Friday, June 27, 2008

Woohoo For Spain!

There's some good news for fans of Spanish soccer, or uh, sorry, football. Spain is in the EuroCup 2008 Finals. Though I haven't lived in Spain for over a year, I'm excited, not only to be rooting for a team in the finals (yet again: Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics), but I'm excited for the Spanish people also.

I remember sitting in my Spanish Culture and Civilization class, hearing my professor telling us that the Spanish never win anything. She was adament about the fact that all Spaniards always put faith in their national soccer team, and that they're never surprised when they never win anything. She insisted that the Spaniards aren't very good at soccer. I didn't really understand this, and I had to chalk it up to her own little style of self-deprecating humor, even though the Spanish I encountered generally had no understanding of that humor.

Anytime we saw Spaniards playing, they blew us away with their skills, as they easily performed tricks I couldn't even do in my dreams. Surely, at some point or another, Spaniards have had to have won something. Not only that, but the Spanish League is one of the best soccer leagues in the world.

That's why I'm happy that they're in the finals now against Germany, airing Sunday afternoon. If you thought waiting 86 years for the Red Sox to win the World Series was tough, just think about the Spaniards waiting 88 years to beat the Italians in competitive play. Whereas baseball is one of four major sports that people can pull behind, soccer, at the national level, is something that dominates the sporting lives of Spaniards.

So now that Spain has done what was thought impossible, beating Italy, they've advanced past Russia to face Germany, with its own powerhouse of stars. I'll point out at this time that I'm not actually a soccer fan. I know about as much of soccer as I do about Chemistry, so I'm not going to pretend that I know what I'm talking about in terms of the game itself. But I am a bit of an enthusiast, or an admirer at the least. I don't watch random games or follow the stats, but I appreciate the cultural impact and the joy it brings to the fans. I think there are differences in every culture with sport, and I've learned to appreciate the subtleties of the game. So when I see international play on TV, I don't mind watching anymore.

When I lived in Spain I watched many games in smoke-filled, crowded bars, with men who didn't speak, save for utters of disgust and shouts of joy. I went to two games for one of the two teams in Sevilla, and though I didn't go to the biggest games of the year, it was an amazing experience. Even for a meaningless game, the fans were going crazy, jumping around in their seats and screaming from start to finish. Of all the sports I've been to in the U.S., I don't know if there's anything that compared to it, except for maybe playoff hockey.

I went to a soccer game back in the States last month with my dad. It was the New England Revolution vs. D.C. United. It was like watching a high school match, comparatively. With the exception of the true fan section, everyone else was there just to get out of the house for a couple of hours. No one cheered, no one stood with excitement, and no one looked happy at the end of the game, even though the Revolution won.

I've discussed with my friends why soccer isn't big in America, and my theory is partly thanks to the ADD everyone in this country has been raised with. If there isn't constant scoring, you lose interest. Soccer is a game of patience, of playing level with the other team for 90 minutes, and waiting for that one moment when the other team lets its guard down, just that one second, and then bam! A deflection off the post goes off someone's shoelace, and into the net. Too many Americans can't wait for that moment, however. They want the goal now! And they want a lot of them. That's probably also why hockey isn't very popular anymore. There just isn't enough scoring.

In the rest of the world, however, the fast paced lives of Americana don't necessarily transfer over the same, and maybe that helps make soccer such an enjoyable sport to watch. Human chess, just moving the ball into position one move at a time. Waiting for the right moment to strike. Wait, maybe I'm just getting ahead of myself now. This was about Spain, after all.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Spanish soccer. I was in Europe during EuroCup 2004, and it blew my mind. When I lived in Sevilla, Sevilla FC, the team I rooted for, won the Spanish League Cup, and the city partied all night long. The city center became an outdoor club. Someone showed up with huge speakers and blasted music, while tables suddenly popped up selling mixed drinks for 2 euro and beers for 1 euro. People were dancing in the street and running around setting off firecrackers. I nearly went deaf when one went off right next to me. So I know that last night Spain was ablaze with partying, drinking, and dancing. I wish I was there to see it all now.

