Archive for the ‘Tales from Abroad’ Category

A street in my new home.

A street in my new home.

Well, not really my first week. It’s been only four or five days since I arrived. But it’s Friday, and tomorrow I’ll be busy with a couple of things, so I might as well write about it now.

So what’s my first week been like? Well…a bit different than what I expected (or what my Tarot predicted, though that was referring to a longer period of time, so maybe the first week shouldn’t have that much reflection on the reading). While I am working and have my own office (and it’s big and cozy too, by the way), I don’t have an ID card yet. As this is a military base with security protocols and whatnot, I need and ID card to do anything significant. Unfortunately, the soonest I can get in to get one is Monday, so until then I’ve been busy with tasks that don’t involve computers or security clearance.

What sort of tasks are those, you ask? Well, I’m supposed to be, among other things, writing articles on behalf of the head Equal Employment Opportunity office of Europe, so in preparation for that I’ve been doing some reading about diversity in the workforce, something EEO feels strongly about. I’m going to be writing an article about implementing diversity to the fullest in such a workforce. In addition to that, I’ve been doing some work with the base’s personal EEO office.

My apartment building.

My apartment building.

Beyond that, I haven’t had that much time to do anything else. I’ve done a little shopping, and gotten to know the neighborhood I live in a little (I live not too far from base in an area full of apartment buildings housing mostly military personnel and/or their families). I’m also getting to know my roommate Ian, whom I have a lot in common with, including religions. And I’ve been adjusting, trying to adapt to living near a base and working on one. I’ve somehow trained myself to go to bed at ten and wake up at five, and be ready to leave the house a quarter to seven for work. How have I done this? I’m not really sure, even a year ago something like that would’ve been impossible for work or school.

Well, thank God it’s the weekend, and that brings it’s own adventures. I’m doing a walking tour of Wiesbaden provided by the USO tomorrow morning, so I’m getting up early (for a Saturday) to go on it. I’m actually pretty excited. I want to see what my new home has to offer. And next week there’s a tour of nearby Frankfurt I’d like to go on as well. We’ll see what happens.

My roommate and I grabbing some drinks.

My roommate and I grabbing some drinks.

The one thing I’m sad about is that I’m unable to continue my German lessons or write lately. The latter particularly upsets me. You know me, as a writer telling stories is my lifeblood. And with a busy life like mine these days, since Monday the most I’ve been able to do is usually very short posts, like the ones on From The Voice Of Common Sense. Hopefully as time goes on though I’ll be able to carve out time to write and edit. I’m trying to get through a new short story and finish editing Video Rage, so the sooner I get those done the better.

In the meantime, I’ve got a big day tomorrow, so I’m going to prep for that. Wish me luck, my Followers of Fear. I think I might need it.

A view of Wiesbaden.

A view of Wiesbaden.

Guten tag, mein Anhanger der Angst!

Well, I’ve arrived in Germany, safe and sound. And let me tell you, I am beat! I did not get as much sleep as I expected on those three back-to-back-to-back flights, so by the time I got to Germany I was a bit jet-lagged. Still, it’s good to be here. The weather’s nice (partly due to the heat wave that’s going on now in Europe), the scenery is lush and green, and there’s something in the air that says, I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Well, as far as I remember I don’t think I’ve ever been to Kansas, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway, here’s how things have been going for me. I arrived in Germany around noon or so after my flight’s been delayed an hour. I think I slept a bit on the plane, because the flight’s a bit of a blur. I meet my supervisor Ron and my new roommate Ian after I get my baggage, and we head to the Post Exchange, which is not a post office like its name suggests. More like a small mall. There’s a place where you can buy home goods like sheets and appliances, there’s a food court, a barber shop, and then some! We stopped there to grab some stuff for my room, which came with a bed and bedside table with a lamp but not much else (you can see why we needed to stop).

My new roommate Ian and I.

My new roommate Ian and I.

After a quick lunch at the food court where I got to know my new roommate, we headed to the commissary, which is like a small supermarket. I got a few things to stock the pantry, and then we were off to the apartment. And by the way, this apartment rocks! Not only is it twice as big as my last apartment, it’s cozy and warm and seriously affordable! Like affordable enough to make you drop your mouth in shock! If they only allowed pets (like cats), it’d be perfect.

