Ok, guys. We all know how difficult it is to be a Godly man in the age when every single internet link leads to porn and every woman in your life just wants your toned abs and rockin bod. But the truth is that sexual purity was never easy… Heck, even Jesus had to scribble in the dirt to keep his eyes off of a curvilicious ho. So that’s why we all need to realize that there are just some ladies that you shouldn’t be hooking up with in the ever-so-tempting gas station bathrooms. With a little accountability and a lot of prayer, we can be intentionally pursuing the shiny, long hair; sharp, elegant nose; and white, gleaming skin of Jesus instead of what I believe the apostle Paul called the forbidden-fruit-eating-woman’s “Rump of Repulsion.” So here are some of Lucifer’s Luscious Ladies that we need to say “Hell no” to, in more ways than one. Avoiding the temptation may feel like squeezing your Johnson through the eye of the needle, but isn’t that the point?
1. Definitely-Cracked-Out Lady
And no, I’m not talking about the B-crack, although that may be out too. No, I’m talking about the little lady who is probably rapidly repeating Kelly Clarkson lyrics while combing her hair with your baseball bat in the trunk of your Volvo. You know who I’m talking about. She may say, “Oooh, that Valero sign makes me want to—Wait, where’d the eagle go? Where’s Tito?” but you STAY AWAY from that Valero, boy. The STD Doctor waiting for you is just the servant of the real doctor, Doctor Sin Consequence Man.
2. Your Worship Team’s Two-Sundays-A-Month Drummer
So it’s after worship practice and you’re still trying to master that A-D-A-C chord progression of this month’s really popular worship song. The cross-tattooed drummer with short hair asks if you want to check out a set her cousin is playing down at the Raging Lion. You’re really supposed to meet with your small group to bench press and talk about Chapter 2 of “Finding God in Braveheart,” but she seems chill and maybe secretly lesbian, so…. hot, right?
Lesbians: no, no, no. Even that Juno chick’s a lesbian now, and you see what happened when she did it with a straight guy. Disaster and, as Netflix calls it, “quirky indie comedy.” No way.
This lady might even ask you about stuff like “Keekeguard” or “Ackwynus” (whatever that is?). Come on, girl.
Let’s just say that Chevron’s family bathrooms are NOT up to any other company’s “Quality Standards”. And she might lock you in them for being a “presumptive jerk” and take your car and leave until you call her and apologize over and over again #ugh.
3. Bartender from The Rusty Buzzard
Yeah, so you’re a hotshot regular now. You don’t even need to show your slowly crumbling fake Arizona ID anymore. They KNOW you. You can drink a glass of whisky and only choke on the shit every third or forth sip. So you show up for the Cowboys game…. and let’s just say that they’re not the only Cowboys scoring one touchdown that night, am I right?
Anyway, bad idea. It might be hot, it might be sweaty, it might rock your world, but it also might make the threat of Hell keep you up at night, putting you into cold sweats and keep you crying out for forgiveness endlessly in the dark to God who won’t answer.
4. Teenage Summer Camp Girl
You’re in tenth grade. Everybody’s having that “How Camp Rocked My World” meeting on the last night, acoustic worship music is being played, people are crying, and all she wants to do is have you come to her cabin and spoon her while she talks about her life and stuff. This girl doesn’t even want any action. She’s just an emotional wreck who doesn’t want to go home to her kindof meh upper-middle-class life after having her hair braided by pretty college girls for two weeks.
So when she sees you three years later, she’s gonna jump onto you like you’re her long lost puppy or something, all teary eyed and sentimental like you bought her a Bouqet on valentines day or something. This girl is just a hot mess. She might want to yank your wang, but she’s gonna get all attached and bleh about it. (Also, P.S., BP might spill their gas in the gulf or w/e, but she might help you learn that their restrooms are TIGHT. Not that this really matters, though. Don’t do anything in them. Period. Yeah, never.)
5. The “Feminist”
K, this grl seems CRAZY. Like, she spits fire in your face that you’re never seen. She’s like Grandma before the Vicodin kicks in. She keeps you on your toes, rolling her eyes, acting like she owns the place.
Well here’s the twist: she actually thinks she does own the place. Yeah, you heard me right. She thinks girls can call the shots, that chivalry is so old-school, that your Johnny Manziel wall-calendar emphasizes male domination as if that’s a bad thing. She makes up words like “male gaze” and “misojenny” and pretty much hates your guts. She doesn’t want to do it unless it’s on her terms, on her time. She acts as if girls don’t evenreally want the D! Puhleeeasssee.
Guys, this girl is trouble. This is not what the Bible is about, ever. No, no sir. Consider this verse from Romans (paraphrasing, don’t have a bible b/c my iPhone’s out of battery): “Let the man be in control and the woman be subservient to her husband. She has to keep stuff on her head in church because men are better.”
Stay away, bros, stay away.
6. Your half-sister, New Years Eve, Johnny’s “14 Shots For 2014” Party
Nuff said. We’ve all been there.
So man nuggets, let’s keep our eyes on the prize like the medal waiting at the end of the 800 meter dash. Some day we’re going to get married and have our wives do us like 200 times on the first night of the honeymoon and it’s going to be hot and awesome. Crazy positions up the wazoo, you know the drill.
But until then, we gotta keep focused on God and he said don’t do any of this stuff until we’re married. We gotta let Jesus give us boundaries and stuff because who knows when he’s coming back? When you hear that knock on the Citgo restroom door mid-smash, how do you really know that it’s the manager or a cop and not the Big Man Upstairs himself?
That’s enough to keep you up at night, guys. Be strong.
“Diamonds of the Night” begins with breathtaking swiftness. Sharp gunshots echo in the distance as two unidentified young men scramble, half-running, half-crawling, up a hillside. We hear nothing but gunshots and breathless panting as they head into the woods for shelter.
In this 1964 feature-length debut by 1960s Czech New Wave auteur Jan Nemec, the young men are never given names or significant dialogue. Their forest escape meshes with intercut surrealistic visions: walks through a concentration camp wearing cloaks labeled “KL,” a tram speeding through the streets of Prague, ants crawling into an eye socket, laughing children tobogganing down snowy slopes, grain bags, slinking cats, rising elevators. No framing devices contextualize these images, leaving us the weighty task of determining whether we’re witnessing flashbacks, hallucinations or merely images that Nemec fancies.
Cheswick, sporting an exaggerated frown like a stubborn toddler, stands and interrupts a group therapy session in a fleeting impulse of civil disobedience.