So come on Spain, prove my former professor wrong and with that cup. !Viva Espana!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saturday in Boston

I only live about a half hour from Boston and a half hour from Providence, really the perfect distance to pick and choose where and when I want to go into the city to do something. But 30 minutes is relatively far away. First I have to drive to either the Commuter Rail station in town, or to the nearest T station in Riverside or Quincy Center. Then there's the train into the city, and onward to the destination. So coming from the boring 'burbs, I usually just stick around the area and wish I lived closer to the city. In general, the only time I go into Boston is when there's business to be had, whether it be a game, concert, or dinner with the family.

Since I came back from Amherst I've been looking for an excuse to get into the city, if for nothing else than to experience something different for a change. When I lived in Sevilla, there was always something to do or see, and I loved simply walking a few blocks and finding a park with people in it. I like city life, and though the suburbs can be peaceful, the boredom is often too much to handle. On Saturday I finally found my excuse to get into Boston. My buddy Goldberg had just come back from Israel with a newfound love of falafel, and had heard there was a great place in Downtown Crossing, called the Falafel King. I became a huge fan of shwarma, or kabob when I lived in Europe, so I was excited to try the place, as it's hard to find a shop with shwarma in these parts.

I drove to the nearest T station, Quincy Adams, where we took the Red Line into town. I figured I'd use the day as a chance to try out using a digital SLR. I'm saving up to buy one before I leave for South America, and my dad just bought a Canon Rebel XTi, so I was testing his out. I haven't decided what kind I want to get yet, but have it narrowed down to either Nikon or Canon, and probably the XTi. My plan was to try to interview the owner of the shop and maybe write up a little story about it, but when we got there we found out the place was already closed. Though they were supposed to stay open until 4pm, they were already locked up by 3:45.

With the whole point of our trip into the city gone, we had to find something to do. Downtown Crossing is a strange little area. At some points it seems like a cheap attempt at a baby version of a 42nd Street persona. Chic stores line next to mom and pop shops that have been there forever, as street peddlers try to sell and entertain. On the other side, there's a nice park with a fountain, where on hot days, people will gather by to sunbathe. Up the hill is the State House with the famous gold dome.

I started to take a few random pictures, just to get the feel of an SLR. The difference in the picture quality from a point and shoot is night and day, and it just feels better to have a "professional" camera in your hands. However, at the same time, you lose the convenience and lightweight feel of a smaller point and shoot. Not to mention, no matter how much you try to look like a professional photographer, to everyone else you're just a tourist.

We walked to the fountain, where Goldberg waited in line to get a lemonade, and I saw some interesting people going about their business. One man walked around with a sandwich board reading "Jesus Loves You" while quoting the Bible. Another man was wearing only his shorts and going to town with oil all over his body. It was disgusting, but like a train wreck, you couldn't look away. Why he had to do that in the middle of a crowded park is beyond me.

A woman was practicing yoga, peacefully blocking out all of the city noise, fumes, and heat, as she quietly sat on her small patch of grass, her own private garden. The Red Line stopped at Downtown Crossing because of repairs, and everyone had to get onto buses at the corner, so as hundreds of people rushed to get into the bus, cops had to stop traffic and yell at pedestrians to pay attention and get a move on. With tour groups going by and locals trying to get through, it was a cluster of slow moving walkers.

Next we came upon the cemetery where Paul Revere was buried, across from Suffolk University. Though it was just off the street, it was quiet and peaceful once inside the gates. It seemed like a fitting resting place for the patriots who founded the nation. Walking through the isles, I read some of the tombstones, and found that most people didn't live very long back then. One woman who died in 1794, was only 48. Another baby was dead at 13 months.

Goldberg was hungry still, so we went back into the crowd to some crappy food court that we politely dubbed "the dirt mall." Everything about this place was skeezy and wrong. Every receipt at the dirt mall should have read, "Buyer beware." He got a burrito, which he immediately regretted, and I got a slice of pizza from Sbarro, which will never really suck, but won't be good, walking the thin line of just barely getting by.

