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Jones Trying to See as Much as Possible

Brad Jones ’10 – For me, everywhere in the world is the same! Now hold up just one minute — before you rush to contradict that statement as blatantly untrue and obviously misguided, take a second and hear me out.

I’m an Indiana boy, born and bred. I can’t say all my life I’ve longed to escape the corn fields, and basketball goals, and banal day to day existence of my Midwestern town, but I will admit, for these reasons, the opportunity to study abroad struck me as more attractive than Pizza Hut and Pepsi to a fat kid. This was my chance to get out of Indiana, to get out of the Midwest, to get out of America. 

It was my chance to “see the world” so to speak, and to travel on my own, and to experience the boundless beauty of Europe. Aware of this, I was certain that I would suck the very marrow from the experience. I would travel to all the great cities, each unique its own right, and I would gain a better understanding of the world and, no doubt, in the process, I would gain a better understanding of myself. I felt the world had so much to offer, and I finally had my chance to see exactly what was on the menu.

It has now been two months since I first arrived in this obscure small town in Italy, and all in all, I’ve taken advantage of my opportunities and done many of the things that I longed to do upon departure. I’ve seen Rome, once the very center of the universe, in all its antiquated splendor — the decayed forum, the still awe-inspiring coliseum, the frighteningly realistic galloping horses of the Trevi Fountain, and the majestic beauty and ornate extravagance of St. Peters Basilica.

I’ve been to Paris, the city of lights, the romance capital of the world. I kept my eyes peeled for Quasimodo as I neared the Notre Dame Cathedral, which didn’t fail to take my breath away. I stood under and above the inverted pyramids of the Louvre and caught a glimpse of the somewhat anti-climactic Mona Lisa. I walked down the world renowned Champs-Elysees, fully intending to spend some of my spare pocket change on a Guici wardrobe, or an Aston Martin, or I’d have even settle for Rolex, but the ill-tempered doormen were quick to inform me, in my ripped up jeans, baseball cap, and worn out tennis shoes, that wouldn’t be happening on their watch. 

I’ve eaten a crepe in front of the Eiffel tower as it sparkled, and devoured “French” onion soup and fries at a roadside café, and washed down twenty five euro Rabbit with an equally expensive bottle of Bordeaux.

And I’ve visited Barcelona. I’ve walked down Las Ramblas and dodged the ever-present costumed characters, whom only awake from the dead when they hear the clink of ten cents at the bottom of their change cup. I’ve resisted the urge to buy a caged bird, which in Spain is apparently an impulse buy, at one the sidewalk pet stores that litter the street, and I’ve even managed to keep myself from purchasing a still wiggling and writhing fish, or Porky’s recently deceased and still very lifelike cousin, or even what appeared to be a rubber chicken though it was no doubt intended for consumption; all of which lined the stalls of the morning market. 

I’ve seen Gaudi’s masterpieces, the Parc Guell which left me questioning whether or not I had somehow become a character in a Dr. Seuss book, the hospital where I couldn’t help but wonder if there should really be camera wielding tourists, the mortally ill, and grief stricken relatives all in one place, the apartment’s that seemed to rise out of the earth like Aladdin’s forbidden cave. I’ve eaten Paella. I’ve drank Sangria.

And I’ve been to Amsterdam — the real sin city. I’ve drank Heineken and Amstel at century old taverns. I’ve ordered “coffee” at the same café as apparently every American rapper since Revered Run. I’ve walked down the crimson, lusty, alleyways of Der Wallen and nervously peered in the large glass doors that were all that physically separated me from the barely clothed prostitutes and behind them, their tiny room and bed. I’ve cowered in fear at the tallest and fasted spinning thrill ride in world, so it claims and I without hesitation I believe, and even attended the quote on quote “world renowned” Amsterdam sex museum, which afterwards left my head shaking, my face still furrowed in disgust, and my pocket wishing it had its three euros back.

But I digress…everywhere in the world is the same. True, I’ve spent the last two pages describing at length the characteristics that set these cities I’ve visited apart from one another. They all have their own unique monuments, and distinct foods and beverages; their own culture and their own character. But much like my ambition to leave the cornfields of Indiana, everywhere I’ve been has left me unsatisfied and always wanting more while at the same time, paradoxically, inspiring longings to return to my home, and family, and friends. In other words, time after time, city after city, no matter how much I anticipate my arrival somewhere, or enjoy my time spent there, within hours I’m restlessly waiting for my chance to hit the road again and conflicted by the internal battle that sets the urge to experience something new, at odds with the wish to return to the familiar.

For example, a couple of months ago, I would have given everything for the opportunity to experience what I am right now, the grand adventure. But all I wish to do currently is see my friends and family again. However, I also know without a doubt, that two months from now when I return home and the hugs and the kisses are given and the stories shared, I’ll be vainly wishing for the opportunity to once again return to my Italian home and undoubtedly will be missing the friends I made and the places I visited while abroad.

Such is the paradox of memory. Why is it that often the problems and idiosyncrasies of a journey, when things don’t go quite as planned, when trains are missed, or wallets lost, or hotels full, are looked back upon with such great reverence and high-esteem. It seems that times and places in reflection are always seen through shades of a rosy hue. In the minds eye, pictures and memories are cropped and “photo-shopped” in such a way that the faults and peculiarities are removed and only the positive remains. Thus, while each weekend I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to experience London, or Dublin, or the Swiss Alps, by the time of my return on Sunday, there’s just no place like my Perugian home and by Tuesday, no place like the cornfields of Indiana.

In photos: Top right, Jones with Daniel King ’10 in Paris. Center left, literally overlooking Barcelona. Bottom right, a beautiful shot of Cinque Terre – an area of rugged coast in Italy.

  1. Roberto Giannini

    Brad,
    I am always following your blogs with anticipation but this time I don’t really know how to take your last entry.
    I understand being homesick, it happens to everyone who loves the place they come from, but I encourage you to look deeper into different societies, cultures, and traditions before you realize that your trips were solely focused on tasting the food, taking pictures, visiting museums, and/or touristy sites.
    How about the people? I am sure you can notice major differences, not better or worse, on how Italians, French, Dutch, or Spaniards live their lives.
    Try to connect with the people, as much as the language will allow you to do, and discover that the word is indeed not the same.
    A bright and talented young man like yourself can and should take home, upon your return, much, much more that just good meals and post card like pictures. Once you connect with the people, you’d realize that the world is an immaculate canvas of memories to be made and experiences to cherish for the rest of your life.
    Keep digging!

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