“May I have my cigarettes please, Nurse Ratched?”
Ratched juts out her jaw, widening her fiery eyes: “Mr. Cheswick, you sit down!”
Cheswick sits, arms crossed, anxiety practically dripping from his pores. McMurphy tries to appease the squirmy man by playing off of Harding’s better nature. Harding, ever the intellectual, refuses to let Cheswick have his last cigarette: “I’m not running a charity ward, see.” Martini, grinning impishly, snatches this “last cigarette” from Harding’s hand and gives it one puff before tossing it across the circle. A game of “cigarette catch” begins, tensions rise, and Cheswick stands again to bellow in pure, bloated agony: “I want MY cigarettes, Nurse Ratched! I want MINE, Nurse Ratched!”
Recently, thanks to Tim Keller, I discovered a C.S. Lewis quote that radically shook my complacency regarding the oft-mentioned “Miracle of Christmas.” This full quote is too long to post on Facebook, but the least I can do is share it here.
“What can be meant by ‘God becoming man’? In what sense is it conceivable that eternal self-existent Spirit, basic Fact-hood, should be so combined with a natural human organism as to make one person?….. We cannot conceive how the Divine Spirit dwelled within the created and human spirit of Jesus: but neither can we conceive how His human spirit, or that of any man, dwells within his natural organism. What we can understand, if the Christian doctrine is true, is that our own composite existence is not the sheer anomaly it might seem to be, but a faint image of the Divine Incarnation itself—the same theme in a very minor key. We can understand that if God so descends into a human spirit, and human spirit so descends into Nature, and our thoughts into our senses and passions, and if adult minds (but only the best of them) can descend into sympathy with children, and men into sympathy with beasts, then everything hangs together and the total reality, both Natural and Supernatural, in which we are living is more multifariously and subtly harmonious than we had suspected. We catch sight of a new key principle—the power of the Higher, just in so far as it is truly Higher, to come down, the power of the greater to include the less. Thus solid bodies exemplify many truths of plane geometry, but plane figures no truths of solid geometry: many inorganic propositions are true of organisms but no organic propositions are true of minerals; Montaigne became kittenish with his kitten but she never talked philosophy to him. Everywhere the great enters the little—its power to do so is almost the test of its greatness.”
C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: MacMillan, 1947/1960), p. 111.
A Comparative Exploration of The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers
I’m not exactly sure what a chance encounter between the young female protagonists of Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring would look like, but it’s hard to imagine that it would be a positive one.
Upon first glance (or first draft of a comparative essay) a total disassociation with conservative ethics would seem to link both groups together effortlessly––more than one person has told me: “I think The Bling Ring is like a better version of Spring Breakers”––yet I think that the respective cliques would stare at each other with catty wariness and quickly masked embarrassment. Like funhouse mirror reflections, they would find their doubles too similar to ignore yet too distasteful to embrace. This is because, like communism and fascism, their functional similarities stem from vastly different ideological aims. Together, they provide a multifaceted portrait of millennial hedonism.
To some, engaging in close analysis of these two groups may seem akin toexploring the motivational differences between serial killers and serial rapists; a taxonomy of evil cannot resolve the problem of evil. It can even create undo fascination with evil. Acknowledging this possibility, I hope that this essay can help illuminate how these sorts of individuals actually exist (in reality, of course, embodying complexity and contradiction that no overarching theoretical structure can provide) and what truths can be gleaned through their cinematic manifestations.
Rebecca has no qualms relating her future to others: she will go to the Fashion Institute of Design (The Hills girls went there), she will intern at Teen Vogue, she will have her own line, and fragrance, and host a show… She will become an image. And with her blasé, clippy-meets-monotonous tone, even under pressure, she’s already doing the hard work necessary to become irreducibly external. Cheerfully joining in the devolution that early sociologist George Simmel called “the hypertrophy of objective culture,” Rebecca gladly sacrifices internal nuance for varied external outfits. While she picks and choses articles from celebrity homes with fastidious focus, she grabs works of art with disinterest. An image doesn’t see. It doesn’t have the capacity for aesthetic appreciation. It merely appears.
One could also mention that Rebecca is unwittingly situating herself within the oft-mentioned discourse of Warholian nihilism. Warhol famously said: “I want to be a machine” because “machines have less problems,” embracing the dehumanization available through image replication. If one were to take Warhol at his word (something that any true student of Warholian irony will tell you is perhaps a naïve idea), Warhol embraces the process of increased externalization and shallow replication.
Rebecca’s climax occurs when she stares into Lindsay Lohan’s mirror, illuminated by the soft, seductive light of a fashion shoot, slowly spraying herself with Lindsay’s perfume. Decontextualized, the shot seems straight out of a Dior ad. Rebecca has become the image that she desires; she is like Lohan without any of Lohan’s internal particularities (including her acting capacity). As Rosalind Krauss notes in her essay on the reflective quality of 1970s video art, pure reflection creates a narcissistic feeling of “self-encapsulation,” “spatial closure,” and “the presentation of a self understood to have no past and… no connection to any objects that are external to it.” Krauss would say that at this moment of ecstasy, Rebecca is having “intercourse with her own [mirrored] image.”
By appropriating the dreamy glow of fashion photography, The Bling Ring’scinematographer, the late Harris Savides, indulges the gang in their sensual ambitions. This sort of cinematography cannot be properly labeled expressionistic—externalizing the emotions of the characters photographed––because there is so little internal expression to be conveyed. The aesthetic is all surface gloss, the diffused orangey warmth of Southern California days and the gauzy simmer of LA nights, and we get the sense that The Bling Ring wouldn’t have it any other way. They want to be reduced to images that are equally seductive and empty and Sophia Coppola has no qualms humoring them with deadpan interest.
Coppola’s cinematographic technique doesn’t grab you with the pell-mell assertion of Martin Scorsese or the poetic juxtaposition of Terrence Malick. That would be all too human. No, Coppola watches these girls the way they watch themselves. Conveniently absent is her inclusion of over-the-shoulder shots, the bread and butter of cinematic two-way conversation, signifiers of engagement and interpersonal connection.
Perhaps the most brilliant tableau occurs as Max Nelson describes in his critical roundup for Film Comment: “one gang member’s family [is] preparing breakfast smoothies in a spotless, gleaming kitchen, with a pair of snow-white corgis under one chair and a maid at work in the corner, as the LAPD’s incoming sirens get louder and louder.” As every character minds his or her own separate affairs within this wide space, even their dogs decry a sense of intimacy, barking shrilly before being quickly derided by their fruit-chopping owner.