After that we window shopped for a bit. I'm convinced that I'll never be able to buy a good hat again. I must have a tiny, peanut-sized head, because ever since hat companies started making everything in "Flexfit" and "One Size Fits All," I haven't been able to get one cool hat. Nothing ever fits right, and "One Size Fits All" is always too big. It's not fair. After unsuccessfully trying to find a hat that fit for a half hour, I gave up, and we started back for home. The burrito was really taking a toll on Goldberg, so we took the T back to the car and headed home.

I only spent a couple of hours in Boston, and though our mission was a failure, it was still fun to get out and see the city for a bit. It's refreshing to have a change of pace, even if only for a short time. Hopefully the next time I go to Boston, it will be a bit more successful.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Life Sentence

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when a defendant is up on murder charges, the decision has to be handed down by a jury of 12 unique peers, with three alternate jurors outside of the deliberation room, should anything happen. As with any case, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Never in my life did I think I'd have to take part in such a process as I did in the last week and a half at the Norfolk Superior Courthouse in Dedham, MA.

As Juror #10, I was part of a jury on the case in The Commonwealth v. Carlos Seino. The state was alleging that on August 2, 2002, Seino robbed and killed Quincy City Hall custodian Daniel DeCosta. Seino wasn't named as a suspect until 2006, when he was arrested on an unrelated felony, and his DNA was matched to blood found on DeCosta's shirt.

There are many gory details and facts that I could get into about the case, but I don't want to. People have been asking me what it was like to be on a murder trial, the only other source of information for them being Hollywood. I think it's safe to say that at times it was interesting, extremely boring, and overall has been one of the most miserable experiences of my life. Hollywood takes many liberties when it comes to courtroom dramas, and it's almost a let down to see the difference firsthand.

No one jumps out of their chairs and yells, "OBJECTION!" No one unleashes a bombshell that leaves the spectators gasping in shock. And no matter how good an actor is, there's no comparison to the feeling of shame you get when you look at a man who is on trial for his life.

After two and a half days of deliberation, in which most of the jurors changed their stances at least once, we voted unanimously on the charges. Carlos Seino was guilty of Armed Robbery, Not Guilty of Premeditated First Degree Murder, and Guilty of Felony Murder in the First Degree. Felony Murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Coming to this decision was not easy.

I came into the deliberation not sure if he'd done the deed, but positive that the state hadn't given us enough evidence to convict. The first half day of deliberation was simply presenting the facts and theories. The second day was intense, as we worked through the time line and went through every fact in great detail. Through discussion, we were able to work from the facts and testimony we had, and determine through inferences that Seino was lying on the stand, which ultimately put him in the alley with DeCosta.

Seino had motive, and were it not for a drop of blood on the victim's shirt and his DNA in the front left pocket of the victim's jeans, it would have been the perfect crime. Back on that day in 2002, Seino had cut his hand at work, and instead of getting it patched up at the hospital, he simply put a band aid on it. That day, Daniel DeCosta was given a $500 check from the City of Quincy for a uniform allowance. DeCosta cashed that check, as well as a $103 disability check at Sully's Bar, where he was a regular. Throughout the night, DeCosta drank and played Keno with the other regulars.

At some point in the night, Seino stopped in for 10-20 minutes to talk to his ex-girlfriend, where he claims he gave a friend of his a hug. Though he doesn't know how, he explained that's the only way his blood could have gotten on the victim's shirt. However, from expert testimony from the State Police, it was determined that the blood spatter pattern had to come when DeCosta was lying prone on his back, which would be unlikely in a bar.

This is how we discerned that Seino had to be standing over him in the alley, among other facts. Seino was habitually late on his rent, and was threatened by his roommates with eviction if he didn't pay up soon. On the stand, under pains of perjury, his former roommate testified that Seino had given him about $400 that day, then woke him up around 1:30 am to give him the rest of the money, which he'd never done before. Seino claimed that never happened, so we knew one of them had to be lying. We thought about it, and concluded that his roommate had no reason to perjure himself, whereas Seino was on trial for his life, and was sticking to his story.

And so we came to the conclusion that Seino was guilty, though we didn't think he intentionally tried to kill DeCosta. A weapon was never recovered, but wounds on the victim's head indicate he was beaten with one. However, though he died of blunt force trauma, if DeCosta hadn't been so drunk that night, he could have survived. Blood patterns on his face indicated that he choked on his own blood after he couldn't roll over on his side.

