now, ducklings. Warm wishes your way.

And may the odds be ever in your favor.

current jam: “silver parachute” alex carpenter.

best thing in my life right now: crafting. and mockingjays.

*And while i know there is some dispute as to the genre classification of The Hunger Games, the working definition i function under is a thought experiment that employs technology in a way that harkens to an age different than our own. Really, this is “dystopian fiction” rather than science-y SciFi (like Contact or even Doctor Who) which happens to be my personal favorite genre, but whatever. H8rZ gUnNaa h88888.

Even the Darkest Night Will End and the Sun Will Rise: Les Misérables.

Okay, friends. The Kony 2012 conversation is, by no stretch of the sub-cranium, ceasing.* While the internet-fad-ness of it may dissipate, i am making this public pledge to you here and now to do my best to keep you informed of updates i think pertinent. I love Uganda with all of my being, and i sincerely hope our discourse is not an end.

But, in lieu of the enormous amounts of literature i’ve been consuming and small amounts of it i’ve been outputting, i did not post something that i intended to last Thursday afternoon. For it was last Wednesday night that i treated myself to a night at the theatre; as mentioned last week, a touring Broadway company production of my absolute-until-death-do-we-part-favorite musical of all-time-until-oblivion, Les Misérables, was in town. And while initially i was invited to go with some friends, work schedules got all mixed-up and no one was able to go with me. Undeterred and unwilling to miss a chance to see a show i hadn’t experience live since i was nine years old, i booked a ticket. By myself. In Connecticut.

Understandably, last week i didn’t want to interrupt the flow of our conversation on Kony with chatter about musicals and mastra-dates,** but … it’s midterms. I’m exhausted and i just want to talk about escapism and theatre and frivolity right now.

Going to the theatre alone was certainly full of firsts but, thankfully, one without hiccups. Parking free and well-lit, they hadn’t misplaced my tickets, and there were no extraordinarily tall folk occupying the seat directly in front of me. I arrived almost an hour before the show started, being somewhat of a compulsive on-time-type-a-lady, so i spent the better part of it wandering around the Bushnell Theatre in downtown Hartford.

Outside the Bushnell Theatre!

And lemme tell ya, the place is swank. I’ve seen some lovely theatres in my day, but this one was a diva among the stars in your multitude. When i took my seat, found in the second-to-last-row of the balcony, i found myself in awe of the building itself. I always love it when theatres have character; the homes i made in the blackbox and stadium-seating style performance areas in high school epitomized “character.” They were endearing and quirky and drenched in histories of dark one-acts so obscure Edward Albee himself would be impressed – or aligned with the memories of so many to-be-giants having sung their hearts out on that very stage long before.

This theatre, though, was a character of her own. The elaborate décor along the walls and ceiling made my neck hurt from gazing. It was like sitting inside an enormous, intricately painted jewelry box. I felt small and insignificant – that is, until the curtain rose and i was one with the gods (and heaven is near (am i pushing this references too far? (impossible!))).

as close-up as i could get from the edge of the balcony!

after the show.

 Les Misérables is, at its core, a show about resilient faith in the face of a bleak and unforgiving world – and while the stories of such unyielding belief in goodness and the light move me to unladylike levels of sobbing-my-eyeballs-out-dom, that bleak and unforgiving world paints the story in such artistically realistic hues. And the re-staging of the performance is pure theatrical brilliance, conveying with the dressings of the show such contrast. The vivacity of the score by Boubil and Schoenberg have never ever been so beautifully matched by the set, costumes, and aesthetic of the piece. Through incorporating elements of Victor Hugo’s original paintings into projection-driven set backgrounds and blocking, the story takes on a new dimension in its visual impact. The profundity of Gavroche’s bravery – and tragedy – are deepened in the newly-conceptualized barricades scene.

And this hardly even touches on the extraordinary talents of the cast; Enjorlas’ voice was so divine i scarcely believed him to be human (though his curly blonde locks’ real-ness convinced me well enough to not suspect alien vocal invasion). Eponine and Fantine were pitch-perfect in their character choices, singing abilities, and gut-wrenching acting. Grantaire made me hate the students’ folly – and Marius made me understand why Enjorlas was a man worth dying beside.

But most of all, there was Jean Valjean.

Throughout the whole of my life – even longer than Harry Potter – this musical has been with me. And in my life there are so many questions that somehow seem wrong  i have empathized with different characters most deeply in different time. In some ways, it has always been Javert; the tragic, misguided and broken villains always woo me in ways that make me question my neurotic tendencies when cast in alternate lights. When i first flattered myself to think i was in love, it was Éponine; when i was seven and didn’t quite grasp the concept of the show, i loved the Thénadiers more than anything. And as i grow and change and come to know each character differently, i don’t relinquish any love i had for the others – but it does change.

And this show, there was not one, but two people with whom i felt like the earth moved in a way that made our consciousnesses parallel; Jean Valjean, portrayed perfectly by J. Mark McVey, and Enjorlas, played by Jeremy Hays. With Enjorlas, it makes perfect chronological sense: he is a passionate, somewhat zealous, convinced student who sees only the quest. I won’t be so bold and self-congratualting to say we have much in common, but the student-martyr complex is certainly something I empathize with (on a perhaps more muted level). This Friday, as it so happens, is Rachel Corrie day, and if you’ve been with me since the start of my blogging endeavors, you might recall that she is one of my beloved – if not more complicated – heroes.

But Valjean. Valjean was just love.

Which, at the end of the day you’re another day older, is what the show is all about. Love, transcending all adversity, all misery, all pain.

So as for the mastra-date? Yeah, totally worth it. While i may have unnerved my theatre-attending neighbors with my blubbering and program-clutching, it was a surprisingly transcendent and beautiful experience to go.

And i would not have missed this show for anything in the world, weird looks for solitude included.

current jam: thisthisthisthis.

best thing in my life right now: spring break is so freaking close it is tantalizing.

*In fact, i just made a video blog furthering the conversation if you care to have a look.

**mastra-datenoun; to take oneself out on activities usually appropriated for couples to engage in, such as going to the movies, eating  fancy dinner, or sitting alone in the tippy-top of the balcony bewailing Gavroche and clutching onto a bag of tissues like your life depends on it. Austinian root, of the roommate genus.