The Bling Ring is less about a sense of longing than a sense of banal entitlement, spawning from an upper-middle class Southern California milieu that I know quite well (go Irvine!?). An image doesn’t long, it merely is. Rebecca knows this. When her compatriots voice the sort of cliché tension-baring signifiers that they’ve probably learned from movies: “I don’t know about this,” “Are you sure we should do this?” “Let’s fucking leave,” ect., Rebecca knows better, deriding their humanity with a sense of weary frustration and without any hint of true anger. Images don’t get angry.
Images also don’t take drugs or drink alcohol for reasons of heightened experience. The first line we hear from Nicki’s Mother: “Girls, time for your Adderall!” quickly zeroes in on the sorts of drugs the girls will prioritize: drugs that sedate existence, that numb experience, that turn (in a hypnotically frightening instance) a gun into a mere plaything. Marijuana, Adderall, Vicodin. Sure, these girls take cocaine and all of the typical drugs that are essential to the image they desire, but these are comparably rare occurrences.
The Bling Ring’s eventual punchstems from the fact that the gang succeeds in becoming widely popularized images. The final shot of Emma Watson’s Nicki taking control of her television interview, staring at the camera from the center of the frame, instructing the viewers to check out her story online, is a nearly Brechtian move by Coppola. This fourth-wall breaking indicates that, yes, the gang was quite successful indeed. They are now part of the simulacrum, staring at you in your theater seat through the filter of pretty actors, immortalized in a big budget Hollywood film, alone on the screen. We learn that Nicki shared a prison cell with Linday Lohan. In a society dominated by the hypertrophy of objective culture, they are both commodified images, merely separated by different screens and gossip reports.
I was most vividly reminded of The Bling Ring while encountering Klimt’s “The Kiss” and “Judith and the Head of Holofernes” at the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna. Pictorial replications of these works don’t do them justice; these renderings equally emphasize the skin of the subjects and the material embellishments on them and surrounding them. The actual paintings appear quite differently. The subjects’ skin appears ghastly, grey, soft and hardly visible, while the embellishments glitter with the sharp gleam that only gold foil can provide. In “The Kiss,” the actual loving act seems rudimentary, even banal, whereas the square and circular patterns engage in vivid material intercourse.
In “Judith,” the Biblical subject appears at once in ecstasy yet nevertheless choked by her vivid neckpiece, crowded out and claustrophobically consumed by the gold surrounding her. Before the technological advances and democratization of “art” that allowed Warhol to play with individuals-turned-images, Klimt portrays individuals defined by externality, submerged in aesthetic vibrancy. None of these figures are Napoleon in David’s “Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass,” also in the Belvedere, a work that gives an “in vitro” royal heritage to a ruler by plunging him into a historical narrative through weighty associative symbolism.
No, these are individuals in the process of losing their very humanity to the objects on them and surrounding them. They are aestheticized unto corpselike decay, appearing like ghastly specters limply hanging on walls before us.
They are Rebecca and her Bling Ring.
The opening credits of The Bling Ring slice and dice designer items in a still-life montage, informing us that external objectivity will be Copolla’s focal point as well as and her characters’ respective objet petit a (although maybe more attainable than Lacan would have us believe). Spring Breakers, by contrast, immediately propels us into a world of hypnotic, perpetual motion. There is a perverse aesthetic beauty to its hedonistic, misogynist beach partiers as they relish in beer poured down quavering, topless chests, liquor ejaculated into open mouths, Skrillex keeping the party pumping with the entrancing distortion of dubstep electronica. The sublime Florida sun still graces these gyrating bodies and the cool salt-water still licks their spray-tanned skin. But, as evidenced by a hilariously spot-on shot of girls sucking phallic red-white-and-blue popsicles, Harmony Korine’s American materialism is not primarily one of external display and internal decay, but one of orgasmic consumption, a rabid internalization of the external world. These girls want to become “experience incarnate,” continually absorbing and receiving with carefree, gluttonous abandon. They don’t consume to become internally bankrupt; they consume to become internally filled.
While this point is crucial, it can be countered by their exhibitionist tendencies and the voyeuristic nature of Korine’s camera. Isn’t exhibitionism the desire to immortalize the external? What is the true difference between a girl who shows off her Prada bag and a girl who shows off her… um… generous genetic endowment of upper-chest region?
This is a good observation, but easy amended when one notes how lucidly Korine situates these girls within a broader desire-fueled narrative. For them, engaging in this sort of exhibitionism is only part of their self-fulfillment process, only a means to a deeper end. “Misogyny” and “exhibitionism” aren’t even words in their relative vocabulary. One could draw a connection to the old acting-lesson story of a man running from a bear up a tree. On first glance, one would assume that the man is thinking: “I have to get away from this bear!” But what is the man actually thinking? “I have to figure out how to climb this tree!” We are always thinking forward toward our ultimate goals and deepest desires.
And what are their deepest desires? They desire a life defined by absorptive experiences. Consider, for example, an early scene after they’ve stolen piles of cash. They push it into their chests, lay on it, bathe in it, one of them saying (and I apologize for the crudeness here, but it can’t be helped on my end) “This money is making my pussy wet.” For them, money doesn’t simply exist to be admired. It is immediately associated with the language of sexual consumption. The girls aren’t thinking: “How physically vulgar can I be?” They’re thinking: “How can I feel pleasure and physicality, intimacy and community?”
This defines their narrative trajectory. The drugs, the partying, the sex, and the eventual violence are all about experiences shared. In this way, their spring break is the hedonistic equivalent of a religious revival in which a large group of people gather to “take in” the spirit. The sense of absorbing the external, the transcendent, is a firmly religious idea. Korine explicitly sets up this connection with Faith, the Christian character, who is loyal to her youth group yet drawn into––and eventually repulsed by––this orgy of hedonism. During the film she says to her grandmother: “This place is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been.” And Korine’s hallucinatory, sublime camerawork does little to convince us otherwise. It seems far easier to take in booze, drugs, sex, and violence than The Holy Spirit, after all. The sense of physical immediacy and interpersonal presence Faith witnesses is as undeniable as it is assaultive.
