21 Stories in Under 21 Weeks by the Age of 21: the Faces of Western Europe
Behind every wrinkle and smile lies a story untold—cheeks
bear stains of tears, eyes show weariness of hurt, and smiles shine with
happiness fulfilled. Project 21 is a compilation of Europe's local stories as our paths cross.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Tom Dennis, born and raised in England’s Lake District, is by far the most significant person to my experience in England, as he is my closest British friend. From the first day we attended St. Thomas’ church, Tom came straight up and welcomed us to England, making us feel at home in the little church community. “The Americans,” he called us at first. Not only has Tom taught us a great deal about England, explaining the difference between biscuits and cookies, but he’s also given us the chance to tell him about America, as one of his biggest dreams is to travel the US. It’s a fair friendship, as we both culturally benefit from the other—I love England, he loves America.
Tom is what we sometimes refer to as our “crazy old man” friend because of his sarcastically grumpy humor, but also because he has a pair of socks for each day of the week--blue is for Sundays. In all seriousness though, Tom is one of the nicest people I've met in England and I will greatly miss his delicious pancakes and fancy syrup that is authorized by The Queen. Most of all, I will miss the way he distracts us in the library for hours with his endless ability to keep a conversation fresh. He has given color to this great nation, opening my eyes to new experiences, new terminology, and new foods. Of all the people I've crossed paths with on this great adventure abroad, Tom is the most memorable.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Dolly, the owner of my favorite sandwich shop, has become accustomed to serving Americans, as we flock the tiny building every Wednesday—it doesn't take many to fill the shop. Dolly’s is a tiny, one-room sandwich shop where the cash register, the kitchen, both cooks, and the boxes of bread are all within three steps of each other and completely visible to the customer. Though nothing fancy, the shop is in a prime location for students being less than a block from campus, and because the portions are generous and the prices are ridiculously low, it is quite the hotspot. Dolly knows how to run a business based on her costumers.
She’s a sweet woman who can sometimes be caught in a bad mood, but no matter what type of day she’s having, she will always call you “love.”
“What can I get you, love?”
Dolly almost always works the register, writing orders on little slips of paper and taping them to the cook’s wall, and when she’s not taking orders, Dolly is taking pictures. All along the shop’s walls hang pictures of customers. This little shop and the lovely woman inside will always be a part of my experience in York.
19.Tuesday, May 21, 2013
James Doyle, a successful 24 year-old English jockey, rode the horse, Mince, on Wednesday the 15th at York’s first horse races of the season. Without knowing anything about James Doyle or Mince, I picked the team as mine, cheering them on for the win. Though they didn't take first, Doyle and Mince fought for the lead, losing it in the last stretch. However, because of a bet I made with a few friends, my horse only had to not lose, which he pulled off successfully. Sadly, Doyle didn't win the £100,000, but he won me a free desert and that made him a winner in my eyes.
As we were leaving the stadium, a line of jockeys walked behind a white picket fence, retreating to their trailers after the race, and by chance, the one jockey I happened to notice was James Doyle. My racer. He was the first professional jockey I had ever met, and gee was he adorable. I learned later that he was a world acclaimed jockey after winning £2 million at a race in Dubai. I’m a bit star struck.
18.Sunday, May 19, 2013
Kevin, also known as "Kev," took us for a ride today in his little red British car. We were on our way to a mid-day tea party with friends when Kev so kindly offered to give us a lift. For some of us Americans, it was our first ride in a British car—I had ridden in one over spring break, but never by a local. Kev flew around corners, wobbled through round-abouts, and sped over speed bumps, and from behind the windowpane I watched as York's neighborhoods zipped by. Kev chattered away as I watched the daily lives pass by: locals gardened in their yards and strolled along with baby carriages, and at one home, a little girl with a twirly, red dress danced on the sidewalk by her father's produce stand. It was a side of York I had never seen, thanks to Kev's friendly ride.
We got to know Kevin at St. Thomas' church, but he was by our side from the beginning at every International dinner party at York St. John Uni. Sure it's his job to help the internationals, but I don't doubt one moment that he genuinely cares. Thanks to Kevin, we experienced York to its fullest.
With decades of stories to tell, Ian would talk away. I learned quite a bit of random facts about the man. When he was a teenager, he once sailed through York along River Ouse with a tent strung up on the mast because his sail broke; he bought his first car for 20 pounds, splitting the 100 pound cost with 4 friends; and in the past month his gutters broke, his sink needed replacement, and he pulled his Achilles tendon.
