Monday, June 24, 2013

Some Things I Learned From a Long Trip - Language

Greetings from Nova Scotia!  I've been trying to write this post for days but life in Hamilton got in the way (which will be one of the final "Some Things I Learned..." post).

Now onto language and what one might learn while on a long trip to a country with a different primary language. But first a small bit of background to help you understand where I'm coming from.  Firstly, German is technically my first language.  Secondly, I was bullied as a small child when I was learning English.   I have, for years, beat myself up over the fact that I do not speak German fluently; it was only after realizing the second point that I understood (part of the reason) why as well as why I have a hard time speaking any language if I can't do it perfectly (as if!).  This, of course, underscored our trip to Berlin.

Whenever anyone says to you, "Oh, you don't need to speak German/French/Italian/Insert Another Language Here in X, everyone speaks English," be a little suspect.  Many friends who'd been to Berlin recently sang the same song, and even people we met who have lived in Berlin for many years asserted the same thing.  I think it might hold true if you either a) stuck to the more tourist/shopping areas, b) lived in a neighborhood like Kreuzberg (lots of expats and hipsters), and/or c) you weren't overly concerned with being understood or understanding.  A third point I should've added to the paragraph above is that being understood is VERY important to me - whether it's literally or emotionally or psychologically.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some Things I Learned From a Long Trip - Projects

When we go to Nova Scotia I always bring a number of projects along since I know I'll have hours of uninterrupted time and no pressing outside obligations to attend to.  These projects include crafts, of course, as well as writing and art projects as well.  Berlin was no different.  What was different was the amount of time we had - almost three times as much time.

However, Berlin was different in that we weren't in a rural environment, with few distractions.  We were in a city that not only had things we wanted to do and see but people we met and wanted to hang out with.  What has this taught me about packing projects?

Firstly, let me outline what I brought with me and their status:
  1. Yarn and the incomplete Tourist Sweater - finished
  2. Beginning of and yarn for the Soho Smocked Dress - finished
  3. A crossstitch kit that I'm 3/4 of the way through - didn't touch
  4. The Alabama Chanin dress I started at the workshop last year - made some serious progress
  5. My collection of short stories - shopped around a little as well as submitted individual stories
  6. Drafts of stories and novel - worked on a couple of shorts
  7. Two university classes to design - started thinking about.
That should've been enough, no?  But it was clearly (yes, clearly) unreasonable for me to take a "no new craft materials for a year" pledge.  Besides going to Liberty of London where it would've taken some kind of twisted logic to leave without fabric, there were yarns that I haven't seen in Canada or the US (okay, maybe I wasn't looking for them either, but still), and when taking one of our guests to four different yarn shops (need to write reviews of them), it was too tempting.  In fact, I have a new saying, "If you leave a yarn shop without buying any yarn, a sheep somewhere cries."  (This applies to "cotton sheep" as well.)  I ended up buying four skeins of sock yarn (two to give as souvenirs to friends, one for a holiday present, and one for me), yarn for the Loop Entrelac Tank that I actually finished in Berlin but need to readjust the straps on, yarn for scarves for the ladyfriend and myself (also completed in Berlin), and yarn for the Carnaby skirt I plan to make.  I also (yes, there's more) had some Alabama Chanin fabric brought by a visitor so I could make a skirt and t-shirt that I badly needed.  I wear that skirt like a pair of jeans right now - all the time (photos will follow one day).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some Things I Learned From a Long Trip - Baggage

Before I begin, let me say one thing - 2013 has felt like the year of packing poorly - and I have always been a pretty efficient and smart packer.  But this year, so far, has made me rethink that.

So, the first thing I have realized is that a) you'll always need something and b) you'll always have at least one item you don't wear.  How is that helpful?  Well, it's not, by itself; however, let's take this a bit further and use it to make a guideline.

(Stay with me here; there's a little background/digression coming, but I swear, it'll all come around to my point.)  As you know (if you don't, pretend), clothes are very important to me, and while in Berlin, I did have a bit of a crisis around my wardrobe and feeling like myself.  I won't go into too much detail except to say that my clothing and how I dress is an integral part of my identity (I have ideas for an article around this).  How can one pack for a trip longer than a week or two and maintain one's sense of self (I know, pretty intense) without carting, say, five suitcases?  (By the way, our extra suitcases cost us €50 each, which is already pretty expensive, but the person to whom I paid the fee told me that if we'd flown out on Saturday, the rate would've jumped to €150 each!  He went on to say that American Airlines made something like $8billion in excess baggage fees alone last year.)

Now this is a work in progress, but I have an upcoming 5-week trip to put it to the test.  What I think would work best for someone like me is to start with some key pieces, like a dress that always looks fantastic and that you can dress up/down and wear in multiple temperatures.  I would've had that with my Patagonia dress (the one of the traumatic day in Marrakesh), but I had jettisoned the hoody I wear it with when we were in the "lightening the load" frenzy before we flew to Berlin.  This time?  Dress and hoody.

These key pieces should be distinctive but malleable, and this is where I plan to do more experimenting.  For example, I almost never think about wearing a skirt over another dress to create a different look.  This technique has great potential and is quite versatile.  I tried a variation of it with a long white shirt over a fully pleated skirt, and it was pretty cool.  Also, the jeans that fit you perfectly should be packed.

A number of my friends had said to me, "You'll buy clothes in Berlin," and I've already discussed one of the issues with that.  Nonetheless, there is something to be said for not packing and getting basics like t-shirts, for example, where you land (if possible).  While there can be issues with that approach (spending money, buying things made in China, etc.), it can also save you the headache of the "lightening the load" frenzy one might be engaged in to avoid paying €150 for an extra suitcase.  To make this really work, I'd suggest donating whatever basics you've bought abroad to a charity (I doubt you want to pay €150 to bring some t-shirts home).  I did end up making a number of items including a t-shirt and a skirt, which I have yet to blog about.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Home Again, But Not Quite At Home

Amazingly we made it home despite the fact that we had four checked suitcases, which either weighed mere grams below the maximum or, as in one case, were a little "chunky;" a carry-on suitcase, which was overweight but forgiven by the kind desk agent; and ninety days exactly in the Schengen (a day more and we'd have been fined €1,000 and banned - yes banned! - from the area for three years; suffice to say, we did a lot of math to make sure we were within the limits).   Our flight was pretty painless and included a celebrity - Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He was wearing a NYRangers hat and had a pencil that stuck out diagonally in front of his ear from beneath the rim of his cap.  These are the kinds of things I remember - that and that he looked a bit, let's say ragged out.

When we left Berlin it was probably somewhere in the low 60s (Fahrenheit); when we landed in New York it was 90.  Now its rainy and 55 in Hamilton.  Guess we could say the weather is reminiscent of Berlin.  I could use a little more New York.

So we made it back to Hamilton, but the renovation on our house are not done.  So we've taken up residence in our friend's house (she has the space).  It's a little disorienting to be home but not home.  We're in our city, but not in our neighborhood and not with our stuff.  We're still living out of suitcases, which seem to be filled with inappropriate clothing (not warm enough, too nice, etc.).  We're only here for a little over a week now.  I'm not sure how I'm going to manage to pack for Nova Scotia.

Tomorrow - lessons learned on a long trip.