The film’s later half allows the girls an opportunity to apply their learned hedonism in an environment where it was previously lacking. This is with Alien, James Franco’s now infamous white rapper and drug dealer. Growing up on the street, Alien has not had an easy life; he hasn’t had the financial recourses to “take it all in” like our girls. But he also finds himself more like The Bling Ring protagonists because he gets his sense of self-worth from his material possessions. He is on the stage during the Spring Break brouhaha, separate from the intimate crowd. While his exuberant show during the infamous “Look at my shit!” scene lacks Rebecca’s nihilistic poise (it is particularly hilarious to imagine the two of them interacting), it nevertheless demonstrates his desire to be defined by possessions that can be looked at. One could almost imagine Rebecca watching his enthusiastic display with detached amusement, smiling drolly, zoning in and out as she glances down at her iPhone.
Therefore, a key scene in Spring Breakers occurs when the girls grab Alien’s gun and force it in his mouth, mimicking oral sex. This scene demonstrates the beginning of Alien’s transformation. Suddenly, his material possessions are not merely things to be looked at. They become things to interact with, to absorb, to pleasurably (if ridiculously) internalize. When he claims that these girls are “his soul mates,” he is obviously reveling in a level of connection and personal absorption (made disgustingly literal during a late swimming pool scene) previously unknown.
This emphasis on kinetic interaction and felt experience is vividly communicated through Benoit Debie’s hypnotic cinematography and Douglas Crise’s brilliant editing. The camera swings along, pushing here and pulling there, immersing the audience in a sea of color and stylistic excess. The editing feels, as many have pointed out, like a Terrence Malick movie. Just like his films, juxtapositions create a sense of life, motion, and an intensity of feeling. The camera is so enthusiastic to show all that is around, to immerse you in the world, that it takes your breath away with a peculiar mixture of delight and disgust. In a sense, Spring Breakers could be seen as the perversion of a Malick film. In one of my favorite explanations in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains how badness is merely perverted goodness. He points to the things that the girls in Spring Breakers most desire:
“Pleasure, money, power, and safety are all… good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much…. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”
Despite the fact that Malick explores this perversion himself, his camera is far more insistent on capturing goodness as “itself” than Korine, who is far more interested in its perversion. The sunset, the beach, and the natural world––all things that Malick would see as fundamental to his telling of this story––seem more incidental to Korine’s mise-en-scene. He shares Malik’s predilection for color juxtaposition, but his interests stay firmly attached to neon yellows, pinks, greens, and blues… all manmade amendments (some may say perversions) of natural color schemes. Korine bravely explores this perverted beauty and pleasure in a way that creates a sympathetic link with the shallowest of characters, yet, simultaneously, leads us to yearn for them to find pleasure, money, power, and safety through lifestyles that don’t––as we vividly witness––lead to eventual death, destruction, and internal desolation.
Neither The Bling Ring nor Spring Breakers end in particularly happy places. As Emma Watson stares at the camera, we understand that the film concludes just as the process of simulacra is starting to escalate (and, at the same time, we are reminded how it has already escalated in the real world). She is already well on her way to becoming an image.
As Spring Breakers ends, our two remaining girls suggest vague longings to change their lifestyle. But these desires, even though they occur via voiceover (a commonly “all-revealing” level of diegetic discourse, molded into ambiguity with Korine’s light touch), are dubious because they occur in telephone conversations with their ignorant parents. Have these two been radically shocked by the violence that escalated as their reckless hedonism increased? Have they realized the emptiness of their experience? Have they grown, changed, or learned at all? Maybe. But they also––in a scene that also bares dubious veracity––violently destroyed all of their enemies. “Just pretend like it’s a videogame,” one of them says as they rob a restaurant near the film’s beginning. In the end, they seem to act inside a literal shoot-em-up videogame. And what is a videogame but an endless machine of continuous experience? Videogame characters don’t stop and think; they act. Violently, jerkily, instinctually, they act. Players absorb without any negative repercussions. Not unlike Watson, these girls seem to have accomplished their goals. We have no idea what they are going to do next.
Thus, the film artists turn to us. As these characters roll over into imaginary story-world-futures, they bleed off of the screen and into our collective conscience. We must either grapple with these unresolved conflicts in own lives or dismiss the films as mediocre (many have done so). Copolla and Korine have too much integrity to give us oversimplified solutions, but they’re too artistically provocative to let us off the hook. We cannot simply stare at these girls as they would stare at each other, with a mixture of catty repulsion and hidden embarrassment.
After all, the problems they present are relevant, postmodern problems. To an extent, both narratives explore the existential solution proposed by Sartre in “Existentialism as Humanism.” As an atheist, Sartre believes that existence precedes essence, and, therefore, “man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself… Man will only attain existence when he is what he purposes to be…. Man is responsible for what he is.” These girls, with their attempts to become images and experience absorbers, champion Sartre’s self-definition through personal action. They are brazen heroes of self-determination. Who cares if social norms, legal requirements, or older people look down on their actions? Following in the footsteps of their philosopher-leader Ke$ha, they shout (well, Rebecca wouldn’t shout, but you get the idea) from the rooftops: “Tonight we’re going hard! Just like the world is ours! We’re tearing it apart! We r who we r!”
So if you and I can define ourselves through our own moral actions, why do these poor girls frighten us, sicken us, disturb us? Sartre can help us understand these feelings, too, for as he explains the humanistic possibility of self-creation, he also illuminates the deep responsibility “inherent” to such a task:
“When we say that man chooses himself… we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be…. I am thus responsible for myself and all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man.”
For Sartre, this overwhelming responsibility creates a sense of anguish. I ask: “Am I really a man who has the right to act in such a manner that humanity regulates itself by what I do?” Utter self-determinism is terrifying. Sartre does admit that not everybody thinks like this, but suggests that those who differ are merely “disguising their anguish or in flight from it.”
Perhaps the girls in The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers are merely fleeing from the sublimated anguish of existential responsibility? Or perhaps they truly believe that all people should behave as they do, which, although disturbing, actually bares the courage of a thought-out worldview?
Neither suggestion seems accurate. It seems, most frighteningly, that these girls simply don’t care, period. Copolla and Korine refuse to suggest that self-definition necessitates feelings and emotions of existential responsibility understood, sublimated, or “fled from.” Thus, we are left to cope with the sort of frightening nihilism that humanists have such trouble dealing with. Humanists are forced to hold the assumption that these girls must be good people deep inside, an assumption that neither Korine nor Coppola authenticate.
To these filmmakers, in world where choice is king, we can certainly choose to do away with the burden of responsibility and conscience, giddily diving into utter narcissism. And in a world without some sort of Heaven-decreed moral absolutes, who would dare claim the authority to criticize our choices? Who would dare to suggest that there is more to life than becoming an Image or an Experience Absorber?