There are more details and facts that aren't worth getting into. But when we walked into the courtroom yesterday, I was a wreck. I know that when I voted guilty, I was sure of it. But voting from another room and reading it in court, with everyone watching you intently, are very different things. My legs were shaking, hands trembling, heart beat going crazy, sweat coming from the forehead, and feeling lightheaded, like I might pass out. I can only imagine what he was going through.

The entire week, we'd been holding the trial in a huge, historic courtroom, but yesterday we were kicked out to a different, smaller room. The juror bench was now right next to the defendant's desk. We had to remain standing as our foreman read the verdict, and when "Guilty" was pronounced sadly and regretfully, Seino leaned over and moaned. I couldn't look at him or his lawyer. Then, as if to further drill it home, the Magistrate had us all say guilty one by one.

"To the charge of Armed Robbery, how do you find the defendant?"
"To the charge of Premeditated First Degree Murder, how do you find the defendant?"
"Not Guilty."
"To the charge of Felony Murder in the First Degree, how do you find the defendant?"

It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Knowing that you're sending a man away for the rest of his life. And though I know that we decided that he committed a crime and killed a man, there will always be that doubt in my heart, of what if we got it wrong?

As we walked out of the room, Seino said, "You just sent a innocent man to jail."

The judge came in to talk to us and said he was sentencing him to life in prison, and I later found out it was life without parole. Though I think I did the right thing, and served justice to Daniel DeCosta's family and friends, it still doesn't feel right. No one ever wants to be put in this position, but at least I have a better appreciation of the justice system. I hope every jury goes through this much torment. And though Seino's face and words will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life, I have to move on and think that we did the right thing. But that's my life sentence. To have to know we put a man in jail for the rest of his life. I'll always live with it. As the youngest juror at 21, I have a long way to go.

You can read more about the trial from the Patriot Ledger.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Conan Honors Tim Russert

The shocking news that Tim Russert passed away suddenly on Friday was unsettling news. Russert demonstrated every quality that a journalist should possess, and I'll miss hearing his insights on the news. As a friend of Russert's, Conan O'Brien honored him the best way he could: with some comedy. Here's the clip of Conan's tribute to Russert, which is self explanatory.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Frugal Traveler: Southern France

In this week's installment of The Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross travels to southern France, where he finds some small towns with delicious food. Though he has some trouble meeting people, he eventually finds a restaurant owner who is kind enough to show him around and give him a free meal, granted that he sends along a copy of the video. Here's the video. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Riding Out the Storm

The sun was high in the sky and baking the thousands of people lined up to get in to the Vatican. It was a little after mid-day, and I was meeting my friend Dave and his ex-girlfriend Amy. To clarify, in a few other stories I mention my friend Dave. My program in Spain only had 6 guys, three of which were named Dave. One preferred to go by his middle name, Ryan. Though both of the other Dave's had beards, one had an SLR digital camera, causing everyone else to start calling him "Camera Dave." The other Dave became known as "Bearded Dave," and was the person I was meeting in Rome on this April day.

I'd been traveling From Venice and Florence, and was going to spend the day in Rome with my friend who was studying there, but it turned out he was busy and couldn't hang out. I knew Dave was in the city for a couple more days, so I called up his hotel and we agreed to meet at the Vatican in an hour.

Waiting by the entrance, sweating and burning, I thought back to the first time I'd been there, 3 years before. The place looked exactly the same, as it probably has for the last few centuries, with thousands of visitors lining up to get in. When Dave and Amy realized they'd have to wait in line for at least an hour or two, they decided to say screw it.

Sneaking around some ancient, back alley behind the Vatican, we jumped a couple of fences and found a nearly abandoned walkway down to a neighborhood with a pizza shop, where we ate some food and figured out what to do. It was some national holiday, so a lot of things were closed and the streets were packed with people. We wound up just walking around and looking for things to do, which is very easy to do in Rome.

