Tag Archives: Iowa

Remembering Why I Watch

As though an excuse was needed to drink wine in Paris, but sure... tennis!

As though an excuse was needed to drink wine in Paris, but sure… tennis!

It’s a cool Sunday morning, the type that lends itself towards coffee and nostaligia. I suppose the fact that I’m starting to pack my stuff into boxes isn’t helping the nostalgic side of me. You’d think I’d be used to that by now, but my mind still gets loud from time to time. Is Des Moines really the spot for me? Is it going to be just a larger version of Cedar Rapids? I have lots of tricks to quiet my mind like all of us. Some of my favorites are music, running, reading, and even watching sports.

The French Open is on this morning and I’m instantly transported back to Paris. Sports, just like any other type of entertainment at its best, can do that. They can take us to other places and times. Last year I was watching this same match, Djokovic vs. Nadal, this time in the finals instead of the semi-finals. This year watching alone with a cup of coffee on my couch in Iowa instead of in the courtyard of Hotel de Ville, drinking wine surrounded by thousands of people.

Hotel de Ville’s courtyard was a constantly changing landscape that holds memories from my first days in Paris to my last. It was an outdoor ice skating rink the first time I happened upon it, an essential part of my first great story in the city. It was a makeshift nature preserve my last time, where I spent time reflecting after my last great story there had its conclusion. For a few weeks in late May and early June, the courtyard transformed into a mini-Roland Garros, complete with a clay tennis court and a sixty foot long Jumbotron with plenty of seats around to catch all the action. Gorgeous weather brought out gorgeous people to enjoy the food, wine, and scenery. Tennis wasn’t secondary or even tertiary, it was the background noise; the excuse to be there.

Sports at their worst can be hard to admit you enjoy. Fan is quite literally short for fanatic, and sometimes it feels like you either have to be completely involved or not at all when it comes to sports. The amount of vitriol that gets spewed on a daily basis, both by the general media and social media, is enough to turn off anyone. Tonight, The Miami Heat will play a basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs. The ten players on the court will all do things we could not possibly fathom doing for three hours. After the game is over, win or lose, LeBron James will be called a traitor, a pussy, and all other variety of names you can imagine. This need of others to tear down people in some sort of effort to validate their own shortcomings makes me ashamed to enjoy sports.

The whole reason I started liking sports was to have more to talk about with my dad. My weird memory combined with the propensity towards numbers and statistics in sports made it easy for me to pick up quickly. It’s entertaining to me to watch people compete at the highest level of almost anything. I remember sitting with friends talking about all manner of subjects last year in that square. Hours went by and it appeared Nadal would handle Djokovic as expected. Then Djokovic started to rally, and you could feel the entire energy in that courtyard change. The side conversations stopped as everyone started watching intently and discussing only the match. People walking by on their way home from work, to see Notre Dame, or just out for a casual stroll, stopped to watch; filling the courtyard. By the middle of the fifth set, you could not find a place to stand. People were climbing trees and lamposts to get a better view of the Jumbotron. Here we all were, in the middle of one of the most beautiful and romantic cities on the planet, and people had stopped everything they were doing to watch two grown men hit a fuzzy yellow ball back and forth. Five hours had gone by before Nadal finally claimed one of his hardest fought victories at the championship he has made his career on. People smiled and chatted with complete strangers about the match before slowly dissipating into the Parisian evening. Nadal claimed this year’s title as well, with a significantly easier victory than last year. Even if it could never live up to what I experienced last year, I was thrilled to sit with the windows open on an overcast Sunday with a cup of coffee in hand, remembering why I still watch sports.

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The Five Stages of Coming Home

Iowa: it's not just corn... though there is a lot of it...

Iowa: it’s not just corn… though there is a lot of it…

They say you can’t go home again. They are wrong. You absolutely can go home again… it’s just really, really weird. After spending the majority of the last five months in Paris, I’ve come back to Iowa. Not only that, but I’ve picked up plenty of new followers recently. I’ve been trying to come up with an amazing follow-up to my “Freshly Pressed” debut that will appeal to my newfound fan base. Obviously, my first thought was to just write a series of dick jokes and end it with a statement about how Obama is going to take our guns and force us to eat government-assisted euthanasia candidates. (That’s right. You just got a double dose of Charlton Heston. You’re now ready to defend your property from miscreants or part the Red Sea.) However, I decided to use my experience to help guide others through the grieving process of coming home.

Denial

That moment the voice in the back of your head says, “Hey, so our visa is expired and we’re almost out of money… maybe we should think about going home…” followed by you drowning that voice with enough wine to make it sound like this. Yep, you’re in denial. Enjoy it! Ignorance truly is bliss, but eventually all that drinking will lead to the next stage. No, not that…

Anger

You start cursing the universe. Why wasn’t I born with an unlimited amount of funds and diplomatic immunity? You curse your middle-class, midwestern heritage. If only your parents had been hardened spies or criminals. Maybe you could murder a rich guy and take over his life? Now you’ve entered the third stage.