We r who we r!
 By “deeper” I’m utilizing the metaphorical language for internality, not the metaphorical language for value.It’s more of an ontological placement than anything else. To suggest that these girls are “deep” in a “deep thought” sort of way would be ridiculous.
I am currently riding on a train up to Oxford. This alone is a treat; riding a train through the British countryside is romanticized for good reasons. Even in the early fall, trees are still a wonderful mix of green and yellow. The houses are as red brick as your heart could desire, the grassy lawns are rich and emerald, the rivers brown yet clear.
Thames from the Tate Modern
London has been a wonderful contrast to both Granada and Prague. It is a simple gift to be in a city so westernized yet a city with such strong particularities and cultural character. It many ways, as far as diversity of individuals and eateries are concerned, it feels like a sister city to New York. And yet, London feels cleaner, classier and more modern than New York, and certainly more vastly spread out. The distance between places can make London a little overwhelming, but also lends its neighborhoods a great deal of individual character and diversity. Unlike New York, it feels wholly lived in, and, if you’re a fan of classic red brick like myself, this is immensely comforting. Last night I visited “Ye Old Cheshire Cheese,” a pub that Charles Dickens apparently went to. Sitting on an ornate blue velvet couch in a burgundy room warmly lit by small wall-mounted lamps and a large (unlit, unfortunately) fireplace, drinking a classic bitter English pint, looking at ancient portraits and pictures on the walls,
I didn’t feel the weight of formality and precociousness that often leaves me disenchanted with stereotypically British things. Rather, I felt a reassuring sense of home.
Hawt N Dangerou$ n London Town
Although London proudly continues its staunchly traditional double decker busses, red telephone booths, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, ect. ect., what impressed me most was its clean, modern feel. Even my hostel, which feels so large and corporate, is brightly and immaculately––if a bit cheesily––designed (posted rule plaques say, in a skinny handwriting-styled font: “Rule Number 1 is have fun!” The same font adorns hallways where token Britishisms mixed with American slang are stenciled on the bright blue walls. My personal favorite says: “You only live once. Live like Bond!”). The hostel harnesses an immediately appealing mixture of bright colors, light brown softwood,and sleek chrome, coming off like the Ikea or Whole Foods of hostels: large, impersonal and imposing yet impressively sleek nonetheless.
This modern-and-clean-yet-bright-and-welcoming feel carries over into restaurants, the National Theatre, The Tate Modern, The London Eye… ect. ect. Even crowded pubs feel clean and welcoming and smoking has been outlawed in all of them. London is an immaculate aesthetic combination of old and new, lacking the imposing vacuity of high modernism (and postmodernism, one could argue) and the red brick formality and conformity of classically industrialized cities. It has overcome architectural and aesthetic hurdles with class and brilliance, existing as a wonderful model of what a modern, multicultural, pluralistic city should look like… in all areas except expense. I am grateful to not live in London simply because of how quickly the city would drain my finances. I do note that expensiveness probably helps explain how the city can afford such aesthetic impressiveness; the two usually go hand in hand.
Laura n Me n r mutual Friend Ben
Some highlights from London: first, seeing my friend Laura and meeting her friends from Furman University. Something reinforced by this trip is how appealing it can be to see old friends in new contexts. Although I’ve known Laura for a couple years, I mostly know her from the context of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, a hermetically sealed community and cultural atmosphere. And in my experience, one of the best things about camp friendships is not engaging them at camp, but precipitating, deepening and enriching them within the contexts of the world at large.
Laura is involved in a very unique program through Furman, one where she gets to see a variety of plays and write about them. She was kind enough to get me a ticket for the play her group saw on Wednesday night, “nut,” at the National Theater’s “Shed,” a small black box with a striking red exterior. It was a peculiar play, the kind where its characters continually argue in a circular fashion for its entire running time. Sometimes this sort of writing is a bit unnerving for me, feeling a bit forced, a billboard screaming “NATURALISM.” I’m not sure about you, but the people I talk to tend to actually communicate in conversations that move, even when they’re arguing. Some admittedly do result in deadlock, but this sort of insistent circularity often rings a bit false for me as a viewer. However, considering the subject of the play––a woman with a mental illness who consistently argues with herself (or at least people who are most likely mental manifestation of herself)––this sort of dialogue seemed fairly necessary.
And “nut” was structurally interesting, only subtly, carefully revealing how its first act character were fantastical manifestations. The point wasn’t the reveal, the sort of self-impressed “ta da” that revels in writerly vanity while exploiting mental illness. The whole play was firmly rooted in compassion and, the more I think about it, the more insightful it becomes. It deals with relational tensions, how all external struggles actually stem from internal struggles in response to others, and how we consistently find our own identity through external comparison (“She’s/I’m not like you” are consistent refrains that most characters say in the show, anthems of internal isolation and longing for stable forms of self-definition”). Although little in the show is concrete, none of it was too abstract and, particularly through its wonderfully subtle, symbolic staging (various giant metal beams are imposingly fused, crisscrossing and jutting out forebodingly above characters, precariously and uncomfortably appearing to push down on them throughout the projection), the show is ultimately poetic and even a bit heartbreaking. The more I think about it the more I like it, and I’m sure if I were to see it again I would appreciate it even more.
(If you’re going to London and want a bit of avant-garde theatre instead of the typical big name shows, you can buy tickets here. It’s playing through December 5.)
I am currently sitting in a wine bar in Granada close to the Cathetral (Tabernas Masquevinos, if you want to know). It is a lively, most likely touristy place. Yet, in particularly Granadian fashion, not a single word of English can be heard in the entire place. This is typical for Granada. Like most beautiful cities, it has exploited its touristic potential, but it mostly caters to Spanish tourists; it doesn’t feel seem of tourist traps designed to suck in Americans and Brits as they do their proverbial Euro Trip. I even entered my hostel for the first time to find a young woman from Venezuela who knew absolutely no English sitting on the bed across from mine. For a city as beautiful as this one, this sort of purity is borderline miraculous; apparently it is perpetuated by a strong sense of Andalucían nationalism, and if this is what nationalism looks like, I’m all for it.
I am drinking a glass of Andalucían wine called “Glarima.” It is a rather wonderful red, not too bitter and tannin-heavy, but smoky and smooth. [It certainly beats smoky beer, which I was recently disappointed to learn that I dislike, at least when it’s of a particular bottom-fermented German variety.] My free Tapa is bread with cheese, olive oil, and vinegar; the cheese is delightfully pungent and the combination is lovely. I also paid for a goat cheese croquette, which is phenomenal as well; sprinkled with sweet vinegar, it takes the flavorful-yet-not-overbearing nature of goat cheese and gives it a crunchy, sweet edge.
