Distances Crossed

(You might be suspicious that I am sorting through and posting photos more than once every couple of months. What are you avoiding, you might ask? Wrapping up progress reports – that’s what.)

When moving from Michigan to California, we contemplated various methods to get two adults, two cars, one cat, some furniture, and lots of boxes across the country. In the end, we decided to sell one car and tow the other behind a moving truck.

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This involved a very long drive, a very sad cat, some terrifying mountain driving, and the limited food options available when one is tied to a very big truck and a very sad cat. (The notable exception was staying with my sister in Kansas City, and eating fresh vegetables from her garden.) However, I am glad we did this rather than flying out and shipping things. One of the things I appreciated about walking the Camino was the concrete nature of spaces traveled: seeing the hills in front of you as you climb, and the towns you have passed through behind you in the distance. Moving away from our home state has been a big transition, and airplanes still feel too much like magic. (Eyelids close and open to new cities and new climates, spread out below you beneath glass.)

I needed 2000 miles to feel like 2000 miles, and to see the scenery change as we crossed the country to the West Coast: The rain and red-touched leaves of Michigan turning to Illinois fields, Missouri corn, flat empty expanses of Kansas and Oklahoma, the hulking farm equipment of Texas, the vibrant colors of New Mexico, the mountains flattening out into desert in Arizona, and the final sunset over the hills of California, waiting for the coast. We also got to visit family along the way – my sister and brother-in-law in Kansas City, and my husband’s grandparents in Phoenix.

Now those long hours and distances have shrunk back onto a map, and some images seen through a dirty windshield.

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Just over the last hill

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Worth 366,000 Words

Worth 366,000 words: 2012 in photos. from Sara Kennedy on Vimeo.

A year of transitions.

Music is as follows (and is available in the Free Music Archive.)

1. J’ai acheté mes bottes en Espagne (I bought my boots in Spain) – Misiaczek
2. Pueblo Duerme  (The village sleeps) – La Barca de Sua
3. Find a Home – Laura Jorgensen

Looking Down On Cities

Last year I did a 365 Project, partially as a challenge to myself as a photographer and partially as a way to document what I guessed would be a year of transitions. As it turns out, it was. I finished my Fulbright year in Spain, traveled on my weekends, walked the Camino de Santiago, got engaged, and returned home to familiar spaces in Michigan to start a new job in Detroit.

Screen shot 2013-01-06 at 12.58.47 PM

Many distances were crossed – by plane, train, bus, car, but sometimes on foot.

I am working on a new creative project for this coming year, but it won’t be a daily photo project – partially because the tail end of the year degenerated into commuting/grading/cat pictures, and it’s hard to measure up to last year’s images.

I had a lot of adventures in 2012. I met a lot of amazing people, and traveled to some incredible places. My favorite parts of my travels were always the times when I climbed to a high place – often at sunset – and looked down on the cities I had spent the day exploring.

I learned a lot about travel this past year, and a lot about myself as a traveler. In the future when I go to a new city, that will be my destination – somewhere I can see the shape of the city, where small individual details dissolve into twinkling lights, and the iconic buildings from postcards become small silhouettes, dwarfed by the sky.

Granada - Ciudad Encantadora

Looking down on Granada from Miguel Del Alto. (Photo by my new Brazilian friend, Carolina.)

Granada - Ciudad Encantadora

Granada – actually in late 2011, but it was the beginning of a year of looking down on cities.

Barcelona

Barcelona, from Parque Guell.

Navidad en Madrid

Madrid, last Christmas.

Paris

Paris, from Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.

Roma

Rome for Easter.

Roma

Ancient Rome

Pompei

The ruins of Pompeii

Naples

Naples

Senderismo en Jávea

Jávea / Xávia

Tabarca

Tabarca – not a city, but a small island off the coast of Alicante.

Senderismo en Calpe

Bird’s Eye view of Calpe, after a harrowing climb up the Peñón de Ifach.

Morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco, from the roof of our riad.

Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Aït Benhaddou, Morocco – you have probably seen it in a movie.

Morocco

Not a city – but the Berber tents where we stayed in Zagora, at the edge of the Sahara.

Among all of the beautiful cities, my favorite was Alicante, where I lived for 10 months and that I often looked down on, from the heights of the Castillo de Santa Barbara. Nostalgia always adds a cast of golden light, but it was a beautiful city. Someday I will go back.

Santa Barbara

Sunset.

