It must be summer 'cause [I'm] never around*

It's July. Cop-out post. I'm backdating it to June, though. It's not July until I go to sleep and wake up.

Pittsburgh was almost four weeks ago. So long since I've seen Emma. Summer is half gone—if my summer ever ends. The future is still uncertain, but July should be a busy succession of fun fun fun and gone gone gone*(**).

West Michigan, Lansing, Ann Arbor?, Rhode Island (and hopefully Boston!), Lansing, probably Ann Arbor, West Michigan (I like to visit the same people, obviously)...and then on to August, but let's try to let July take its time. Let's not rush on to August. Let's try to hold onto the present and make it count.

Also, if you find yourself in Ann Arbor without a place that you live in and several hours to kill and you want fresh air but enough shade to see your computer screen and have a table but you don't need a power source, the tables outside the art museum are great. Yes. I'm blogging about how great it is to sit around on campus, again. But it's so pleasant. If only I had been drinking Eisschokolade while I skyped with Maraia. Lucky Maraia in Berlin! Skype is great, so is sitting outside the museum, here's a photo the end:
*It's a song.
**Or it could be "fun fun fun and gone so gone." Choose your own adventure.

Dreiunddreißig Red Balloons

Usually, when I take photos of things, I like the way the world actually looks and want to capture it. (Or the way it looks through my sunglasses, which can result in disappointment in my camera.) This late April day, I was documenting my bedroom during its window of perfect sunlight, but that doesn't last long and soon I was in Emma's room, with its longer-lasting light and thirty-three red balloons left over from the Book Co-op's poorly-attended but enjoyable sock hop. Emma was already on her "99 Red Balloons" kick at that point. The balloons were all the same color, but the light hit in different ways and so in the photos, they range from pale yellow to deep red. This is a time when the real world, and crispness, and accuracy weren't so important. I love the way the light hit the collage of her belongings across the room. These pictures remind me of something, a movie or several or something, but I'm not sure exactly what. Something magical.
I love this view, even if it is just Packard.

ÖÖÖsterreich Is a Great Name

So, this time last year I was 21. And instead of just getting back from Pittsburgh a few days before my birthday—which was weeks ago, but this post took me forever to write—my brother and I returned from Austria. Yes, lovely Austria. Three days later, we went to Paris, and as those links suggest, I actually wrote about Paris at the time. Austria only got one post, in which I did not even mention that the dogs who had inspired it were frolicking in front of the Hofburg, the palace that served as the Habsburgs' primary winter residence and now houses the President of Austria, let alone that they were Viennese.
Here are but a few of our favorite Wiener. Yes. People from Wien. Vienna. Sorry. I'm talking about the dogs. Dogs are people too!

Sidenote: Emma, who is, like me, actually a cat person, also wrote about dogs recently. If 'recently' means in her last post, which was posted weeks ago, that is.

Anyway, I'm trying to remember what I liked so much about Vienna, because it was certainly a good time. Part of it was the weather. Blue skies do a lot when it's been rainy for days, even if the clouds move at a rapid pace and it gets a little chilly when they're blocking the sun. The food was good.
John and I had Sachertorte with Melange, pictured above, because that's so typically Viennese. And Melange is a certain kind of coffee, not the drug also known as "spice" in Dune. In case you were confused? No, I know, this is stupid. Sachertorte is two layers of chocolate cake with some apricot jam in the middle and then a yummy, dark chocolate icing. It comes with cream. The cream is so good. Coffee, meh. Still not a fan. But with enough chocolate, it almost starts to make sense.
This cake was better, though. It was John's best cake of Europe. And he was there for five weeks, eating cake with me, our friends in Munich, and my aunt. Especially my aunt. She suggested or produced Kaffee und Kuchen like every afternoon I was with her in Europe. Kaffee und Kuchen is high on the list of Best Things About Europe. If I had more photos of Kuchen, I would have made a Kaffee-und-Kuchen post long ago. Anyway, this cake. It's called Pandatorte, I guess because it's dark and light, and as you can see, it was mainly creamy chocolately deliciousness. I think we may have had this, and not the Sachertorte, at the Hotel Sacher or whatever, but I'm not really sure anymore. We were definitely underdressed, wherever we were.