Yes, I did say “free tapa” in the previous paragraph. Apparently this quirk is a Granada specialty, a way to keep people from drinking too much and luring in tourists in for drinks and food. Almost every restaurant abides by the free tapa policy, and of course people love it.
On my first night in Granada I noted an offhand observation to my friend Louisa that’s become even more apparent the longer I’ve stayed here: “Granada is like Disneyland, but real.” Indeed, Disneyland––with its stylized combination of different worlds that are consistently varying yet always aesthetically exciting––is a rather apt comparison for Granada, a city whose incredible location has made it the centuries-long site of envy-ridden competition for Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish cultures. Walking along its beautifully stylized streets, it is––
Excuse me one moment. One of the most delicious things I have ever eaten just arrived at my seat, and I would be completely ashamed to ignore mentioning it: tosta (toast) con “jamon iberico, queso de cabra y cebolla caramalezada” (cured Iberian ham and goat cheese and caramelized unions). The counterbalance of salty ham, bitter cheese, and sweet onions is unbelievable.
Anyway, as I was saying, the streets of Granada contain a deluge of wonderful Islamic-turned-Hispanic styles: white houses with brown tiled roofs hug the hillside in a dizzying maze of streets, hiding lush, ornate patios with decorative, geometrically patterned tiles that peak out from behind wrought iron gates. The façade of its towering, baroque cathedral (appealingly luminous on its interior) is surrounded by open-air Arab marketplaces that sell a dizzying rainbow of glass lamps and vibrant scarves. Mexico may own the cliché of the giant orange stucco hacienda, but Granada and southern Spain owns the cliché of the warm, ornamental Hispanic village. Designers of Southern California towns like San Clemente seem to have appropriated all of their architectural strategies from this one little town, and as someone from Southern
California, it felt comfortingly familiar.
And yet, the previously mentioned authenticity made it all the more exciting and fascinating. First, even though Spain is a Catholic country, Granada owns its Muslim influence. The full nature of this influence didn’t really occur to me until coming to Granada. Ferdinand and Isabella, notoriously responsible for the discovery and subsequent conquering of the New World, truly transferred the brilliance of Muslim architecture and technology onto North American soil. Blown away by the
Alhambra, they happily claimed it as their own, Catholic architectural predilections aside (they got their Cathedral eventually). Granada’s etchings, tiles, arches, and fountains are a far cry from traditional gothic, baroque, Catholic design. Unless you live in a traditional brickwork east-coast style house in the US, you probably owe a lot of your environment to early Muslim design. Shove that down your anglophile gullet, why don’t you.
Granada is famous for the Alhambra, the palace and fortress that Isabella and Ferdinand appropriated after conquering their Muslim oponents. I spent the majority of my Sunday afternoon here, from 2 PM to 5 PM. It is a massive place. I started with the Generalife, a summer resort with beautifully sculpted gardens and fountains. It even has upturned roof tiles that carry water down a stairwell. The design is impeccable, yet even more incredible when it occurs to you how old the Generalife actually is; Orange County’s modern “Fashion Island” was basically built between the 12th and 14th centuries.
The main attraction, and one that required a specific 3:30 entrance time (brilliantly instated to curtail traffic), was the Nasrid palace. After walking down from the Generalife and waiting in line, I was let into the palace where Ferdinand and Isabella gave Columbus permission to seek out the New World. I’m sure I’ve seen pictures of this palace on/in textbooks before: deep pools, mathematically perfected fountains, it’s all here. But the true, overwhelming beauty of the Nasrid palace lies in its tile sculptures (Islamic architecture pros can probably correct me on my wording here). Immaculately carved tiles are flawlessly arranged over unbelievably large spans wall space, columns, and ceilings. It is impossible to fully imagine the amount of hours and care placed into this breathtaking work. And, amazingly, unlike western variations on this sort of ornamental stylization (I’m looking at you, Rococo, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco), its decorating methods never seem to draw undue attention to themselves. From a distance, they merely ripple and only unveil their true majesty when careful eyes step in close to take them in. They beckon for watchful presence and award your aesthetic digestion in spades.
Being at the Alhambra made me think of how the closest Western Christian culture comes to this sort of detailed design is through stained-glass windows. Yet in general, Christian decoration could learn from this sort of watchful nuance. Copying examples from the Greeks and Romans, Western Christian culture is typically influenced by concepts of the grand, the pompous, the boastful. The problem with this generally neoclassical and gothic notion is that largeness can sometimes feel grand yet empty, impressive yet vacuous. “My cup runneth over,” says in the Psalmist. Not “My cup is really large and imposing.” It’s not the cup that’s large—it’s the density of the goodness within the cup. Christian artisans could do well to learn from the Alhambra.
Yet as ornate as the Nasrid palace is, as wonderful as the Granadan character can be (I seriously felt like I could live there a lifetime, and not only because I could wear a t-shirt and shorts everyday if I did), the true highlight of the trip was seeing Louisa. Louisa and I have been friends since… well, before you chose your friends. We’ve been friends since your “friends” were just little kids that your parents grouped you with before you had the agency to say yes or no. And, in a sense, that makes our relationship all the more incredible. Because we are not “old friends” who simply get together and reminisce about “the old days” without any true substance to our current, continuing relationship. We’re not ancient acquaintances who get together merely out of courtesy or parental encouragement. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though we live far apart now and have vastly different life experiences, our relationship is somehow all the stronger because of this distance, because of our different life experiences. We have independently grown into the sort of people who can have wonderful conversations about anything and everything, who can laugh together and share together, who can find ourselves mutually enlightened through our combined perspectives. Our friendship doesn’t only pick up where it left off; it grows because of the time that has lapsed since we last saw each other. Even though I see Louisa probably six days per year (max) compared to the hundreds (only a slight exaggeration) of days that we used to see each other, I feel as if our the quality of our friendship is stronger now than it was when I was in eighth grade. This is a gift.