The heat was formidable, wearing us down and leaving "pit stains" on everyone we passed by, as well as us. Stopping by the Pantheon, Dave decided he wanted to try to chip off a piece of the column to take home. Vivid images of Dave taking out a harmless pebble as the entire structure tumbled into dust worried me, and I reminded him that it was a crime to steal something from a heritage site such as that. Still, Dave was determined to loosen a piece of rock that was sticking out. I stood guard as he chipped away inconspicuously, and as a few pieces crumbled to the ground, he finally decided it was pointless. Just in time too, as some policemen started to walk by.

We finally got to Trevi Fountain, packed with hundreds of tourists and scammers alike. It was only about 3 in afternoon, but with nothing else to do, I suggested we get some wine and start drinking. Everyone agreed. One of the beautiful things about Italy is that wine is not only fantastic, but cheaper than Coke. Also, you can drink in the streets in the middle of the day, and though you might look foolish, no one bothers you.

We each got our own bottles and went back to the fountain, where we started to drink in plain sight of families, children, and anyone else who was looking. Simply sitting and enjoying some wine in a beautiful setting was harmless enough, but drinking out of the bottle seems suspicious to many. Finally, the heat and humidity reached a breaking point, and we could see dark, troublesome clouds coming in fast. Only an hour earlier there hadn't been any clouds in the sky, so we were completely unprepared. People started to notice and started to get away, trying to find a place to hide.

Now, if you've never been to Trevi fountain, you can't truly appreciate this scene. But at any given time, there are 50-100 gypsies or other immigrants trying to sell anything from roses to stupid toys that light up and make noise. They can be annoying, but all you have to do is tell them "no thanks" and they'll move on to the next person. I don't know where they keep their supplies or how they can move so fast, but as soon as those clouds appeared, suddenly all of them had umbrellas ready to go, charging an arm and a leg.

As the rain started coming in hard, we ran looking for cover. Dave wanted another slice of pizza, so we stopped in a shop off to the corner. Even though he got two slices of pizza and a soda, the bastard shop owner wouldn't let us stay inside unless we all got food. We begged and pleaded, asking him if he had a heart, but he wouldn't hear of it. With no choice, we went back out into the brutal thunderstorm which had now started to bring in rain drops like a waterfall.

Running around for cover, we found a small awning from a door post leading up to an apartment. We all cuddled up underneath, just barely being covered. We'd found safety, but many others were no so fortunate. We could see dozens of people running with no where to go, dripping wet. We'd found the only place on the street to hide.

From our safehouse we were able to watch a tremendous thunderstorm that was taking the city without mercy. Drinking our wine, we told stories, laughed, and waited it out. Every once in a while a guy would come by trying to sell us umbrellas. At first they wanted 20 euro per umbrella, so we told them to get lost. Slowly, the storm was letting up, and when they came back I tried to make a deal with them.

"20 euro for umbrella."
"No way, look at the sky, my friend. The storm is ending. Your market is crashing. I'll do you a favor and buy two from you for 10 euro, otherwise you aren't going to be selling any."
"No, no. 20 euro for two."
"How about we trade you two umbrellas for her?" I said and pointed to Amy.

She seemed pretty surprised, but the gypsy loved the idea. He was pretty disappointed when she wouldn't commit to the trade. Amy wound up buying an umbrella for 10 euro as the storm was all but done, and we yelled at her for not holding out longer. With the storm now finished, we hung back under the awning, now enjoying the spot we'd been forced to take refuge in.

Amy had to pee, so she went to a restaurant across the road. Now that Dave and I had finished our wine, we both had to go also. Amy said all you had to do is walk as if you were already in the restaurant. Dave went first, and when I saw him coming out I made a move. We didn't say a word to each other as we passed, just gave a slight nod of the head and wink with a dry laugh; the unspoken understanding between people who know they're breaking the rules and getting away with it with no possible repercussions. The bartender looked like he wanted to say something to me as I walked in, but I didn't give him the chance.

It's one of those rare moments in your life when you can take a simple thing like riding out a storm and breaking into a restaurant to use their bathroom that make it all worthwhile sometimes. You don't have to spend the day seeing the sights in Rome, you just have to spend it with some good people. Shenanigans and other tomfoolery make it memorable, but it's all about the company.