So now I’m a little moved in. My sheets are on the bed, my clothes for tomorrow are picked out and my suit’s in the closet. Soon I’ll be going out with Ian, who has been a huge help in getting moved in and has been here for quite a while already, so he’s got plenty of tips for little ol’ me, and we’ll go for dinner. After that…well, I have an early morning (why did I agree to one? Who knows?!), so I’ll get ready for bed and call it a night early.

My room. It's very comfy.

My room. It’s very comfy.

All in all, I’m glad I’m here. It’s a huge opportunity, and I’m super-excited for the challenges that will be thrown my way, as well as all the things I’ll learn and see and…oh, you’ve already heard this!

So just wish me luck. It’s the beginning of a big adventure for me and I can’t wait to see what happens!

The entrance to the Louvre, surrounding by many fountains.

The entrance to the Louvre, surrounding by many fountains.

The other night, I was watching the classic Doctor Who serial City of Death (one of these days I will have to write an article on Classic Who from a writer’s perspective, because it deserves one), and I found myself freaking out because the serial takes place mainly in Paris, about thirty-five years before I myself was there. (Fun fact: City of Death was the first Doctor Who serial to be filmed abroad, filming between April and May of 1979. So yeah, 35 years before I would visit the city itself).

It was delightful for me to see all those sights in the actual episode, because I’d been to those places and I remembered what it was like to be there. I found myself reliving riding the Metro after a long day, trying to navigate my way back out onto the street after taking a twenty-minute train ride, because those stations can sometimes be little mazes in themselves. Or walking along the river Seine during a leisurely stroll and then sitting in a café near the Champs Elyesees and having a crepe and Orangina (I miss that brand of soda, by the way. It’s so hard to find here in the States).

The Eiffel Tower at night.

The Eiffel Tower at night.

The serial also had scenes set at the Eiffel Tower and in the Louvre. Both those places hold a lot of memories for me. For the Eiffel Tower, it was one of the very first places I visited when I was in Paris. My friend Ramsey Hardin and I decided we go on a late-night jaunt to see the Eiffel Tower at night, and we ended up somehow climbing all the way to the second level (not the top, because that was closed that late at night). It was an amazing view. From every angle you could see Paris at night, a lovely city of lights and mystery. There are hardly any skyscrapers in Paris, mostly due to the French’s distaste for them, so we had a clear view of the city at night. The tower itself starts having a light show with flashing bulbs bright enough to give people seizures about every hour or so, and that was fun to watch. While there we also had the opportunity to talk to a family from the States who were there for a special birthday celebration (the mother’s) and a group from a technical school in Texas that were there for their own study-abroad trip. If the Tower hadn’t had to close, I’m sure we would’ve spent another hour or two there talking to people and enjoying the views.

Ramsey and I at the Eiffel Tower.

Ramsey and I at the Eiffel Tower.

The Louvre has an altogether different feeling. There is more nudity depicted in that museum than in the world’s biggest strip club, and yet there’s just as much religious iconography and scenes to rival the Vatican. And through it all is an air of strange reverence, as if everyone is aware that they are in a temple as holy as any shrine. Even as people take photos of the Mona Lisa or Madonna on the Rocks or paintings so big they take up an entire wall or ones small enough to fit on a cramped bookshelf, there’s a subdued air, as if people are paying their respects to the products of old history and culture. It’s very strange, and you can only really get a sense of it by actually going to the museum itself.

My most artistic selfie.

My most artistic selfie.

But compared to Notre Dame, the Louvre might be a funhouse. I went there after the Louvre, and it’s a very amazing place. From the moment you arrive, you are struck by the very detail of the building. The entrances have so many figures carved into them that you could spend an hour just looking at them and guessing who they are. And once inside, it is very dark and quiet, with people looking around or praying. You can’t help but feel a strange holiness to the place, a sense of godliness no matter what your religious beliefs (or lack of them) are. I even met a couple of OSU alumni there (we’re everywhere!) and they agreed with me on that. I might’v spent more time there if I didn’t have to be back to the hotel by a certain time to meet up for dinner.

See any hunchbacks behind me?

See any hunchbacks behind me?