Unbelievable Shawarma, Alhambra Behind
And it is even more of a gift that, with little to no knowledge of Granada, I was able to visit such an extraordinary, lively, beautiful place. That I stayed long enough to have multiple churros con chocolate (seriously, the US has no idea what good churros are like), sangria, local wine, and 3 (yes three) incredible shwarmas from local Arab places (one in particular was literally among the best things I have ever eaten—Tony Stark would fall head over heels), was a supreme gift. On Monday afternoon, Louisa’s host mother, Rosa, even had me over and made an impeccable local Spanish dish. Louisa was a gracious translator and I enjoyed seeing what bits of Spanish I could pick up (a surprisingly ok amount, considering how long it’s been since I’ve taken the language). It was also very nice to be in a real home after traveling so long—although my hostel was very nice, as far as hostels go. It was roomy, nicely decorated, had a comfortable mattress, and I spent the last 24 hours in my room as its only occupant, a rather amazing feat.
I could go on and on describing the Rio Darro, the wonderful mural-eque graffiti throughout the city, the little miniature pinscher who followed me all the way down the Camino de Sacromonte, the expat atmosphere of Paddy’s Irish Pub (no, Charlie Kelly wasn’t there. I know, it killed me too), but I’ve used up enough words here already. In summary, Granada was an oasis of striking color, style, relaxation, exploration, and fun with a timeless friend.
I am currently on a plane headed for London (come on, you don’t think I’d be able to write this many words this diligently with wine and tapas in front of me, did you?!) after the lovely two-hour bus ride through the Central-California-looking Andalucían countryside. London will be strikingly different than Granada, but I am very excited to experience the contrasting atmosphere (even in its stereotypical rainy-coldness). Also, as much as I liked practicing and refreshing my limited Spanish, it will be lovely to be, for the first time in months, in a place where English is the most commonly spoken language.
I am currently sitting in the Milan airport. It is 5:15 in the morning. I left my hostel at 3:00 AM in order to get here.
One of the most interesting things about traveling as a young person without significant financial resources is the peculiar spheres you can find yourself in. In the shadow of the Sheratons and Best Westerns and Grand Hotel Fill-In-The-Blanks lies an underground teeming with inexpensive youth hostels, non-corporatized (well, there are some chains, but none are particularly large) establishments that fill up every night with young people trying to fulfill their birthright and “see the world.” As places that lure in young adults with extremely attractive prices, their quality is inevitably inconsistent.
In Milan, I took the risk of staying in “Kennedy Hostel” even though it only received at 63% approval rating on hostelbookers.com. This was for one simple reason: it was the only available hostel within an easy (15 minute) walking distance from Station Centrale, launching point for the Milano Malpensa airport bus. The Milano Malpensa airport is a little less than an hour away from Milan—a lovely cab ride that would cost you euros in the three-digit range––and the private bus is the only other available option for getting there.
I got into Milan on this bus a little after midnight on the 8th. A wet, thick fog weighed down the city, creating an atmosphere that almost reminded me of a colder Southern California. This part of Milan was not the nicest section of town (graffiti covered every building), but it was far from a ghetto. It felt modern, lived in, and even the grunginess reminded me (wistfully, somehow?) of New York. The New York association was compounded when the first Italian restaurant I saw was called “Little Italy” and New York subway maps and littered its walls. The irony was wonderful: Italians are now capitalizing on Americans’ capitalizing on Italians. And so the simulacrum continues….
This restaurant was actually a good introduction to the general spirit of Milan. While the city has a nice urban appeal, it does not have a particularly aged appeal. And the even more archaic, architecturally beautified portions of the city (statues, the enormous Duomo, giant arched Romanesque ceilings and passageways besieged with ornate glass panels) are consistently punctuated by and mixed with the iconography and advertisements of High Italian fashion. The story of Jesus and the moneylenders in the temple comes to mind, except imagine those moneylenders selling Prada and Gucci with giant, ornate black-and-white advertisements featuring Matthew McCaughey and Scarlett Johansson pretending to be lovers (a peculiar romantic combination, if you ask me). It felt a bit like the most impressively authentic Orange County high-fashion mall imaginable, and I mean that as a mixed compliment. As peculiar as it is to see a giant LED Samsung advertisement awkwardly plastered onto the side of of the world’s second-largest cathedral, at least the interior of the Duomo was free to enter (ah, the paradox of global capitalism).
And the interior was truly breathtaking, nearly moving me to tears by its sublime scope and intricate architecture; if the Duomo isn’t the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen, I can’t recall the one that surpasses it. There was still a section near the front left wing containing several operation confession booths in parallel formation; local Italians trickled into these one-by-one, ready to hand off their wrongs and get going with their day.
When I arrived at Hostel Kennedy, I pressed an exterior button to unlock the door (“Hello?” I hopelessly muttered into the speaker when nobody said anything. What in the world are you supposed to do in those situations?). After riding up a rickety elevator to the 6th floor just large enough to fit my bulging backpack and myself, I arrived to find the young, dark skinned male concierge watching “God of War” cheats on YouTube, full-screen. I informed him that I was checking into my reservation. Briefly taking a break from his video, he said he couldn’t find my reservation. As I was about to get my printout, he found my reservation. The desk had a new-looking credit card machine; I said I wanted to finish my payment by card (I had no Euros). He said that the credit card machine wasn’t plugged in. Through a thick accent, he tried to give me directions to an ATM. Finally giving up, he took me to a window to point to the ATM on the street down below. After using the machine and paying with the cash, he owed me two Euros but he didn’t have any coins. “Can you get it tomorrow?” he asked. “Sure.” I said. The gold star of the service industry, this guy.
He led me to my four-person room only occupied by two sleeping Polish girls.
Hotel Kennedy felt like a 1940s hotel that was occasionally renovated yet mediocrely kept up. One got a sense that it actually was a nice hotel at some point, and this gave it a hominess and comfort that was simply countered by the age of the place. At the very least, the bathroom seemed recently remodeled and quite clean. My bed was another story. It felt as if the mattress were divided into two unequal sections, as if there were a long gaping chuck literally ripped out of the middle—not a gap large enough to fall into, but one that certainly made sleeping uncomfortable. Fortunately, I was tired enough that I didn’t really care.
I woke up at 9:30 the next morning. There was a woman at the desk now. I asked for a key to a storage locker in my room. She asked me if I needed to pay, and if I had a reservation for that night, because apparently it didn’t look like I did (or this much I could gather through her accent). I said that I already paid and, yes, I had a reservation. She launched into a long explanation in broken-English about why I had to put down a security deposit in order to use the locker. After placing my backpack in the locker, I decided to head out. Right as I was about to enter the little elevator, I heard a voice behind me.
“Roberts!” the concierge belted in her rich alto voice, rolling the “R” like a good, strong-spirited Italian stereotype.
“Where are you going?” she accusatorially asked.