After we finished out bathroom mission, we got more wine and walked around some more, the sweltering afternoon temperature having dropped considerably to a now pleasant, cool evening. Feeling funny, I took a picture with some Carabinieri as I drank my wine. We still had the thrill of drinking near the cops in the street and not getting in trouble.

We headed up to the top of a hill near the "Wedding Cake" building and watched the sunset, finishing our wine and admiring the setting sun over the city, where for thousands of years people have been enjoying their wine and watching the sun set, just like us. The day was ending, the trip over, but the pleasurable memories just beginning to take their places in my head.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Frugal Traveler

I've just recently become aware of a new feature from the Travel section of the New York Times online. The Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross, is traveling across Europe for twelve weeks this summer on a 100 euro a day budget.

This seems like exactly the type of thing I would love to do, and it's all really interesting. Gross goes around with a video camera and films about five minute videos once a week. So far he's been to Calais, France, Paris, and WWOOF'd on a farm in southern France.

It looks like Gross has done this before, apparently driving across the U.S. on $100 a day last summer. That'd definitely be tough to do now, however, with the gas prices the way they are. You should take a look at the Frugal Traveler page and see what he's up to and how he's working on multimedia packages while overseas.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Itch to Travel

It's hard to believe, but this month marks the 4th anniversary since I really started to travel. I'd been on a bunch of family vacations before and throughout my childhood, but it wasn't until I backpacked through Europe with my sister that I really started to get the travel bug.

My sister and I were both graduating--she from college and I from high school. As a gift to both of us, my parents helped to pay for part of our three week trip from London to Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and then back to London. It wound up being one of the best gifts I've ever received.

Traveling around Europe as a 17 year old was such a crash course in life that I couldn't even recognize it at the time. Suddenly old enough to drink anywhere (except in London, where it wasn't a problem), I found freedom that I didn't have back home. I was sleeping in scummy hostels and learning to meet new people every couple of days. Making "single-serving friends" was a great predecessor to making life-long friends at college.

While there, we just happened to be traveling during Euro 2004, the equivalent of the World Cup, but only for the European countries. We had no idea we were going to be in these countries during these crazy days, and it was complete dumb luck that we saw the awesome display of patriotism in a new place every day. We were in Amsterdam on the day of a Netherlands match, and I swear I've never seen so much orange in my life. The entire city was decked out and pubs were packed.

We took a 26 hour train ride from Amsterdam to Rome, which in retrospect wasn't as bad as it can be, but at the time I thought I was going to lose my mind. I still got to see the French countryside on the trip, which I otherwise wouldn't have in a plane. I remember being woken up at 1 am in Nice, France to let more people in our compartment, and their stink wafting in, disgusting me. Later, I woke up around 4 am somewhere in Italy and out the window, I was able to see a lake near some mountains. Mist and fog were gently rising above the water, lit up by the pale moonlight that no one else could see but me. It was a golden moment, and it was all mine. Some of my friends were working at summer camps back home, and I was seeing this. The gentle hum of the train on the tracks soon put me back under, and when I woke again we were somewhere in Tuscany.

In Barcelona we knew nothing of the customs, and wondered what kind of party city would have closed bars at 11 pm. The lone idiot tourists eating dinner at 6 pm, we just didn't get it. I wish I'd known the customs better back then, but I was such a novice traveler, I can hardly hold myself or my sister accountable. Sometimes you just pick things up through experience. Of course, if we'd picked up a book we would have known, but you live and learn.

At a bar, The Netherlands were playing Sweden, and the Dutch crowd had claimed this place as their own. Excited Dutchmen yelled to me and asked me questions that I couldn't understand. Finally a woman understood and told me that everyone thought I was Dutch, because they, after all, were Dutch. She spoke for me and filled me in on what was going on.

The next night was some great festival to celebrate the summer solstice. On the beach, party-goers were jumping bonfires and setting off fireworks all night long. We were tired and didn't understand, so we stupidly went to bed around 1 am, rather than seeing the show until dawn.

And now that I see the ads for Euro 2008 on TV, I can't believe how the time has gone by. How I've transformed from a tourist to a traveler. The first time I went to Rome I was so excited to see the Colosseum that I couldn't wait to get there and take pictures. As a history buff, anything Roman got me excited. But in the years since, seeing so many ruins, the second time I went to Rome I didn't even bother to stop by the Colosseum.