What does all this rambling have to do with anything? Well, I guess it’s the power of memory. Although sometimes very fallible, the power of memory can transport you through time and space, landing you in a totally different age and location. Just watching that Doctor Who serial was enough to bring me all the way back to France and those five or six lovely, idyllic days of study and learning and wonder and fun, faster than even the TARDIS, even. And I was so happy to return too, because it’s an experience I’ll never be able to relive again, and the memories and photos are what keep the memories alive.

And I hope they stay alive for a long, long time.

Me standing on a stone walkway on Omaha Beach, looking into the distance and trying to imagine what the seas looked like on June 6, 1944.

Me standing on a stone walkway on Omaha Beach, looking into the distance and trying to imagine what the seas looked like on June 6, 1944.

While my study abroad trip was in Normandy, we visited Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, and Pont-du-Hoc. It was quite an experience. For one thing, except for the memorials at Utah Beach to fallen soldiers and the museum next to the memorials, each beach looked like an ordinary beach. You had to really look for vestiges of the war that had raged on the sands nearly 70 years ago. Whether it was the structure in the water meant to obstruct the D-Day boats, or the preserved (I assume preserved) anti-aircraft gun standing on a pedestal, or the set of stairs leading up to a bunker in the mountain, there were hints at what had happened there.

It was really weird. You stand there, and you’d think it was just an ordinary beach. It’s hard to believe that the things that happened there really happened. I wonder how it was for the veterans who were still alive and able to make the trip to the commemoration ceremonies (like this badass Ohio former paratrooper), to come back to the beaches all these years later and seeing bare vestiges of the war left. Must have been disorientating, to say the least.

At Pont-du-Hoc though, you could totally hear the echoes of the past. Pont-du-Hoc, if I remember correctly, is not too far from Omaha Beach. Scattered all throughout the area are rubble, the remains of German bunkers and weapons, and dozens of craters, varying in size from six feet across to twenty feet across or more. Don’t even get me started on how deep those things went! I was scared to go down into the deeper ones lest I be unable to get out again without assistance.

CIMG2417

My friend David Corrigan in one of the deeper pits. This one was maybe twenty feet deep and twenty-five across. It was quite the shock to see it for the first time.

It was easier there to get an idea of what the war was like. You could see evidence in the craters, from the huge blocks of concrete, and from the gun pits and passageways, that war had been waged in this area. And what an area it was! You get the impression from movies and TV shows that a battle, no matter the size of the army, is maybe contained to a place the size of a football field. Pont-du-Hoc was probably several football fields long and wide. It really redefined my belief on what a battle was like.

And when I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the sounds of the battle, echoing across the stream of time from seventy years ago. And I was awed by it all, by the magnitude of what had happened and the horrors the soldiers must’ve witnessed in the spots I stood on. It was so hard to fathom. Thank God I have a writer’s imagination, which made it a little easier, but what I saw in my mind’s eye was probably nothing like it really was back then.

Now, veterans, their families, and world dignitaries such as Obama and Putin and so many others are there to remember the fallen and the battles waged just as I did a few weeks before. It’s right that they should, because it was D-Day and Operation Overlord which began the destruction of the Nazi regime and helped to free so many people from the horrors of fascism and racism. And while technically it was the Soviets who really ended Nazi Germany’s reign of terror, D-Day had a large role in ending it as well. D-Day and everything after.

Me in an anti-aircraft gun pit. Trust me, I had to struggle to get in there.

Me in an anti-aircraft gun pit. Trust me, I had to struggle to get in there.

And I’m so glad I’m at least able to contribute something, even if it’s only some musings and a couple of memories and photos, to the celebrations and commemorations. I’m so happy to say that I was there and that I have more knowledge than I did of the invasion on this auspicious day. And I’m happy that I was able to reach back across time like that and get some sense, even if it was just a small one, of what happened on those beaches and in the surrounding countryside.

Thanks to all those who served in the war, who helped to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny, and who still today serve to protect the ideals of freedom and peace. It’s all because of you that I’m able to write this. And I and so many others will never forget it.

Ah, the Eiffel Tower. See how it glows in the night.

Ah, the Eiffel Tower. See how it glows in the night.

Hi honey I’m home! After about three weeks in England, France, and Germany, I’m finally back in the States. I will definitely miss being in Europe (I will especially miss transportation made easy through the Metro systems), but I was beginning to miss my family and my life here and I’m glad to be back.