“I’m going to… the Duomo, to walk around… to do some sight seeing?”
She backed off, lowering her voice a little. “Oh, ok.”
“Uhhh… ok, have a nice day.” I turned to leave.
After breaking a twenty at McDonalds in order to pay for a metro ticket (a McCafe cappuccino and croissant for breakfast in Milan—how multicultural of me!) I made my way to the Duomo and walked around the surrounding shops. As tempted as I was to browse through The Gap and the Disney Store, I declined. After a while I wandered into an Italian marketplace, full of cheeses and olives and vinegars and prototypical Italian things. Considering its proximity to the Duomo, and the fact that all of the booths were all decorated with the Italian flag, its authenticity seemed a little suspect, but I nevertheless got a large cheese pizza for lunch that was quite fresh and filling.
After this I headed over to the only museum I had time for, (sorry Rafael’s “School of Athens,” you’ll have to wait. Oh, and “The Last Supper,” which I couldn’t see because ticketing system is more or less overrun by sanctioned ticket scalpers—I mean, tourist companies. Again, Jesus and the moneylenders come to mind) Museo de Novecento. This was a clean, nicely assembled Italian modern art museum, with works organized thematically and by movement instead of by chronology. The highlight of the museum was Italian Futurism. As a lover of cinema, an art form defined by movement, the futurists and their love of movement have fascinated me ever since I’ve been exposed to them. Their attempts to represent motion through the inherently static forms of painting and sculpture are both aesthetically appealing and theoretically
“Unique Forms of Continuity In Space”
interesting. Some of their more literal-minded paintings even resemble long exposure photographs or several corresponding film stills juxtaposed on top of each other. Yet unlike the more sterile object dissections found in Cubism, Futurist art tends to ripple with dynamism; it’s full of contradicting, layered curvatures and twisting, contorting shapes. A highlight was seeing the paradoxically curvaceous, sharp, malleable, solid, and altogether striking sculpture we studied in class, Boccioni’s “Unique Forms of Continuity In Space”.
After this I met up with my NYU friends at Milan’s castle and we proceeded to walk through a park, visit a canal and a nearby cafe. Fulfilling Italy requirements, I had both espresso and gelato, choosing an absolutely killer mix of nutella and mint flavored gelato. Since a couple in our group had to catch a 9 PM train, we ate dinner at a rather unremarkable bakery. However, this bakery did sell bottles of sparkling wine for three euros, which were quite useful in helping me fall asleep by 9:30 PM, a feat I literally don’t think I’ve accomplished in years.
I woke up at 2:45 and went to check out, but there was nobody at the desk. Heavy breathing clued me in: my beloved concierge from the first night was sleeping on the couch in the tiny lobby, snoring long, wet snores. I went up to him and tried talking to him, but he didn’t awake. I poked him a little bit, talked a little more, and he slowly opened his eyes.
“Hi, I’d like to check out.”
“Oh, ok.” He paused. “You can go.”
“But… I need to return my locker key and get my deposit back.”
He didn’t have any coins to give me, only a ten euro bill. Fortunately I had change for him this time.
It was misting again as I walked to the bus in the dark, so very early in the morning.
I am now on the plane headed to Malaga, and I will take a bus from there to Granada. It’s 8:12 AM.
I am currently riding in an EasyJet plane headed to Milan. My black backpack is resting in the overhead compartment above my head, thick and full to the brim with clothes intended to accommodate 70-degree temperatures and freezing temperatures. My trip is only beginning, and yet, somehow, I feel at peace.
Perhaps this is false confidence. I am certainly not logistically and directionally talented, so travel doesn’t come extraordinarily easy to me. I am not versed in multiple languages. I do not have an unlimited budget.
And yet, because of this I tried to plan as extensively as I could. I have a thick packet full of papers—tickets, directions, hostel reservations, ideas of places to go, eat, ect. sitting in the pouch in front of me. This was fairly nightmarish to put together. I spent hours on the computer, buying and researching and writing instructions and reading through Let’s Go Europe as if it were the night before a final exam and that snarky guide was my lifesaver of a textbook. My ultimate hope is that this planning will confirm my belief that the further you plan in advance, the more things you buy early, the more places you know you’re going, then the easier and less stressful the work of traveling will become. We will see. Even my attempts at being organized have caused me to purchase two different nonrefundable tickets twice without even realizing it. So it goes.
I need this to be somewhat easier because it feels (or at least it felt during those god-awful planning hours) that I have bitten more than I can chew. Traveling to five vastly different European countries over eleven days, on my own? Seriously?
This is certainly ambitious. I have never traveled by myself before (oh, you know what I mean. Car trips and one-way San Antonio to New York trips don’t count), and this is a helluva way to start. I feel greatly empowered yet simultaneously overwhelmed by the notion of traveling hundreds of miles and through several countries without another pair of eyes to deal with the logistics. “The lone traveler” is both an literary cliché and an existential reality. For while the challenges I face will be of an undeniably upper-middle class nature, I feel that this sort of trip can undeniably bare the thematic heft of a bildungsroman regardless. No, I’m not traveling in the wilderness for days before returning to my tribe. But I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that I’m embarking on the globalized, pluralistic 21st century version of a similar quest, what Victor Turner would call a “liminal experience,” an undetermined period of time when I can contemplate the elements of the world around me as they’re twisted and pulled into contortions that are both strikingly beautiful and frighteningly grotesque.
I will witness the heart of modern, urbanized Italy in Milan and its many museums. I will bask in the Islamic architecture, snow-tipped peaks, and warm sun of Southern Spain in Granada. I will experience the classic heart of London and have a pint in the Oxford pub where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien regularly met. I will finish with an all-out feast of chocolate, waffles, pommes frites and wonderful beer in Brussels; a several-hour dip into Amsterdam will prelude my flight back into Prague.
Like all great, lasting life events, pondering this one gives me a peculiar mix of anxiety and excitement. And after all, there is no need to overstate the difficulties because I won’t be completely alone; I will be (quite by chance, actually) spending the day in Milan with some NYU friends. I will see a lifelong friend in Granada and another fine friend in London. And above all else, I somehow know that the God of the Universe is with me, inside me, gently turning me toward Himself and my True Self: the person that I, in the heart of my being, implicitly long to become.
I can’t promise that I’ll write regularly during this trip. If I don’t update you or update Instagram, please don’t think that something awful has happened to me. But if you check this blog, maybe you’ll see a couple updates here and there. Who knows. The plane is about to land in Milan now.