Verona, Italy – Day 3

This is Ethan. He always wears a John Deere hat with a camouflage backpack.

We left Switzerland early in the morning on Sunday and drove most of the day to reach Verona, Italy.  Along the way, we listened to Professor Strokanov lecturing on Dante and the context of the Divine Comedy.  It was very interesting – I took notes, in fact.  I was very impressed by the light he shed on the medieval thinking of the day and how it translated through the story.  That really helped to give the text life and understanding.  It’s easier to appreciate an author’s writing when you understand the circumstances surrounding the writing.

The only two other things that were interesting about Switzerland that were pointed out along our drive were the 10-mile tunnel we drove through – holy amazing, batman – and that Switzerland’s energy is almost 50% hydropower.  Some of that is runoff from the snow in the Alps.  The drainage structures were really, really incredible and I would love to know more about that.  I was curious about the drainage structures and systems anyway and how they handle the runoff they must face from such steep terrain.

We arrived in the afternoon in Verona.  The terrain changed drastically when we entered Italy.  I was a little sad to see the mountains go.  But Verona was really interesting with its large wall and huge arena.  In all my life, I never thought I would be looking at an arena in person.  Maybe someday I can go inside of one.

We walked through a square with a farmer’s market and then down a long street.  The street was marble – not concrete or pavement, but marble.  It was smooth and fine and just like something somebody might have for a counter in their house… I was astounded.  I mean, I guess we have some granite sidewalks in Wallingford, but an entire sidestreet of it?  I couldn’t imagine.

We saw the statue of Dante in Verona, and the burial places of one of the governing families, and then we went to Juliet’s house.  I think I have seen Juliet’s house in a romantic comedy once upon a time, it felt magical to be there at first… but then it just felt sad.  On the bus, Professor Strokanov had also given his very professional opinion about the seven stages of the feeling of love.  He started with Insanity, then went to Dreaming, then to Planning, then to Truth, then to Resistance – which he didn’t talk about – and said he would finish the rest of the lecture later.  (None of us are sure that he knows what the other two feelings are, but the discussion was interesting.)  After talking about love and standing there thinking about love – it just felt sad.  “All love is tragedy,” Professor Strokanov said.  I don’t think he’s right, but he’s not necessarily wrong, either.

After our walking tour of Verona we had free time.  As there was a market, we decided to see what various vendors were selling and doing.  I saw some tablecloths at one stall and picked one up.  It unfolded and I couldn’t seem to fold it back quite right.  A woman came over and started talking in animated Italian.  We asked her in Italian if she spoke English.  She then started shouting – at the top of her lungs – and looking around.  I was so embarrassed at this point and felt like maybe I had done something wrong.  I was relieved when finally a woman came up offering to speak a little English.  The two women exchanged a few animated words and then the lady turned to me and asked, “Do you need any help?”  I laughed in relief; such a big deal to such a simple question! I replied, apologetically, that I was only looking.  We all laughed and we all moved on about our business.

We decided we needed to get gelato after that, but couldn’t remember where Professor Strokanov had said that the best gelato was located.  We ran into him on a sidestreet and asked him and he said, “Come, I show you!” and took off like a flash!  We ran after him and it was one of my favorite moments ever – running for gelato behind a Russian professor through the streets of Verona.  It was hilarious and something I never thought I’d ever do in my life.

We got back to find that the oil pump on the bus was broken and our bus drive was repairing it.  We had to sit and wait and while we did that, I had time to locate a four leaf clover.  My first day in Italy and a four leaf clover!

Tomorrow is Venice!

Lucerne, Switzerland – Day 2

 

 

We had a bit of a lazy morning before heading down the mountain to Lucerne.  It’s incredible to me how much space we occupy in America for our roads and our bridges and Right of Way and just in general.  When you come to Europe, your hotel might very well be up a goat path of a road that the bus huffs and puffs its way up so that it can pull off in a little side space to let the line of cars pass it by.  It’s crazy how steep and narrow some of the streets are.  They must have very good drivers in these countries.

Another thing I noticed about transportation – because you know, I like that kind of thing – is how many bicycles there are.  So many people ride bikes and they ride them up those crazy hills!  It’s incredible.  My friend and I were commenting on how we wouldn’t ride a bike up one particular hill, and seconds later a female cyclist came around the corner and started up toward us.  We wanted to cheer her on.  I wonder if people are used to the athletic nature of their counterparts in these countries?  Back home it’s always surprising when somebody bikes to work or runs home afterward or swims more than two miles.  I wonder if these things are just as surprising in cities across the world?  Is it weird in Washington DC or New York City where there are so many cyclists?  Is it American culture that is surprised by athleticism?  Or is it a global thing?  Do the Swiss or Italians or Germans find it normal to seek alternative transportation?  It’s an interesting question.  The snapshot of Swiss people we have seen all appear to be in good physical shape and very healthy.  Switzerland is awesome.