Of course, now that I’m back I’m not going to spend the whole time on my butt (though for the most part that’s what I’ve been doing while I get reacclimatized). In addition to catching up on all my shows and going to see some movies that came out while I was abroad, I plan to be very busy this summer. I’ll be doing my usual chores and errands, for one thing, and I’ll be working in the financial aid office for the whole summer (and if I can find one, I’ll try for another job that’ll allow me to work one or two days a week to help with the income). I also plan to finish my novel-in-progress Laura Horn, which I think I can get done by mid-July if I don’t get too distracted. I also hope to write plenty of short stories after I finish the book, because God knows I have plenty of ideas for those (I came up with about 40 ideas for stories while in Europe, most of them short stories. The lesson to be derived from this is that if you’re a writer and you find yourself on a trip abroad, bring a notebook to write down any ideas you have).

What else do I plan to do? Oh yeah, Snake will be coming out on June 10th, so I’ll be getting ready for that. And The Quiet Game’s one-year anniversary will be in July, so I plan to hold a sale for that on the e-book. And I’ll try to do some author interviews now that I’m back in the States, as well as finally getting around to editing Video Rage, the sequel to Reborn City. And maybe I’ll finish some of the series I’m watching on Netflix.

In short, I’ll be very busy.

But enough about that. I said I was going to share some of the stories from my study abroad trip. I think I’ll start with my last night abroad, with the final dinner. Why? Because it shows how much we bonded over the trip:

We were having a special dinner on the second floor of a beer garden at Alexanderplatz in Berlin called Lindenbrau. The weather was cloudy and rainy, but we didn’t really care, because we were all very happy. Maybe that was because of the alcohol and warm food, but we were happy. I was talking with my teachers and y roommate Henry and my friends, and I had a wheat beer in front of me. Most of us were really sad to go, but we were also glad that we’d had this experience together. Also, a few of us were itching to go home, or to go to other places if we were staying in Europe longer (I might have and gone to see Poland and Italy or maybe go back to England, but I couldn’t afford it).

And then our teachers, Dr. Steigerwald and Professor Willging (affectionately nicknamed Dad and Mom, respectively, by our group), stood up to say some words. They said how proud they were of us, and how they hoped we would all stay in touch for years to come. And then they handed out awards to us, the kind like “Most Likely To…” or “Least Likely To…” awards. We were invited to guess whom each award was for, and I got about three or four of them before anyone else. My award was, “Most Likely To Wander Into Rommel’s Chateau.” Considering how oblivious I can be sometimes, that’s not very surprising.

And then something interesting happened: Ramsey Hardin, one of the people on my trip who had become probably my best friend while on the trip, arrived late and hungry. He’d gone to a museum to get a little bit more culture, but on the way back traffic had been really bad, and he’d ended up about an hour or so late getting to the beer garden. Believe me, he was upset, and only a jug of beer and a really huge ham could possibly relieve that anger.

Happy Birthday Ramsey Hardin! By the way, that's David Corrigan photo-bombing te shot. What a goof!

Happy Birthday Ramsey Hardin! And that David Corrigan with him, by the way.

But then a huge surprise came out: the waiter brought Ramsey a piece of chocolate cake with a single blue candle stuck into it, a flame dancing on the wick. It was Ramsey’s twenty-fourth birthday. Boy, did that cheer him up! I wonder what he wished for, though. He probably asked for a big book of history. Ramsey’s a huge history buff, and reads anything about the past. In fact, he was voted “Most Likely To Teach Alexander the Great History” or something like that.

We ended the evening with dessert and a few more drinks, and then I went back to the hotel, to get ready for tomorrow’s flight and to store all these wonderful memories in my head.

And trust me, I’ll have a fun time relating them to you all in the coming months (or until you’re sick of hearing about them). That’s all for now though. Hope you enjoyed the story, my Followers of Fear. I’ll tell another one when I have a moment.

Jones, Jones, let me borrow your bones

Jones, Jones, let me borrow your bones

 

Oh, I’m so excited to tell everyone about my trip down into the catacombs! As you may well know, the catacombs occupy the prime spot on my list of haunted places to visit before I become a ghost myself. And I got in this morning! It’ll make a great beginning to a new sub-category of posts, “Tales from Abroad” (I figure with all the stories I have to tell, a category was needed for it).