You know what, I just want to let that piece of cake tell you everything about Vienna. Vienna is great. Vienna is tasty. We had Schnitzel. Oh man, Schnitzel. I love meat that is breaded and fried.
Other things that are good about Vienna: I like the Hofburg. We hung out in the gardens and read books—John, something for fun, me, the Aeneid auf Deutsch for this Language and Culture of the Ancient World II course I took for some reason (oh right, because there was almost no work and I was compensating for usually only studying the Greeks, because fuck the Romans). I also read Dorothy Dunnett, of course.

We went to the Schmetterlinghaus ( = butterfly house) and saw the biggest butterfly species in the world. It's scary. Ugly and scary. And right below this paragraph.

We saw Gustav Klimt's The Kiss at the Belvedere museum, and other paintings by him, and other things that I don't remember, but Klimt was cool. Then, I think I got to have Grießnockerlsuppe at the Belvedere café!! Grieß is wheat semolina, and Grießnockerl are basically dumplings made of Grieß, and then you put them in a Suppe, or really a broth, and then you are eating this tasty but rather plain soup of broth and starch and I love it, even though there are little green things floating in it. Every time I try to type 'broth' I type 'brother.' Or maybe I had Frittatensuppe or whatever that's called, which is broth with shreds of pancake in it, but I think that this was a time I got to have Grießnockerl. John wasn't impressed by it, but that's okay with me.

If this is just going to devolve into inane discussions of food that display my unsophisticated palate, I guess I'll post the following photo.

Above is Karlskirche, which is at the U-Bahn stop (Karlsplatz) John and I took, or at least switched lines at, every day as we came into the city from the hostel. It's obviously baroque and somewhat silly-looking, but unlike the Berliner Dom, which I find incredibly stupid, I kind of like it. The last evening we were in Vienna, John and I—here's the lame part—got McDonald's to go and ate along the reflecting pool. We weren't the only ones doing so, either. There were a ton of people there, and those chicken nuggets were good. Sometimes, you are tired, and hungry, and just want something easy. McDonald's is so easy.

Another thing I liked about Vienna was our hostel. We stayed at Hostel Hütteldorf, which I remember as being a Hostelling International hostel, but the website doesn't seem to say that. Either way, it was the cheapest I found, and for that, we were farther out from the city than Schloss Schönbrunn, which is the old summer palace, but not too far, and it was kind of nice to ride the U-Bahn into the city every morning. (Weirdly, the Untergrund-bahn is above ground for a while outside the city, which continues to confuse me.) The biggest downside about the hostel is that it's on a hill. That hill is horrible when you have luggage on your back, especially when you can't find the hostel, and it's still bad after long days of walking. But it is really nice to see all the green hills and the open sky when you get out of the U-Bahn station. And the view from our window was pretty. Sunset-light on churches is great.

Two more things, I think. One. Schloss Schönbrunn, Empress Maria Theresia's answer to Versailles, is lovely "Bavarian" yellow (that's how my mom identified her ideal color for our living room) and much cheerier than Versailles. The gardens are nice. The zoo is great. It's the oldest zoo in the world (having begun as the imperial menagerie!), and they have great polar bears and an awesome Rainforest House to boot. There's a lot more about the zoo in my Vienna Picasa album. And more photos in general.

Two. This is what I've been trying to verbalize for weeks, but I've failed to figure it out and so have babbled about food and nonsense for who knows how many paragraphs. I certainly can't be bothered to count them. I really liked how it felt to be in Wien—in my head, Vienna's almost always Wien. I can't quite explain how it felt anymore, but I liked it. I liked the avenues, and the smaller streets, and the sky. The buildings, of course. At the city center, there are horrible crowds sometimes, but there's still space. That's part of what I like about Berlin—after a lot of time spent in smaller places, it's nice to have a change—but the space in Wien isn't like Berlin's at all. But I like how it feels both places. When I applied to being an English teaching assistant in Austria for a year, I was excited that I would be in the vicinity of Vienna—oh, bad alliteration—and would be able to visit more than once. Alas, it was not to be.

Golden night city! It just feels so good. Yes, John's wearing a Michigan sweatshirt, but I blurred it...artfully.

After Vienna, John and I went to Salzburg, but let's just leave that story to my photo captions.

This is the last straw, as Rebecca Dew* would say

The last straw is that my throat is sore. My throat is making me feel miserable. This happened just two weeks ago—I woke up on my birthday, realized I was far too aware of when I swallowed, ingested far more vitamin C in the form of sugary little tablets than necessary, and crawled back under the covers seeking a healing oblivion. I refused to be sick for birthday, part two, which was to take place the next day in Ann Arbor. Anyway, today my throat hurts like it did that time, and I've decided to blame it on my stuffy, dusty, cluttered bedroom.