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Anyway, we made our way to Lucerne and the first thing we saw was the monument to the Swiss bodyguards who lost their lives defending the French monarchy during the Revolution.  There were 1100 Swiss bodyguards at the time.  (When the tour guide was telling the story, he kept calling them lifeguards – which was really wonderful imagery to picture defending the monarchy in the late 1700s.)  The monument was of a lion dying, his hand on a shield with a French emblem and a shield with a Swiss flag emblem behind him.  It was so tragic.  Over 600 men lost their lives defending a castle from invasion – and the entire time King Louis and Marie Antoinette had been relocated to safety and weren’t even there to defend.

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PSA: You’re all going to die.

We took a walking tour of Lucerne afterward, seeing the old wall that was part of the original city then down to the water front.  We walked the old wooden walkways that have been there forever and were a part of the defense of the water ways into Lucerne.  The walkways had old artwork hung over them along the way with strange depictions of men with skulls for heads and people either fighting it or running away from it or something.  I asked Frank about them and he said they were reminders to people about death.  They show death coming for people of all kinds – rich, poor, old, young, beautiful, etc.  How’s that for a public service announcement?  How about public service announcements being considered artwork some day?  Good times.

We finished our tour in front of the premier Rolex and watch dealership in Switzerland!  I didn’t go in, although it would have been neat to see the price tags.  We had lots of free time after our tour finished.  Winter (curiously enough, she’s another 30-something young person from Rutland that I had to go to Switzerland to actually meet) and I went to take in the Museum of Modern Art.  One of the displays had swings so we actually got to swing in a museum!  It was great.  We had to take a selfie.  Also, in the kids section, we got to draw cartoons of our life.  My hair has been crazy since my hair straightener doesn’t work, so I drew my comic about it swallowing my face.  It made me laugh!

We enjoyed the artwork and walking around in the sunshine and 70 degrees.  It’s been so gorgeous and clear.  On another environmental note – THE WATER!!!  The water is so clear here!  I just want to swim in it in the worst way!  It reminds me of Lake George and I just ache to feel the cold of it and get to know it.  I want to dip right in and surrender to the unfamiliar nature of it and see how it compares to my water back home.  What color is it?  What sounds will I hear?  What’s the texture and the smell and the taste of it?  I think I might carry my swimsuit around with me from now on.  Just in case of an emergency.  That’s not weird.  It’s only weird if you wear it all day in case of an emergency.  We passed by some dams or locks, perhaps, too that caught my attention.  My VTC counterparts and I were speculating about the construction and the use of some of the dam, but the tour guide didn’t say much about it.  I found an English sign so I got to read about it a bit at least.  I like environmental controls and turbidity readings and water clarification processes and stuff like that.  It’s neat to observe these things in other countries.

The bells are tolling nine o’clock.  We’ve heard the cowbells being rung on the hillsides as the sun goes down – I’m not sure what type of livestock they are actually calling in or if they are even for that, but it was really neat to hear.

My only complaint so far is that my ankles swelled up on the plane and they have not unswelled.  It went down a bit during the night last night, but we’ve been walking over 6 miles a day and they are not improving.  It doesn’t hurt, I just feel… gross or something.

I am having such a good time, although I am a bit nervous about presenting about Dante’s Divine Comedy and need to be a weirdo and do some research now.  Tomorrow we head for Italy with a stop in Verona before we go to our destination just outside of Venice.  It’s going to be amazing.

Zurich, Switzerland – Day 1

I am taking a Social Studies class for my engineering degree that takes us to Switzerland, Italy and the French Riviera!  As preparation for the trip we had to read Dante’s the Divine Comedy and watch a couple of Italian movies.  We also need to keep a journal and write a paper when we get back – researching whatever questions we came up with on the trip.  So I am keeping all my thoughts, hopefully, on my blog.