Today, we said goodbye and as a parting gift, Ian slipped a little box in my hand, saying, "you don't have to keep it. It's just a little present so you will remember me." I hadn't realized how much we meant to him until I opened the little box and found a special wooden calender inside. What a sweetheart.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Melissa, our sweet and quirky hostel host in Llandudno, welcomed us with a warm hand, though we didn't actually meet her until a half hour before we checked out. I walked into the hostel lounge where she stood next to a backpacker's backpack chatting about cake decorating with a friend of mine, so naturally I assumed she was a fellow resident just passing through on a weekend trip. It took a few minutes of casual conversation before we disclosed the truth. Melissa had been at home over the weekend helping her two daughters decorate cakes for a cake contest they were entering. One daughter had designed a 3D dragon cake complete with scales—I know because Melissa showed us pictures from her phone, just as any proud mother would.
Born in Tasmania, the roughest and most dangerous part of Australia, Melissa moved to London at age 21 hoping to make it big as an artist. "I quickly realized I was too shy for that," she laughed. "But I sold a few paintings." Eleven years later, she and her husband moved to Wales where they opened this homey hostel and lined the hallways and rooms with Melissa's original paintings. The hostel has become her own work of art.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Ryan was perhaps the most enthusiastic adult I have every met in my entire life. We saw him from 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon and he bobbled with energy every second. I couldn't understand where his energy came from—I was exhausted after an hour of just watching him. However, I don't think I've ever been more engaged in a tour than when I listened to Ryan. He knew how to entertain, that's for sure.
With bright red, vegan-died hair, blue eyes and piercings, Kristin is an expressive and artistic designer with a 16th century Gothic-horror style. Her expressions are bold and loud, and extremely European—the fashion industry is just the place for Kristin, as her unique style speaks for itself among a crowd of people just trying to fit in.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Having just come home from a cruise to Dubai with Joop and friends, Evelyn was thrilled to be back in the Netherlands, as she didn't enjoy the dry heat of the Arabian Peninsula or the over-hyped tourism of Dubai. Over the years, Joop's job took Evelyn around the world, visiting every corner of every continent, and though well traveled and cultured, Evelyn was quite content to never travel again and just stay rooted in her Dutch home. For a woman who's seen more of the world than I ever hope to, she was surprisingly Americanized—not in a bad way, but in a way that made me forget we were in the Netherlands. Her English was impeccable and for awhile we bonded over American shows, such as Revenge—I truly hope she does travel more, at least to Colorado where we can meet again.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Near the end of the evening, he called the waiter over and they rattled on together in Dutch. Though we didn't understand, we guessed from Joop's motion of pointing at his palm that he had asked for the check. When the waiter brought the slip of paper over, Don reached out to grab it as any polite friend would do, and Joop quickly pulled it away as if saying, "No, I'll pay." Amused and bewildered, Joop waved the piece of paper in the air, showing the blank sheet, saying, "I just asked for paper! Not the check!" We laughed hard that night, making good friends, and by the end, we walked to our car with sore cheeks and full bellies.
Marjorie Stagnitto, Bruno and Valerie's 20 year-old daughter, arrived late to the dinner party with chilled bones and frozen fingers. Apparently the trains through Paris were shut down due to a suicide, and so Marjorie rode through town on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle, dressed in her fine and stylish clothes not designed for warmth. She came in with a sweet Bonjour, greeted us with French kisses, then made a cup of tea and sat in front of the raging fire Bruno kindly made for her.
Marjorie had come from school where she studies the art of cosmetics and beauty. Her school is located on the famous champs-elysees in downton Paris, and yet she expressed that her biggest dream is to travel to New York City—little does she know, she's living the dream of thousands of American girls who would gladly trade places with her. Throughout the evening, Marjorie didn't say much besides a few words such as "headache" and "brr." In fact, the only conversation we shared went like this:
Me: "I don't speak French."
Marjorie: "I don't speak English."