CIMG2795

Well, this morning I woke up early. I’d heard that the lines for the catacombs were insanely long, and I decided to get there early. So I got dressed, ate breakfast, and headed to the Metro. Right across from the exit from my stop, was the entrance to the catacombs, with a small line already forming. I rushed to it and got in before anyone else could. It was about fifty minutes before the catacombs opened at that point, and it was also the time when I made new friends: Andrew and Maria, an engineer and sketch artist from Florida whom I talked to while waiting in line. Subjects ranged from WWII history to our travels to the history of the catacombs themselves to our individual aspirations and dreams. During the tour I often saw them and we took photos of each other at various points along the tour.

When ten o’clock hit, the doors opened and we went in. By that point the line had snaked around the block and out of sight (average wait time is around two hours apparently. So remember kids, if you’re in Paris and plan to tour the catacombs, arrive as early as I did so you can get in quickly). The tour was self-guided (audio guides cost extra, and tour guides are only available to groups), so you basically walked down a circling staircase to a first room that dealt with the history of the catacombs (originally mines and underground quarries, later the home of six million of Paris’s dead as corpses were moved from cemeteries to underground for health reasons) and the geological history of the catacombs. Later you moved into the catacombs proper, a series of passageways and tunnels (only a section available to the public; anything else, you’d have to find a cataphile, a catacomb enthusiast who can access illegal entry points and go down to explore).

Andrew and Maria in the Kingdom of the Dead.

Andrew and Maria in the Kingdom of the Dead.

It was very interesting, being down there. You could see niches where rocks were carved out or where things could be stored, as well as metal gates blocking the way to passageways not open to the public. In two places there were these amazing sculptures of beautiful building that a worker from the original catacomb project in the 18th century had carved from memory, recreating his home in the Balkans. There was a deep well that went even deeper into the ground, and a series of archways and niches set along an incline, as if to let us now we were entering sacred ground.

Can you say new author bio pic?

Can you say new author bio pic?

And then came the best part of all. Over a doorway, written in French and carved with precision was the warning, “Beware, for you are about to enter the Kingdom of the Dead”. And what a kingdom it was! The walls were lined with the bones and skulls of so many dead. And even though we were told by signs not to use flash or touch the bones, many did anyway. I won’t say whether or not I did, but I will admit that I am aware of what bones feel like when you hold them (bones from 300 years ago feel like light, brittle rocks in your hands). Some of the bones were arranged in interesting shapes, such as representations of crosses, men, or churches. Others had been arranged to help support different structures, such as around this column. Or this well, which strangely made me think of a portal to Hell rather than a catch for water. And plenty of coffins, crypts, and tombstones.

The bones went on for ages and ages. Every moment I was in a sort of heaven (so to speak). As you can guess, I am quite the lover of the macabre, so this definitely got me excited. If you look at each of the photos carefully, you’ll see me with such glee and excitement on my face.

But sadly it had to end. And end it did, with the doorway to the land of the living coming all too soon. There were a few more sights to see, including some lovely vaulted ceilings, and then we had to resurface, taking another winding staircase up. All told, I spent about an hour and a half down in the catacombs, twice the normal amount estimated for a tour, and I covered two kilometers and over 200 steps going up and down. And I would do it again if given the opportunity, because it is just a wonderful place to be. At least, for me it is.

Afterwards, I went to the gift shop (yes, they have a gift shop) and got a couple of souvenirs to remember the trip below by (there’s only so much photos can do, and for obvious reasons I couldn’t take the bones with me, even if I was the kind of guy to try to take bones with me). I got a small booklet about the catacombs for easy reference in case of a story (of which I have one or two ideas for), a sticker for my laptop, and a skull ring, something I’ve always wanted for myself as a horror author.

How you like the sticker and the bling-bling?

How you like the sticker and the bling-bling?

I’m not sure if I actually witnessed any ghosts. I certainly don’t remember seeing anything out of the ordinary, except possibly some evidence of cataphiles in a restricted section. But I certainly had a great time down there, and I’ll definitely treasure those memories of that hour and a half for as long as my memory works (though I’m not sure sometimes that it does now). It certainly has become my favorite part of Paris.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to upload the rest of the photos of that night when I get the chance. In the meantime, I’ll send Andrew and Maria the photo I took of them as well as the link to this post. Have a good night, my Followers of Fear. I know I will.

BOO!