There are people who would say that I place too much weight on the tidiness of my bedroom, especially considering that this bedroom, the one I've had since we moved here when I was five and half years old, probably hasn't met anyone's qualifications for tidy since I started college just about four years ago. Because, you see, my dad stole my closet from me around then, and nothing has been the same since.

When we picked bedrooms, I got to choose before my brother because I am the eldest, and at five years old, I guess large built-in desk trumps much bigger room with closet large enough to turn into a bathroom if you wanted, a fact which I often regret today, although the afternoon light I get and the fact that my room is on the first vent-thing from the furnace makes up for it. What this means, though, is that the closet I have been deprived of for so long is not that big, but it still makes a difference. Dresses and skirts and jackets need to hang somewhere, and it's really annoying to have to search through everyone else's closets to find what you're looking for. Plus, the other closets get blocked by piles of stuff because no one really needs to access what's normally in there. And then there are the boxes. Closets are a great place to put boxes of things you probably don't need anymore but would rather keep, although I've made progress in reducing the number of boxes.

The reason I have no closet is because my closet contains the portal to the attic, and the attic is the site of my father's painstaking campaign to decrease our energy bills. It was great when he took out the old insulation, and then it was winter, and everything was cold. But, eventually, he filled it. He built walkways to access the huge fan in our attic. The huge fan in our attic, whose motor is broken. That's the reason that he almost didn't give me back my closet two weeks ago, when I realized it was summer and demanded it back. He wasn't going to finish that last bit of insulating until the fall, when it cooled down again. But the fan! The fan! The fan is broken! Oh well. I'll empty out my closet again if you ever get around to getting it fixed. It's a gamble I'm willing to take.

I banished the ladder from my closet, and then hours later he returned, reluctantly, to help me put the shelves back in—I'm not tall enough for that to be easy. "The closet won't solve your problems!" he told me, in a last attempt to keep his way to the attic clear. "No, it will," I told him. "I'll wager a large sum that it won't," he replied. I laughed forever in my head, but for some reason, I didn't take him up on this, even though it will definitely solve my problems. He was just referring to the clutter sprawl all over our house, not my problems in general—whatever they are—and having a closet definitely makes my room being clear easier. That is my biggest concern. It will improve my quality of life drastically when I can walk from my bed to the door without stepping over things and then swinging my hip in to the doorknob. Okay, that's impossible to avoid. I will always walk into doorknobs.

Although I don't think he was talking about problems in general, there is a pretty big part of me that thinks a clean room will improve most aspects of my life. It's easier to think when there are clear surfaces. It's nice to not always sit in the same place. The internet works better at the other end of my room. I can't do yoga on top of five boxes. This room is driving me crazy, and to return to the start of this post, I think it's also making me sick. I don't usually get sick with the same sore throat twice in one month. But when I was little, I would have an irritating cold for the entire winter, and my mom came to the conclusion that it was because my room was too dusty. I don't even know that this makes sense, but I'm going to run with it, because I need to finish this. I was reading on the Diag the other day in the late afternoon, and it was beautiful—
 look at it be beautiful—
and I was happy, and it hit me, as keeps happening lately: THIS IS MY LIFE. And it can be like that, reading intelligent books in fresh air and thinking constructively about things—which is easy to do, it turns out—or it can be like this. Now. Pajamas at one in the afternoon, I haven't had breakfast yet because nothing sounds remotely appealing, and the only thing I can actually fathom doing is playing the Sims. This is my life. And no matter how insane it sounds, I can't get anywhere with it until my room is clean, and so I have to clean it.

It's not even that hard. Two weeks ago, I thought I was one day of hard work away from a presentable room. Not organized, because there are so many books to deal with, but satisfactory. And it's not that hard. Things aren't hard. Building momentum is what is hard. Being pretty much alone all day is hard. Cleaning my room is not. I will do this. Sore throat and all.

*Rebecca Dew is a character in Anne of Windy Poplars. She says this all the time, often complaining about "That Cat." You may have thought my renewed obsession with the Anne books was short-lived, but you were wrong. It's lying in wait. I just can't bring myself to start Anne's House of Dreams because I have issues with growing up right now and I don't want her to stop being understandable. I don't want her to become distant and secondary. Soon, though. Soon I will probably make the leap. Or else I'll just reread the Emily books. They stop before children start swarming. I'm actually back to Dorothy Dunnett's The House of Niccolò right now, though. I think I might devour the last two books as soon as my room is clean.