I have to start by saying that I am impressed with my classmates.  I was a little nervous about the fact that its a college crowd – 18 and 19 year olds loose in Europe.  I was further concerned how I would fit in.  But my fellow Vermont Technical college guys and girls are hardy, Vermont country types.  We might not be the book-smartiest of the crowd or the artsiest, but we are handy and hardworking.  The guys always help unload the bags, they hold doors, and are really considerate.  We are mostly all attending Vermont Tech in some engineering or construction capacity, and we all turn to look at equipment and tractors as they pass by or inspect construction zones or just be interested in those things in general.  It’s funny to me, too, that I haven’t heard anybody say anything about shopping – most people were excited about the lakes and mountains and such.  I feel like we are all very similar types of people and that goes a long way to making us all feel at home with each other.

Yesterday, we departed Boston and flew into Zurich, Switzerland.  Interesting enough, Switzerland doesn’t have an official capital city, but Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and could be considered the business capital. We met up with our tour guide, Frank, and with very little persuasion from Professor Strokanov, he took us on a walking tour of Zurich – even though that wasn’t on the itinerary.  It was really neat to see Lake Zurich where so many of my friends have participated in marathon swims.  I was sad to not be swimming, myself as it was about 70 degrees yesterday!  Walking through the city was spectacular and Frank, our tour guide is so knowledgeable about so many things.  I don’t know enough about architecture to describe the different styles of it that we’ve seen, but the churches in particular are fascinating to me.  Throughout the city, special care was taken to make everything look beautiful – doorways were decorated and ornate either with woodworking or metalworking or even just phrases in German or maybe other languages.  Flower boxes were everywhere, too – there were some really, really small flower boxes!  It was almost like any opportunity to add flowers was seized with gusto.  Beauty is such an easy part of a society to discard because of time and cost, but I am just really appreciative of a people who invest in expressing beauty.

Most of everything was in German (even my Google home page!), and I don’t know German – but so far everyone is very kind and accommodating and friendly so I don’t feel intimidated by the language barrier.  I appreciate the way people dress.  In general, it seems that people dress in Europe not to make radical statements but to represent themselves well.  It’s a refreshing contrast when you see so many Americans wearing pajama bottoms in public.  I didn’t see one pair of pajama bottoms in Zurich.

I had espresso for the first time in my life!  It was so dark and thick and rich and good.  It’s amazing!  I can’t wait until Italy – I’ve heard fantastic things about the cappucino!  At first, I missed my large cup of coffee, but after sipping the espresso … I’m not sure I can go back to having so much water in my coffee.

After leaving Zurich we arrived at the hotel in Emmetten – the landscape is breathtaking. I am just enchanted by Switzerland.  It’s so moving with all it’s mountains and lakes.  We had dinner – a wonderful three course traditional meal.  And breakfast this morning included the most fantastic homemade bread.  The food has been so good!  I am excited to try something new at every meal.

We went for a walk last night up the hill outside the hotel and watched the sunset.  There is a beautiful church and the bells toll so sweetly every quarter hour.  It was a long dusk – the kind that lets your eyes slowly warm to every single color so gently that you don’t even realize that anything is changing until it is too dark to see.

Peace

“I found it!” he said as he closed his fist,
On the piece of his soul he had always missed.
Held one-handed.
While the other extended
And clutched the ledge of the precipice.

“I have no need, nor want, nor whim,”
His smile radiated from within.
Chased and pursued,
Lost, broken, imbued,
Now! Rewarded with joy unspoken.

He did not see the chasm below,
Or feel the wind or taste the snow,
He did not mind,
He’d found his find,
Nothing mattered anymore.

He took his long lost treasure,
Opened his soul for good measure,
He twisted the key,
Slid in his last piece,
And smiled to himself with great pleasure.

So he dangled above the vast unknown,
To him, for once, he was finally home,
He smiled at the view,
And at the snow, too,
And he said, “I am the luckiest man that I know.”

How to Date an Engineer

I have four exams this week: Physics, Environmental Engineering and Science, Calculus for Engineering, and Mechanics of Soils.  When my brain becomes saturated in calculations a weird thing happens – I HAVE to write.  The words push themselves out and I can’t help it.  Due to overexposure of engineering types and based on a few of my own experiences, I have decided that this Valentine’s Day the world can benefit from this non-comprehensive manual on how to woo your favorite engineer.

  1. Plans.

I’ve always heard it said that when you are dating, you should make plans that include dates, times, transportation, etc.  When you have your heart set on an engineer, though, don’t just have a plan:  you should have an entire set of plans.  I am not talking about simply coming up with an creative idea and romantic execution to the last detail of something that is individually designed for the object of your affection. (Which you also must do.)  You must, in fact, have a plan for almost everything.  Engineers love plans. Engineers love plans more than they love people. Read more

Conversations with God

I was in the Rutland Magazine recently.  It was an article about my Channel Swim.  I haven’t read it, yet.  I never read any of the articles about myself.  I try and I always think to myself that I will do it.  I should. I know I should… but I never do.  It makes me feel weird that other people want to tell my story over and over again.  Embarrassed.  Strange.