Tour de Alicante

All the lights lit for Christmas along Alfonso el Sabio.

Alicante

La Playa Postiguet, full of sunbathers.

The things I’d do to crunch leaves beneath my feet


(Notes from a journey)


I am relearning how to be a passenger –
how to travel alone on slick rails or the lumbering rumble of this near-empty bus,
pointed toward Madrid.

The clouds began to gather over the Mediterranean, light pushing us inland.
We pass places I will never see up close.
An old man pokes around with a cane under an olive tree.
Broken walls drown in the brush, or circle fortresses perched on cliffs,
edges smoothed by clouds.

Slowly twirling wind turbines march in lines over the hills.
Their smooth graceful lines make me taste imagined vertigo of a dream I had once:
clutching windmills,
or perhaps it was a book I read, or some carnival ride,
hanging on and trying not to vomit.

I will watch from an unheroic distance.
My coffee trembles in its
fragile paper cup.

I am relearning the art of contentment.
I am undoing the strings that slowly tug at my ribcage.
Being un-lonely when I am alone.
Un-craving solitude in crowded rooms.
Un-missing. Un-yearning.

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Summer Schooling

Blue Skies

I can’t believe how fast this summer is sliding by. It’s been in the low 80’s (instead of the high 90’s) for a few days; I needed a jacket last night when I was out, and a blanket in bed. This is the time of year when I would usually begin feeling the creeping panic that heralds the return of early mornings and lesson plans. Instead, my anxieties are tied to a flight date, waiting for an elusive visa, and goodbyes.

I have been busy, but in the best of ways. I have been scraping by on babysitting, housesitting, and some photography gigs. I took the city to court (after a big towing mess) and won, which was incredibly empowering and also will help the aforementioned income. I am gradually organizing and packing and getting rid of things. Around and in between all of that, I have been able to experience a lot of Life Lessons… otherwise known as Really Good Things.

#1) Using Another Language.

This may sound like I’m pushing my own professional agenda, but I think part of the secret to enlightenment is in new languages. I have had some incredible conversations in Spanish – I am hungry for practice and I know my rusty grammar needs tweaking. A few of the best and deepest conversations I have had have been in Spanish – about God, about spirituality, about grief, about relationships, about dreams and goals. I remember when I was in Spain a few years ago, and my roommate and I doggedly tried to stick to Spanish, even in our room alone. It got exhausting, as immersion always exhausts you because it is unceasing, but also because I felt stuck in small talk. I lacked the eloquence I needed to talk about anything that really mattered. Now, I value my stilted attempts at meaningful conversation in Spanish. Talking about real, important things in a new language clarifies them in some ways, because you don’t have cliches or your own pre-packaged ideas. You have to fight through with the vocabulary you know, and rethink what you are saying, and break out of the lines you have been walking your whole life. You are forced to push through to what matters, even if you have to twirl circles around it with broken syntax.

#2) Night Swimming.
That has happened a lot this summer. We have been driving out past the streetlights, down winding roads, and stumbling along dirt paths into darkness. And when your eyes adjust and the water opens in front of you, with the fireflies and the starlight and the rubber-band voices of frogs, you become suspended between the cool water and the cool air and you won’t care about sunlight anymore. (Also, sometimes you run into other strangers who are just dark shapes in the water, and who want to talk about literature. So far we have only met cool people. Please don’t let any assholes in on the secret.)

#3) Getting Some Kid Perspectives.
I’ve been happy to have a pretty Grace-full Summer. How is she four already? She was born around the time I was getting back from my study abroad trip to Spain, which doesn’t seem that long ago. And now she is old enough to call me out on being too silly. I have also been babysitting a six year old girl this summer, which has been pretty great. Six is an age that is generally very creative, very excited, very silly, and very wise in surprising ways, and this girl has a special dose of all of the above. Spending time with one six year old is different then the necessary orchestration of approximately thirty creative, excited, silly, and wise six year olds (and is 99% less stressful, as it turns out.) We went swimming last time I was babysitting her (during the day, in a public pool – night swimming is not for the young) and she kept yelling for me to go further and further out, so she could swim to me – splashing towards me with water in her eyes and a smile so big that it was probably holding her up on its own. She always told me to stay put so she could swim on her own, and I always followed her anyway, and she always screamed “Catch!” as soon as she got afraid, but as soon as she felt my hands on her waist she wanted to push off me and swim out further. Then we got home and instead of the usual bedtime story I let her help me wreck my journal. We poked holes in it, wrote down some signs, chewed on a page, and threw it down the stairs. She was captivated, and went right to sleep after.

