June 24, 2010

Peace Corps Moment – Pearl Jam – Poland 2000

The week leading up to the concert is not good. My classes at the college are hitting the end of semester rush along with the student panic that always erupts. My family back in the States is self destructing and their emails are like short bulletins from a war zone. My girlfriend, TT, suddenly cancels her visit this weekend with some lame excuse, even though I’ve already bought the concert tickets. Actually, this last bit of news is a relief; her cancelation makes the whole night simpler. (That relationship is another story for a completely different blog.) Add to the mix the end of my 2-year service, which looms ahead in a couple of months, and I’m clueless as to what I’ll be doing with my life once I leave Poland: no job, no money, no future – the real motto of the Peace Corps. Overall, I’m stressed, burnt out, and not sure what the hell is going on with my life, but goddammit, I AM going to this concert.

Scrambling with the extra ticket, I invite MW, my Polish friend, who jumps at the chance. We take a 40-minute train ride to get here early, file in with the mob, and stand around, and wait. Even the Poles in Katowice think the venue is ugly – sort of like the crash landing of a yard-sale UFO. The inside isn’t much better. Rows of seats horse shoe along the back wall, bordering a wide open area in front of the stage, which is where we are. The crowd is restless, tipsy, and a bit on edge. Me, too.

The lights dim. MW, smiling, gives me a hug. The crowd roars as PJ unceremoniously walks onstage. Without a delay, they break into rearviewmirror. My first thought is perfect. This song is exactly how I feel.

Then, for the next 3+ hours, the stadium transforms itself.

It’s a combination of so many things. It’s the great music. It’s Eddie Vedder/PJ in perfect unison. It’s the crazy slam dancing of drunken guys next to us –their crazy akimbo arms and legs flying everywhere. It’s the wave of energy from the thousands of fans on the floor jumping up and down, arms shooting in the air, all as one– at one point we are singing together so well, the band scales back and lets us take over.

It’s the big details and the little ones: the teenage girls behind us that keep screaming a high-pitched “Deep!” between songs, hoping to alter the band’s set. It’s Vedder’s interaction with the crowd – announcing “We just gonna keep playing if that’s okay with you” at the 2 1/2 hour mark. It’s the sweat pouring off us. It’s losing ourselves in the music, in the moment.

I know. I know. These words represent sights and sounds; however, you’re still on the outside … I wish you could transport for just a minute to that one place at that one time. I’ve been to dozens of concerts, but this is simply the greatest surge of intertwined joy I’ve ever felt.

For a glimpse, check out the numerous videos: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=pearl+jam+katowice+2000&aq=1

June 21, 2010

Top 5 – Cities I Love

[Top 10? That’s easy. Narrowing it down to 5? That’s the stuff of continuous debate.]

Here’s a glimpse at 5 destinations that will be popping up in this blog, over and over.

5. Calcutta

There is a simple reason this city is amazing: walking its streets changes your life. Never have I seen so many people struggle so hard for so little. And never have I seen the resiliency of the human condition as so determined. I expected misery before I arrived. What I found was joy and resourcefulness and strength. A day in Calcutta changes your whole outlook—suddenly you’re aware of so much. And thankful for everything you have.

 4. Prague

The Euro-beauty of the place is well-documented. However, this city makes the list because…well, I’ve been to Prague 5 times in the past 10 years, and in each visit something fabulous happens—blossoming love, renewed friendships, the pure joy of discovery. Prague has a special aura to it. It nurtures the positive. Each time I tell myself that my next trip has to be “normal” – I mean, the odds are that sooner or later I’m gonna run out of amazing encounters. But again and again this city surprises me.

 3. Cairo

This city is overcrowded with people and cars and buildings, all bunched up against the Nile and then sort of spilling out into the desert. I adore the chaos, intertwined with the ancient history that permeates every street. Yet, modern Cairo (if one can even use the term “modern”) is a world wonder in itself. What I love most about this place is the perpetual motion. With the world’s largest population – in theory, because no one really exactly knows how many live here – Cairo is hopping no matter what time of day or night. There’s a mob doing something: shopping, eating, walking, arguing, selling. Boredom is never an option.

2. London

Where can I start? The diversity, the beauty, the energy? It’s sprawling, yet so easy to walk around. It’s so metropolitan, yet can pass for rural in places. It’s historic, yet … well, you know where this pattern is going. I enjoy this city so much in the way it constantly entertains. It has the lure of a world capital, but at the same time seems so comfortable, accessible. I think that’s the real key to the lovability of this city. You can feel at home. The people are fabulous. The sites are breathtaking. London was my first ever overseas trip and, eventually, I imagine it will be my last.

1. Krakow

While the entire country of Poland receives such a deep-seated love from me, Krakow is the heart of it all. The city is simply a wonderland for anyone seeking adventure. It’s architecture is the most pristine and beautiful in Eastern Europe. (You can argue with me, but you won’t get anywhere.) The people are unbelievably open and fun. My experiences here have changed my life—I am a different man because of this city. Having said all that, this city is both my heaven and hell. It has offered me wondrous memories and indelible scars. That’s just the way it is; yet even after all that Krakow is my Shangri-La … my ideal resting place.

a place so magical, i don't have a picture.