Bargaining

You start to realize that you probably don’t have the huevos to kill someone. Then you start to realize that you could happen upon an already dead rich man and find his safety deposit box key. The only problem is you have to perform a voodoo ceremony on his corpse in order for it to lead you to the box, which you screw up, limiting his corpse’s ability to walk only when it hears reggae music, only you don’t have enough money to spring for underwater headphones and your ability to handle a spear gun is sub-par at best. (That was the single greatest sentence I have ever penned.) This realization leads you to the fourth stage.

Depression

You now know your fate. You walk around the place you’ve come to love that you will now be forced to leave with a look on your face that’s so heart-wrenching Sarah McLachlan is following you around, filming her next commercial. No one has ever had it more difficult than you. You have to leave this first-world major metropolis for a first-world rural area. No one can possibly understand the depths of your sorrow.

Acceptance

You start to realize the things that you truly missed. Obviously you’re excited to see friends and family, but also the little things you forgot about as well. Like spreadable butter (Seriously France? Even your butter is high maintenance.), some spice to your food (I get it France. Your palates are so sophisticated that my uneducated American tongue could not possibly grasp the levels of your culinary superiority. Would it have honestly killed you to have a bottle of Sriracha somewhere in your country though?), and getting to wear T-shirts and shorts out in public. (Sorry to break this to you France, but not all of you are models.) More importantly you figure out that the grass isn’t necessarily greener, just a different shade. Sure, there are plenty of differences, but your happiness is defined by you, not where you are.

Layover in Dublin

After catching to red-eye from Chicago to Dublin I found myself with nearly a ten-hour layover in Ireland. Sidebar: fly Aer Lingus… one of the best flights I’ve ever been on. Blows our airlines stateside out of the water… not that it’s difficult. No point in spending it at the airport, even though it is an extremely good airport… time to wander!

Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells

Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells

I grabbed a bus out of the airport and made my way over to Trinity College, where they house The Book of Kells. This fantastically old manuscript, dated from around the beginning of the ninth century, has ornate illustration and Latin text and has to be seen. It is truly a work of art you can’t afford to miss. Christ Church Cathedral is also a good find. This nearly one thousand year old church was the first cathedral in Dublin and even features a stone bridge skyway of sorts.

The oldest cathedral in Dublin

The oldest cathedral in Dublin

Dublin truly is quite lovely. Even though it’s the middle of February and not exceptionally warm, everything is very green. Yes I know it’s Ireland and that’s kind of like saying Hawaii has really amazing rainbows, but until you see it for yourself, words don’t do it justice. For being their largest city, it’s still very quaint. I can only imagine what any other area would be like since I’m in one of the busiest spots in the country and it still feels intimate in a way.

As far as the downtown area, it feels like a cross between Main Street in small town Iowa and the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. If you know me at all, you’ll know I was instantly in love. I have only experienced the city for a few hours, but already I can get a sense of its soul. The population is very helpful and friendly. Everyone gathered in pairs at the small breakfast place I stopped at and they were all thoroughly enjoying the coffee, tea, and conversation.

I had been told that Anthony Bourdain did one of his Layover shows in Dublin, and I should watch it in preparation for my own. Unfortunately I only caught about half of the episode, but I did see a bar called Mulligan’s featured in the program. The bar was opened in 1782 and is supposed to be one of the most authentic pubs in Dublin. While wandering around downtown Dublin I happened upon it, right next door to where I ate breakfast. A gorgeous throwback, it was a favorite writing spot for James Joyce, where it’s rumored he wrote chunks of his classic, Ulysses.

From there I wandered towards O’Connell Street where numerous monuments and the Spire of Dublin form a median with shops and bars lining both sides of the street. While looking down I side street, I saw a pub named Brannigan’s. Anyone that knows me, or Futurama knows there was no chance I was going to pass up a pint there. After a pint and a friendly chat with the bartender of this rugby pub, I decided to have some lunch.

Bangers and mash with Guinness... healthy :)

Bangers and mash with Guinness… healthy 🙂

I decided on a British dish in Ireland, probably not the best move, but I was assured I wouldn’t be run out of the bar for doing so. Either way, it was fantastic pub grub that sparked up a conversation with an older couple seated next to me. We chatted about everything from the weather to reasons why people from the states don’t come over and visit various places in Europe. They were lovely people who wished me luck even though they had no idea what my name was.

Many people won’t be surprised to learn of how kind the Irish people can be, after all, it is quite well known. I found it to be true, and then some. Even their speech, while faster than ours, is filled with the same politeness you’d find from a Midwesterner or Southerner in the states. Ireland is quite similar to the Midwest, so if some of my Midwestern friends or family members have reservations about traveling to another country, I’d highly recommend giving Ireland a chance. The culture is different, but also somehow familiar. I’m quite confident you’ll feel at home.

The Start

It’s 3:30 pm on the first Tuesday in February at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids. There’s a smattering of people, maybe one seat taken for every four open. Most seem ready for a business trip, or ready to head home from one. This seems like an odd place to start.

Flights are delayed, but eventually I’ll be off too Chicago, Dublin, then finally to Barcelona where I’ve been telling everyone I’ll be starting off my wandering. That’s not really true though. It starts here, in Iowa. I’ve always expressed the desire to try living somewhere else, but until recently never did that much about it.

It’s a little appropriate I’m leaving my home for no home at all. If I’ve never lived anywhere else as an adult, why not try everything else? I’ll know when and where will be the right place and time for me. Now it’s time to go find it.