#4) Live Blues.
My boyfriend’s parents gave us their tickets to go see Taj Mahal play in Ann Arbor last night. We didn’t know anything about him – other than some last-minute research – and at the show I felt a little embarrassed to be completely clueless among a crowd of people who had obviously been loving his music for decades. As it turns out, he is an amazing musician who puts on a very dynamic live show. Live music always makes me very happy… though currently I am on my porch with coffee and a very long Taj Mahal playlist, and that isn’t half bad either.

I always have some half-cooked ideas about what I want to write about, and usually it trails off into caffeinated rambling. My apologies.

I leave the country in three weeks.

How To Get To Spain (Part 1)

(Not to be considered a complete or even entirely credible guide, since I am not in Spain yet.)

 

  • (3.5 months before departure.) Get your acceptance letter as a Fulbright ETA in Spain. (You might want to try getting an initial rejection letter first, like I did. It enhances the surprise.)
  • Submit request for a background check to the FBI as soon as humanly possible. Include prepaid priority mail return envelope. (Don’t bother sending return postage; they will not use it.)
  • Set up a doctor’s appointment and fill out all the medical forms for medical clearance.
  • Peruse the website for the Consulte of Spain in Chicago, where you have to apply for your visa. Send an email inquiry that gets bounced back a few times, call and wade through a bilingual phone system a few times, and read several different checklists of the necessary paperwork for a student visa.
  • Set up an appointment with the Consulate for a few weeks later, since the FBI should have your stuff back to you, right?
  • Start looking at flights, hostels, and apartments obsessively.
  • Call FBI periodically to check on your background check.
  • Call FBI again the week before you are supposed to go to the consulate, and realize that they now take up to 8 weeks to process background checks.
  • Despair of ever getting background check from the FBI. Cancel consulate appointment and bus to Chicago. Reschedule for 8 weeks after you sent them your crap.
  • The FBI is probably getting tired of hearing from you. Resolve to only call them once a week.
  • Meticulously gather paperwork into a dorky little filing system. Read the recommendation to avoid making an appointment before gathering all required paperwork, and to avoid buying plane tickets until you have a visa.
  • Book a plane ticket before you have a visa.
  • Book a hostel in Madrid, too – you might as well.
  • Call the consulate to ask if a copy of a previous background check would suffice. (You are a teacher, after all.) Leave messages in English, in Spanish, and maybe in Spanglish. Send emails.
  • The week before you are supposed to go to the consulate, despair at the lack of background check in your mailbox. Cancel appointment and bus to Chicago… again.
  • Finally get an email from the consulate assuring you that you can still apply even if you haven’t received the background check; as long as you have proof you sent paperwork you are fine.
  • Reschedule for two weeks later, which is the next available appointment.
  • Bang your head on your wall a few times, because you could have done all this weeks ago.
  • Get your background check – hallelujah! No crimes here.
  • Take background check to a far-away Secretary of State, to get it authorized with the Apostille.
  • Be informed by the clerk that you cannot get the Apostille unless the document is signed and notarized. (It is not.)
  • Call and leave some more bilingual (or perhaps non-lingual) messages with the consulate.
  • Bang your head on your steering wheel.
  • Get the background check notarized by copying it and having a public notary (thanks, housemate!) notarize that it is an official copy.
  • Go back to the Secretary of State and get the Apostille. (It includes a fancy gold sticker, which is more satisfying than most of the rest of the process.)
  • Try to take your own passport photo for the visa application. Look like a serial killer despite your expensive camera.
  • Four weeks before your (supposed) departure, make copies of all your paperwork and arrange it in your dorky file folder before getting on the bus for Chicago.
  • Give yourself more than ample time to get downtown for your appointment. Wear a dress, because you are going to charm your way into their country if you have to.
  • Get off the train and walk the wrong way down Lake St., about a mile out of your way.
  • Stop for directions and realize where you are (or rather, where you aren’t.) Panic because you have less than ten minutes before your appointment.
  • Have flashbacks to a similar experience where you never made it to Barcelona. Despair of ever getting to Spain.
  • Frantically hail a cab and arrive one minute before your appointment time.
  • Sweat in the fancy elevator.
  • Wait in the lobby 15 minutes because they are running late.
  • Hand over your paperwork and your passport, and forget to use any Spanish other than me pongo nerviosa.
To be continued.
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