After I came back from Europe, I thought I was hardcore. I went to my college orientation a week later without anything, thinking I'd rough it like I'd been doing at hostels, only to realize that I needed sheets, a towel, and a change of clothes. I looked like an idiot. My sophomore year saw a perfect opportunity to grow and change. A travel writing and photojournalism class that took a spring break trip to Sicily. It was in Sicily that I decided I wanted to learn Spanish (which was random, I understand) and study in Spain, so that I could continue to travel in Europe.

When I got back I began applying, and in my junior year I was studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain. There, I continued to change, learn Spanish, and travel until I was nearly burnt out.

Other travels aside, I've had a pretty good run, considering my age and low bank account. I've already been to five continents, and I don't even have enough money to afford proper traveler's insurance. Now I must sit and wait. From time to time I get tired of travel, which I suppose happens to all solid travelers. After all, it would do no good to not have a place to recoup, a place to clear your head. I have three months to sit and get bored, and after only two weeks of sitting at home, I can feel myself starting to get the itch. I love to write, and I find my best inspiration comes from my travels. I need to get back on the trail.

In due time I'll be back in South America, volunteering as an English teacher for a year in Ecuador. I still don't know where or what kind of students I'll have, though they'll most likely be university students. I've been reading up on Ecuador, and all signs indicate that there will be hardships, trouble adjusting, and constant inconveniences. And though it sounds stupid, I honestly couldn't be happier. I thrive on the challenges to cope in a new culture and learn firsthand what it means to be in a different situation than I'm used to. If I'm going to spend most of my life working in a job I hate or struggling to get by on a crappy salary, I'm going to at least go down with a fight. I'll take that year to do something different and learn, grow, and appreciate. It's harder to worry about things like boring job after you've had to worry about getting enough clean drinking water.

So now I'll wait, sitting by the cue and bidding my time. Soon enough I'll be back on the road. And when that happens, you can be sure there will be plenty to talk about.

The Different Sides of Massachusetts

On Saturday I went to my friend Paul's graduation party in Leicester, which is next to Worcester. For whatever reason, Massachusetts seems to be split into different communities and areas, almost like mini-states. Separately, they could be their own little states, but they all come together to make up the same Commonwealth.

Back in the East, where I'm from, all of the towns that form the suburbs of Boston are pretty similar. Rows upon rows of houses line the streets making up a suburban maze of homes, cars, and people getting around. Since these towns are generally not built up enough, there's no public transportation, forcing most people to have cars if they want to get around. Some towns do have buses, but the routes aren't very big. There are commuter rails that can take you into Providence or Boston, but for convenience, you usually drive to the nearest T station and take the train in.

These densely packed communities don't generally have a ton to offer, leaving locals feeling bored, and people will head into the city for entertainment. In my neighborhood alone, there is nothing but houses up until the center of town, with no free space, save for a golf course.

Out by Leicester, however, there was a ton of open space. Following one main state road after another, on which you could go upwards of 45 miles an hour, houses were spread out and had more land. In my town, there isn't even a stretch of road where you can go 45 mph. Leicester had one red light and had a much more laid back attitude. The center of town had about four buildings with a general store. Not that my center of town is anything special.

Further out west near where I went to school, there were areas with tons of open space and farms. One town in particular, Hadley, has so many farms that a friend of mine once heard someone at a party say "This place smells like Hadley." More mountainous and containing some stunning foliage in the Fall, Western Mass has a different feel to it. I don't know why, but even when I was there for four years of school, it just felt like a different state. Most towns still have the town common, a fixture in the ideal image of a quaint New England town.

There's no perfect image of what a Massachusetts town is like. After all, even within the different regions, there are different rivalries and expectations of what it is to be from a certain town, just like anywhere else in the world. Nonetheless, there are still going to be common ties, like the sports teams we all cheer for, the importance of the weather in our lives, and the accents that we don and mock. Massachusetts is as diverse as the entire country, though it would probably seem the same to someone not from the area. To a local, the differences are distinct and celebrated.