I am glad they do tell the story.  Er, rather, I am glad the story gets told. In whatever way they feel compelled to tell it.  I am always honored when people ask me to speak and educate and inspire – it was always meant to be a gift to my community and I love the impact it continues to have. That is what the story is for – to continue to testify and edify.  

That is the purpose of the story. Any story. It might even be my story – but it isn’t me. I am not there anymore.  I am not in that chapter of my life, any longer.  I am different.  Things are different. I have grown and changed so much in only the two years that have passed since then.  I want to share who I am now – the now me and all her depth and creativity and ingenuity and insight and courage and intelligence. I am keenly aware of the people nearest me who see me and allow me to be who I am today.

Some days, the now me wants to tell the story of my English Channel swim because there is a new lesson in it I have just uncovered.  A new depth.  A new place it has brought me to.  Some days, I don’t think about it at all.  I think about school and work and building a future that makes a marked difference economically and socially.  There are some people that I long to tell about it with words meant only for them.  Let me tell you the story this one particular way, just this one time.  I will speak every word as it flows from the deepest parts of the now me founded on the person who lived that story with the understanding of the now person across from me who is my audience of one.  It’s my gift only for you.  Nobody else.

The articles will always do for the masses, but you have the chance to know me.  You do.  The now me.  And I long for the chance to be known.  Today.  Tomorrow.  On Christmas.  New Years. Every day after that.

I wonder if Yahweh feels this way – kind of strange or embarrassed that people tell stories about who He was thousands of years ago while He is waiting for people to recognize who He is in His profound revelation and relevancy today.  Who is the now Him?  What is it like to be engaged with Him in all of His creativity and ingenuity and insight and courage and wisdom and love?  How does He wish to connect today?  Tomorrow?  On Christmas?  New Years? Every day after that?

What if we let Him tell the story this time – whatever story He wants.  Every single day of our lives as we live them together.  In growth and change and empowerment and excellence.  With courage.  Tenacity.  Intelligence.  Kindness. Love.

What if we let go of religion so that we can have conversations with God?  Conversations about science and our earth.  About medicine.  About government and education and media.  Justice.  Health.  Economics.  Business.  Maybe He still has something to say about that – in whatever way He still speaks in and through you.  Maybe He doesn’t want to talk about your issues.  Maybe He longs for somebody to converse with Him about the things that are important to Him now. Maybe that should be both our gift and our resolution.  Today.  Christmas.  New Years.

Every day after that.

 

Giving Thanks

I am ever so entirely grateful for this life I get to live.

I am grateful that when I wake up, that I am real.  I am in this moment as honestly as I will be in the next.  I am one whole being – heart, intellect, spirit – and perhaps not pure or perfect, but I will continue in my pursuit of right wholeness.

I am grateful that I don’t have to live in fantasies or dualities or lies or dreams.  There is no imagination, no fantasy world, that I can conceive that could ever compare to this real, present life that is mine.  There is no lie worth purchasing at the expense of my soul.  There is no dream that I would prefer more than the ones already added to my pursuit of the kingdom. I am exactly on the right path to the exactly right person I want to be.

I am grateful that I am single.  I am grateful that I don’t need to be in a relationship to find meaning and fulfillment.  I am grateful that I know love – real, true, deep love – and that it fills me up and overflows into every aspect of my life.  I am grateful for the strength it has produced within me – the strength to be alone and not lonely, to let go, to achieve, to pursue the best things.  I am grateful that at the end of the day, when I lay my head down and close my eyes and allow my spirit to sing me a lullaby – that I know this place and time and hour is all perfection.  It is well with my soul.  If I am meant to be alone all my years – it would be a joy and an honor and delight to continue on the journey I see before me.  I would not trade who I am for anything.

I am grateful.  I am grateful for the truth that has grown up in my spirit and produced such abundant life.  I am grateful for the things I have achieved, for the glorious and impossible things I have done.  I am grateful that I do not have to wish or want for a day that might have been, nor do I have to sit on the platform of my own achievements – but that, ahead of me, the best things lie in wait.

I am a peculiar treasure hidden in the heart of my God.

For that I am breathlessly, profoundly, deeply grateful.