Time Is Scary: A Valuable Life Lesson, Brought to You By Moi

Do you ever have those moments where you go, "Wait, what.* What was I thinking?" Of course you do. You're human, right? Even my cat Isabel has these moments. I can see it on her face sometimes after she has bit me ferociously on the wrist, when my only crime was catering to her lovey-whims. There's this look of shame, although it passes quickly, and then she often clomps away. Yes. This is also a cat who clomps. How did we manage that?

I have these moments a lot, living in my parents' house again after three years away. Regularly, I wonder what I was thinking to move back to what my father actually referred to last month as "the Napping House," this house where we eat our pathetic dinners amid piles of mail, and our good dinners often next to the growing mail mountain, which, if I am lazy about the table-"clearing" process, threatens to avalanche upon me and my well-buttered mashed potatoes. Then Isabel jumps up to attack the aloe plant through its space-age protection pod and line the rim of my water glass with her fur. No, that last bit's a lie. We don't put up with that shit, not while we're eating.

I wonder what I was thinking coming back here, knowing that the last time I lived here was so close to unbearable that I sometimes don't know how that May ever actually became August. August was okay, though, I think. The light at the end of the tunnel and all. I do know why I'm at home this time, when I stop to think, but knowing doesn't always help.

Another thing that brings this on is seriously cleaning my room—a task I avoided for at least as many years as I've been living elsewhere, but which feels essential considering I hope to make a clean break for my future one of these days, and I shouldn't leave a horrible path of fourth-tier half-rejected socks and unopened bank statements I never wanted my parents to give me anyway because that is what the internet is for, guys across my floor when I leave. Cleaning your room, at least when it is as densely packed as mine, reintroduces you to so many parts of your life you'd forgotten about. Or tried to forget about. Why did I used to wear this bizarre stripey no-button button-up-shirt (it had invisible hooks and eyes)? How come I kept so many ugly fabric scraps in a box in my closet since middle school? How could I allow myself to sing along to the Corrs playing on my long-ago abandoned stereo when other people could probably hear me? The Corrs. What was I thinking?

Everything I do reminds me that things were years ago and now I'm old. I know that I'm not actually old. But even looking back just three years, I see this girl. This girl is so much younger than I am. And I feel sorry for her, but I have this feeling that I can only barely understand her. There are wisps of things she said, and thought, and meant, and I remember them. But I couldn't say them or think them or mean them now.

It's like this photo I come across almost every time I interact with my bookshelves. Yes, interaction. These are some sentient bookshelves. (Lies.) It's sitting on a pile of classics my dad brought up from the basement for me one year, to this day still unread by me. It's in a frame. Today, I even picked it up when I was standing at that end of the shelf, and I noticed the glass was covered in dust. I took it apart and cleaned it off. I thought about taking the picture out of the frame, so I could put something else in it. But I noticed that the photo seemed to be sticking to the glass. And I don't really want to take that frame with me. It's not quite my style. I put the frame back together. And then I looked at myself, seventeen, standing at the edge of Lake Huron and smiling. The smile is so real. There are two of us, with the sunset behind, so our faces are shadowy. I think that's one of the reasons it's such a good picture. He wasn't very good at photos, or smiles.

I remember that this evening on the beach happened. There are photos. One of them is even on Facebook, so I click by it a few times a year. I remember that it happened. But I don't remember this photo. I can remember a month earlier, a little. I can remember what followed it, though I'd rather not. I can remember vague stretches of neurotic, stupid misery and also surges of happiness. I couldn't tell you why they happened, besides that I was young. And I was dumb. But this moment, this photo? I have no idea what I was thinking.

*I am not referring to the tumblr of the same name, of which I read more of the archives than I care to admit for days at a time.

A Wonderful Waste of Time?

I'm eating brownies and ice cream for (late) lunch because I couldn't come up with anything better, listening to the Verve Pipe on my brother's dusty old boombox in an attempt to fill the quiet with something somewhat novel, and gearing up to clear a walkway through my bedroom. My life is great.

Little-known fact: the Verve Pipe at Freedom Hill was the first concert Emma and I went to, for some reason. With Rubyhorse opening. I don't know why no one ever remembers "Sparkle."