But despite our inability to communicate, we got along well enough just laughing with each other at our crazy parents—a good laugh is the best way to make friends.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
But she didn't stop with the food, as she sacrificed her time to drive us to and from her house (as late as midnight), weaving through the busy streets of Paris where traffic rules don't exist and horns are necessary—I was glad I wasn't driving, as I don't have the nerve to squeeze between cars with only an inch to spare. Throughout the hour long drive—traffic is bad in Paris—Valerie made great conversation, formulating sentences as best as she could. Though there were times she struggled to find words, I was impressed with her confidence and determination in trying. She showed me up, as I can only say please and thank you in her language.
The evening began with wine and champagne. As subtle small talk before our evening set into motion, Bruno entertained us with intelligent information about the making and quality of the wine, most of which flew right over my head as I hardly know the difference between white and red. He was quite educated and as I discovered later, wine was more than just a conversation starter—just around the corner was a modestly sized wine cellar stacked with bottles of aging wines. I guess I learned from an expert. All night Bruno engaged in full conversation with us, speaking with extremely good English well enough to crack jokes all night and keep us until 12 p.m. He was a charming Frenchman, but I couldn't help feeling slightly sorry for not knowing more French, as he tried so hard to speak English for us.
While spouting out facts about an old wine cooler, he mentioned Australia, mistaking us for being Australian. However, we had assumed he hinted at his own nationality, so when we mentioned him being Australia, he acted extremely offended. Apparently the British hate being called Australian just as Canadians hate being called American. A mutual misunderstanding, but it didn't harm our friendship as he laughed it off and kept talking, leading us further down the ballroom. What a pleasant man.
Megan played "tour guide" for us Irish travelers this past Sunday, St. Patrick's Day, showing us the hot spots and local attractions, including restaurants and bars. "This is the craziest I've ever seen the city. Come back another day and you won't recognize it!"
Attending Trinity University in Dublin, Megan is studying to be a writer of drama scripts for TV shows—she came to the right place according to many locals as Ireland and England have some of the greatest television shows. Though short, Megan and I bonded like close friends through the chaos and grim of Dublin's St. Patty-littered streets.
Never before have I had a tutor (a British professor) with so much spunk and craze—the 3 hour class period is really quite enjoyable as he falls into rants about Les Mis and teen-emo-bedroom poetry.
On the first day of class, Steve came into class with heavy eyes and spiked hair wearing skinny jeans, folded-over ankle boots, a v-neck T, and a pointed-collar blazer—I could have sworn he was a student until he sat down at the front desk.
"I should explain why I look like crap today," he began with his British humor, "I've had a rough couple of days." Steve's mom had been in a coma for 3 weeks, his thesis paper for his PHD was due at the end of the month, his boss had just informed him of a collection of colleague meetings to attend, and the train attendant had just broken his credit card in half. And here I am complaining about a 500 word essay due tomorrow.
"Oh oh oh! Me too!!" Carol skipped over, her green scarf bouncing with her enthusiasm, and posed naturally as if a long-lost friend.
"Caroooooool!" her friends teased, "they don't want an old lady in their pictu'a!" But at this point, we did.
After much laughter and silly banter, the pictures were taken and we were on our way, but as we parted with Carol and her friends, I felt a strange sadness with the lack of closure—I had to remind myself we weren't actually best friends. When I grow up, I want to be a "Carol."
Growing up, Marian attended Sunday church regularly though differently than most children. Having parents who worked Sundays, Marian would be dropped off in the morning and come home to an empty house. One day, at age 8, Marian ran home after the service with an eagerness to read her Bible—an eagerness not often seen in young children with non-relgious parents—and so she began from the beginning getting bogged down only in Laviticus and Lamentations. But Marian has not always had this child-like enthusiasm in her faith, as she confessed in our study Sunday night.
"At age 15 or 16, I began to doubt," she said, "I began to wonder how there could be a loving God with so much suffering in the world." And again at age 40, she found the rug pulled out from beneath her when a friend praised her faith. HOW is my faith strong, she doubted.
"But without doubt, how can we have faith," Marian asked, "because there's no stronger faith than that which brings you back from doubt." Through her testimony, Marian has shown me there is promise in darkness, and she has proven that church is a universal meeting place open to all—no matter where we're from, or where we're going, we're all on a train ride together.
Friday, February 8, 2013
Friday, January 26, 2013
Interestingly, though I arrived to York only 3 days ago, Kate beat me to the top by a mere half hour. "This is my first time up here," she said, and so we stood together as gawking tourists admiring the extensive beauty of the snow covered city we both call home.