Anyway. I was in Pittsburgh over the weekend. Here are some things I learned there:

1. Mountains + cities = getting lost frequently.
On a related note, cities + no actual map = getting lost frequently.
Also, there are roads, like Bigelow, that turn multiple times. You have to take rights and lefts to stay on the one street. Sort of stressful, right?

2. It is very, very easy to end up on an expressway by accident in Pittsburgh.
And to look at your crappy maps and plan how to get where you want and then end up outside the city and off your crappy map somehow.

3. Mountains + expressways = scary tunnels.
4. Pittsburgh is a pretty cool-looking city.
Lots of nice, old buildings. Lots and lots. Unfortunately, I mainly only have car photos Emma took as we entered the city.
5. Mountains + college campuses = Carnegie Mellon's campus is crazy.
There's like a train going underneath a bunch of buildings above other things. I would prove this if my camera battery didn't die really early on.
Here, Emma is looking for food. And finding none. Okay, she's looking down at the parking lot one level below. But in a larger sense, she is looking for food.

6. As I so eloquently summed up in a text message:
I only meant this in a specific sense. Wine and liquor can only be purchased at state stores. Alcohol can only be purchased until 10 pm. We were at the second-cheapest motel we could find. Drunk was in order. But we drove and drove down PA-60, and no alcohol. Beer Express was closed. It was 12:30. So, if you want drunken motel time, plan ahead in Pennsylvania.

7. The Cathedral of Learning is hilarious in person, as well as on the internet.
Emma rushed in as soon as we got there. Cooper and I thought that eating our sandwiches was more important at that specific moment, but she set us straight:
Because it's called the Cathedral of Learning. And is really tall, and Gothic, and, well, the Cathedral of Learning. Full of Nationality Rooms. There was also a "crazy Russian woman" in the Slavic department upstairs who told Emma "everything [she] needed to do." So that was good.
 Here it is, the tallest educational building in the western hemisphere.
8. The Heinz Memorial Chapel is entertaining.
It was designed by the Cathedral of Learning guy, and it has the likes of Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Abigail Adams, Emily Dickinson, and Benjamin Franklin on the stained glass. The last two got quotes—Ben Franklin's was "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." In a church. It's funny. Farther up the windows, things get more religious, but up that high, you can't really tell what's going on and it hurts your neck.

9. Peace, Love, and Little Donuts—these donuts are really good.
We didn't try anything complicated or crazy, though. No bacon on donuts for us.

10. Hanging out on bridges is fun. And Pittsburgh has so many, several of which are yellow.
Okay, I already knew this. Whatever. It's worth mentioning. Also, from the bridge we were on—the one going from the Strip district across to all that Heinz stuff—we could see four to five old churches poking up around us in the distance. It was so nice. Then we stared at these people in swimsuits with a boat who were, according to Emma, trying to show off how attractive they were.

11. The Pennsylvania Turnpike claims to be America's Superhighway.
I'm skeptical. My dad said that this was maybe true historically at some point.

Cooper, Emma, and I were in Pittsburgh because Emma is spending six weeks there taking second-year Polish. Because she's amazing and plowed through year one in a few days on her own in preparation. She practiced with the cats. Speaking both parts, clearly. That was months ago. Then she took an exam and went back to studying Greek all the time.

So we were helping her move in, except, to where? Housing plans fell through. We slept in motels. We got lost a lot. We had to find parking all the time when we wanted to be not in the car. Which we wanted to a lot, because we spent so much time in it, getting lost or taking indirect routes to our destinations. In the end, we got an extremely thorough impression of downtown Pittsburgh through the windows of a car, and of several other neighborhoods and areas outside the city, too. We spent a while parked downtown because the rain was so extreme on Saturday that you just couldn't really see. When that rain started, we were on an accidental expressway. I was thrilled. The weather did get nicer after my camera battery died.
The rain was even worse than it looks here.

But it was fun, even if it was often frustrating and sometimes monotonous. I would go back to Pittsburgh—but with a real map, plans, and a place to stay.

Oh, and:
12. Driven is a horrible movie.
Thank you, slightly-nicer-second-motel's TV for teaching us this. Except really, I could've done without the lesson. I just tried to read the plot on Wikipedia, but failed to follow it. I think they're lying, and it didn't have a plot, just a lot of race cars and people's eyes and Wilson from House and Til Schweiger as "Beau Brandenburg" and three-second-long shots. It was written by Sylvester Stallone. Do not watch it.

We turn used clothing into new kids.

Here are the rest of the photos, if you're interested in grey skies and the Cathedral of Learning.